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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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The Twelve Days of Christmas

Most of us are very familiar with the song, The Twelve Days of Christmas,” starting with “a partridge in a pear tree,” and ending with “12 drummers drumming” (YouTube video of the song available here), but I have to be honest in that I have never really looked into the background or history of the tradition, so I decided to take a look. And here is what I found out.

First off, it doesn’t start twelve days before Christmas as some might think it does. It actually starts on Christmas Day, December 25th, and goes to the Epiphany celebrated on January 6th:

The 12 days of Christmas, in fact, are the days from December 25th, celebrated as the birth of Jesus Christ, to the Epiphany, celebrated on January 6th as the day when the manifestation of Christ’s glory was realized. Some exchange gifts on each of the 12 days instead of only on Christmas day. (Quote source here.)

In an article titled, The Hidden Meaning of the Twelve Days of Christmas,” published on December 14, 2011 (the author’s name is not mentioned), I found the following information:

The Twelve Days of Christmas was created in England during a time of religious persecution when Catholicism was outlawed in the 16th to 18th centuries. The song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” was written as a kind of secret catechism that could be sung in public without fear of arrest – a learning or memory aid to Christians in fact. Each verse refers to a teaching of church doctrine — with the partridge being Christ who died on a tree and the “True Love” being God the Father, who gave us all gifts. The twelve days of Christmas are the twelve days between Christmas Day, Dec. 25th, the birth of Jesus, and the Epiphany, Jan. 6th, the day Christians celebrate the arrival of the Magi (Wise Men) and the revelation of Christ as the light of the world.

Each element in the song is a code word for religious truth:

1. The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus.
2. The two turtledoves are the Old and New Testaments.
3. Three French hens stand for faith, hope and love.
4. The four calling birds are the four Gospels.
5. The five gold rings recall the Hebrew Torah (Law), or the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament.
6. The six geese a-laying stand for the six days of creation.
7. The seven swans a-swimming represent the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.
8. The eight maids a-milking are the eight Beatitudes.
9. Nine ladies dancing are the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit.
10. The ten lords a-leaping are the Ten Commandments.
11. Eleven pipers piping represent the eleven faithful Apostles.
12. Twelve drummers drumming symbolize the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostles Creed.

Merry Christmas! (Quote source here.)

The following information is taken from an article titled, The Twelve Days of Christmas,” by Dennis Bratcher, Webmaster, General Editor, and the Executive Director of CRI/Voice Institute:

The Twelve Days of Christmas is probably the most misunderstood part of the church year among Christians who are not part of liturgical church traditions. Contrary to much popular belief, these are not the twelve days before Christmas, but in most of the Western Church are the twelve days from Christmas until the beginning of Epiphany  (January 6th; the 12 days count from December 25th until January 5th). In some traditions, the first day of Christmas begins on the evening of December 25th with the following day considered the First Day of Christmas (December 26th). In these traditions, the twelve days begin December 26 and include Epiphany on January 6.

The origin and counting of the Twelve Days is complicated, and is related to differences in calendars, church traditions, and ways to observe this holy day in various cultures (see Christmas). In the Western church, Epiphany is usually celebrated as the time the Wise Men or Magi arrived to present gifts to the young Jesus (Matt. 2:1-12). Traditionally there were three Magi, probably from the fact of three gifts, even though the biblical narrative never says how many Magi came. In some cultures, especially Hispanic and Latin American culture, January 6th is observed as Three Kings Day, or simply the Day of the Kings (Span: la Fiesta de Reyes,el Dia de los Tres Reyesel Dia de los Reyes Magos; Dutch: Driekoningendag). Even though December 25th is celebrated as Christmas in these cultures, January 6th is often the day for giving gifts. In some places it is traditional to give Christmas gifts for each of the Twelve Days of Christmas. Since Eastern Orthodox traditions use a different religious calendar, they celebrate Christmas on January 7th and observe Epiphany or Theophany on January 19th.

By the 16th century, some European and Scandinavian cultures had combined the Twelve Days of Christmas with (sometimes pagan) festivals celebrating the changing of the year. These were usually associated with driving away evil spirits for the start of the new year.

The Twelfth Night is January 5th, the last day of the Christmas Season before Epiphany (January 6th). In some church traditions, January 5th is considered the eleventh Day of Christmas, while the evening of January 5th is still counted as the Twelfth Night, the beginning of the Twelfth day of Christmas the following day. Twelfth Night often included feasting along with the removal of Christmas decorations. Many European celebrations of Twelfth Night included a King’s Cake, remembering the visit of the Three Magi, and ale or wine (a King’s Cake is part of the observance of Mardi Gras in French Catholic culture of the Southern USA). In some cultures, the King’s Cake was part of the celebration of the day of Epiphany.

The popular song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is usually seen as simply a nonsense song for children with secular origins. However, some have suggested that it is a song of Christian instruction, perhaps dating to the 16th century religious wars in England, with hidden references to the basic teachings of the Christian Faith. They contend that it was a mnemonic device to teach the catechism to youngsters. The “true love” mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The “me” who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the “days” represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn.

However, many have questioned the historical accuracy of this origin of the song The Twelve Days of Christmas.  While some have tried to debunk this as an “urban myth” out of personal agendas, others have tried to deal with this account of the song’s origin in the name of historical accuracy (see Snopes on The 12 Days of Christmas). There is little “hard” evidence available either way. Some church historians affirm this account as basically accurate, while others point out apparent historical and logical discrepancies.

The reality is that the “evidence” for both perspectives is mostly in logical deduction and probabilities.  Lack of positive evidence does not automatically provide negative evidence. On the other hand, logical deduction and probability do not provide proof either. One internet site devoted to debunking hoaxes and legends says that, “there is no substantive evidence to demonstrate that the song ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ was created or used as a secret means of preserving tenets of the Catholic faith, or that this claim is anything but a fanciful modern day speculation…”. Yet, there is no “substantive evidence” that will disprove it either.

The view of the song as a secret catechism is most likely legendary or anecdotal. Without corroboration and in the absence of “substantive evidence,” we probably should not take overly rigid positions from either perspective. It is all too easy to turn the song into a crusade for personal opinions. That would do more to violate the spirit of Christmas than the song is worth. So, for the sake of historical accuracy, we need to acknowledge the likelihood that the song had secular origins.

However, on another level, this should not prevent us from using the song in celebration of Christmas. Many of the symbols of Christianity were not originally religious, including even the present date of Christmas, but were appropriated from contemporary culture by the Christian Faith as vehicles of worship and proclamation. Perhaps, when all is said and done, historical accuracy, as important as that might be on one level, is not really the point. Perhaps more important is that Christians can celebrate their rich heritage, and God’s grace, through one more avenue during the Advent and Christmas seasons.  Now, when they hear what they once thought was only a secular “nonsense song,” they will be reminded in one more way of the grace of God working in transforming ways in their lives and in our world. After all, is that not the meaning of Christmas anyway? (Quote source here.)

And now for a bit of fun trivia regarding “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” published in Business Insider on November 24, 2017, in an article titled, Here’s the True Cost of the Twelves Days of Christmas,” by Akin Oyedele, Senior Markets Reporter:

  • Every year, PNC calculates the real-world prices of all the gifts in the “12 Days of Christmas” carol. 
  • Their so-called Christmas Price Index rose 0.6% this year, driven by higher costs of pear trees, more demand for gold rings, and higher wages for Lords-a-leaping.  
  • While it’s frivolous, PNC’s index mirrors some of the underlying trends in the US economy. 

A partridge in a pear tree and all the other 11 gifts would set you back $34,558.65 this year.

That’s slightly more expensive than last year, according to PNC’s annual index of the 12 Days of Christmas. 

For 34 years running, PNC has set out to calculate the costs of every item in the carol to create a Christmas Price Index. It’s more frivolous, but not that different from the government’s consumer price index that tracks the costs of everyday items. PNC’s sources include retailers, poultries, and dance companies. 

The CPI (from PNC) increased by 0.6% year-on-year, led by higher costs for pear trees and increased demand for gold rings. Indeed, the precious metal has had a good year like many other financial assets, gaining about 11%. 

In addition, the index was driven up by higher wages for 10 Lords-a-leaping. PNC recorded a 2% increase to $5,618.90 for this gig. Perhaps all the clamor for higher minimum wages and a tightening labor market helped.

Some workers, however, saw no compensation growth, much like the federal minimum wage, which has stayed unchanged since 2009. They included the eight maids-a-milking and nine ladies dancing. 

PNC also calculates a core-CPI. They exclude unpredictable swan prices instead of food and energy costs like the Department of Labor does. The core index rose 0.9% and would cost about $21,000 excluding swans-a-swimming. 

The chart below shows how the “12 Days of Christmas” gifts have evolved over the years.

A full infographic is available over at PNC »

One final article back on a more serious note that I found on Bible.org titled, The Twelve Days of Christmas: A Christmas Song for All Year Long,” by Timothy J. Ralston, Professor of Pastoral Ministries at Dallas Theological Seminarystates the following:

“On the first day of Christmas my true love…” When I was young it was a cute Christmas song. Getting all those gifts in right order at breakneck speed was the annual challenge. (I rarely succeeded. But then no one else did either.)

Then I grew older (and more spiritually intense). It became another secular mockery of sacred themes. It joined my collection of Yuletide debris discarded in an attic steamer trunk. Recently rummaging through my memories I found the chest with its song inside just as I’d left it.

I think I was wrong. I’ve missed a most wonderful gift, wrapped and given to me by those who followed Jesus before me.

Who wrote it? No one knows. But it’s been around for a long time. Although I couldn’t speak to its author, I could start with two facts. First, the twelve days are the period between the differing celebrations of Christmas—December 25 (in the Western church) and January 6 (in the Eastern church).

Second, people living when it was written commonly wrote, painted, and thought using symbols to express what they meant. All those birds and people are probably much more than they seem. (It certainly isn’t a coded list of significant biblical numbers. That probably confuses it with a similar song called “In Those Twelve Days”.) So I started looking. Here’s what I found.

In the Middle Ages birds were symbols of a human being, the soul, and each bird had specific associations. But the birds in the song had interesting Christian connections.

  • The partridge was always associated with Jesus’ birth. More than that, so was the pear tree. So the song begins with a double-image of the Nativity!
  • Since I’m thinking of Jesus’ birth, “two turtle doves” brought to mind Jesus’ presentation at Mary’s purification (Luke 2:21-24) and the Spirit’s descent upon him after his baptism at the start of his public ministry (Luke 3:21-22).
  • “French hens,” symbols of self-sacrifice and care, are reminiscent of Jesus’ role as the Good Shepherd to his own while he was among them.
  • “Calling birds”? One author suggested it might originally be “colley birds,” that is, blackbirds. (Unfortunately I haven’t found anything on their symbolism…yet.)
  • Since it’s Christmas, the “five gold rings” aren’t jewelry. Instead they remind us of golden ring-necked pheasants that were often associated with Nativity scenes (as can be seen in Fra Angelico’s Nativity) as well as a royalty (suggesting Jesus’ Messianic role) and the promise of life that rises from the ashes of death.
  • “Geese” (whether white or gray) symbolized spiritual vigilance, avoidance of worldly pleasures, wholehearted devotion to Godly obedience. Sounds like Jesus again.
  • “Seven swans” bring the opening series to a climax. Swans, always associated with royalty and prophecy, were thought to know the hour of their death and announce their death with a great cry (“swan song”), thereby earning them an enduring association with Christ’s work on the cross. Then add the biblical nuance of seven suggesting a completed work, and the connection to the cross is complete.

Boy, this was really interesting! If I’d lived 500 years ago, singing the first seven verses could be a powerful reminder of my Savior, his life and work.

As anyone who sings this song knows, from here on you gotta hold on to your dentures! Momentum gathers with the last five gifts – all people. Lowly “milk maids” at work give way to dancing “ladies” and “lords” in ever-increasing displays of joy, followed by an orchestra of “pipers” and “drummers” to support the chorus, and rehearsed at a speed that carries me along in its grand celebration. What a wonderful way to celebrate the coming of our Savior!

Then I got out my calculator. How many gifts were there? If one arrives on the first day, three on the second, six on the third, …by the last day there’s a grand total of 364 gifts. That’s one for every day of the year!

Now at last I understood. “My True Love” was no mere earthly lover but my Heavenly Father. The gift of His Son was sufficient for every day of my year.

The irony? Everybody, even my fellow Christians, think it’s only a secular song. They even enjoy the lusty singing of its parodies – like “The Twelve Days After Christmas – to mock at the corruption of the holiday. They don’t understand why I can’t laugh and sing it with them anymore. As Laurence Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996), p. 177, notes: “Misinterpretations and secularization of this old text in the recent revival of its use probably reveal more about our loss of theological awareness that we care to admit.”

No, I don’t expect to hear The Twelve Days of Christmas in a Sunday worship service this season. That’s not where it was created or where it belongs. Instead listen for my voice some July afternoon, ringing out from a hot car or crowded street corner, celebrating the profound work of our Savior and the joy of his presence that fills my heart every day of the year! (Quote source here.)

I hope you’ve enjoyed this short journey into the history of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” I learned a lot, too. And may it give new meaning to an old and familiar song at this time of year.

On the first day of Christmas . . .

My True Love gave to me . . .

A Partridge in a pear tree (Jesus) . . . .

YouTube Video: “Carol of the Bells” (for 12 cellos) – The Piano Guys:

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

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Gratitude and Wonder

The official start of Advent is tomorrow (Sunday), December 3, 2017, for this year. For those keeping an Advent calendar or taking part in daily Advent readings, it started yesterday, December 1, 2017, and will end on Christmas Day. Calenderpedia.com gives this brief description of Advent:

Advent is the name of the season in which Christians prepare for the celebration that commemorates the birth of Jesus ChristChristmas. The word Advent comes from the Latin phrase “Adventus Domini”, meaning “arrival of the Lord.”

The Advent season is of variable length, and the start date changes every year. It starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day (also known as Advent Sunday and First Sunday of Advent), which can fall between November 27 and December 3, and always ends on Christmas Eve.

Common customs observed in churches and at home during Advent are the decoration of the house with an Advent wreath adorned with candles and the keeping of an Advent calendar. (Quote source here.)

At the beginning of this week I wrote a blog post titled, Three Relationships of Peace,” which gives the background on Advent. I also mentioned that I purchased a small book of Advent readings titled, The Dawning of Indestructible Joy,” (2014) by John Pipera pastor, author, and founder and leader of desiringGod.org, and he is also the chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. Yesterday I began reading the daily readings–each of which is two to three pages long. After I read today’s reading for December 2nd, I thought it would be a great way to open this season of Advent. Here is that reading:

Prepare Your Heart for Christ

“How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” ~John 5:44

God owns and controls all things. And there is nothing that he could give you for Christmas this year that would suit your needs and the longings better than the consolation of Israel and the redemption of Jerusalem, restoration for past losses and liberation from future enemies, forgiveness and freedom, pardon and power, healing the past and sealing the future.

If there is a longing in your heart this Advent for something that the world has not been able to satisfy, might not this longing be God’s Christmas gift preparing you to see Christ as consolation and redemption and to receive him for who he really is?

How is the heart prepared to receive Christ for who he really is? It is very simple.

First, the heart must become disenchanted with the praise of men. “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one and other and do not seek the glory that comes from God?” (John 5:44; 7:17-18).

Second, the heart must become disenchanted with the sufficiency of money and things to satisfy the soul. “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him” (Luke 16:14).

Then, third, alongside this disenchantment with the praise of men and the power of money, there must come into the heart a longing for consolation and a redemption beyond what the world can give.

Fourth and finally, there must be a revelation from God the Father, opening the eyes of the heart so that it cries out, like a man who stumbles onto an incredible treasure, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God, the consolation of my past, the redemption of my future. Now I see you. Now I receive you–for who you really are.”

May God do this for you this Advent. May this be your gift, and your witness, and the testimony of many this Advent. (Quote source: The Dawning of Indestructible Joy,” (2014) for December 2nd, pp. 17-18).

So this Advent season let us keep our focus on the real reason we celebrate this season–on Jesus . . .

The One who is . . .

The One who was . . .

And the One who is to come . . . . (Rev. 1:8)

YouTube Video: “Ode to Joy to the World” (with Choir and Bell Ringers) – The Piano Guys:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Three Relationships of Peace

At the end of this week we will begin celebrating the season of Advent. For folks interested in taking part in a daily reading or following an Advent calendar, it starts on Friday, December 1, 2017. The following information on Advent is taken from an article titled, What is Advent? by Justin Holcomb, an Episcopal priest serving as the Canon for Vocations in the Diocese of Central Florida, and he teaches theology and apologetics at Gordon-Conwell-Theological Seminary and Reformed Theological Seminary. He holds two masters degrees from Reformed Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. from Emory University (source here):

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

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

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appears.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

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

While Advent is certainly a time of celebration and anticipation of Christ’s birth, it is more than that. It is only in the shadow of Advent that the miracle of Christmas can be fully understood and appreciated; and it is only in the light of Christmas that the Christian life makes any sense. It is between the fulfilled promise of Christ’s first coming and the  yet-to-be-fulfilled promise of his second coming that Karl Barth penned these words: “Unfulfilled and fulfilled promise are related to each other, as are dawn and sunrise. Both are promise and in fact the same promise. If anywhere at all, then it is precisely in the light of the coming of Christ that faith has become Advent faith, the expectation of future revelation. But faith knows for whom and for what it is waiting. It is fulfilled faith because it lays hold on the fulfilled promise.” The promise for Israel and the promise for the church is Jesus Christ; he has come, and he will come again. This is the essence of Advent. (Quote source and the entire article with follow-up resources for Advent are available at this link.)

This year I purchased a small book of Advent readings titled, The Dawning of Indestructible Joy,” (2014) by John Piper, an American Calvinist Baptist pastor and author who is the founder and leader of desiringGod.org. He is also the chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In the conclusion to this book, he writes about the “Three Relationships of Peace” (pp. 88-92):

My great desire for you this Christmas is that you enjoy this peace [peace with God, peace with ourselves, and peace with others]. We know that there are global aspects to this peace that lie in the future when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14). When, as Isaiah says, “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end” (Isaiah 9:7).

But Jesus has come to inaugurate that peace among God’s people. And there are three relationships in which he wants you to pursue this peace and enjoy this peace. Peace with God. Peace with your own soul. And peace with other people, as much as it lies with you.

And by peace, I mean not only the absence of conflict and animosity but also the presence of joyful tranquility, and as much richness of interpersonal communication as you are capable of.

So let’s look at each of these three peaceful relationships briefly and make sure you are enjoying as much as you can. The key to each of them is not to separate what the angels kept together: the glory of God and the peace you long for. “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace.”

Peace with God

The most basic need we have is peace with God. This is foundational to all our pursuits of peace. If we don’t go here first, all other experiences of peace will be superficial and temporary.

The key passage here is Romans 5:1: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith [there’s the pivotal act of believing], we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” “Justified” means that God declares you to be just in his sight by imputing to you the righteousness of Jesus.

And he does that by faith alone: “Since we have been justified by faith” (Rom. 5:1). Not by works. Not by tradition. Not by baptism. Not by church membership. Not by piety. Not by parentage. But by faith alone. When we believe in Jesus as the Savior and the Lord and the supreme treasure of our lives, we are united to him and his righteousness is counted by God as ours. We are justified by faith.

And the result is peace with God. God’s anger at us because of our sin is put away. Our rebellion against him is overcome. God adopts us into his family. And from now on all his dealings with us are for our good. He will never be against us. He is our Father and our friend. We have peace. We don’t need to be afraid anymore. This is foundational to all other peace.

Peace with Ourselves

And because we have peace with God because of being justified by faith, we can begin to grow in the enjoyment of peace with ourselves–and here I include any sense of guilt or anxiety that tends to paralyze us or make us hopeless. Here again, believing the promises of God with a view to glorifying God in our lives is key.

Philippians 4:6-7 is one of the most precious passages in this regard: “Do not be anxious about anything [the opposite of anxiety is peace], but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God [in other words, roll your anxieties onto God]. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

The picture here is that our hearts and our minds are under assault. Guilt, worries, threats, confusions, uncertainties–they all threaten our peace. And Paul says the God wants to “guard” our hearts and minds. He guards them with his peace. He guards them in a way that goes beyond what human understanding can fathom–“which surpasses all understanding.”

Don’t limit the peace of God by what your understanding can see. He gives us inexplicable peace, supra-rational peace. And he does it when we take our anxieties to him in prayer and trust him that he will carry them for us (1 Peter 5:7) and protect us.

When we do this, when we come to him–and remember we already have peace with him!–and trust him as our loving and almighty heavenly Father to help us, his peace comes to us and steadies us and protects us from the disabling effects of fear and anxiety and guilt. And then we are able to carry on, and our God gets the glory for what we do because we trusted him.

Do that this Christmas. Take your anxieties to God. Tell him about them. Ask him to help you. To protect you. To restore your peace. And then to use you to make peace.

Peace with Others

The third relationship in which God wants us to enjoy his peace is in our relationships with other people. This is the one we have least control over. So we need to say it carefully the way Paul does in Romans 12:18. He says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

For many of you, when you get together with family for Christmas, there will be some awkward and painful relationships. Some of the pain is very old. And some of it is new. In some relationships you know what you have to do, no matter how hard it is. And in come of them you are baffled and don’t know what the path of peace calls for.

In both cases the key is trusting the promises of God with heartfelt awareness of how he forgave you through Christ. I think the text that puts this together most powerfully for me again and again is Ephesians 4:31-32: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

Continually cultivate a sense of amazement that in spite of all your sins, God has forgiven you through Christ. Be amazed that you have peace with God. It’s this sense of amazement–that I, a sinner, have peace with God–that makes the heart tender, kind, and forgiving. Extend this to others seventy times seven.

It may be thrown back in your face. It certainly was thrown back in Jesus’ face on the cross. That hurts, and it can make you bitter if you are not careful. Don’t let it. Keep being more amazed that your wrongs are forgiven than that you are wronged. Be amazed that you have peace with God. You have peace with your soul. Your guilt is taken away.

Keep trusting God. He knows what he is doing. Keep his glory–not your success or your effectiveness in peacemaking or your relationships–supreme in the treasure chest of your heart.

And then you will be like the angels: Glory to God in the highest is the first thing. Peace among his people is the second thing.

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” This is why he came–on a day, to a city, as a Savior, Messiah, and Sovereign. That God would get glory and that you would know peace. May the God of peace give you peace and get his glory. (Quote course: The Dawning of Indestructible Joy,” pp. 88-92.)

Philippians 4:6-7 (mentioned above) is the key passage used in Max Lucado‘s book, Anxious for Nothing (2017). Max Lucado is a best-selling Christian author and writer and pastor at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas. On the subject of anxiety that we all know so well in our own lives, he states the following on the inside front cover of his book:

It’s a low-grade fear. An edginess, a dread. It’s a wind that won’t stop howling. It’s not so much a storm as it is the certainty that one is coming. Always . . . coming.

So, you don’t sleep well.
You don’t laugh often.
You don’t enjoy the sun.
You don’t whistle as you walk.

The anxiety has its reasons. Airplanes fall out of the sky. Bull markets go bear. Terrorists terrorize. Good people turn bad. The other shoe will fall. Fine print is going to be found. There is misfortune to be had out there. It’s just a matter of time.

And what about the tsunami of personal challenges? You, or someone you know, is facing a job loss, fighting cancer, dealing with divorce, battling addiction, or facing financial hardship.

We worry. We even feel anxious about feeling anxious.

Take heart, my friend. We all encounter anxiety, but we don’t have to give in to it. There is a path out of valley of fret, and the road map is found in the verses of Philippians 4:4-8. There are some key mile markers along the road to peace and calm.

Celebrate God’s goodness.
Ask God for help.
Leave your concerns with him.
Meditate on good things.

Is God sovereign over your circumstances?
Is he mightier than your problem?
Does he have answer to your questions?

According to Scripture, the answer is yes, yes, and yes! Trust him and you can be “anxious for nothing.” (Quote source: “Anxious for Nothing,” inside front cover, hardcover copy.)

In a chapter titled, “Think About What You Think About,” Max Lucado opens with a story of a very sick young girl named Rebecca and her mother, Christyn:

In her short thirteen years Rebecca Taylor has endured more than fifty-five surgeries and medical procedures and approximately one thousand days in the hospital.

Christyn, Rebecca’s mom, talks about her daughter’s health complications with the ease of a surgeon. The vocabulary of most moms includes phrases such as “cafeteria food,” “slumber party,” and “too much time on the phone.” Christyn knows this language, but she’s equally fluent in the vernacular of blood cells, stents, and most recently, a hemorrhagic stroke.

In her blog she wrote:

This past week’s new land mine was the phrase “possible hemorrhagic stroke,” a phrase I heard dozens of time used by numerous physicians. Over and over and over that phrase filled my mind and consumed my thoughts. It was emotionally crippling.

This past Sunday our preacher, Max Lucado, started a very fitting series on anxiety. We reviewed the familiar Philippians 4:6 verse: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

I presented my requests to the Lord as I had so many times before, but this time, THIS time, I needed more. And so, using Philippians 4:8-9 as a guide, I found my answer:

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true . . .” What was true in my life at this particular moment? The blessing of all family members eating dinner together.

“Whatever is noble.” The blessing of enjoying each other’s presence outside of a hospital room.

“Whatever is right.” The blessing of experiencing my two sons’ daily lives.

“Whatever is pure.” The blessing of all three children laughing and playing with each other.

“Whatever is lovely.” The blessing of watching Rebecca sleep peacefully in her bed at night.

“Whatever is admirable.” The blessing of an honorable team working tirelessly on Rebecca’s care.

“If anything is excellent.” The blessing of watching a miracle unfold.

“Think about such things.”

I did. As I meditated on these things, I stopped the dreaded phrase “hemorrhagic stroke” from sucking any joy out of my life. Its power to produce anxiety was now rendered impotent. And when I dwelt on the bountiful blessings in my life happening AT THAT VERY MOMENT, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,” DID guard my heart and my mind in Christ Jesus. A true, unexpected miracle. Thank you, Lord.

Did you note what Christyn did? The words “hemorrhagic stroke” hovered over her life like a thundercloud. Yet she stopped the dreaded phrase from sucking joy out of her life.

She did so by practicing thought management. You probably know this, but in case you don’t, I am so thrilled to give you the good news: you can pick what you ponder.

You didn’t select your birthplace or birth date. You didn’t choose your parents or siblings. You don’t determine the weather or the amount of salt in the ocean. There are many things in life over which you have no choice. But the greatest activity of life is well within your dominion. You can choose what you think about. (Quote source: “Anxious for Nothing,” pp. 119-121.)

During this Advent season, why not make a list of our own “Whatever is . . .” and then “Think about such things.” It will reduce much of the anxiety we feel during the Christmas season and through the New Year, too. And it will give us that “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, [that] will guard our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” I’ll end this post with the words that Paul started out with in Philippians 4:4-8 . . . .

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice . . .

Let your gentleness be known to all men . . .

The Lord is at hand . . . (Phil. 4:4-5)

YouTube Video: “O come, O come Emmanuel” by The Piano Guys:

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

Being Audacious

“When your life is said and done, don’t you wish someone would say that you were adventurous and daring? That you really lived this thing? That you weren’t too scared of your own shadow to chase the shadow of Christ even if it took you to Madagascar? Or just across the tracks to the rough side of town?” That’s some of the questions Beth Moore asks in her book, Audacious (2015), in chapter 6 titled “Waking the Dead” (page 60).

Beth Moore is a writer and teacher of best-selling books and Bible studies whose public speaking engagements carry her all over the United States. She is also the president and founder of Living Proof Ministries, a Bible-based organization for women based in Houston, Texas (source from the back cover of this book). A brief description of this book on Goodreads states:

Thirty years in the making, “Audacious” is a deep dive into the message that has compelled Beth Moore to serve women around the globe. Glancing over the years of ministry behind her and strengthening her resolve to the call before her, she came to the realization that her vision for women was incomplete. It lacked something they were aching for. Something Jesus was longing for. Beth identifies that missing link by digging through Scripture, unearthing life experiences, and spotlighting a turning point with the capacity to infuse any life with holy passion and purpose. What was missing? Well, let’s just say, it’s audacious and it’s for all of us. And it’s the path to the life you were born to live. (Quote source here.)

Continuing from the opening quote at the start of this blog post, Moore goes on to state, “In chapter 4 [of the book], we slashed through synonyms like insolent, contemptuous, and rash in Webster’s definition of ‘audacious’ so you know we aren’t talking about being adventurously and daringly dumb. We’re talking about bodacious bravery and being up for a challenge and not excusing and comforting and protecting ourselves right out of our reasons for being here” (quote source: Audacious,” page 60).

Audacious . . . “intrepidly daringadventurous; marked by originality and verve (quote source here). It involves being brave and showing courage–a courage that comes from the heart. This is what Beth Moore’s book is all about. She goes on to state on pp. 60-65:

What all of us could use right now is a big, fat dose of bravery. Being a woman in a culture that defines valuable as sensual is scary. Refusing to compete in the online game of pretense is scary. Resisting the maelstrom of self-marketing in social media is scary. Somebody might forget we’re here. Taking the risk of failing or looking foolish as you figure out who God has placed you on this planet to be and what He’s placed you on this planet to do is scary. An inevitable part of discovering what we’re good at is discovering what we’re not. Anyone you see out there putting their gifts and experience to full use with profound effectiveness has had a lion’s share of misses. They fell forward as often as they leapt forward.

Even when we land with both feet securely on the sidewalk-square of our calling, we will still stumble around with it more often than we hoped. A work of God cannot be mastered by man, no matter how gifted we are. One day we’ll think we’ve got the thing down. The next day we’ll wonder what on the ever-loving earth we were smoking. The paradox is that it takes God to actually serve God. In the terminology of Zechariah 4:6, it’s “‘Not by strength or by might, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of Hosts.” We have to trust Someone we cannot see, be empowered by a Holy Spirit we often cannot feel, and go with Someone somewhere we have never been. It’s much easier to have the depth of a pair of pink floaties then to take the real plunge.

But love braves it.

And not because love is blind. Sometimes love sees far too well. You’ll see with absolute clarity that you are way over your head but you do it anyway, holding your breath, because you know it is the will of God. Audaciously loving Jesus doesn’t mean that you don’t see the water moccasin on the path in front of you. It means you walk the path anyway–with your heart pounding–even if you do it on your tippy toes. You have to know in advance that danger in inherent in every authentic adventure. You put your snake books on, zip them up, take a deep breath, and go. Audaciously loving Jesus doesn’t mean you have no idea your rock climb is high and steep. It means that you wipe the blood from your nose and keep crawling straight up a slick wall of marble.

If you’re scared to death of public speaking and God calls you to be a communicator or throws you up there to tell your story, He doesn’t blackout the audience so you won’t be afraid. At least He’s never done that for me. He calls you to do it anyway with every eye on you while you stand there in front of them breaking a sweat. And then you do it again and again and again until you start pushing through your fear. My friend, Sherry, is a lifelong spotlight-dodger who is shy by nature, but she’s having the bug-eyed realization in her early thirties that God is calling her to teach Scripture. In front of people. The other day she told me she has to wear a long skirt so people can’t see her knees knocking together. That’s the kind of thing you do if you’re caught up in a whirlwind of audacious love for Jesus. Because love makes you brave. And Jesus makes it worth it.

Take James 1:12, for instance. Read it carefully, noting the cause and effect.

Happy is the one who endures testing, because when he has proven to be genuine, he will receive the crown of life that God promised to those who love him (NET).

The end of the verse doesn’t say that the person endured because he was tremendously disciplined, particularly strong, or impressively gifted. All three of those are beautiful things but only one cause is given in this verse for enduring the kind of testing that proves an individual genuine enough for the King of all creation to crown: the person loved Him. What won’t we do for love?

A heart-pumping love for God: that is what compels us to endure when a time of testing nearly kills us. That’s what makes us get back up. That’s what keeps us in it when we want to quit. You’ll see the connection in 1 Peter 1:6-8:

You rejoice in this, though now for a short time you have had to struggle in various trials so that the genuineness of your faith—more valuable than gold, which perishes though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. You love Him, though you have not seen Him. And though not seeing Him now, you believe in Him and rejoice with inexpressible and glorious joy (HCSB).

Did you notice the loop between testing and proving genuine in both segments? Take a good look at James 1:12 and 1 Peter 1:7 and you can’t miss it. We don’t have to prove anything to God. He is the “kardiognostes,” the Knower of the Hearts. He knows exactly what we’re made of and exactly what He invested in us. He knows the immensity of the treasures He tucked way down inside of us in a place that can only be tapped by turmoil. God knows precisely how He gifted us and to what unfathomable degree He empowered us through His own Holy Spirit. He knows to the minutest detail how thoroughly He has equipped us. God cannot be conned. He requires no proof to quell His own curiosity. Confusion is human, not divine. God knows exactly how real or pretentious our faith is.

Be we don’t. That’s the thing. Neither do the people in our homes, our workplaces, our churches, our social environments, or our spheres of influence. Neither do angels or demonic principalities. God tests us to bring out the real us. He tests us to prove our faithfulness to Him in front of a devil who bets we’re fakes. God tests us to prove us genuine to “a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us” (Hebrews 12:1). For crying out loud, He test us to prove us genuine to ourselves, the last ones to usually know. God knows what is inside of you. That’s the person He’s trying to surface. If He’s knocking the cover off of you, He’s trying to get to the light.

Love not only fuels endurance. It feeds obedience. Look at John 14:15:

“If you love Me, you will keep My commands.”

If you have a background of abuse like I do and have fallen victim to a colossal misuse of authority like I have, the thought of obeying anybody’s “commands” may make your skin crawl. This is one of the chief reasons why getting to know Jesus intimately through the pages of Scripture is vital. That’s where we see His character etched in concrete. God cannot be ungodly. Truth cannot tell a lie. Light cannot make you dark. Holiness cannot poke you full of holes. Everything commanded by God commands blessing. It may come sooner. It may come later. But it will come. His way is the way of wholeness, goodness, rightness, and of glad and gleeful reaping. The working of Deuteronomy 30:16  takes the warm pulse of the righteous commander:

For I am commanding you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commands, statutes, and ordinances, so that you may live and multiply, and the Lord your God may bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

We who live on this side of Christ’s cross and resurrection dwell under the New Covenant where divine promises find parallels primarily in spiritual terms, which, incidentally, far surpass anything temporal. Jesus promised that our lives rather than our lands would bear much fruit. He promised that we would have not just life but life more abundantly. He promised to multiply disciples all over the earth, invading every nation and people group with the gospel before He returns. And He’s chosen to do that primarily through His own followers. What He commands, He blesses. It takes some audacity to believe that in a culture chock-full of cynics, but you’ve got a God-breathed Bible to support it.

Audacious love leads to audacious obedience. And, sooner or later, audacious obedience leads to blessing. Maybe even sooner and later. First Timothy 4:8 promises that “godliness is beneficial in every way, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”

Listen, you can’t live an obedient life and miss an adventure. Following the commands of Christ is not just about behavior. Behavior modification is not an end in itself in the New Testament. Transformation is about knowing the truth and the truth setting you free. If you’ll follow Christ’s commands, you’ll follow Christ straight to your calling and you’ll have developed the strength, grit, and stability along the way to handle it. If you’ll cooperate with Christ and do what He tells you to do in keeping with the words of His mouth and the ways of His heart, you’re going to find out how much room holiness makes for wildness. If the apostles and early followers of Jesus didn’t live wild lives, I’ll unpack my hair dryer from my suitcase, kick my feet up on a couch, and work crossword puzzles.

When you give your heart over to the outrageous occupation of the glorious love of God, He will flabbergast your mind with a living, breathing 1 Corinthians 2:9:

What eye did not see and ear did not hear,
and what never entered the human mind—
God prepared this for those who love Him.

(Quote source: Audacious,” pp. 60-65).

There is a whole lot more in this book then what I’ve posted above, but I hope what I’ve posted above whets your appetite for more. Don’t pay attention to the cynics in this world. There are plenty of them around every corner. Instead, pay attention to the One who can take you through every circumstance you encounter if you keep your focus on Him and not on the cynics or the circumstances.

In the last chapter of Audacious titled “The Best Part,” Moore writes:

Jesus has never appeared to me. I’ve never heard His audible voice. But He has revealed Himself and His audacious love to me in countless ways. I have been moved by His Word at times so strongly that I’ve put my face in my hands and wept, or gotten out of my chair and gone face-down to the floor, or felt so energized and alive I had to come straight to my feet and pace the floor. Sometimes I purely have to slap my desk over the beauty and power of the Scriptures. That’s not natural. That’s the Spirit of Truth within the heart of a believer bearing witness to the Word of Truth in that pair of hands. It’s not of our own doing. It’s God. That’s precisely the wonder of it. Personalities differ dramatically. You may not be as demonstrative and you’re not prone to slap your desk, but if you’ve walked with Jesus very long, I bet you know what it’s like to feel extraordinarily moved by His Word in a way you know is His Spirit and not just emotion. That difference between adrenaline and anointing is in the fruit. If the results are eternal, that’s anointing.

Sometimes the Holy Spirit will well up inside of me with enough force that I have to stop what I’m doing and completely change plans to follow the leadership of His Spirit “as best as I know how.” Those last six words are important. I’m a flawed woman with limited understanding trying to follow a flawless Savior with an infinite mind. Sometimes that welling up of Christ’s Spirit seems to come with inaudible but discernible directions. I’ve contacted people I haven’t talked to in ages only to find them–that very moment–desperate for encouragement or help or prayer. If you’ve been at it long, I bet you have, too. I have on occasion been compelled by the Holy Spirit to sit down by a total stranger in an airport, strike up a conversation with her, and soon find myself in an encounter so divinely orchestrated that only faithlessness could call it a coincidence. I’ve been in the full stride of a Bible lesson at an event and, without even thinking it through, stopped right in front of a person in the audience as I made the next point and learned later how specific it was to her. I end up as slack-jawed as she. Only an all-knowing, audaciously loving Savior reveals Himself that personally, intricately, and mercifully.

Those kinds of things are not my everyday experiences but neither are they isolated rarities. Many believers from diverse denominations, background, regions, countries, and traditions could testify to moments when Christ seems to reveal Himself, His power or His abounding affection in an extraordinary fashion. Like me, they believe moments like these can be valid experiences with Christ through His Spirit because Scripture blatantly says they can be. I’m not looking for something beyond what the Bible affirms, but I want every single thing within that Book that pleases Jesus to give me. He has denied my requests multiple times but every divine “yes” puts steel in my bones to keep seeking, asking, and knocking. I think that’s how He likes it. He is perfectly capable of saying “no,” but God forbid that we fail to receive because we refuse to ask (James 4:2). (Quote source: Audacious,” pp. 161-162).

So let us strive to be audacious by keeping our focus on Jesus . . .

The One who is . . .

The One who was . . .

And the One who is to come . . . . (Rev. 1:8)

YouTube Video: “Beyond Me” by TobyMac:

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

Love Does

After four nights of loud and not-so-loud noise coming from the room above my room that lasted all through the night leading to four very sleepless nights, and now a whole lot of noise outside my door and window from a whole bunch of very young kids playing very loudly and running all over the place in the parking lot (yeah, the parking lot where cars come and go all the time), I’ve really just about had it with hotel living, not that I have another choice at the moment and not because I haven’t been trying to find a more permanent place to live on a very low income (Social Security).

Just this past week I visited yet another apartment complex that is brand new (it just opened in July) advertising one bedroom apartments for $354/mo. to those who qualify, but when I got there I was told those cheaper rent apartments had all been rented (with all of the renters signing a 12-month lease) but I could be put on a waiting list (I would have to pay a $250 deposit just to be put on the waiting list) or I could rent the same apartment for the normal rent price of $756/mo. I did explain that my Social Security check after the Medicare premium is taken out is only $934/mo., and if I rented an apartment for $756/mo. I’d be lucky to be able to pay the electric bill with what is left over let alone other living expenses. My experience of these past several years first in trying to find another job and now for the past 3 1/2 years looking for low income housing is that there is not a whole lot of compassion out there for anyone especially anyone living on a very low income.

Guess I might need to reread my last post written eleven days ago titled,Being Truly Thankful,” again as if one keeps dealing with people who apparently are not inclined to be genuinely helpful it wears very, very thin (the thankfulness part, I mean).

A couple of weeks ago I bought a book on sale for $5.00 titled, Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World (2012) by Bob Goff, “a New York Times best selling author and a recognized lawyer for over 25 years. In 2001 he saw a need in India and founded what is now known as Love Does (quote source here). A brief description of the book on Amazon.com states:

As a college student he spent 16 days in the Pacific Ocean with five guys and a crate of canned meat. As a father he took his kids on a world tour to eat ice cream with heads of state. He made friends in Uganda, and they liked him so much he became the Ugandan consul. He pursued his wife for three years before she agreed to date him. His grades weren’t good enough to get into law school, so he sat on a bench outside the Dean’s office for seven days until they finally let him enroll. 

Bob Goff has become something of a legend, and his friends consider him the world’s best-kept secret. Those same friends have long insisted he write a book. What follows are paradigm shifts, musings, and stories from one of the world’s most delightfully engaging and winsome people. What fuels his impact? Love. But it’s not the kind of love that stops at thoughts and feelings. Bob’s love takes action. Bob believes Love Does.

When Love Does, life gets interesting. Each day turns into a hilarious, whimsical, meaningful chance that makes faith simple and real. Each chapter is a story that forms a book, a life. And this is one life you don’t want to miss.

Light and fun, unique and profound, the lessons drawn from Bob’s life and attitude just might inspire you to be secretly incredible, too. (Quote source here.)

There probably couldn’t be a more perfect day for me to finally pick up this book and take a look at it as after these past four days where I have gotten a very big dose of what “Love Doesn’t” do it’s starting to show up in me, too. And I hear the very heavy footsteps of, no doubt, young kids on the floor above me as I am writing this. Don’t you wish you could live in a hotel for a while. 🙂

There is a chapter (Chapter 29) toward the end of the book that is titled, “Memorizing Jesus,” on pp. 197-202. Here is what it has to say:

Memorizing Jesus

“I used to think I could learn about Jesus by studying Him,
but now I know Jesus doesn’t want stalkers.”

Have you ever been stalked? I don’t think I have, but I suppose it would be hard to tell if the stalker was any good. Stalking is one of those creepy things where once yo start talking about it, you imagine it’s happening to you. More people trying to follow Jesus should think about what stalkers do, but not for the reasons you might think at first.

I get paid as a lawyer to collect information and memorize facts, and I’ve gotten really good at it. What I realized about my faith is that I was doing just that, collecting information and memorizing things about God. I collected pictures and gathered artifacts and bumper stickers about Christianity, and I talked about knowing Jesus like we were best friends, when actually, we really hardly knew each other at all. and I memorized Bible verses and the names of the books of the Bible in order and the sequence of a bunch of events as well as who was there. At some point I had to confess that I was stalking Jesus. I was actually creeping myself out a little and I realized I was probably creeping God out too. So I decided I’d stop.

The first think I did was quit going to what Christians call a “Bible study.” A Bible study sounds like a wholesome thing to go to, and honestly, it is. They can come in as many flavors as there are people leading them. At the ones I went to, I learned a bunch of facts and information about Jesus. We might be studying how a guy named Lazarus was raised from the dead by Jesus. The leader would open up a reference book and say something like, “The word ‘dead’ means in the Greek . . .” And then he’s say, “In the Hebrew the word means . . .” Sometimes he’d get really into it and talk about the difference between the Greek version of ‘dead’ and the Hebrew version. Then he’d ask us a compelling question. Something like, “When was the last time you felt dead?” Huh? I asked myself. Honestly, who really needs to hear a definition of ‘dead’? And what difference did it make? I wanted to talk about how I could do a better job following Jesus, how to practice kindness, and what might be possible to do with my faith before I’m the Green or the Hebrew version of dead.

This guy’s intentions were totally pure, so I don’t mean to trash him or anything. Plus, most of the things we studied at the Bible study were true and all, but honestly, if just made me feel like a stalker. Like a creepy guy memorizing facts and information about somebody I barely knew. whatever it was that I needed, I wasn’t finding it because I never wanted to ‘do’ anything with what I had learned. Most Wednesday nights, when I left Bible study, I found I couldn’t remember a single thing we’d talked about either. It was like someone put a big magnet on my hard drive after the Bible study was over. I wondered if something was wrong with me. But then I realized the reason I didn’t remember anything was because, in the big scheme of things, it really didn’t seem important to me. In other words, it didn’t intersect my life; it just bounced up against my life on Wednesdays.

What’s up with equating “Bible study” with knowing God anyway? Wouldn’t it be a horrible thing if we studied the ones we loved instead of bonding in deeper ways be doing things with them? I’d never want to get married to a girl no matter how much I studied her. I’d rather take her sailing or fishing or eat cotton candy with her on a Ferris wheel. I don’t think knowing what her name means in Greek is going to help me love her more. In fact, they have a name for guys who just study things about a person they like but don’t do anything about it–they’re called bachelors.

So I started getting together with the same guys each week and instead of calling it a Bible study, we call it a “Bible doing.” We’ve been at it for fifteen years now, and I’ve found there’s a big difference between the two. At our Bible doing, we read what God has to say and then focus all of our attention on what we are going to do about it. Just agreeing isn’t enough. I can’t think of a single time where Jesus asked His friends to just agree with Him.

Sometimes, the reason people try to memorize things is that they don’t have another reference point from which to connect with a place or idea or concept. I get that. But the funny thing is, until I’ve experienced something personally, I usually can’t remember it. You’d think that by hearing the same things many times, it would become part of us; but most of us just aren’t wired to merely hear things and remember them.

Not long ago I listed to a Taylor Swift song called “Love Story” on a flight all the way from the East Coast to the West Coast. I had the song on repeat on my iPod for some reason, and as soon as it finished, it would automatically start once again. It’s a happy song. Lots of banjo music at the beginning as I recall. If you want to know how many times I heard that song, divide three minutes and fifty-five seconds by North America. Even though I heard the words sung over and over, you know what? I can’t remember more than a few isolated lyrics.

I remember that it’s about a guy named Romeo and I’m not quite sure who the girl is. I’m guessing it’s Taylor. I think that they had to overcome some adversity because the girl’s dad wasn’t keen on young Romeo. As a dad, I can respect that. But at the end of the day, I can’t remember how the songs ends or whether they guy got the girl.

I don’t remember much about Taylor’s love story even though I’ve heard the song about it over a hundred times. Why, in contract, can we remember every nuance, every glance, and if we’ve fallen in love, our entire courtship story with such punishing detail? With our own love stories, every detail comes alive. Our own love stories are so poignant, so detailed, so unforgettable–at least to us. When it’s someone else’s love story, however, we will be polite and listen, but usually it’s entirely forgettable. It’s like looking at someone else’s vacation pictures.

When I have skin in the game, the outcome all of a sudden matters to me and I become engaged. Some people think of engagement as the time between proposing marriage to someone and getting married. I think of engagement as the time between hearing a truth and nodding our heads or making sincere “mmhms” in agreement and when we do something about it. That explains why Jesus never talked about just building consensus; He wanted us to build a kingdom instead.

If you get engaged like that, you’ll be able to remember Bible verses better because you’re “living” them instead of just reading them. Another by-product of engagement is all the canned answers we have to complex questions melt away. I think that’s because we see ourselves in the context of something larger that is unfolding. the details aren’t distractions; they are ladder rungs we can pull ourselves up on. We remember because we are no longer observers. I think Jesus had in mind that we would not just be “believers” but “participants.” Not because it’s hip, but because it’s more accurate, more fitting that way. He wanted people who got to the “do” part of faith, not because He wanted activity, but because He wanted our faith to matter to us.

One of the ways I make things matter to me is to move from merely learning about something to finding a way to engage it on my own terms. For example, if someone asks what I think about capital punishment, instead of reciting the party line and parroting someone else’s thoughts, I think of a teenager named Kevin in prison in Uganda who had been accused of a capital crime. If the topic is same-sex attraction, I think of a dear friend of mine who is gay. Now instead of talking about an issue, I’m talking about a person, someone who matters to me. I think that Jesus wired us that way so that we’d remember. And it’s not about just being politically correct; it’s about being actually correct. We need to make our faith our very own love story.

What I like about Jesus’ message is that we don’t need to study Him anymore to know Him. That’s what the religious people at the time were promoting. Collecting information about someone is not the same as knowing a person. Stalkers are ordinary people who study from afar the people they’re too afraid to really know. Jesus said that unless you know Him like a child, you’ll never know Him at all. Kids don’t care about facts, and they certainly don’t study each other. They’re just with each other; they do stuff together. That’s what Jesus had in mind.

I listened to Taylor Swift’s song a few more times since my trip across the country. This time I took notes so I’d remember how the story goes. It turns out that it all worked out great in the end for Taylor. Romeo stuck around even though the dad told him to split, she got a while dress, and according to Taylor, all she had to say was yes. But I bet Romeo didn’t get to know her because he memorized her. I think it’s because he did things with her. It’s the same for us. (Quote source, “Love Does,” pp. 197-202).

Reading this chapter reminds me of the fact that we rarely take the time to really get to know another person unless there is a compelling reason for it (and, hopefully, that compelling reason is a good reason and not a bad reason for getting to know them). We too often make assumptions about others without knowing them, and we listen to (and often believe) gossip about them, but we never really get to personally know them. And most of the time we don’t care, either.

It’s like hotel living. People come and go all the time. It’s the most transient way I’ve ever been forced to live in my entire life (also the most expensive given it is also the tiniest space I’ve ever lived in, too). And I’ve learned over three years of hotel living at different hotels that, unfortunately (because I normally tend to be a very friendly person), it is best to keep to myself as all kinds of people stay in hotels for all kinds of reasons (and some of those reasons are very unsavory). This is nothing like living in an apartment complex.

Love is an action word. It’s not meant to be memorized or studied as Bob Goff stated in his chapter above. It is meant to be lived out on a daily basis. Yet, in this world there is not a lot of love going on out there, so it has to come from us. If all we (meaning those of us who claim to be Christian) do is “study” Jesus or attend church and maybe a Bible study but put very little of “how” (as in action) Jesus told us we should live with and around others, then we’ve totally missed the point of knowing Jesus. That does not mean we become doormats to the whims of others, but it does mean we ought to at least extend them kindness even if they are abrupt with us for whatever reason (and maybe for no reason at all).

After four days of noise when I’m here in my room during the day, and four sleepless nights from the constant noise from the room above me at all hours of the night, my feathers are more then a little ruffled by the actions of others who are causing it to happen. Maybe that is intentional on their part . . . who knows. The most I can do is to report it to the manager and hope it will subside a bit, but I have no ill will towards those guests who are doing it, and if I should run into them coming in and going out of the hotel parking lot, I will be kind to them. I do not know their motives, and they don’t know me at all (except that I’m a single and much, much older white woman which doesn’t fit in with the rest of the demographics at this particular hotel). The one thing every single one of us can be with others is kind. And that’s a good place to start.

I’ll end this post with the same words I ended my last post, Being Truly Thankful,” with the words from Ephesians 4:32: And be kind to one another, tenderhearted . . .

Forgiving one another . . .

Even as God in Christ . . .

Forgave you . . . .

YouTube Video: “Testify to Love” by Avalon:

And here’s another YouTube Video of a song from 1971 with the same type of message: It’s titled “I Just Want to Celebrate” by Rare Earth:

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

Being Truly Thankful

In two weeks we will be celebrating Thanksgiving Day here in America. This gives us two weeks to start thinking about all of the things we are thankful for no matter whether we have a little or a lot. It’s not just about material possessions (Christmas sort of takes over in that way), but a time to think about–no matter what our circumstances might be at this present moment–what matters most and what we are genuinely thankful for in our lives.

To get us started, here is a very short story I just found on Dr. Joseph Mercola‘s Facebook page posted back in 2010:

A Wonderful Thanksgiving Story

A blind boy sat on the steps of a building with a hat by his feet.  He held up a sign which said: “I am blind, please help.” 

There were only a few coins in the hat.

A man was walking by. He took a few coins from his pocket and dropped them into the hat.  He then took the sign, turned it around, and wrote some words. He put the sign back so that everyone who walked by would see the new words.

Soon the hat began to fill up. A lot more people were giving money to the blind boy.  That afternoon the man who had changed the sign came to see how things were. 

The boy recognized his footsteps and asked, “Were you the one who changed my sign this morning?  What did you write?”

The man said, “I only wrote the truth.  I said what you said but in a different way.” I wrote: “Today is a beautiful day but I cannot see it.”

Both signs told people that the boy was blind. But the first sign simply said the boy was blind. The second sign told people that they were so lucky that they were not blind. Should we be surprised that the second sign was more effective?

Moral of the Story: Be thankful for what you have. Be creative. Be innovative. Think differently and positively. When life gives you a 100 reasons to cry, show life that you have 1000 reasons to smile. Face your past without regret. Handle your present with confidence. Prepare for the future without fear. Keep the faith and drop the fear.

The most beautiful thing is to see a person smiling. And even more beautiful, is knowing that you are the reason behind it!

Happy Thanksgiving to all! (Quote source here.)

This same story was reprinted on a marketing website by Becca Fieler, a Marketing Manager at Thomson Reuters, at Thanksgiving in 2016 at this link, and a YouTube video was posted with it (that video is posted at the end of this blog post). In her version the person who changed the sign was a woman instead of a man. She introduced the story on her post as follows:

I stumbled across this wonderful Thanksgiving story earlier this week and felt compelled to share it. I don’t know who wrote it, but it moved me.

It vaguely reminded me of what we all strive to achieve from a Thanksgiving marketing campaign, but more importantly, who we strive to be as human beings. Spin changes how we feel about products and people, but sincerity, kindness and generosity will always shine the brightest. As Ellen DeGeneres says at the close of each show,

“Be kind to one another.”

Whenever you’re having a particularly bad day, count all of the reasons you have to be thankful and let your gratitude speak louder than your grief. Enjoy this tale and take its 10 morals to heart. (Quote source here.)

Here are the 10 morals that she posted after the story:

The moral of this story is tenfold:

  1. Be thankful and grateful for what you have
  2. Be creative and innovative
  3. Look at things from new and different perspectives
  4. Share your knowledge and experience
  5. Face your past without regret
  6. Handle the present with confidence
  7. Prepare for the future without fear
  8. Keep the faith and have hope
  9. Stay positive in the face of adversity
  10. Persevere – never give up

Make someone smile today. Today is beautiful.

Happy Thanksgiving to all! (Quote source here.)

I found another great story posted at Thanksgiving 2014 and updated in 2016 on Huffington Post by Austin Schneider, an Account Manager at Emergenetics International. His story is titled:

Being Grateful for What You Have

Thanksgiving is such a great time of the year. In the United States, we are fortunate to have a holiday where we kick back for a couple of days and really focus on being grateful for what we have in our lives.

During this time just two years ago, I was living in Italy and I remember what a bizarre feeling it was to not be surrounded by the holiday as we are in the US. It was a case of “not knowing what you had until it was gone.” It was also the first time I had spent Thanksgiving outside of the US. For myself and some of the other American people I was with, we were very intentional about recreating the Thanksgiving experience because we greatly missed having it all around us.

During this time, I realized being grateful for things should not be limited to one Thursday per year. It is something we should focus on every single day because at the very least, it will make you a happier person…just ask Harvard Medical School. It is not always easy for us to think this way, given anxieties Millennials in particular face from the constant exposure to theperfectlives your friends lead on Instagram.

I have a story that highlighted this point of gratefulness very well. I was fortunate enough to have a great friend and personal mentor of mine drop in to visit me in New York last week. He had been called on for an important presentation at work in the city, and we were able to enjoy an early morning coffee atJoe Coffeeon Waverly Place. We were talking about the progress of careers and how people start at different places and go different directions. He then caught me comparing myself to some of my friends around the world. He cut me off very quickly and guided me . . .

“Let me tell you something Teddy Roosevelt once said. ‘Comparison is the thief of joy.’Don’t focus on what you don’t have and don’t focus on what your friends do have.”

He continued his wisdom. “Focus instead on where you are, what you do well and who you are in this very moment. Be thankful for that.”

It was a perfect thing for me to hear as a reminder, and I wanted to share it for your thoughts. Being thankful every day for the things I have has allowed me to focus on what I bring to the world to create a positive impact.

I now give you ten things to say thank you for, today and every day.

  1. Your family
  2. Your friends
  3. Clean water
  4. Food
  5. Clothes
  6. Connecting with others
  7. Music
  8. Movies
  9. Books
  10. Yourself and your strengths

Remember, there are millions of people who would love to do what you do every day.

Happy Thanksgiving! (Quote source here).

I’ll end this blog post with one last item–a Thankgiving prayer originally posted on Crosswalk.com at Thanksgiving 2012 (and reposted in 2016) by Cindi McMenamin, an author and national speaker (see her website at StrengthForTheSoul.com):

Thanksgiving Prayer

Thank you, God, for this food we are about to eat. And thank You for Your many blessings on us this past year . . . the ones we’ve seen, as well as the ones we haven’t seen. 

Thank you, God, for the times You have said “no.” They have helped us depend on You so much more.

Thank you, God, for unanswered prayer. It reminds us that You know what’s best for us, even when our opinion differs. 

Thank You, God, for the things you have withheld. You have protected us from what we may never realize. 

Thank You, God, for the doors You have closed. They have prevented us from going where You would rather not have us go. 

Thank you, Lord, for the physical pain You’ve allowed in our lives. It has helped us more closely relate to Your sufferings on our behalf. 

Thank you, Lord, for the alone times in our lives. Those times have forced us to lean in closer to You. 

Thank you, God, for the uncertainties we’ve experienced. They have deepened our trust in You. 

Thank You, Lord,  for the times You came through for us when we didn’t even know we needed a rescue.

Thank You, Lord, for the losses we have experienced. They have been a reminder that You are our greatest gain. 

Thank You, God, for the tears we have shed. They have kept our hearts soft and moldable.  

Thank You, God, for the times we haven’t been able to control our circumstances. They have reminded us that You are sovereign and on the throne. 

Thank You, God, for Your ability to take what we consider ‘tragedy’ and turn it into a treasure.

Thank You, God, for those You have called home to be with You. Their absence from this earth reminds us to keep our eyes fixed on heaven.  

Thank You, God, that we have an inheritance in the heavenly places . . . something that this world can never steal from us and we could never selfishly squander. 

Thank You, God, for the greatest gift You could ever give us: forgiveness through Your perfect Son’s death on the cross on our behalf. 

Thank you, God, for the righteousness You credited toward us, through the death and resurrection of Jesus. It’s a righteousness we could never attain to on our own. 

And thank You not only for our eternal salvation, but for the salvation You afford us every day of our lives as You save us from ourselves, our foolishness, our own limited insights, and our frailties in light of Your power and strength. 

Thank You, God, for all that You have allowed and not allowed in our lives this past year. For we commit our lives anew to You this day and ask that You would continue to remind us, throughout this next year, that You are God, You are on the throne, and You are eternally good. 

Thank You, finally, that we can pray in the name of Jesus, who made our access to You—and a personal relationship with You—possible. Amen. 

We hope this thanksgiving prayer can bring joy and gladness to your family this holiday. Use this prayer all year round to continue to renew your mind and focus on God’s goodness. (Quote source here.)

May we each take some time over the next two weeks before Thanksgiving arrives to be compassionate to those who cross our paths, and to be thankful for all that we have and that we have been given, whether it is a little or a lot. After all, it’s not about quantity, it’s about something that is far greater than that.

I’ll end this post with the words from Ephesians 4:32: And be kind to one another, tenderhearted . . .

Forgiving one another . . .

Even as God in Christ . . .

Forgave you . . . .

YouTube Video (from the story at the beginning of this post): The Power of Words:

YouTube Video: “Speak Life” by TobyMac:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

The Way of Peace

Back in 1969, John Lennon came out with his famous anti-war song during the height of the Vietnam War which was sung by him and Yoko Ono titled, Give Peace A Chance (YouTube video is available at this link). The refrain, “All we are saying is give peace a chance” still echos down through the decades since he recorded that song. And peace is still just as elusive now as it was back then. In fact, it has always been elusive. “The Bible accurately describes the human condition in Romans 3:17: ‘The way of peace they have not known’” (quote source here).

In my last blog post, The Bond of Peace,” I ended that post with a verse from Romans 12:18:

If it is possible,
as far as it depends on you,
live at peace with everyone.

So let’s explore what that means. The Apostle Paul, who wrote the book of Romans in the New Testament (Paul is attributed to being the author of 13 books in the New Testament known as the Pauline epistles), is writing to believers (e.g., those who believe in Jesus Christ) in Rome. The above mentioned verse taken within the context of all 21 verses found in Romans 12 state the following (from the NIV version):

A Living Sacrifice

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Humble Service in the Body of Christ

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Love in Action

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

“As far as it depends on you [e.g., believers], live at peace with everyone”. . . . And that same statement is repeated again at the end of verse 15 in 1 Corinthians 7 (another New Testament book written by Paul): “God has called us [e.g., believers] to live in peace.” Taken in context, the subject of 1 Corinthians 7 is the marriage relationship, and that specific verse is in reference to a believer who is married to an unbeliever. The entire verse (7:15) states, “But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister [e.g., follower of Jesus Christ] is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.” The key is to live in peace with everyone, regardless of the situation or even how the other person might react in any given situation.

Living in peace isn’t an option or a luxury for Christians–it is a vital necessity. We cannot control how others react to us or regarding situations and circumstances that come into our lives, but how we react to others and those situations and circumstances is something we can very much control. And Romans 12 (see above) is clear on how we should live in this world in order to maintain peace on our end. We need to remember that universal peace is not the goal, and even a brief look at history proves out the fact that universal peace is not attainable in this world; however, as much as it depends on us, we should live in peace with everyone.

In Philippians 4, also a New Testament book written by Paul, he states the following regarding the importance of peace in the believer’s life in verses 4-9:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

“In every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God, and the peace of God which transcends all understanding (see Proverbs 3:5-6) will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”. . . . We cannot underestimate the importance of maintaining peace in our lives, and Paul tells us exactly how to receive “the peace from God that transcends all [human] understanding.”

In the New Testament book of James, written by James, who is widely thought to be the half-brother of Jesus (source here), he gives us one of the main causes of a lack of peace in Christians’ lives in James 4:

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

“God opposes the proud
    but shows favor to the humble.”

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

Brothers and sisters [e.g., believers], do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

It’s obvious that this kind of behavior will not lead to peace with others, and especially with those we don’t particularly like for whatever reasons we don’t happen to like them. Disdain for others (including fellow believers) and even our enemies is not an option for Christians, and it does not lead to peace, either. It leads only to strife and division.

So how should we behave around others, including unbelievers? Again, Paul gives us the answer in Colossians 4:5-6:

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Everyone (including those we don’t like) . . . . In an article titled, Colossians 4:5-6: Proper Conduct Towards Unbelievers,” by Matt Slick, President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM), he opens his article with these compelling questions:

How do you behave with and toward unbelievers? Do you like them? Do you hate them? Do you tolerate them? Are you concerned about their salvation? Do you act like them when you aren’t in Christian company? Do you snub them if they aren’t holy? Some Christians think that being kind to unbelievers is like throwing pearls before swine. Then there are Christians who stand on street corners, in malls, and in front of abortion clinics to witness to unbelievers. Others just don’t care one way or another. Where do you fit in? Do you share your faith using hugs or headlocks? Honey or a hammer? Or do you even share your faith at all?

The Word of God is very specific about how you as a Christian are to conduct yourself toward the non-Christian. (Quote source here–and the rest of the article is also available at this link.)

And it’s not just our actions with unbelievers but also with fellow believers, especially those we disagree with or disdain for one reason or another.

This brings up the subject of what Jesus had to say in Matthew 22:37-40 when he was asked a question by a Pharisee regarding what is the greatest commandment in the Law:

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

So then, that answer lends itself to this question. Who is my neighbor? Jesus answers that question by way of The Parable of the Good Samaritan found in Luke 10:25-37:

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

In an article titled Who Is My Neighbor? Well, Who Are You? by Jonathan Parnell, lead pastor of Cities Church, he writes:

“Who is my neighbor?”

An earnest lawyer asks Jesus this question in Luke 10:29. We soon learn it’s one of those conversations that’s padded out in advance. He asks a question to set up something he wants to say. He was earnest to “justify himself,” as Luke makes clear. And obviously, he was feeling pretty good about how it was going through verse 28. But then comes the curve ball.

Whatever this lawyer had in mind for the answer, it wasn’t the story Jesus told. And it’s not what we would expect either. Yes, we may all know the parable of the Good Samaritan, but it can be a little confusing. The “neighbor,” it would appear, is the man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho who was beaten and left for dead (Luke 10:30). The neighbor is the object, the one of whom the three other characters encounter. But in the end, Jesus says the Samaritan who helped his man “proved to be the neighbor” (Luke 12:36–37).

So here we are, along with the lawyer, trying to figure out whom we’re supposed to love, and Jesus turns the question around. Look at this man who acts in mercy. Stop asking, “Who is my neighbor?” There are deeper questions to ponder. As John Piper explains, “When we are done trying to establish, ‘Is this my neighbor?’ — the decisive issue of love remains: What kind of person am I?” (“What Jesus Demands from the World,” [Crossway, 2006], 264).

“Who are you?” — that’s the question.

Are we going to be like this Samaritan who gives help when help is needed? Or are we going to be caught up in questions about who we’re supposed to help, and when and where and how, and what if it will make me late for Sunday School?

What grounds the way we think about neighbors is actually our identity, not theirs. What matters first is who we are. . . .

The Good Samaritan didn’t give his spare change to fill an empty whiskey bottle, and that’s not the best use of our resources either. But perhaps we should have some concern that we get lost in these qualifiers too often — about when help can hurt and who are the poor and what’s not the Great Commission. These are all important questions, and we do well to give them careful thought.

But while we think — and think we must — may we never lose sight that the central issue has to do with how the gospel miracle bears on our own souls. God has made us new creatures in Christ — righteous before him and empowered to love others for his sake. (Quote source here.)

So the question is not only “Who is my neighbor?” but “What kind of neighbor am I?” And that takes us back to the opening verse in Romans 12:18 . . .

If it is possible . . .

As far as it depends on you . . .

Live at peace with everyone . . . .

YouTube Video: “Testify to Love” by Avalon:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

The Bond of Peace

Peace . . . it’s often hard to find in the world we live in today, but then it’s always been hard to find. I ran across a small paperback book yesterday by Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) titled, The Power of the Blood,” (for half price!) and as I was looking it over I thought to myself that it’s not very often anymore (unless you’re in seminary or you are a pastor or in some other position in a church or Christian institution) that we read what the “old guys” had to say who paved the way for us today. Charles Spurgeon was not known for having “soft and easy” ways when it came to proclaiming the cross of Jesus Christ; however, at the time of his death at the age of 57, it was said that “in January 1892, London went into mourning. Nearly 60,000 people came to pay homage during the three days his body lay in state at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. Some 100,000 lined the streets as a funeral parade two miles long followed his hearse from the Tabernacle to the cemetery. Flags flew at half-staff and shops and pubs were closed” (quote source here).

Spurgeon’s performance was fiery at times. Here is a brief background on him taken from Christianity Today:

Spurgeon was born in Kelvedon, Essex, to a family of clerics. His father and grandfather were Nonconformist ministers (meaning they weren’t Anglicans), and Spurgeon’s earliest memories were of looking at the pictures in Pilgrim’s Progress and Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.

His formal education was limited, even by nineteenth-century standards: he attended local schools for a few years but never earned a university degree. He lived in Cambridge for a time, where he combined the roles of scholar and teaching assistant and was briefly tutored in Greek. Though he eschewed formal education, all his life he valued learning and books—especially those by Puritan divines—and his personal library eventually exceeded 12,000 volumes.

At age 15, Spurgeon broke with family tradition by becoming a Baptist. He attributed this conversion to a sermon heard by “chance”—when a snowstorm blew him away from his destination into a Primitive Methodist chapel. The experience forced Spurgeon to re-evaluate his idea on, among other things, infant baptism. Within four months he was baptized and joined a Baptist church.

His theology, however, remained more or less Calvinist, though he liked to think of himself as a “mere Christian.” “I am never ashamed to avow myself a Calvinist,” he once said. “I do not hesitate to take the name of Baptist, but if I am asked what is my creed, I reply, ‘It is Jesus Christ.'”

Preaching Sensation

Still a teen, Spurgeon began preaching in rural Cambridgeshire. He quickly filled the pews in his first pastorate in the village of Waterbeach. He had a boyish appearance that contrasted sharply with the maturity of his sermons. He had a good memory and always spoke extemporaneously from an outline.

His energy and oratorical skills and harmonious voice earned him such a reputation that within a year and a half, he was invited to preach in London, at the historic New Park Street Chapel. The congregation of 232 was so impressed, it voted for him to preach an additional six months. He moved to the city and never left.

As word spread of his abilities, he was invited to preach throughout London and the nation. No chapel seemed large enough to hold those who wanted to hear the “the preaching sensation of London.” He preached to tens of thousands in London’s greatest halls—Exeter, Surry Gardens, Agricultural. In 1861 his congregation, which kept extending his call, moved to the new Metropolitan Tabernacle, which seated 5,600.

At the Center of Controversy

Spurgeon did not go unnoticed in the secular press. On the one hand, his sermons were published in the Monday edition of the London Times, and even the New York Times. On the other hand, he was severely criticized by more traditional Protestants. His dramatic flair—he would pace the platform, acting out biblical stories, and fill his sermons with sentimental tales of dying children, grieving parents, and repentant harlots—offended many, and he was called “the Exeter Hall demagogue” and “the pulpit buffoon.”

Spurgeon replied, “I am perhaps vulgar, but it is not intentional, save that I must and will make people listen. My firm conviction is that we have had enough polite preachers.”

Not only his style, but his convictions created controversy as well. He never flinched from strong preaching: in a sermon on Acts 26:28, he said, “Almost persuaded to be a Christian is like the man who was almost pardoned, but he was hanged; like the man who was almost rescued, but he was burned in the house. A man that is almost saved is damned.”

On certain subjects, he was incapable of moderation: Rome, ritualism, hypocrisy, and modernism—the last of which became the center of a controversy that would mark his last years in ministry.

TheDown-Grade Controversy,” as it came to be known, was started in 1887 when Spurgeon began publicly claiming that some of his fellow Baptist ministers were “down grading” the faith. This was the late-nineteenth century, when Darwinism and critical biblical scholarship were compelling many Christians to re-evaluate their understanding of the Bible. Spurgeon believed the issue was not one of interpretation but of the essentials of the faith. He proclaimed in his monthly,The Sword and the Trowel,” “Our warfare is with men who are giving up the atoning sacrifice, denying the inspiration of Holy Scripture, and casting slurs upon justification by faith.”

The controversy took its toll on the denomination (which censured Spurgeon) and upon Spurgeon, whose already delicate health deteriorated even more during the year-long affair (he suffered from, among other things, recurring depressions and gout).

Spurgeon’s contributions were larger than his pulpit, however. He established alms houses and an orphanage, and his Pastor’s College, opened in 1855, continues to this day. He preached his last sermon in June 1891 and died six months later. (Quote source here.)

With that brief background on Spurgeon, there are two brief sections from the book by Spurgeon mentioned at the beginning of this post from Chapter 5 titled, “True Unity Promoted” (pp. 135-160), titled “Keeping the Unity” and “The Bond of Peace” (pp. 147-151): Remember as you are reading that it was written in the 19th Century:

Keeping the Unity

Now we know that there is a unity of the Spirit [the Holy Spirit] worthy to be kept. I want to point out that it needs to be kept. It is a very difficult thing to maintain for several reasons. First of all, our sins would, very naturally, break it. If we were all angels, we would keep the unity of the Spirit and not even need the exhortation to do so. But alas, we are proud, and pride is the mother of division. Diotrephes, who loves to have preeminence (see 3 John 1:9), is very sure to head a faction. How envy, too, has separated good friends! When I cannot be satisfied with anything that is not hammered on my workbench, when another man’s candle grieves me because it gives more light than mine, and when another man troubles me because he has more grace that I have–oh, there is no unity in this case. Anger–what a deadly foe that is to unity! When we cannot overlook the smallest disrespect, when the slightest thing turns our faces red, when we speak unadvisedly with our lips–surely then there is no unity. But, I do not need to read the long list of sins that spoil the unity of the Spirit, for it is lengthy. Oh, may God cast them out of us, for only then can we keep the unity of the Spirit.

But, beloved, our very virtues may make it difficult for us to keep this unity. Luther [Martin Luther, 1483-1546] was brave and bold, hot and impetuous; he was just the man to clear the way for the Reformation. Calvin [John Calvin, 1509-1564] was logical, clear, cool, precise; he seldom spoke rashly. It was not natural for Luther and Calvin to agree. Their very virtues caused them to argue. Consequently, Luther, in bad temper, called Calvin a pig and a devil. And although Calvin once replied, “Luther may call me what he will, but I will always call him a dear servant of Christ.” Yet John Calvin knew how to pierce Luther under the fifth rib when he was angry.

In those days the courtesies of Christians to one another were generally of the iron glove kind, rather than the naked hand. They were called to war for the sake of the truth, and they were so intent on their task that they were even suspicious of their fellow soldiers. It may be the same way with us: the very watchfulness of truth, which is so valuable, may make us suspicious where there is no need for suspicion. And, our courage may take us where one should not go, like a fiery horse that carries a young warrior beyond where he is intended to go, where he may be taken prisoner. We must watch–the best of us must watch–lest we fight the Lord’s battles with Satan’s weapons and thereby, even from love to God and His truth, violate the unity of the Spirit.

The unity of the Spirit ought to be kept, dear friends, because Satan is so busy trying to mar it. He knows that the greatest glory of Christ will spring from the unity of His church.

That they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. ~John 17:21

There is no church happiness where there is no church unity. If a church is divided, the schism is death to all sacred fellowship. We cannot enjoy communion with each other unless our hearts are one. How feeble is our work for God when we are not in agreement!

The enemy cannot desire a better ally than strife in the midst of our camp. “Can you not agree,” said a warrior of old, “when your enemy is in sight!” Christians, can you not agree to keep the unity of the Spirit when a destroying Satan is ever on the watch, seeking to drag immortal souls down to perdition? (See 1 Peter 5:8). We must be more diligent in this matter. We must purge ourselves of everything that would divide us, and we must equip our hearts with every holy thought that would unite us. When I join a Christian church, I should not say, “I am sure I will never break this church’s unity.” I am to suspect myself of tending toward that evil, and I am to watch with all diligence that I keep the unity of the Spirit.

The Bond of Peace

In order to keep the unity of the Spirit, there is a bond provided–the bond of peace. Beloved, there should be much peace, perfect peace, and unbounded peace among the people of God. We are not strangers; we are “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19). Realize your fellow citizenship, and do not treat Christian people as foreigners; then this common bond of citizenship will be a bond of peace.

Men may be fellow citizens and still be enemies, but you are friends. You are all friends to Christ, and in Him you are all friends to one another. Let that be another bond. But, your relationship goes even deeper. You are not just friends, you are brothers [and sisters], born of the same Parent, filled with the same life. Will this not bind you together? “See that you do not become troubled along the way” (Genesis 45:24). Do not contend with one another, for you are brothers [and sisters]. (See Acts 7:26.)

But, this is not all. You are even closer then brothers [and sisters], for you are members of the same body! Will this mysterious union fail to be a bond of peace to you? Will you, being the foot, contend with the eye? Or will you, being the eye, content with the hand and say, “I have no need of you” (1 Corinthians 12:21)? The joints and bones in a person’s body do not disagree. If it is really true that we are members of Christ’s body, let it never be said that the various parts of Christ’s body would not work together but instead battled one another. What a monstrous thing to be said!

I believe I have brought out the meaning of the text. There is a unity of the Spirit that is worthy to be kept. We ought to keep it. We must try to keep it in the bond of peace. (Quote source, Power in the Blood,” pp. 147-151.)

I had to smile when I read about the confrontations between Luther and Calvin as it is so like what we do today. We seem to always be able to find a way to “get even” with someone with whom we disagree whether by overt or covert means. It is at the very core of human nature, but is it totally disruptive to genuine unity and peace.

In a sermon preached in the same time period (it was preached on February 9, 1851), by the famed English preacher Frederick W. Robertson, titled Unity and Peace,” he opened his sermon with the following words:

“And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.”Colossians 3:15.

There is something in these words that might surprise us. It might surprise us to find that peace is urged on us as a duty. There can be no duty except where there is a matter of obedience; and it might seem to us that peace is a something over which we have no power. It is a privilege to have peace, but it would appear as if there were no power of control within the mind of a man able to ensure that peace for itself. “Yet,” says the apostle, “let the peace of God rule in your hearts.”

It would seem to us as if peace were as far beyond our own control as happiness. Unquestionably, we are not masters on our own responsibility of our own happiness. Happiness is the gratification of every innocent desire; but it is not given to us to ensure the gratification of every desire; therefore, happiness is not a duty, and it is nowhere written in the Scripture, “You must be happy.” But we find it written by the apostle Paul, “Be ye thankful,” implying therefore, that peace is a duty. The apostle says, “Let the peace of God rule in your hearts;” from which we infer that peace is attainable, and within the reach of our own wills; that if there be not repose there is blame; if there be not peace but discord in the heart, there is something wrong.

This is the more surprising when we remember the circumstances under which these words were written. They were written from Rome, where the apostle lay in prison, daily and hourly expecting a violent death. They were written in days of persecution, when false doctrines were rife, and religious animosities fierce; they were written in an epistle abounding with the most earnest and eager controversy, whereby it is therefore implied, that according to the conception of the Apostle Paul, it is possible for a Christian to live at the very point of death, and in the very midst of danger — that it is possible for him to be breathing the atmosphere of religious controversy — it is possible for him to be surrounded by bitterness, and even take up the pen of controversy himself — and yet his soul shall not lose its own deep peace, nor the power of the infinite repose and rest of God. Joined with the apostle’s command to be at peace, we find another doctrine, the doctrine of the unity of the Church of Christ. “To that which ye are called in one body,” in order that ye may be at peace; in other words, the unity of the Church of Christ is the basis on which, and on which alone, can be built the possibility of the inward peace of individuals. (Quote source and the entire sermon is available at this link.)

Unity and peace . . . and it starts with us! I’ll end this post with the words from Romans 12:18 . . .

If it is possible . . .

As far as it depends on you . . .

Live at peace with everyone . . . .

YouTube Video: “If We Are the Body” by  Casting Crowns:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Top Ten Psalms

I must confess that this blog post comes from another blog post published in 2012 titled, Top 10 Psalms(the author also has a Twitter page which is located at the following Twitter account: @biblesummary). The author notes on his blog post that Psalm 23 came in at #1 which was no surprise, but Psalm 121 was a very close 2nd as it came in only one vote behind Psalm 23 in popularity. He also stated that most of the “Top 10” contain famous and quotable verses, and he noted that the main surprise he found regarding the top ten list is Psalm 138 that came in at #3. The psalms are listed below in order of popularity from #1 to #10. You can click on the link for each psalm listed below to read the entire psalm (in NKJV).

Top 10 Psalms

Psalm 23
The LORD is my shepherd. He leads me in paths of righteousness. I will fear no evil. I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Psalm 121
I lift up my eyes to the hills; my help comes from the LORD. He who keeps you will not slumber. The LORD will keep you from all evil.

Psalm 138
I give you thanks, O LORD! All the kings of the earth will praise you. Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life.

Psalm 62
My soul waits for God alone. He alone is my rock and my salvation. Trust in him at all times, O people. Power and love belong to God.

Psalm 46
God is our refuge. We will not fear, though the earth give way. The nations rage, kingdoms fall. “Be still and know that I am God.”

Psalm 117
Praise the LORD! For great is his love towards us.

Psalm 37
Do not be envious of evildoers, for they will fade like the grass. The righteous will inherit the earth. The LORD is their stronghold.

Psalm 1
Blessed is the man who does not walk with the wicked, whose delight is in the law of the LORD. He is like a tree planted by the water.

Psalm 40
I waited patiently for the LORD. He drew me up from the pit. I delight to do your will, O God. My heart fails me, but you are my help.

Psalm 84
How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD! A day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. For the LORD is a sun and shield. (Quote source here.)

Enjoy!!!

YouTube Video: “Praise You In This Storm” (some of the words are taken from Psalm 121) by Casting Crowns:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Overwhelming Conviction

}{

“I have been many times
driven to my knees
by the overwhelming conviction
that I had nowhere else to go.”

~Abraham Lincoln
16th President of the United States
He abolished slavery.

}{

“I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
but still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything.
I will not refuse to do something
that I can do.”

~Edward Everett Hale

}{

“A ship in the harbor is safe,
but that is not
what ships are built for.”

~John A. Shedd

}{

“No one is useless in this world
who lightens the burden of it
for anyone else.”

~Charles Dickens

}{

“I believe in Christianity
as I believe that the Sun has risen,
not only because I see it,
but because by it
I see everything else.”

~C.S. Lewis

}{

The quotes above have been taken from the book, Earth Psalms: Reflections on How God Speaks Through Nature (2016) by Francine Rivers.

This post has been written on my smartphone and if I can get my laptop to stay on long enough I will come back in later and provide more links… ☺

UPDATE 10-17-17: I have a new laptop! And that’s a very good thing!!! 

Photo credit here

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