Tisha B’Av 5777 (2017)

Today, August 1, 2017, is Tisha B’Av (the 9th of Av) on the Jewish calendar. It started at sundown yesterday and ends at nightfall this evening. I first wrote about it in 2012, and subsequently reposted that blog post in 2013, 2014, and 2015; and I’ve decided to repost it again today (see below). It is customary to read from the books of Lamentations and Job in the Old Testament on this day known as an official day of mourning and fasting due to a series of catastrophes that occurred on this same day over a period of centuries including the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem.

Here are a few verses from Lamentations to get us started (Lamentations 3:22-26, NIV):

Because of the Lord’s great love
we are not consumed,

for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”

The Lord is good to those
whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.

Below is my original blog post from 2012 (Tisha B’Av and 9/11):


Tisha B’Av and 9/11

Posted on July 29, 2012 by Sara’s Musings

tisha-bav-the-jewish-911-yeshuatyisrael-comToday is Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of the month of Av on the Jewish calendar. It started at sundown yesterday and ends at nightfall tonight (which is the typical start and end of each day on the Jewish calendar). However, this particular day has powerful significance for the Jewish people and it is known as a day of mourning due to a series of severe catastrophes that occurred on this same day over a period of centuries.

Being a Gentile (non-Jewish), I haven’t given much thought to the Jewish calendar over the years in relation to our own calendar. However, in June, I stumbled upon some interesting facts regarding the Jewish calendar and came upon information about Tisha B’Av and the three weeks prior to that day–a time frame observed by religious Jews as a time of fasting, mourning and repentance that starts on the 17th day of Tammuz and leads up to the official day of mourning, the 9th of AvTisha B’Av.

So what exactly happened on Tisha B’Av? The following information is taken from Chabad.org:

The 9th of Av, Tisha b’Av, commemorates a list of catastrophes so severe it’s clearly a day specially cursed by G‑d.

Picture this: The year is 1313 BCE. The Israelites are in the desert, recently having experienced the miraculous Exodus, and are now poised to enter the Promised Land. But first they dispatch a reconnaissance mission to assist in formulating a prudent battle strategy. The spies return on the eighth day of Av and report that the land is unconquerable. That night, the 9th of Av, the people cry. They insist that they’d rather go back to Egypt than be slaughtered by the Canaanites. G‑d is highly displeased by this public demonstration of distrust in His power, and consequently that generation of Israelites never enters the Holy Land. Only their children have that privilege, after wandering in the desert for another 38 years.

The First Temple was also destroyed on the 9th of Av (423 BCE). Five centuries later (in 69 CE), as the Romans drew closer to the Second Temple, ready to torch it, the Jews were shocked to realize that their Second Temple was destroyed the same day as the first.

When the Jews rebelled against Roman rule, they believed that their leader, Simon bar Kochba, would fulfill their messianic longings. But their hopes were cruelly dashed in 133 CE as the Jewish rebels were brutally butchered in the final battle at Betar. The date of the massacre? Of course—the 9th of Av!

One year after their conquest of Betar, the Romans plowed over the Temple Mount, our nation’s holiest site.

The Jews were expelled from England in 1290 CE on, you guessed it, Tisha b’Av. In 1492, the Golden Age of Spain came to a close when Queen Isabella and her husband Ferdinand ordered that the Jews be banished from the land. The edict of expulsion was signed on March 31, 1492, and the Jews were given exactly four months to put their affairs in order and leave the country. The Hebrew date on which no Jew was allowed any longer to remain in the land where he had enjoyed welcome and prosperity? Oh, by now you know it—the 9th of Av.

Ready for just one more? World War II and the Holocaust, historians conclude, was actually the long drawn-out conclusion of World War I that began in 1914. And yes, amazingly enough, Germany declared war on Russia, effectively catapulting the First World War into motion, on the 9th of Av, Tisha b’Av.

What do you make of all this? Jews see this as another confirmation of the deeply held conviction that history isn’t haphazard; events – even terrible ones – are part of a Divine plan and have spiritual meaning. The message of time is that everything has a rational purpose, even though we don’t understand it.

I was stunned after I read that list and realized that every single horrific event listed above that occurred over several centuries happened on the exact same day–the 9th of Av,Tisha B’Av. I found a “reader” (a small collection of articles) on “Tisha B’Av and the Three Weeks” at Aish.com and downloaded it last night and read it this morning. As I was reading through the incredibly moving stories, the similarities that the Jewish people feel regarding the catastrophes that have happened to them on Tisha B’Av are not dissimilar to how Americans feel about what happened to us on 9/11Tisha B’Av is primarily about mourning the loss of the Temple (twice), where God’s presence dwelt among the Jewish people in the Old Testament. It was the pulling away of God from His people and His presence in their lives. Normally, during Tisha B’Av the Book of Lamentations is read as well as other readings which “reflect the sadness of the tragedies and often relate the tragedies to rebellion of the people. However some of the Kinot [readings] reflect the hope of redemption” (Source link no longer available at website).

The following two quotes are from two articles in the reader which you can download at this site: Tisha B’Av Reader. The first quote is from an article titled, “The Heart-Rending Cry” by Keren Gottleib, pp. 4-7:

“I understood that this [the mourning mentioned in her article] was exactly how we are supposed to mourn the Temple on Tisha B’Av. We are supposed to cry over the loss of the unity and peace throughout the entire world. We are supposed to lament the disappearance of the Divine Presence and holiness from our lives in Israel. We are supposed to be pained by the destruction of our spiritual center, which served to unify the entire Jewish nation.

“We’re supposed to feel as if something very precious has been taken away from us forever. We are meant to cry, to be shocked and angry, to break down. We are supposed to  mourn over the destruction of the Temple, to cry over a magnificent era that has been uprooted from the face of the earth. The incredible closeness that we had with God–that feeling that He is truly within us–has evaporated and disappeared into thin air” (p. 7).

As I read that article I was struck by that last sentence, “The incredible closeness that we had with God–that feeling that He is truly within us–has evaporated and disappeared into thin air.” After America’s own catastrophe, 9/11, we pulled together (and filled the churches) and were united once again as a nation unlike anything we had experienced in recent decades since the war in Vietnam that divided our nation; however, it didn’t take long for most Americans to get back to living their own individual lives again although every time we go through security to board an airplane it should serve to remind us of the horror of that terrorist attack instead of as an inconvenience that takes too long to navigate. And, after the initial shock of 9/11 dimmed, we put God back on the shelf, too, except maybe on Sunday morning.

The second quote is from an article titled, “On the Same Team,” by Dov Moshe Lipman, pp.7-9:

“Perhaps each time God puts us through another round of suffering, His proclamation of ‘Again,’ He is waiting for us to stop identifying ourselves as an individual Jew coming from his separate background and upbringing. ‘I’m modern Orthodox.’ ‘I’m Reform.’ ‘I’m a Hasid.’ ‘I’m secular.’ ‘I’m Conservative.’ ‘I’m yeshivishe.’

“Those characterizations polarize the nation and make it impossible for us to function together as one team. As individual groups, we cannot accomplish what we can accomplish as one team. We are held back by that same baseless hatred which creeps in when we are not one unit.

“Perhaps God is waiting for all of us to proclaim in unison, ‘I am a Jew.’ Plain and simple.

“Even more importantly, perhaps God is waiting for us to stop seeing others as ‘He’s modern Orthodox.’ ‘He’s Reform.’ ‘He’s a Hasid.’ ‘He’s Secular.’ ‘He’s Conservative.’ ‘He’s Yeshivishe.’

“Perhaps the answer to our suffering and long exile is reaching the point where we see other Jews as members of the same team and family. Jews and nothing else.” (pp. 8-9).

As I read those words, it became crystal clear that we as Christians in America do the same thing. We put each other in categories–‘Baptist.’ ‘Charismatic.’ ‘Methodist.’ ‘Pentecostal.’ ‘Anglican.’ And the list goes on and on. . . . Yet we all claim to serve the same God through Jesus Christ. We fight among ourselves in a sort of “our church is better than yours” self-righteousness instead of working together, united in Jesus Christ. No wonder our nation is falling apart. We have forgotten what true repentance is and what it requires of us, and we’ve forgotten that if Jesus Christ is truly our Savior and Lord, that we are all on the same team.

Another anniversary of the horrific catastrophe of 9/11 will soon be here. Will we continue to be “one nation divided or “one nation united under God”? Do we want to see God’s blessing on our nation again, or will we continue on a path that brings only division and strife, and ultimately, destruction?

The choice is ours, and we need to start making it now . . . (Reposted from 2012 blog post titled, Tisha B’Av and 9/11)


Some additional information on Tisha B’Av in the United States is taken from TimeandDate.com:

Many Jewish Americans observe Tisha B’Av, which is the ninth day of the month of Av in the Jewish calendar. It is a day of mourning to remember various events such as the destruction of the First Temple and Second Temple in Jerusalem. When Tisha B’Av falls on Shabbat (Saturday), it is deferred to Sunday, 10th of Av.

Many Jewish people in the United States observe various restrictions during Tisha B’Av. These restrictions may include:

  • Fasting.
  • Avoiding washing, bathing, shaving or wearing cosmetics.
  • Not wearing leather shoes.
  • Avoiding certain types of work.
  • Abstaining from sexual activities.

Many traditional mourning practices are observed, such as refraining from smiling and laughing. Those who observe Tisha B’Av are allowed to study only certain portions of the Torah and Talmud on Tisha B’Av. The book of Lamentations is read and mourning prayers are recited in the synagogue. The ark (cabinet where the Torah is kept) is draped in black.

Some universities or learning centers give those who observe Tisha B’Av the chance to sit exams at other dates, on the proviso that certain requirements are met. Some Jewish centers offer a program for observing Tisha B’Av. People who are sick are exempted from fasting on the day.

Tisha B’Av is not a federal public holiday in the United States. However, some Jewish organizations may be closed or have restricted opening hours.

Tisha B’Av, also known as the Jewish Fast of Av, is a period of fasting, lamentation and prayer to remember the destruction of the First and Second Temples of Jerusalem. The Jewish people still continued the fast day even after they rebuilt the First Temple after the Babylonians destroyed it in 586 BCE. The Romans destroyed the Second Temple by burning it in 70 CE and this marked the start of a long exile period for Jewish people. These are two of five sad events or calamities that occurred on the ninth day of the month of Av. The other three [mentioned above in the previous blog post from 2012] were when:

  • Ten of the 12 scouts sent by Moses to Canaan gave negative reports of the area, leading to the Israelites’ despair.
  • The Romans captured the fortress city of Beitar, the last stronghold of the leaders of the Bar Kochba revolt, and thousands of Jewish people, including Bar Kokhba (or Kochba), were massacred in 135 CE.
  • The city of Jerusalem was destroyed in 136 CE.

Tisha B’Av is a sad day that observes other major disasters and tragedies that Jewish people experienced throughout history, including the expulsion of the Jewish people from England in 1290 and from Spain in 1492, as well as the mass deportation of Jewish people from the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II.

Tisha B’Av begins at sunset on the previous day and lasts for more than 24 hours. It is the culmination of a three-week period of mourning. Weddings and other parties are generally not permitted and people refrain from cutting their hair during this period. It is customary to refrain from activities such as eating meat or drinking wine (except on the Shabbat) from the first to the ninth day of Av. (Quote source here.)

In Jerusalem today (August 1, 2017) the following article titled, More Than One Thousand Jews Visit Temple Mount on Tisha B’Av, Setting New Record,” by Nir Hasson, in Haaretz News states:

At least 1,046 Jews visited the Temple Mount on Tuesday, according to Jewish activists, setting a new record for most Jewish visitors in one day. Many more are expected to visit later in the afternoon.

Activists have been organizing a campaign in recent days aimed at encouraging Jews to visit the site on Tisha B’Av, following the recent tensions at the flashpoint holy site over the last two weeks. The fast day commemorates the anniversary of the destruction of the First and Second Temple, as well as several other disasters in Jewish history. The previous record in Jewish visitors to the site was during the most recent Jerusalem Day, marking the city’s reunification, when some 900 Jewish visitors entered the Temple Mount. (Quote source here.)

Another article in The Times of Israel” noted that a record number of over 1,300 Jews have visited the Temple Mount today (quote source here). Some additional information also published today in an article titled The Mystery of Why Jews Fast on Tisha B’Av,” by Elon Gilad, he states the following at the end of his article:

“The State of Israel marks Tisha B’Av eve by closing businesses. Programming on television and radio turns somber. But in contrast to Yom Kippur, most Israeli Jews do not observe the fast.” (Quote source here.)

In Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 we read:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

And Tisha B’Av marks . . .

A time to weep . . .

And a time to mourn . . .

YouTube Video: Music is not played during the observance of Tisha B’Av; therefore, I have not included a YouTube video on this post.

Photo #1 credit here
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Photo #3 credit 

These Are The Times

I ran across an article on Patheos.com yesterday published on July 19, 2017 titled, Christian Ghosting: The Destructive Christian Practice We Don’t Talk About,” by Benjamin L. Corey, author, cultural anthropologist and theologian. I must admit that I had never heard of the term “Christian ghosting” before I read this article, but the description of it is nothing new. Perhaps you’ve never heard of “Christian ghosting” either. Here is what Corey wrote about his own personal experience with it in his article (quote source here):

I don’t think I believe in ghosts–I suppose I’m open to the possibility, but never in my life have I seen an apparition of anything ghost-like.

But while I don’t believe in ghosts, I have been “ghosted” and it remains one of the more painful and destructive experiences in my whole life.

Ghosting is something that can happen to anyone, in any social circle, or from any particular social group. However, we American Christians seem to have perfected this to a finely crafted art.

What is ghosting? You might not know the term, but you probably know the action: ghosting is when someone abruptly ends a friendship with limited or no explanation, and when they proceed to quickly disappear from your life.

For me, I was ghosted by my best friend– and my entire social circle quickly followed without saying a word.

My family and I went from having what felt like a strongly bonded group of people to do life with, to waking up one morning and discovering we were now alone, and had no friends or natural support system. Before we were ghosted, we’d meet on a weekly scheduled evening for “small group” where we’d share meals together, talk about life together, pray for one another, and where we did life together.

On Sundays we worshiped together. Between those scheduled times we’d all hang out, help one another with projects or needs, our kids would play with one another… we’d celebrate birthdays and anniversaries together. Life was good.

And then one day, the world stopped.

I was a teaching elder at our church, and made the critical error of pushing back on folks when they challenged my fitness for serving as an elder when it was said in a meeting, “We have a deep concern that you’re not truly the head over your wife.”

I made the error of saying we shouldn’t force two of our most committed, reliable, and spiritually mature community members to be re-baptized as a condition of being a full voting member of our church.

I made the error of advocating for a higher minimum wage in a television interview (which led to someone literally yelling and walking out of church).

I made the error of preaching a sermon on Matthew 5 and what it means to love our enemies– which got me cornered and rebuked by the other elders because the sermon was, ironically, “unloving” to preach to a bunch of gun owners, apparently.

I made the error of suggesting we should have a policy against people bringing weapons into our place of worship, prompting some folks to threaten leaving the church.

I made many “errors,” and the net result was the tension in our little group continued to increase until my best friend bailed instead of navigating conflict–taking the rest of our social circle with him. We went from texting countless times a day and spending individual and family time together, to… nothing.

Quiet. Silence. Distance. Nonexistence.

It was like a magician showed up in my life, covered everything with a blanket, and then with a whisk of the wand it all disappeared–leaving me just holding a blanket.

The damage wasn’t just something I suffered–I also had to navigate hard discussions with my then 12-year-old daughter as to why she lost all her friends as well. I still wake up every morning and try to extend grace for the sin of ghosting, but the fact my daughter had her closest friends ghosted from her as well, is something I still struggle to forgive.

Ghosting can happen to anyone, but we Christians sure know how to do it well.

It’s as if for us, loving people simply because they are people made in the image of God is not enough. Instead, we become only willing to love people who we are in harmonious agreement with. As long as we are in agreement, the relationship is solid–but the minute one person begins to grow and shift on this belief or that one, we bail.

We ghost people. We disappear from their lives. We abandon them. We sever ties.

And we do it in the cruelest way possible: with silence.

Sometimes I have to pray like Jesus did and say, “Father, forgive them because they don’t know what they do.” Because honestly, I don’t think they understand the damage they’ve done.

I don’t think they realize that on the day they ghosted my family, my daughter lost the only close friendships she had.

I don’t think they realize that on the day they ghosted me, it was the day that my marriage started to seriously unravel.

I don’t think they realize how painful it was to experience three failed adoptions in the months after their disappearance–driving home the reality that we had no one to grieve with us, no one to check in on us, and no one who cared if we survived as a family, or not. Every waking morning was a reminder that none of them actually gave a shit about us.

I don’t think they realize that years later, the idea of going to church again or having Christian friends I can trust, is outside of what would be healthy or plausible for me.

I don’t think they realize that when they see us at the department store and turn to walk away before we see them, they’re not quick enough.

I don’t think they realize that I never fully recovered from that life event, and that it still impacts me on a daily basis. I felt it yesterday, I feel it today, and I fear I’ll feel it tomorrow, too.

I don’t think they realize any of those things. Sadly I don’t think they care, either–because if they did, they would have attempted to bind up the wounds they inflicted without letting years go by and life fall apart.

And now, it’s too late–there can be forgiveness, but there will never, ever, be reconciliation. It’s done. It’s finished. There is no reversing the damage, and no returning to what once was.

The destruction from the practice of Christian Ghosting, quite honestly, is often irreparable.

For those of us who have tried to live out the Christian life while being open to allowing new information to shape and stretch what we believe, the reality is that at one time or another, we have friends who will ghost us.

Somehow, someway, too many Christian circles have failed to realize that we don’t have to be in complete agreement to be in a complete relationship.

And so, when theological agreement is not in harmony, there’s always at least one family who feels like some evil magician made their life disappear without notice or even a preemptive “abracadabra” to give us a bit of warning that life is about to change.

We can refuse to be the ones who do the ghosting.

And when it happens, we can practice praying, “Forgive them Father, for they don’t have the slightest clue as to the damage they’ve done.” (Quote source here.)

Regarding “ghosting,” Corey stated that “we Christians sure know how to do it well,” but the point in his story that is missing is that most of those who were doing the “ghosting” were most likely aware of the damage they were doing to him and his family as that many people don’t just “disappear” from a person’s life overnight without some major planning behind the scenes going on by those doing it. He and his family were targeted but those in his church who were unhappy with him. Here’s a link to another article (the author references this post by Corey above in her post) published on July 23, 2017 titledThe Different Types of Christian Ghosting,” by Captain Cassiday.

While this particular incident happened within a Christian setting, it isn’t something that is done only in Christian settings by “Christians.” This type of behavior/betrayal is planned out and orchestrated by the people doing it. And it is not dissimilar to the same type of planning and orchestration required in workplace bullying. The Workplace Bullying Institute defines workplace bullying as follows:

Workplace bullying is repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that is:

This definition was used in the 2014 WBI U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey. Its national prevalence was assessed. [Update note: 2021 WBI Workplace Bullying Survey is available at this link.]

Workplace Bullying…

    • Is driven by perpetrators’ need to control the targeted individual(s).
    • Is initiated by bullies who choose their targets, timing, location, and methods.
    • Is a set of acts of commission (doing things to others) or omission (withholding resources from others)
    • Requires consequences for the targeted individual
    • Escalates to involve others who side with the bully, either voluntarily or through coercion.
    • Undermines legitimate business interests when bullies’ personal agendas take precedence over work itself.
    • Is akin to domestic violence at work, where the abuser is on the payroll. (Quote source here.)

Whether it’s “ghosting” or “bullying” the end result is often the same–destruction in the life of the targeted individual whether it’s social (losing family or friends and/or social standing in the community), economic (losing a job, chronic unemployment causing financial havoc, etc.), or destroying a reputation (other reasons are also involved). If a Christian is targeted it often has to do with trying to destroy that person’s faith in a loving and just God due to what is being done to them, as well as including other factors already noted. Or the targeting could be caused by discrimination from other religious groups that are hostile toward Christians or other religions. Some of it could involve racism, whether it’s black on white or white on black, and includes other racial groups, too.

It’s hard to know exactly why a specific individual has been targeted, but I found a list of the types of people targeted, and it includes:

Government and corporate whistleblowers
Protesters and Civil Rights activists
Highly intelligent people from a wide range of professions
Women who are independent, intelligent and confident professionals
Men who are nonconformists with a sense of self-esteem and pride
People who have had a bad breakup with an ex-spouse who has influence
Criminals (targeting known offenders)
Gays and Lesbians
Inventors awaiting a large payoff
Mentally disabled
People awaiting a large insurance claim or settlement
Convenient targets of opportunity
People with special talents or abilities
Independent freethinkers
People who are perceived as vulnerable or weak

The pattern that is unfolding indicates that many targets are people who tend to be emotionally developed, self confident, independent, freethinkers, artistic–people who don’t need the approval of others, and those not prone to corruption. They are people who don’t need to be part of a group to feel secure. (Source: “The Hidden Evil,” 2009, by Mark Rich.)

Again, whether it’s “ghosting” or “bullying,” it is behavior that is often hidden from the general public by the perpetrators which makes the target appear to be crazy when (as in the case of workplace bullying) the targeted individual files a complaint in the workplace or in some other way tries to stop the harassment. As Rich also noted in his book, the main objective in the harassment of targeted individuals “appear to be to separate the targeted person from friends and family, keep them unemployed, induce homelessness, and reduce the quality of life so much that they suffer a nervous breakdown, end up medicated, or hospitalized.” For example, regarding targeted individuals in the workplace, “according to a 2012 WBI large-sample study, an alarming 77% of targets lost their jobs: 28% quit, 25% terminated involuntarily, 25% forced out by constructive discharge. In a 2011 WBI study, we asked bullied targets if they found a job after displacement from bullying. A quarter of those bullied never replaced their lost jobs. For those who found a job, 53% earned less money in their post-bullying position” (quote source here). And, according to Rich, it is a global phenomenon.

“These are the times that try men’s souls” as stated by Thomas Paine, 18th century Enlightenment philosopher and author, back on December 23, 1776. And, indeed, they still are today, too. The full quote by Paine, written in The American Crisis,” is this . . .

“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.” (Quote source here.)

The summer soldier and sunshine patriot . . . both shrink in a crisis. Soft living and “status quo” makes us shrink, too. And we want accolades and success without paying any price for it. We want an easy salvation, too, but it is not so. We want life on our terms and Heaven waiting at the end, but life can change on a dime, and that is when we find out that we are not the captain of our own ship after all. The storms come and prove that to us, and Benjamin Corey found that out when he was “ghosted” by his “friends.” I found it out when I lost that job over eight years ago, too. We can take nothing for granted in this life.

The apostle Paul stated the following in Philippians 2:1-13 (ESV):

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

It’s time to get back to the basics . . . faith, hope, love . . . .

Faith makes all things possible . . .

Hope makes all things work . . .

Love makes all things beautiful . . . .

YouTube Video: “Speak Life” by TobyMac:

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

Psalm 25

In my last blog post, Anatomy of the Soul,” I mentioned the great benefit that comes from reading and praying the Psalms in the Old Testament. While we can relate to many of the Psalms in our own personal lives, one psalm that caught my attention back in the 1980’s is Psalm 25, which is one of the psalms attributed to David. Here is a little background information on it from an article on Bible.org titled, Psalm 25: Seeking God in the Hard Times,” by Steven J. Cole, pastor at Flagstaff Christian Fellowship:

Psalm 25 teaches us to seek God in the hard times, no matter for what reason we are in those hard times. It seems to me that James 1:5-6 is a succinct summary of Psalm 25: “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.” The context of James’ counsel is the need for wisdom in the midst of various trials (James 1:2-3). James tells us by faith to seek God and His wisdom in our trials, and that’s what David tells us in Psalm 25.

No matter how difficult your trials or what their cause, seek the Lord for His wisdom and trust Him to work for His glory and your good.

This psalm is an acrostic, where each verse begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. (There are a few variations that are too technical to explain here.) The psalmists may have used this form to help people memorize the psalms. James Boice (Psalms, Volume 1, Psalms 1-41 [Baker], p. 223) also suggests that in the case of this psalm, there is the dominant theme of learning or instruction, which fits with the alphabetical arrangement. David prays for the Lord to teach him His ways (25:4-5, 8-9). Boice concludes (ibid.), “So we could rightly say that the psalm is a school-book lesson on how to live so as to please God and be blessed by him.” I would only add, “in the context of difficult trials.” (Quote source here.)

Who among us hasn’t endured difficult trials or possibly find ourselves in one right now? King David had enemies chasing him throughout his lifetime from the time he was a teenage shepherd boy until he died in old age as King. Psalm 25 is just one of many psalms written by David calling out to God for mercy, forgiveness, wisdom, and help in his time of need (which was constant). It also shows us his great devotion to God in the midst of his many trials when he was surrounded by enemies (and sometimes they were innumerable); and his absolute trust in and dependence on God to show him what to do and/or wait for God to move in his circumstances. Let’s take a brief look at David’s life taken from GotQuestions.org:

We can learn a lot from the life of David. He was a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:13-14Acts 13:22)! We are first introduced to David after Saul, at the insistence of the people, was made king (1 Samuel 8:510:1). This choice of king, or even having an earthly king at all, was against the will of God, and although Saul was anointed by God through Samuel, he did not measure up as God’s king. While King Saul was making one mistake on top of another, God sent Samuel to find His chosen shepherd, David, the son of Jesse (1 Samuel 16:1013). David was believed to be 12-16 years of age when he was called in from tending his father’s sheep to be anointed as the true king of Israel. As soon as the anointing oil flowed down David’s head the Spirit of the Lord departed from King Saul (1 Samuel 16:14). The fact that evil spirits were tormenting Saul brought David into the king’s service (1 Samuel 16:21). Saul was pleased with young David, but this feeling vanished quickly as David rose in strength to slay the Philistine giant, Goliath, and win the overwhelming favor of the people (1 Samuel 17:45-51). The chant in the camp of Saul was taunting as the people sang out the praises of David and demeaned their king, causing a raging jealousy in Saul that never subsided (1 Samuel 18:7-8).

If you or someone you know has eked his way through life amid strife, conflict and continuous battles, then you might understand how David lived and felt throughout his lifetime. Although Saul never stopped pursuing him with the intent to kill him, David never raised a hand against his king and God’s anointed (1 Samuel 19:1-224:5-7). He did, however, raise up a mighty army and with power from God defeated everyone in his path, always asking God first for permission and instructions before going into battle (2 Samuel 5:22-2323:8-17). Throughout the life of David, God honored and rewarded this unconditional obedience of His servant and gave him success in everything he did (2 Samuel 8:6).

David mourned King Saul’s death and put to death the one claiming responsibility for Saul’s death (2 Samuel 1:12-16). Only after Saul’s death was David anointed king over the house of Judah (2 Samuel 2:4), and even then he had to fight against the house of Saul before being anointed king over Israel at the age of thirty (2 Samuel 5:3-4). Now king, David conquered Jerusalem and became more and more powerful because the Lord Almighty was with him (2 Samuel 5:7). David was so enthralled with bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem that he omitted some of God’s instructions on how to transport the Ark and who was to carry it. This resulted in the death of Uzzah who, amid all the celebrations, reached out to steady the Ark, and God struck him down and he died there beside it (2 Samuel 6:1-7). In fear of the Lord, David abandoned the moving of the Ark for three months and let it rest in the house of Obed-Edom (2 Samuel 6:11).

After the Ark was in its rightful place, David decided to build a temple of the Lord around it (2 Samuel 6:17). Because of David’s bloody, battle-scarred record as well as his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba and the slaying of her husband, God denied his otherwise faithful servant the honor of building the temple, the house of the Lord (2 Samuel 6:5-14). This was surely a blow to David, but God assured him He would continue to make his name the greatest on the earth and forever establish the throne of David through David’s son, Solomon. Instead of being angry with God and having a pity party, David sat before the Lord, praising Him and thanking Him for all the many blessings he had received in his life (2 Samuel 7:18-29).

David’s battles did not end with his kingship but continued with the surrounding nations and within his own household. Throughout the life of David, His sons connived and conspired to take control of the kingdom and they, as did Saul, threatened their own father’s life. And as with the death of Saul, David mourned the death of his beloved son Absalom, showing a passionate and forgiving heart (2 Samuel chapters 15-18). David’s broken heart and contrite spirit are what brought him the forgiveness of God…. (Quote source here.)

With that snapshot of David’s life, let’s take a look at Psalm 25:

Psalm 25 (NLT) 

A psalm of David.

Lord, I give my life to you.
     I trust in you, my God!
Do not let me be disgraced,
    or let my enemies rejoice in my defeat.
No one who trusts in you will ever be disgraced,
    but disgrace comes to those who try to deceive others.

Show me the right path, O Lord;
    point out the road for me to follow.
Lead me by your truth and teach me,
    for you are the God who saves me.
    All day long I put my hope in you.
Remember, O Lord, your compassion and unfailing love,
    which you have shown from long ages past.
Do not remember the rebellious sins of my youth.
    Remember me in the light of your unfailing love,
    for you are merciful, O Lord.

The Lord is good and does what is right;
    he shows the proper path to those who go astray.
He leads the humble in doing right,
    teaching them his way.
The Lord leads with unfailing love and faithfulness
    all who keep his covenant and obey his demands.

For the honor of your name, O Lord,
    forgive my many, many sins.
Who are those who fear the Lord?
    He will show them the path they should choose.
They will live in prosperity,
    and their children will inherit the land.
The Lord is a friend to those who fear him.
    He teaches them his covenant.
My eyes are always on the Lord,
    for he rescues me from the traps of my enemies.

Turn to me and have mercy,
    for I am alone and in deep distress.
My problems go from bad to worse.
    Oh, save me from them all!
Feel my pain and see my trouble.
    Forgive all my sins.
See how many enemies I have
    and how viciously they hate me!
Protect me! Rescue my life from them!
    Do not let me be disgraced, for in you I take refuge.
May integrity and honesty protect me,
    for I put my hope in you.

O God, ransom Israel
    from all its troubles.

From what I could find out (and it wasn’t easy–source at this link), apparently this psalm was composed early in David’s life when Saul was Israel’s first king. As mentioned in the background information above provided by GotQuestions.org, Saul sought to kill David and David spent years on the run from him, so we can certainly understand the nature of David’s earnest and passionate request. Yet Psalm 25 is there for our use, too (as are all of the psalms) when our own words fail to convey our deepest emotions and earnest cry for God’s help in our time of need. In fact, Hebrews 4:16 states, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” What better way to express that need then through a psalm when we can’t find the right words to pray on our own.

The next time you feel the urge to pray but you don’t know what to say, pick up the Bible (or go to an online Bible) and go to the Psalms and just start reading. In no time you’ll bump into the right words to pray. Words like. . . .

The Lord is my Shepherd . . . 

I shall not . . .

Want . . . .

YouTube Video: “God of Wonders” by Third Day:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Anatomy of the Soul

Almost every time I open the Bible I end up at some point in the Book of Psalms (a link to each of the 150 Psalms is located here). Every emotion we are capable of feeling is expressed in the Psalms–from sorrow, fear, doubt, anxiety, anger, sadness, repentance; to desire, happiness, joy, celebration, surprise, awe and wonder. Great comfort and help are also available throughout the Psalms–in fact, finding help in times of trouble is one of the main themes in the Book of Psalms (for a list of themes click here.)

GotQuestions.org gives us background information on the Book of Psalms:

Author: The brief descriptions that introduce the psalms have David listed as author in 73 instances. David’s personality and identity are clearly stamped on many of these psalms. While it is clear that David wrote many of the individual psalms, he is definitely not the author of the entire collection. Two of the psalms (72) and (127) are attributed to Solomon, David’s son and successor. Psalm 90 is a prayer assigned to Moses. Another group of 12 psalms (50) and (73—83) is ascribed to the family of Asaph. The sons of Korah wrote 11 psalms (42, 44-49, 84-85,87-88). Psalm 88 is attributed to Heman, while (89) is assigned to Ethan the Ezrahite. With the exception of Solomon and Moses, all these additional authors were priests or Levites who were responsible for providing music for sanctuary worship during David’s reign. Fifty of the psalms designate no specific person as author.

Date of Writing: A careful examination of the authorship question, as well as the subject matter covered by the psalms themselves, reveals that they span a period of many centuries. The oldest psalm in the collection is probably the prayer of Moses (90), a reflection on the frailty of man as compared to the eternity of God. The latest psalm is probably (137), a song of lament clearly written during the days when the Hebrews were being held captive by the Babylonians, from about 586 to 538 B.C.

It is clear that the 150 individual psalms were written by many different people across a period of a thousand years in Israel’s history. They must have been compiled and put together in their present form by some unknown editor shortly after the captivity ended about 537 B.C.

Purpose of Writing: The Book of Psalms is the longest book in the Bible, with 150 individual psalms. It is also one of the most diverse, since the psalms deal with such subjects as God and His creation, war, worship, wisdom, sin and evil, judgment, justice, and the coming of the Messiah.

Key Verses: Psalm 19:1 “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”

Psalm 22:16-19, “Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.”

Psalm 23:1, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.”

Psalm 29:1-2, “Ascribe to the LORD, O mighty ones, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness.”

Psalm 51:10, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

Psalm 119:1-2, “Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the LORD. Blessed are they who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart.”

Brief Summary: The Book of Psalms is a collection of prayers, poems, and hymns that focus the worshiper’s thoughts on God in praise and adoration. Parts of this book were used as a hymnal in the worship services of ancient Israel. The musical heritage of the psalms is demonstrated by its title. It comes from a Greek word which means “a song sung to the accompaniment of a musical instrument.”

Foreshadowings: God’s provision of a Savior for His people is a recurring theme in the Psalms. Prophetic pictures of the Messiah are seen in numerous psalms. Psalm 2:1-12 portrays the Messiah’s triumph and kingdom. Psalm 16:8-11 foreshadows His death and resurrection. Psalm 22 shows us the suffering Savior on the cross and presents detailed prophecies of the crucifixion, all of which were fulfilled perfectly. The glories of the Messiah and His bride are on exhibit in Psalm 45:6-7, while Psalms 72:6-1789:3-37110:1-7 and 132:12-18 present the glory and universality of His reign.

Practical Application: One of the results of being filled with the Spirit or the word of Christ is singing. The psalms are the “songbook” of the early church that reflected the new truth in Christ.

God is the same Lord in all the psalms. But we respond to Him in different ways, according to the specific circumstances of our lives. What a marvelous God we worship, the psalmist declares, One who is high and lifted up beyond our human experiences but also one who is close enough to touch and who walks beside us along life’s way.

We can bring all our feelings to God—no matter how negative or complaining they may be—and we can rest assured that He will hear and understand. The psalmist teaches us that the most profound prayer of all is a cry for help as we find ourselves overwhelmed by the problems of life. (Quote source here.)

In the book God Never Blinks: 50 Lessons for Life’s Little Detours (2010), by Regina Brett, newspaper columnist and New York Times best-selling author, Lesson 38 is devoted to the Psalms, and it is titled, “Read the Psalms. No Matter What Your Faith, They Cover Every Human Emotion.” Brett states:

If it were possible to do an autopsy of the soul, what we’d find would be 150 parts, each one reflected in one of the Psalms.

“All the sorrows, troubles, fears, doubts, hopes, pains, perplexities, stormy outbreaks by which the hearts of men are tossed, have been depicted here to the very life,” wrote John Calvin. He called the Psalms the anatomy of the soul.

Even when the Psalms are chanted in Latin they soothe my spirit. Even when I don’t know the words, my soul recognizes them.

For years the only psalm I knew by heart was the only one everyone knew by heart. Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” I printed it on memorial cards at the funeral home where I worked.

It’s easy to remember and never fails to comfort. It’s easy to picture that sheep up on the hill, lost and frightened. The story always has a happy ending, the Good Shepherd seeks and finds it and brings it home. Who can’t relate to feeling lost in the valley of the shadow of death? It shocked me to find out there really is such a valley. When I was on my honeymoon in Jerusalem years ago we stood in the hot sun on a roadway looking at a huge expanse of land spread out below us.

“What valley is that?” my husband asked our guide.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” our guide began to chant.

It takes more than Psalm 23 to get me through life. The entire Book of Psalms tells the story of the journey every human being walks in life. The 150 psalms speak of wonder, joy, celebration, but also of the dark night of despair, desolation, and abandonment. Places we find ourselves too often.

The Book of Psalms addresses every facet of the spiritual journey–the ups and downs, heights the soul ascends, depths to which it falls. The Psalms offer praises as well as curses, consolation, and desolation, boasts of strength and cries of weaknesses. Mostly, they make me feel less alone.

On my worst nights of despair, when I can’t even remember a single line from a single one of them, I clutch the entire book to my chest like a child would a teddy bear. Only then can I sleep. I bought my Book of Psalms from Genesee Abbey where the Trappist monks end every prayer praising “the God who is, who was, and is to come at the end of the ages.”

I took a class on the Psalms in graduate school, a class taught by a Jewish rabbi. Professor Roger C. Klein of Temple-Tifereth Israel in Cleveland told us that we didn’t have to be scholars to understand the Psalms. We didn’t need great intellect, he said. “It just requires a soul.”

The Psalms reveal the many faces of God: powerful rock, shepherd, companion, comforter, provider, host, creator, judge, advocate, and deliverer. My favorite? I like the idea of a personal God of joy. I pray often, “You are my strength and my song.”

The Psalms address every sort of inner and outer turbulence from crop failure to enemy attacks, from illness to loneliness. All of them were meant to be sung, and if they were, it would be like hearing an opera of the Bible.

I once read that President Bill Clinton read the entire Book of Psalms to find spiritual relief from the political pressures facing him. It’s easy to see their appeal, no matter what your religion. They cover everything.

For poverty there is Psalm 10: “Lord, you hear the prayer of the poor; you strengthen their hearts.”

Campaigning is covered in Psalm 35, which speaks to battles with the opposite party: “O Lord, plead my cause against my foes; fight those who fight me . . . vindicate me, Lord, in your justice do not let them rejoice. Do not let them think: Yes! We have won, we have brought him to an end.”

Any employee could use a dose of Psalm 56: “Have mercy on me, God, men crush me; they fight me all day long and oppress me . . . all day long they distort my words.”

Spouses can rely on Psalm 141 for restraint: “Set, O Lord, a guard over my mouth; keep watch, O Lord, at the door of my lips.”

The Psalms are now the bookends to my day. . . . (Quote source, “God Never Blinks,” pp. 175-177.)

The Psalms are also perfect to use for prayer as they express so vividly what we often can’t come up with using on our own words. I often used the Psalms in my prayers. In an article titled, Why You Should Be Praying the Psalms,” by Dr. Donald S. Whitney, Professor of Biblical Spirituality and Associate Dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Whitney states:

I’m sure such folks are out there, but I’ve not personally met any Christian who hasn’t struggled with saying the same old things about the same old things in prayer. Before long, such repetitive prayer is boring. And when prayer is boring, it’s hard to pray — at least with any joy and fervency.

Note that the problem is not that we pray about the same old things. Actually, that’s normal, because our lives tend to consist pretty much of the same old things from one day to the next. Thankfully, the big things in life (our family, our church, our job, etc.) don’t change dramatically very often.

Instead the problem is that we say the same old things about the same old things. And prayers without variety eventually become words without meaning. The result of such praying is that we tend to feel like failures in prayer. We assume that, despite our devotion to Christ, love for God, and desire for a meaningful prayer life, we must be second-rate Christians because our minds wander so much in prayer.

No, the problem may not be you; rather it may be your method.

I believe that the simple, permanent, biblical solution to this almost universal problem is to stop making up your own prayers most of the time (because that results in repetitious prayer) and to pray the Bible instead.

Praying the Bible means talking to God about what comes to mind as you read the Bible. Usually you might read the passage first, then go back and pray through what you just read.

So, for instance, if today you turned to Psalm 23 in your devotional reading, after completing it you would come back to verse 1 and pray about what occurs to you as you read “The Lord is my shepherd.” You might thank the Lord for being your shepherd, ask him to shepherd you in a decision that’s before you, entreat him to cause your children to love him as their shepherd, too, and pray anything else that comes to mind as you consider that verse.

Then when nothing else in those words prompts prayer, you continue by doing the same with the next line, “I shall not want.” Thus you would go through the chapter, line-by-line, until you ran out of time.

By praying in this way, you discover that you never again say the same old things about the same old things.

While you can pray through any part of the Bible, some books and chapters are much easier to pray through than others. Overall, I believe the Book of Psalms is the best place in Scripture from which to pray Scripture.

In part that’s because the Psalms are the only book of the Bible inspired by God for the expressed purpose of being reflected to God. God inspired them as songs, songs for use in the worship of God.

The Psalms also work so well in prayer because there’s a psalm for every sigh of the soul. You’ll never go through anything in life in which the root emotion is not found in one or more of the Psalms. Thus the Psalms put into expression that which is looking for expression in our hearts.

Christian, here’s how you’ll benefit from praying the Psalms:

1. You’ll pray more biblically faithful prayers.

The Bible will guide your prayers, helping you to speak to God with words that have come from the mind and heart of God. This also means you’ll be praying more in accordance with the will of God. Can you have any greater assurance that you are praying the will of God than when you are praying the Word of God?

2. You’ll be freed from the boredom of saying the same about the same old things in prayer.

One way this will happen is that the psalm will prompt you to pray about things you normally wouldn’t think to pray. You’ll find yourself praying about people and situations that you’d never think to put on a prayer list.

Another way is that even though you also continue to pray about the same things, (family, church, job, etc.), you’ll pray about them in new ways. Instead of saying, “Lord, please bless my family,” the text will guide you to pray things such as, “Lord, please be a shield around my family today” if you are praying through Psalm 3:3, for example.

3. You’ll pray more God-centered prayers.

When you use a God-focused guide like the psalms to prompt your prayers, you’ll pray less selfishly and with more attention to the ways, the will, and the attributes of God.

Prayer becomes less about what you want God to do for you (though that is always a part of biblical praying) and more about the concerns of God and his kingdom.

4. You’ll enjoy more focus in prayer.

When you say the same old things in prayer every day, it’s easy for your mind to wander. You find yourself praying auto-pilot prayer — repeating words without thinking about either them or the God to whom you offer them.

But when you pray the Bible your mind has a place to focus. And when your thoughts do wander, you have a place to return to — the next verse.

5. You’ll find that prayer becomes more like a real conversation with a real Person.

Isn’t that what prayer should be? Prayer is talking with a Person, the Person of God himself. Prayer is not a monologue spoken in the direction of God. Yet somehow, many people assume that when they meet with the Lord he should remain silent and they should do all the talking.

When we pray the psalms, though, our monologue to God becomes a conversation with God. I’m not alluding to the perception of some spiritual impression or hearing an inner voice, imagining God saying things to us — away with that sort of mysticism.

Instead, I’m referring to the Bible as the means by which God participates in the conversation, for the Bible is God speaking. God speaks in the Bible, and you respond to that in prayer. That’s why people who try this often report, “The pressure was off. I didn’t have to think about what to say next, and the whole experience just kind of flowed.”

Want to experience these benefits for yourself? How about right now? Pick a psalm, read what God says there, and talk with him about it. (Quote source here and also here.)

So how about right now? Praying the Psalms will add life to your prayers, depth to your relationship with God, and joy to your heart. And you can’t beat that!!! I’ll start it off with . . .

The Lord is my Shepherd . . . 

I shall not . . .

Want . . . .

YouTube Video: “God of Wonders” by Third Day:

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

The Right Perspective

During the past three weeks since I was diagnosed with shingles (and I’m happy to say I’m finally getting on the other side of it), I’ve had a lot of time to think, or rather, to not think about the past eight years since I lost my job in Houston and this “odyssey” (for lack of a better way to describe it) first began.

This post is for those who struggle with reading all of those “Christian success stories” and wonder if or when their own success story is ever going to finally show up. However, we should keep in mind that not every writer will make it to The New York Times bestselling author’s list, and most of us will never reach even a modicum of  “celebrity” in our “celebrity obsessed” culture. Many of us will never be millionaires, either–not even close for most of us–although as a culture we are rather obsessed with money and possessions and looking good and being successful as our culture defines it.

Here’s a hint . . . put those stories away for now. I’m not saying that those stories aren’t inspiring as many times they are quite inspiring. However, one never knows what is really going on “behind the scenes” in anyone else’s life. We often don’t even know what is going on “behind the scenes” in our own life. But what I have learned is that there is always something going on “behind the scenes,” and trying to figure out what’s going on “behind the scenes,” after spending eight years combined between a massive and fruitless job search and now a low-income housing search of over three years’ standing was beginning to wear me out. And it’s the “behind the scenes” stuff that seems to be getting in the way of whatever I have personally tried to do to improve my circumstances.

In my last blog post, A Heaven Sent Reminder,” published five days ago, I quoted Joyce Meyer from her book, Let God Fight Your Battles (2015) on the topic of “Total Dependence on God” (the entire quote is available here). Within that quote is the following statement:

We often try to figure out things we have no business even touching with our minds, and we forfeit peace and joy by not giving God total control over our lives. Some things are simply too difficult for us understand, but nothing is too hard for God. God is infinite, but we are finite human beings with limitations. God has surpassing knowledge, but ours is limited (see 1 Corinthians 13:9). We know some things, but we don’t know everything. There are some things we just need to leave alone. We won’t ever know everything, but we can grow to a place where we are satisfied to know the One who does know. When we arrive at that place, we enter God’s rest, which also releases joy in our lives.

One of the most liberating things we can say is, “Lord, I don’t know what to do, and even if I did, I couldn’t do it without You. But Lord, my eyes are on You. I am going to wait and watch for You to do something about this situation, because there is absolutely nothing I can do about it unless You give me direction.” (Quote source: “Let God Fight Your Battles,” pp. 14-16.)

“We know some things, but we don’t know everything. There are some things we just need to leave alone.” Within these past five days I can’t tell you how many times this particular statement has crossed my mind. I have tried for a long time now to figure out those “some things,” and I have finally realized that I just need to leave them alone. As frustrating at times as these past eight years have been, God’s timing is never the same as our timing when it comes to needing a solution for any particular issue we are facing (see Joyce Meyer’s article titled, When God’s Timing Is Taking Too Long,” at this link for more on that topic).

The shingles arrived just in time to give me some much needed perspective. It slowed me down to the point where I physically couldn’t do much for those first two weeks, and it reminded me that I’m not in charge of “figuring it out” anyway, but I know the One who knows everything about my situation, and He is the One who is in charge of it.

I reminded of what David wrote in Psalm 39:4-5 (ESV):

“O Lord, make me know my end
    and what is the measure of my days;
    let me know how fleeting I am!
Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths,
    and my lifetime is as nothing before you.
Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! 

And also what James stated in James 4:13-15 (ESV):

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”

Now that’s perspective!

We are literally on this earth for an incredibly short amount of time even if we live to be 100. And our concept of “success” here in America is not the same as God’s idea of success. GotQuestions.org gives us the biblical definition of success:

When King David was about to die, he gave his son, Solomon, the following advice: “Do what the LORD your God commands and follow his teachings. Obey everything written in the Law of Moses. Then you will be a success, no matter what you do or where you go” (1 Kings 2:3 CEV). Notice that David didn’t tell his son to build up his kingdom with great armies, or to gather wealth from other lands, or to defeat his enemies in battle. Instead, his formula for success was to follow God and obey Him. When Solomon became king, he didn’t ask the Lord for wealth and power, but for wisdom and discernment in order to lead God’s people. God was pleased by this request and granted it, giving Solomon a wise and understanding heart, more than any man had ever had before. He also gave Solomon the things he didn’t ask for—riches and honor among men (1 Kings 3:1-14). Solomon took his father’s advice to heart, at least for most of his reign, and reflected on it in his writing in Proverbs: “My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments, for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you. Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man” (Proverbs 3:1-4 ESV).

Jesus reiterated this teaching in the New Testament when He declared which is the greatest commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31). Loving God means obeying Him and keeping His commandments (John 14:1523-24). The first step in this process is accepting the free gift of eternal life offered by Jesus Christ (John 3:16). This is the beginning of true biblical success. When the gift is received, transformation begins. The process is accomplished, not by human will, but by God’s Holy Spirit (John 1:12-13). How does this happen and what is the result? It happens first through trusting the Lord and obeying Him. As we obey Him, He transforms us, giving us a completely new nature (1 Corinthians 5:17). As we go through trouble and hard times, which the Bible calls “trials,” we are able to endure with great peace and direction, and we begin to understand that God uses those very trials to strengthen our inner person (John 16:33James 1:2). In other words, trouble in life does not cause us to fail, but to walk through trouble with God’s grace and wisdom. By obeying God, we gain freedom from the curses of this world—hate, jealousy, addictions, confusion, inferiority complexes, sadness without reason, anger, bitterness, unforgiveness, selfishness and more.

In addition, followers of Christ (Christians) possess and display the fruit of the Spirit of God who resides in their hearts—love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). We have at our disposal knowledge to know what to do and where to turn (Proverbs 3:5-6), unhindered amounts of wisdom (James 1:5), and the peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7). As we grow and mature in Christ, we begin to think not only of ourselves but of others. Our greatest joy becomes what we can do for others and give to others, and how we can help them grow and prosper spiritually. Those who have risen to these heights of achievement understand true success, because a person can have all the power, money, popularity and prestige the world has to offer, but if his soul is empty and bitter, worldly success is really failure. “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).

One last word on biblical success. While transformation of our inner lives is God’s goal for us, He also abundantly provides good physical gifts to His children (food, clothing, houses, etc.), and He loves to do it (Matthew 6:25-33). Yet, most of us, at one time or another, focus on the gifts rather than on the Giver. That’s when we regress in our contentment and joy and we quench the Spirit’s transforming work within us, because we are focusing on the wrong things. That may be why the Lord sometimes limits His gift-giving to us—so we do not stumble over the gifts and fall away from Him.

Picture two hands. In the right hand there are the offer of true contentment, the ability to handle life’s problems without being overcome by them, amazing peace that sees us through all circumstances, wisdom to know what to do, knowledge and constant direction for life, love for others, acceptance of ourselves, joy no matter what, and at the end of life, an eternity with the God who freely gives all these gifts. The other hand holds all the money and power and success the world has to offer, without any of what the right hand holds. Which would you choose? The Bible says, “Where your treasure is, there also is your heart” (Matthew 6:21). That which is in the right hand is the biblical definition of success. (Quote source here.)

Perhaps an even better question we need to be asking ourselves is what makes a person a genuine Christian? GotQuestions.org defines a Christian as follows:

A dictionary definition of a Christian would be something similar to “a person professing belief in Jesus as the Christ or in the religion based on the teachings of Jesus.” While this is a good starting point, like many dictionary definitions, it falls somewhat short of really communicating the biblical truth of what it means to be a Christian. The word “Christian” is used three times in the New Testament (Acts 11:2626:281 Peter 4:16). Followers of Jesus Christ were first called “Christians” in Antioch (Acts 11:26) because their behavior, activity, and speech were like Christ. The word “Christian” literally means, “belonging to the party of Christ” or a “follower of Christ.”

Unfortunately over time, the word “Christian” has lost a great deal of its significance and is often used of someone who is religious or has high moral values but who may or may not be a true follower of Jesus Christ. Many people who do not believe and trust in Jesus Christ consider themselves Christians simply because they go to church or they live in a “Christian” nation. But going to church, serving those less fortunate than you, or being a good person does not make you a Christian. Going to church does not make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile. Being a member of a church, attending services regularly, and giving to the work of the church does not make you a Christian.

The Bible teaches that the good works we do cannot make us acceptable to God. Titus 3:5 says, “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” So, a Christian is someone who has been born again by God (John 3:3John 3:71 Peter 1:23) and has put faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Ephesians 2:8 tells us that it is “…by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”

A true Christian is a person who has put faith and trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ, including His death on the cross as payment for sins and His resurrection on the third day. John 1:12 tells us, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” The mark of a true Christian is love for others and obedience to God’s Word (1 John 2:410). A true Christian is indeed a child of God, a part of God’s true family, and one who has been given new life in Jesus Christ. (Quote source here.)

We need to trust in the Lord, and not in the dictates of our culture; and that is true no matter what we may be going through. God knows all the “behind the scenes” stuff going on in our lives, and we need to leave it with Him. It’s so hard to let go of our own understanding, but here’s the reality of that situation (found in Prov. 3:5-6), Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and . . .

Lean not on your own understanding . . .

In all your ways acknowledge Him . . .

And He shall direct your paths . . . .

YouTube Video: “Let God Be God” by Phillips, Craig & Dean:

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

A Heaven Sent Reminder

A year ago at this time I was dealing with a soggy bag of books sitting on the floor next to the wall air conditioner in a hotel room I rented at a reduced 30-day rate when I thought I was finally about to find some affordable housing in that area within those 30 days. I had stumbled across a publication I found at a grocery store specifically for seniors looking for affordable housing, and I was absolutely giddy with the prospect that my two-plus year hunt (at that time) for low income housing was possibly about to come to a productive end. The publication was filled with apartment complexes in the area that catered to seniors in all income brackets, but as I started working my way through the various ads and contacting the apartment complexes, I discovered that I was not going to get the answer I was looking for (but instead I got more very long waiting lists or being told I didn’t make enough income to rent from them), and unfortunately, the 30-day rate at the hotel was nonrefundable.

The soggy books incident occurred the first week I was at that hotel. The books were in a cloth bag that I placed next to the wall air conditioner located under the window to the room. It was the first time I had been in a room that had a rocker recliner next to the bed, and the recliner was located between the bed and the wall air conditioner. It wasn’t until a day or two later when I got into the bag of books that I discovered, much to my dismay, that the air conditioner had leaked water all over the carpet directly below it and around where the bag of books as well as two suitcases were located, and the bag of books took the greatest toll with the books sopping up the water like sponges into their pages and bindings. Needless to say, they were ruined. I called the front desk to have the maintenance man come and fix the air conditioner (it took him two weeks before he finally got it to stop leaking water all over the carpet), but I was told nothing could be done about the books.

Among the books, there was one small book that I had purchased for my birthday last year about a month before I arrived at this hotel. Unfortunately, it was as waterlogged as the other books, but I decided to see if I could dry it out and still use it (see pics). For several days I placed the book in front of a large box fan opened at various places to try to dry it out section by section, and within a week it was dried; however, it was still very much water damaged (wrinkled, crinkled pages and covers but still very readable). The book is by Joyce Meyer, one of the world’s leading practical Bible teachers, a New York Times bestselling author, speaker, and president of Joyce Meyer Ministries, and it is titled, Let God Fight Your Battles (2015). I guess you could say that book had already been through it’s own soggy battle before I even had a chance to read it.

When I left that hotel a year ago, I also left the city and state where I had been looking for affordable housing since the end of March 2014. I’ve continued the search for affordable senior housing during this past year but, well . . . I have yet to find it. And I’ve been living in a hotel during this past year while looking for it (it’s my only housing option since I can’t find anything to rent on my low income). The other day I ran into this book by Joyce Meyer while I was trying to figure out what to do since I have now spent another year in another city and state looking for the same thing (affordable housing on a very low income) that I spent well over two years doing in that previous city and state, and still the result has been a big, fat Z-E-R-O.

I mentioned in a recent blog post that I discovered on June 21st that I had come down with a case of shingles, and I have to say that in the past two and a half weeks since I was diagnosed, it has left me with very low energy among other things. During this time I have not been my usual perky, energetic self; however, the shingles is running its normal course and it can take up to five weeks to fully recover. All I can say to anyone reading this post who had chickenpox as a child and you are now over 50 years old, you should consider getting the vaccine that can prevent shingles. If I had even had a clue, I would have gotten one by now (and even if you’ve already had a case of shingles, it’s not too late to get the vaccine which is good for six years).

I tend to be a go-getter. Since I have been single all of my life I learned a few decades ago not to wait around for someone to come alongside to help me do anything that I was capable of doing on my own. Sure, the company would be nice but people can be fickle, too. So, if it was something I could do on my own I just did it, whether it was something as small as going to a movie I wanted to see (and not waiting to be asked or trying to find someone to go with me) or as big as a career move that lead me to a different location.

About the time I got shingles two plus weeks ago I was so antsy to move on after being here for a year with no “open door” in the way of low-income housing opening up for me that I was feeling ready to move on again. However, I knew I didn’t want to go back to where I came from as that would be just more of the same losing proposition that I had already spent two plus years going through there with zilch to show for it, and the hotels back there are more expensive, too. It was during this quandary that I came down with shingles, and it put me flat on my back for the first week I had them, too. All I could think about that first week was how not to have shingles anymore. Everything else paled in comparison.

I tend to get very restless when I’m sick, and this shingles episode is no different. By the second week I felt like I was even fighting with God trying not only to get over the shingles but also trying to understand all that I have gone through during these past eight years of first trying at a breakneck speed to find another job for several years after losing my job in Houston eight years ago; and now adding on this frustrating going-nowhere search for low-income housing that has gone on for over three years now. I was well aware (and I reminded God several times, too) of what 1st Corinthians 10:13 states, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” And again I reminded myself of what Jesus told his disciples at the beginning of his parable about the persistent widow in Luke 18:1-8. Jesus told them this parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.

There’s something about being sick that can bring everything to a frustrating head. It’s like a final straw of sorts. I haven’t yet been able to see how God will provide a way out of my current circumstances, and a few years back when I was still in a massive job search I thought I had an idea of how he was going to do it but it never happened. Then three plus years ago this low income housing search started and only made things worse. By the way, it isn’t news to God that we often think we have him figured out even in some small way when we are actually totally clueless. I’ve revisited Job’s circumstances a few times, too, as regardless of the facts of his particular circumstances compared to our own, we are all guilty of the same thing he was guilty of–presumption–when it comes to God.

There is always far more going on in this world around us than we can ever fully comprehend. We often get so wrapped up in our own small world that we are pretty clueless about “the bigger picture” going on around us. This is actually nothing new. For example, a president of a corporation knows far more about the operation of the entire corporation then the individual employees might know who know enough to do their own particular job within the corporation. Sometimes we might get a sneak peak at “the bigger picture” but it may not be something we ultimately want or need to know because it usually encompasses something far, far greater than us and our own particular set of circumstances.

In this regard, the shingles showed up at a time when I needed to slow down in order to bring my own presumption about my circumstances to my attention as I had reached a point where I was trying to fight a battle that is much, much bigger than I can fight on my own. I couldn’t understand because I couldn’t see the bigger picture, and I was trying to see it so I could try to do something about it to change my circumstances.

Too often, it’s our own “independent spirit” that can get us into trouble. If we who claim to be Christian would really take to heart what Paul told us in Ephesians 6:10-18 about the spiritual realm, we’d stop trying to fight so many battles on our own. Here’s what Paul had to say to us:

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

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. (Ephesians 6:10-18 NIV)

Getting back to the soggy book that I kept by Joyce Meyer, here is a section from her book that is important for us to remember:

Total Dependence on God

Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5 NIV). The first time I read this verse, I had not even begun to realize how true it is. I was a very independent person, and God began highlighting this Scripture to me early in my walk with Him. One of the keys to receiving anything from God is entire dependence on Him. Without faith, we cannot please God (see Hebrews 11:6). Faith is the channel through which we receive from Him, and the Amplified Bible describes faith as the leaning of the entire human personality in absolute trust “in His power, wisdom, and goodness” (2 Timothy 1:5).

We are to lean on, rely on, and depend entirely on God, taking all the weight of our problems and burdens off ourselves and putting it all on Him. Think of it this way: When I plop down in a big easy chair, I am putting my entire dependence on that chair to hold me. I take all the weight off myself and put it all on the chair. It is amazing that we trust a chair more than we do God many times. We often say we lean on God, and perhaps we do partially, but we have difficulty leaning entirely on Him. We often have a backup plan just in case God does not come through. . . .

Without God’s help, we can’t change anything in our lives. We can’t change ourselves, our spouses, our families, our friends, or our circumstances. Truly apart from God, we cannot do anything that will have lasting value and be done correctly.

We often try to figure out things we have no business even touching with our minds, and we forfeit peace and joy by not giving God total control over our lives. Some things are simply too difficult for us understand, but nothing is too hard for God. God is infinite, but we are finite human beings with limitations. God has surpassing knowledge, but ours is limited (see 1 Corinthians 13:9). We know some things, but we don’t know everything. There are some things we just need to leave alone. We won’t ever know everything, but we can grow to a place where we are satisfied to know the One who does know. When we arrive at that place, we enter God’s rest, which also releases joy in our lives.

One of the most liberating things we can say is, “Lord, I don’t know what to do, and even if I did, I couldn’t do it without You. But Lord, my eyes are on You. I am going to wait and watch for You to do something about this situation, because there is absolutely nothing I can do about it unless You give me direction.”

When we are faced with difficult or impossible situations, the enemy may whisper over and over in our minds, “What are you going to do? What are you doing to do?” Our friends may say, “I heard about your situation. What are you going to do?”

These are the times when we should say, “I’m going to do what Jehoshaphat did (see 2 Chronicles 20). I’m going to turn it over to the Lord–and wait on Him. He will do something wonderful, and I am going to enjoy watching Him do it!” (Quote source: “Let God Fight Your Battles,” pp. 14-16.)

Let God Fight Your Battlesis filled with encouraging true stories from the pages of the Bible. The last story in the book that Joyce reminds us of is the story of Queen Esther and Mordecai found in Esther 1-10 (a summary of the story is available at this link). At the end of the story Joyce states the following on page 137:

I believe the encouragement in Esther and Mordecai’s story and throughout this book is something many people need right now–maybe even you. No matter what you are going through or what storms you are facing in life, take your position. Don’t give up. Stand still. Enter God’s rest. See the salvation of the Lord. Quit worrying and trying to figure out everything that is happening around you. And above all, worship God. Remember, no matter what your battle is, it is not yours; the battle belongs to the Lord, and He has a plan to bring you to victory. (Quote source: “Let God Fight Your Battles,” p. 137.)

So don’t give up, do stand still, enter God’s rest, and quit worrying and trying to figure out everything that is happening around you. Worship God, and remember . . . .

No matter what your battle is . . .

It is not yours . . .

The battle belongs to the Lord . . . .

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

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 and #3 taken by me
Photo #4 credit here

More Than Coincidence–Part 2

Twelve days ago when I was driving around in the community, I felt a sharp pain in my back and I had no idea what was causing it. When it didn’t go away I wondered if I had pulled my back in some way that I didn’t immediately remember. The pain seemed to shoot from that area of my back straight through to my chest area. I contemplated buying a heating pad to use on it and eventually did buy one four days later.

On that same day when I bought the heating pad, I was showering in the morning and I noticed a bright red rash on the left side of my upper breast area that looked like a bug had bitten me, and I noticed I was feeling tired and losing my energy. The next day the rash had expanded and by the third day blisters were beginning to form on the rash, so I went to an Urgent Care Clinic and discovered what was wrong. . . .

I had a case of shingles. Shingles!!!

I don’t even remember having chickenpox when I was a child but there was no getting over the fact that I had a case of shingles [note: the chickenpox virus never leaves one’s system and lies dormant and can cause a shingles breakout decades later in life], and it wrapped around the upper part and side of my left breast, under my left armpit and on the upper side of my left arm, and around the left side of my back where the pain had originated several days earlier.

The shingles are incredibly painful, and it totally zapped my energy. In the beginning I felt tired and I had a headache off and on, my stomach was upset, and diarrhea followed. The doctor gave me an Rx for an antiviral medication for seven days, and a pain medication for several days, too, although it doesn’t stop the pain but sometimes it knocks me out so I can sleep.

To say the least, it totally ruined my dedication to my 40-minute exercise routine that I do several times a week and have been doing for the past several years. I went five days without doing it until I finally summoned up enough energy to do it again two days ago.

It’s been one week since I first noticed the rash forming in the shower, and five days since I saw the doctor and got the Rx. The shingles are following its normal sequence . . . the blisters are beginning to turn into scabs and eventually in two to four or maybe five weeks the whole episode will be over according to the information I’ve found on the internet. I’m at the beginning of Week 2 and the pain is still pretty sharp in certain places but that total lack of energy is beginning to subside a bit as well as the other symptoms. I forced myself to do my exercises again two days ago and again yesterday. That makes a big difference.

I’ve been getting restless to write a blog post during this time but I didn’t have the energy to sit behind my laptop for the amount of time it takes to write a blog post; however, I decided to give it a try today. My last blog post, More Than Coincidence,” was written right after the pain in my back started twelve days ago.

I thought I’d write a sequel to More Than Coincidence”–sort of like a “Part Two” to the story. As I did in that previous blog post, I’ll start with a story of my own and then include a story from the book titled, More Than Coincidence (2015), by the Editors of Guideposts, that I quoted from in my last post.

I’ll start with the shingles story since some of it has already been written above. I need to give a little background information leading up to when I got the shingles. I spent over two years looking for low-income housing in the city and state I left last summer to come to this city and state where I have currently been living since late July 2016. I was living in a hotel in the previous city/state for longer than I care to think about, and I’ve now been living in a hotel here for what will soon be longer than I care to think about, too; however, at least at this hotel I have a small kitchenette area with a full sized refrigerator, a two-burner stovetop, a large microwave, a kitchen sink and counter area, and a few kitchen cabinets. This was a big improvement over the hotel I was staying at in the other city/state which only provided a small dorm like frig and small microwave. And not only that, this hotel saves me $50/week over what I had been paying at that other hotel with no kitchenette in the other state. That has made a big difference. And this city where I have been for almost a year now is huge, and I like it a lot, too.

I do believe that God is always in control. Always, always, always . . . but that is not to say that in being human there haven’t been times I have passed the point of wondering just what is going on as no matter what I try to do nothing changes in the low-income housing search. And as the one year mark approaches to my being here in this city/state, I started feeling a sense of restlessness as not even one door has opened up for me in the way of affordable housing, and right before I got the shingles I was ready to pack up my car and leave, even though I didn’t want to leave because I do like this city. I was just very tired of nothing opening up, and I’ve now spent a total of over three years of looking for low income housing with nothing opening up. Add to it the several years I spent in a massive job hunt that went nowhere, too, and all of this started back when I lost that job in Houston eight years ago. That is the starting point for all of it.

At the time I felt that sharp pain in my back twelve days ago I was headed out to look at a cute furnished apartment taking up the 2nd floor of a completely renovated house (built in the early 1900’s). It was way too expensive for my budget, but it was the only time I had ever received a serious response from an ad for a furnished apartment on Craigslist in over three years of answering ads on Craigslist (and placing ads, too). The deposit for the apartment was extremely high and the rent was $1000/mo. It would have been temporary at best but at least it wouldn’t have been a hotel room and the monthly rent is the same amount I’m paying for this hotel room, and the furnished apartment would have provided a lot more living space with an actual bedroom, living room, very big kitchen area, balcony, and it is adorable, too, from the pictures sent to me by the manager.

I couldn’t actually see the apartment as tenants were currently renting it (it is usually rented out on a short term basis) and I knew I couldn’t afford the deposit let alone adding in the first month’s rent all at one time–a total of $2300, but to have even considered it shows just how very tired I am of hotel living after living in hotels for almost three years now. The expense alone is a killer and it requires the financial help of my almost 94-year-old father just to live in the hotels as I sure can’t pay the rent on my Social Security income as my only source of income along with other living expenses.

At this point, I was beginning to get tired of waiting on God to move in my circumstances (not that I had a clue what to do other than what I was already doing). I just want a change for the better and not the same stuff I’ve lived through for these past eight years since I lost that job in Houston. However, I knew there was no way I could afford that furnished apartment, so I thought about packing up my stuff in my car and going home to where part of my family lives in the Midwest. After all, weekly rate hotels are everywhere, and nothing has opened up for me here after almost a year that I’ve been here. And, a family member and his wife were expecting their first baby any day, too (he arrived on June 21st).

And in the middle of trying to decide what to do, I was laid low with a case of shingles and couldn’t do anything. It reminded me of Job (in the Bible) and his boils. Now, mind you, my circumstances couldn’t be more opposite of Job’s so I’m not comparing my situation with his, but the reason behind Job’s boils reminded me that not everything bad that happens to us is our fault or caused by something we did. Sometimes it is the way God slows us down. And that’s what He did with my case of shingles.

We have so many phrases in Christianity that some have become almost cliche especially when said by folks who aren’t experiencing a hard time but repeat them to folks who are. “Wait on God” is one of those phrases that can fall off the lips of some folks who have rarely waited for anything if they had the money or the right connections and could get what they wanted through them. The phrase itself is anything but trite, and God has stated it over and over again throughout the Bible that we should wait on Him. In fact, in Psalm 37:7, David writes:

Be still in the presence of the Lord,
    and wait patiently for him to act.
Don’t worry about evil people who prosper
    or fret about their wicked schemes.

So for the next few days and maybe weeks, I have been stopped from moving on by a case of shingles. At the moment, I can’t end this story as I’m still waiting to see what comes next, but it is no coincidence that I got shingles, no matter how I managed to acquire them.

With that being said, I will now share a story from the book, More Than Coincidence (2015), by the Editors of Guideposts. This story is taken from a chapter titled, “God Delivers and Rescues,” and the story is titled, “The Survivors,” on pp. 71-73:

The Survivors

by John Senka

“Welcome, US Army 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry, 25th Division.” I stared at the sign outside the reception. For forty years I’d avoided these Vietnam vets’ reunions. I didn’t want to talk about the battle that haunted my nightmares, or how I’d survived.

The Battle of Mole City, December 22, 1968. We were a unit of five hundred American soldiers, stations in deep bunkers along one of the North Vietnamese Army’s (NVA’s) busiest supply routes. I was twenty. Fit, strong, tough. My three months in ‘Nam hadn’t been much different than working on our family farm. I spent most days in the hot sun, digging the trenches the base was named for.

There was a  holiday truce. After dinner, we opened packages from home with cards, cookies, and miniature trees. It almost felt like Christmas. At 10:00 p.m. we received our orders for the night: patrol, LP (the listening post), or perimeter. I was assigned to defend the perimeter.

All was quiet till midnight. The LP reported some NVA movement. The four of us in our bunker took our positions. Suddenly the night sky lit up. Flares. Mortar fire. A surprise attack!

We returned fire. There was a tremendous explosion. An anguished scream from the soldier next to me. I looked over. He was dead. I was struck, too, in my right leg. Another grunt dove out the back of the bunker. I crawled after him.

We squeezed into the next bunker filled with GIs. Something thudded into the mud. Another grenade! I threw myself as far from it as I could.

Boom! Blood ran from my ears. A third grenade rolled in. Shrapnel ripped into my belly. My rifle was clogged with mud. My injured leg was useless. We were overrun. Guys were falling, crying out for their mothers. One brave sergeant climbed out of the bunker, firing his M16. His silhouette crumpled; his body rolled down past me. All I could do was lie there and wait for death.

I wouldn’t have called myself religious, even though I wore a miraculous medal with my dog tags. Still, I shouted above the gunfire, “God, help me!”

Everything went silent. No explosions. No screams. Like I’d gone deaf. At the same time, I felt something hover over me. It fell softly upon my shoulders, warm, comforting, like I was a child being tucked into bed. Before I could figure out what it was, I blacked out.

When I came to, it was daylight. I moved to uncover myself, but nothing was there. Feet shuffled outside the bunker. Who had won? The NVA? Would I be taken prisoner? I pulled away a sandbag blocking my view. It thumped to the ground.

A helmeted head poked in. A US Army sergeant. “It’s okay, soldier,” he said.

I was the only one found alive in that bunker. The Army sent me home. The physical wounds healed. My other wounds didn’t. Counselors told me that the nightmares were my mind trying to piece together what happened in Mole City. Even after I learned that we’d been stormed by 1,500 NVA, outnumbered three to one, the survivor’s guilt remained. Why had I been wrapped in the cocoon of safety while others died?

For forty years that guilt kept me away from reunions. I wasn’t sure why I’d come now. But I took a deep breath and entered the reception hall. I put on my name tag and scanned the room.

A man came up and saw my name tag. “You’re the guy I’ve been looking for.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “Who are you?”

“Bob Chavous.” He shook my hand. “I heard you were in the perimeter bunder near where I was supposed to be. I survived, the other guys didn’t. It’s not easy to talk about.”

I understood all too well. Bob said he’d been assigned to the LP that night, one of the men who called in the warning about the enemy soldiers.

“Before we could withdraw, the sky lit up with a hundred mortars. We were pinned down in a rice paddy,” Bob said. “I made my peace with God, and prayed He’d let my family know that I loved them.”

He paused for a moment, searching for the right words. “Then it was like . . . a blanket settled over me and put me to sleep until the fighting was over.”

A blanket of protection. I’d never know why it had covered me. But I hadn’t been the only one. How many others at this reunion had felt the same thing? Been touched by the same inexplicable warmth that we told ourselves couldn’t possibly be real?

I was ready to talk then. Ready to tell everything I’d held inside. I wasn’t alone. Bob needed to know he wasn’t either. (Quote source, “More Than Coincidence,” pp. 71-73.)

“A blanket of protection.” It not only saved him but others that same night that he didn’t even know about until forty years later. God, indeed, works in mysterious ways. GotQuestions.org states:

God’s methods often leave people totally bewildered. Why would God tell Joshua and the children of Israel to march around the city of Jericho for a week (Joshua 6:1–4)? What good could possibly come from Paul and Silas being arrested and beaten without cause (Acts 16:22–24)? Why would God allow Joni Eareckson, a talented, vivacious girl of seventeen, to break her neck in a diving accident and spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair?

The processes God uses, the interplay of human freedom and God’s sovereignty, and God’s ultimate summations are far beyond what the limited human mind can understand. The Bible and the testimonies of Christians down through the ages are brimming with true stories of how God turned situation after situation, problem after problem, life after life, completely upside down—and He often does it in the most unexpected, astonishing, and inexplicable ways. (Quote source and read more here.)

God does work in mysterious ways, and waiting is often a part of his working in our lives. Once again I’m reminded of what David wrote in Psalm 27:14 which states . . .

Wait for the Lord . . .

Be strong and take heart . . .

And wait for the Lord . . . .

YouTube Video (it’s the same video I posted on my last blog post):  “Coincidence? I Think NOT!” from the movie, The Incredibles (2012):

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

More Than Coincidence

Yesterday while browsing the bargain bookshelves at Barnes & Nobles I ran across a book titled, More Than Coincidence (2015), by the Editors of Guideposts. The book contains eighty stories that “will astonish, comfort, and inspire” readers from the pages of Mysterious Ways, a magazine born of the most popular feature in Guideposts” (quote source from the back cover of the book). The “Introduction” to the book opens with the following paragraphs:

“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5, NIV). Time and again we see evidence that reveals God’s involvement in our everyday lives. Sometimes the heaven-sent guidance is overlooked when we brush it off as coincidence. Other times, we can think of it as nothing less than a miracle.

Van Varner, the former editor of “Guideposts” magazine, wrote: “Faith is made of mystery and awe; it is not in knowing the tangible but in believing in the intangible that our faith flourishes. The hidden hand of God moves silently, leaving behind evidence of things unseen.”

This is the very idea this book explores: it is in those moments, when we see God’s mysterious touch in our lives, that our faith is the strongest. Though we can’t always understand His methods, we know that He is directing us toward the right path or helping us through the tough times. (Quote source: Introduction to “More Than Coincidence.”)

As I was reading over a few stories in the book last night, a memory from over four decades ago in my own life came to mind. I was 22 years old and I had just completed Basic Training and AIT (advanced individual training) in the United States Army, and I had received orders to be stationed in South Korea. I first arrived in Seoul, South Korea, to be “processed” before going to my duty station which was located just outside of Pusan (Busan), South Korea, the second largest city located on the southern coast of South Korea. However, my first stop was to be at a U.S. Army base just north of Taegu (Daegu), about three quarters of the way down between Seoul and Pusan. After I was “processed” in Seoul, a Sergeant took me to the train station in Seoul to board a train heading south to the southern coast of South Korea with many stops in between. I was told to get off the train at Waegwan, South Korea, a small town where Camp Carroll Army Depot was located. When I asked how I would know when to get off the train, the sergeant just laughed and said to get off “in about twelve stops.” There were no signs in English for me to read to have any idea when I was approaching Waegwan.

I boarded the train and quickly discovered that I was the only American in the section of the train where I was seated. I was dressed in a “Class A” U.S. Army uniform and my light blonde hair and tall frame really made me stand out among the rest of the passengers who were all Korean. I put my duffel bag on the overhead storage area above my head and took my seat between two Korean passengers. I knew no Korean and they knew no English, so the ride was a quiet one. I started counting the stops as it was the only way I had any idea of when I might be getting close to the town where I needed to get off. As we traveled south periodically I noticed towers outside the window with guards stationed at the top of the towers. At each stop the train would slow down to let passengers off, but it quickly started back up again and moved on. All signs were in Korean so I had no idea what towns I had passed as we traveled south.

When we came to the 12th stop I remembered that the sergeant told me it would be “about” 12 stops but the 12th stop came and went and I had no idea exactly when to get off. As we were approaching another town the train started to slow down again to let passengers off. From out of nowhere an older Korean woman dressed in traditional Korean attire (not a staff person on the train) appeared standing in the aisle facing me and motioned to my duffel bag in the luggage rack over my head. She didn’t speak English but I could tell she wanted me to take it down, so I got out of my seat and took it down. As the train came to a stop, the exit door to the cabin located close to my seat opened, and she picked up my duffel bag and threw it out the door onto the ground, and I got off the train. The train quickly started up again and was soon gone, and I was left standing there with my duffel bag wondering what I should do now. There was no one else around me, and as I looked around (the stop was in an area that looked like it was in the middle of a field), in the distance I could see a vehicle coming in my direction. It turned out to be a jeep with a man dressed in Army fatigues seated behind the steering wheel, and he stopped and asked me if I was PFC (my last name). I concurred that I was, so he picked up my duffel bag and we drove a couple of miles to the Army depot I was scheduled to stop at on my way to Pusan.

When I look back at that experience several decades ago, there was no doubt a bit of “divine intervention” helped me get to that U.S. Army depot since my instructions were very sketchy at best, and I had no idea when I was supposed to get off that train. As it turned out, I ended up being stationed at that Army depot instead of going on to Pusan, so I remained there for my tour of duty in South Korea.

No doubt my story could fit in the pages of “More Than Coincidence.” I liked the very first story in the book as when I read the story, it reminded me of my own story. This story is titled, “Lost and Found in Paris,” by Aminda Parafinik on pp. 1-3: Here is her story:

Lost And Found in Paris
by Aminda Parafinik

My heart pounded. My hands were clammy. I was on the verge of panic. The tangle of multicolored lines on the Paris Metro map made my head spin. I asked a ticket-booth attendant for help. He shot me a dismissive look. How could I have been so careless? The world never felt so big, and I never felt so small, so lost. I’d come to Paris in hopes of finding myself. Now I couldn’t even find my way back to my hostel.

“If you’re lost in Paris, just look for the Eiffel Tower,” another traveler told me when I arrived from Arizona. If only there were a guidepost to help me find my way in life! Two months earlier, I’d been downsized from my job as an editorial assistant, my second job since graduating from college with a degree in communications. I’d thought I would be climbing the ranks by twenty-five. Instead, I was out of work. I felt like a loser.

I dreamed of getting away. That’s when I got the idea for this trip. I’d been fascinated by “the City of Light” ever since I was a little girl. I had some money saved up. What better place was there to be inspired again?

I took in the awesome views from the top of the Eiffel Tower, gawked at the luxury shops along the Champs-Elysees, saw the magnificent Palace of Versailles. Today, though, after exploring exhibits at the Louvre and visiting the gargoyles at Notre Dame, I’d taken a wrong turn. The narrow streets surrounding the cathedral were like a maze. In the spirit of adventure, I kept going . . . until it got dark. I could see the Eiffel Tower, a finger of light, impossibly distant. I searched for more than an hour until I found what I thought was the right Metro stop, but it was for a different line then the one that let off near my hostel.

I turned away from the ticket booth and the reality of my situation hit me. I’d been crazy to spend my savings on this trip, trying to “find myself.” When–or if–I got home, then what? “Lord,” I whispered, “please help me. I am so lost.”

“Excusez moi.” A tall, brown-haired man startled me. A little older than me, clean-cut, dressed like a businessmen. “Can I help you?” he asked, with just a hint of a French accent.

“I need to get to Felix Faure,” I said, trying to keep my voice from quivering.

“Follow me,” he said. Normally, I wouldn’t but there was something about him. He seemed trustworthy. Confident. Besides, did I have a choice?

Striding through the dark streets, we made small talk. “Where are you from?” he asked. “The United States, obviously,” he added, smiling. “But where?”

“Phoenix,” I said, “It’s in Arizona, the Southwest . . .”

“Really?” he interrupted. “Have you heard of The Thunderbird School of Global Management?”

I vaguely remembered that name from a billboard near my freeway exit. Of all the things in Phoenix to ask about. “I don’t really know much about it,” I said.

He paused, then looked at me quizzically as if he wanted to continue. But by then we’d reached the Metro line I needed. “Hurry, you don’t want to miss your train,” he said. I thanked him, then dashed down the stairs. Before long, I was back at the hostel. The rest of my time in Paris was uneventful, even restful. Something about that encounter seemed to calm me.

Okay, time to get back to my life. My first week home, I sent out more resumes. Nothing.

That weekend, I was scanning the want ads when a position caught my eye. They needed someone with a communications degree, and the responsibilities matched what I’d done in the past. Program assistant for an executive MBA program. I liked the sound of that.

I liked the sound of the employer, too. The Thunderbird School of Global Management. Suddenly, the world seemed very small. I applied and was called in for an interview.

Guess who got the job? (Quote source, “More Than Coincidence,” pp. 1-3.)

The book is filled with stories like this one. Albert Einstein once stated, “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous” (quote source here). I’m of the mind that “coincidences” happen to remind us of God and just how much He guides our steps.

In a response to the question, “Are there such things as coincidences?” GotQuestions.org gives us the biblical perspective to that question:

The word “coincidence” is used only once in the New Testament, and it was by Jesus Himself in the parable of the Good Samaritan. In Luke 10:31, Jesus said, “And by a coincidence a certain priest was going down in that way, and having seen him, he passed over on the opposite side.” The word “coincidence” is translated from the Greek word “synkyrian,” which is a combination of two words: “sun” and “kurios.” “Sun” means “together with,” and “kurious” means “supreme in authority.” So a biblical definition of “coincidence” would be “what occurs together by God’s providential arrangement of circumstances.”

What appears to us as random chance is in fact overseen by a sovereign God who knows the number of hairs on every head (Luke 12:7). Jesus said that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without our Father’s notice (Matthew 10:29). In Isaiah 46:9–11, God states unequivocally that He is in charge of everything: “I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’ From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose. What I have said, that I will bring about; what I have planned, that I will do.”

When we consider life events, we tend to classify them as “important” or “unimportant.” Many people have no problem believing that God is in charge of the “big things” but assume that such a big God would not trouble Himself with the seemingly miniscule events of our everyday lives. However, that understanding is colored by our human limitations and not supported by Scripture. For God, there are no unimportant events. He does not need to conserve His strength because His power is limitless. His attention is never divided. If the Lord God tracks every sparrow (Matthew 10:29), then nothing is too small for His attention. He is often referred to as the Almighty (Genesis 17:1; Exodus 6:3; Job 13:3), a name denoting unrestricted power and absolute dominion.

Citing coincidence is how we humans explain unexpected events and surprise meetings. But just because we are taken by surprise does not mean that God is. Scripture is clear that God allows sinful humans to make mistakes and reap the consequences of those mistakes, but only a sovereign God could also promise that He will make “all things work together for the good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). In ways known only to God, He takes even our mistakes and unplanned events and weaves them together to fulfill His purposes.

In Old Testament times, God often used the Urim and Thummin, pieces of the high priest’s ephod, to help give guidance and instruction (Exodus 28:30; Leviticus 8:8; 1 Samuel 30:7–8). In the New Testament, we see the apostles trusting God’s sovereignty when they cast lots to choose a new disciple to replace Judas (Acts 1:26). Though each of these means of communication seems insignificant, God has shown throughout Scripture that He can use the smallest object or event for His purposes. God does not seem to allow for “coincidence.” The administration of the universe is not based on serendipity. The Bible says that God’s purposes will prevail and that He is in control of even the most random event (Proverbs 19:21). Proverbs 16:33 says, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” What may seem insignificant to us may be in fact a result of God’s omniscient power working on our behalf to accomplish His will in our lives. (Quote source here.)

“The Bible says that God’s purposes will prevail and that He is in control of even the most random event.” If we truly believe that statement, then we can take comfort that God is always in control regardless of our circumstances and our coincidences. . . .

Many are the plans in a person’s heart . . .

But it is the Lord’s purpose . . .

That prevails . . . . (Proverb 19:21)

YouTube Video: “Coincidence? I Think NOT!” from the movie, The Incredibles (2012):

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here


Fake news . . . It’s the latest buzzword that has surfaced in the past year to capture our attention. And it appears there is a lot of #fakenews going on today, too. Wikipedia describes #fakenews as follows:

Fake news is a type of yellow journalism that consists of deliberate misinformation or hoaxes spread via the traditional print, broadcasting news media, or via Internet-based social media. Fake news is written and published with the intent to mislead in order to gain financially or politically, often with sensationalist, exaggerated, or patently false headlines that grab attention. As such, intentionally misleading and deceptive fake news is different from obviously satirical or parody articles or papers such as The Onion. Fake news often employs eye-catching headlines or entirely fabricated news stories in order to increase readership and, in the case of internet-based stories, online sharing and Internet click revenue. In the latter case, profit is made in a similar fashion to sensational onlineclickbaitheadlines and relies on advertising revenue generated from this activity, regardless of the veracity of the published stories.

Easy access to online advertisement revenue, increased political polarization between the left and right, and the ubiquity and popularity of online social media, primarily the Facebook newsfeed, have all been implicated in the spread of fake news. Anonymously-hosted fake news websites lacking known publishers have also been implicated, because they make it difficult to prosecute sources of fake news for libel or slander. The relevance of fake news has experienced greater growth in a post-truth political reality. (Quote source here.)

A few days ago I ran into an article published online in Politico Magazine by Jacob Soll titled, The Long and Brutal History of Fake News.” The subtitle states, “Bogus news has been around a lot longer than real news. And it’s left a lot of destruction behind.”

Soll opens his article with a brief and grueling history lesson on the power of #fakenews dating back to 1475 regarding the disappearance of a 2 1/2-year-old-boy that ended up with fifteen members of a Jewish community being found guilty and burned at the stake. They had nothing to do with the boy’s disappearance, but the purveyors of #fakenews didn’t care about the actual facts. And Soll states, “The story inspired surrounding communities to commit similar atrocities” (quote source here). #fakenews is meant to inflict the greatest possible harm to its target in a way that obliterates the truth.

Fake news isn’t just the latest buzzword to be bantered about in newsrooms and on social media. It’s deadly and it’s the stuff of propaganda. Soll states:

. . . Amid all the media hand wringing about fake news and how to deal with it, one fact seems to have gotten lost: Fake news is not a new phenomenon. It has been around since news became a concept 500 years ago with the invention of print—a lot longer, in fact, than verified, “objective” news, which emerged in force a little more than a century ago. From the start, fake news has tended to be sensationalist and extreme, designed to inflame passions and prejudices. And it has often provoked violence. The Nazi propaganda machine relied on the same sorts of fake stories about ritual Jewish drinking of children’s blood that inspired Prince-Bishop Hinderbach in the 15th century [see article for background information]. Perhaps most dangerous is how terrifyingly persistent and powerful fake news has proved to be. As Pope Sixtus IV [see article for details] found out, wild fake stories with roots in popular prejudice often prove too much for responsible authorities to handle. With the decline of trusted news establishments around the country, who’s to stop them today?

Fake news took off at the same time that news began to circulate widely, after Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1439. “Real” news was hard to verify in that era. There were plenty of news sources—from official publications by political and religious authorities, to eyewitness accounts from sailors and merchants—but no concept of journalistic ethics or objectivity. Readers in search of fact had to pay close attention. In the 16th century, those who wanted real news believed that leaked secret government reports were reliable sources, such as Venetian government correspondence, known as relazioni. But it wasn’t long before leaked original documents were soon followed by fake relazioni leaks. By the 17th century, historians began to play a role in verifying the news by publishing their sources as verifiable footnotes. . . . (Quote source here.)

“Perhaps most dangerous is how terrifyingly persistent and powerful fake news has proved to be.” That is, no doubt, why is it used so effectively and pervasively. Soll’s article is quite informative, and he ends it with the following statement:

The Pew Research Center’s State of the Media 2016” paints a grim picture for most serious news organizations. Advertising revenue is down; staffs continue to get cut; the number of newspapers has declined by 100 since 2004. Between 2003 and 2014, with the decline of the printed press, the number of professional statehouse reporters dropped 35 percent. Professional local beat reporters are also a dying breed. These figures, trained in basic journalistic principles, were locally known and trusted. They could be found in bars and local schools and acted as the human link between statehouses, Washington, D.C., and the U.S. population. They were seen as local heroes. (Jimmy Stewart often played truth-obsessed newspaper reporters in films, like the 1948 thriller “Call Northside 777.”) But today, these popular role models and societal links are gone, and with them, a trusted filter within civil society—the sort of filter that can say with authority to fellow local citizens that fake news is not only fake, it is also potentially deadly.

Real news is not coming back in any tangible way on a competitive local level, or as a driver of opinion in a world where the majority of the population does not rely on professionally reported news sources and so much news is filtered via social media, and by governments. And as real news recedes, fake news will grow. We’ve seen the terrifying results this has had in the past—and our biggest challenge will be to find a new way to combat the rising tide. (Quote source here.)

In an article titled, How to Spot Fake News,” by Eugene Kiely and Lori Robertson on FactCheck.org, a project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, Kiely and Robertson state:

Fake news is nothing new. But bogus stories can reach more people more quickly via social media than what good old-fashioned viral emails could accomplish in years past.

Concern about the phenomenon led Facebook and Google to announce that they’ll crack down on fake news sites, restricting their ability to garner ad revenue. Perhaps that could dissipate the amount of malarkey online, though news consumers themselves are the best defense against the spread of misinformation.

Not all of the misinformation being passed along online is complete fiction, though some of it is. Snopes.com has been exposing false viral claims since the mid 1990s, whether that’s fabricated messages, distortions containing bits of truth and everything in between. Founder David Mikkelson warned in a Nov. 17, 2016 article not to lump everything into the “fake news” category. “The fictions and fabrications that comprise fake news are but a subset of the larger bad news phenomenon, which also encompasses many forms of shoddy, unresearched, error-filled, and deliberately misleading reporting that do a disservice to everyone,” he wrote.

A lot of these viral claims aren’t “news” at all, but fiction, satire and efforts to fool readers into thinking they’re for real . . .  [Quote source here). Additional information on how to spot fake news in this article is available at this link.]

Scope.com (mentioned above) has a fake news archive with the latest, up-to-the-minute reporting of #fakenews at this link. Established in 1995, Snopes states that it has “all the latest rumors, urban legends, myths and misinformation gathered together in one nifty list” (quote source and list available here).

In an article titled, The Real Consequences of Fake News,” by Akane Joseph, University of Hawaii Maui College, she states:

Today, we live in a world where information is readily at our fingertips and often behind a screen. Information online is easy to post, instant to view and can be shared quickly to a wide audience. While this can seem like a great advantage, there are also dangers that arise with the shift to online platforms. One of these dangers is the rise of fake news.

One of the reasons fake news is so dangerous is it often hides under the appearance of a legitimate news organization. Recently, Stanford researchers conducted an 18-month study which evaluated middle school, high school, and college students from 12 states and their ability to assess the information they see online. The results were in their words “bleak.” The researchers had hoped middle school students would be able to distinguish an advertisement from a news story, high school students would be able to recognize articles presented by a biased source, and college students would look at sources of articles which present only one side of an argument. “But in every case and at every level, we were taken aback by students’ lack of preparation,” said researchers. The data was so alarming that researches stated, “At present, we worry that democracy is threatened by the ease at which disinformation about civic issues is allowed to spread and flourish”. . . .

The dangerous reality of fake news became apparent on December 4, 2016 when Edgar Maddison Welch shot a AR-15 assault rifle multiple times in Comet Ping Pong, a Washington D.C. pizzeria. Authorities reported that Welch’s actions were in response to a fake news article claiming a child sex-trafficking ring led by Hillary Clinton was hidden in the pizzeria. Thankfully no one was injured, but this incident gives rise to the question, in a situation like this who is responsible? Welch is now facing federal charges but should the person who wrote the fake news article be held accountable?

Not only is there real danger behind fake news but real money as well. The team at NPR’s Planet Money decided to track one popular fake news story titled “FBI Agents Suspected In Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead In Apparent Murder-Suicide,” which reportedly got 1.6 million views in 10 days, to its source. The story was originally published on the Denver Guardian, a fake news site made to look incredibly professional. Planet Money was able to track the Denver Guardian and several other fake news sites to one person, Jestin Coler. Planet Money interviewed Coler and while he wouldn’t share the exact profits he was making from fake news, he did admit it was around $10,000 to $30,000 a month. The money is made through advertisements that are featured on the fake news sites. . . .

. . . At a news conference in Berlin on November 17, 2016, President Obama said “If we are not serious about facts and what’s true and what’s not, and particularly in an age of social media when so many people are getting their information in sound bites and off their phones, if we cannot discriminate between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have problems.”

With seemingly professional fake news so readily available online it is up to the reader to make sure information is accurate before they accept it as the truth. Before passing on information to others, readers can check sources and explore an article to make sure it is truthful and non-biased. Even though an article may confirm an opinion, it does not necessarily make it true. Philosopher Michael Lynch said that the internet is “both the world’s best fact-checker and the world’s best bias confirmer -often at the same time.” Consumers must keep that in mind as we use the internet as a tool while searching for the truth. (Quote source here. Links in article have been added.)

Here’s one last article on the seedier side of #fakenews titled, Why Does Fake News Exist? A Look Inside A Highly Lucrative Business,” by Financial SamuraiFinancial Samurai has been highlighted in major publications such as Forbes, The Wall Street Journal Online, Business Insider, The Consumerist, The Sydney Herald, The Chicago Tribune and The Los Angeles Times (source here). Financial Samurai states:

Everywhere I go people seem to be talking about fake news. It’s fascinating to witness the war between Donald Trump and the mass media, especially CNN. The rare press conferences he hosts truly are entertaining to watch if you’re stuck on the throne longer than normal one morning. [Comment not endorsed by this blogger.]

As an online media entrepreneur who types from San Francisco, plenty of people have been asking me why there’s been such a proliferation of fake, very fake, or overly biased news. To understand fake news, we must understand the cast of characters. . . .

There are two main creators of fake news. The most egregious creator comes from non-journalists who put out spammy garbage you see on the web that’s simply untrue. The second creator of fake news is not so much fake news, but biased news coming from journalists with an agenda. Biased news isn’t as egregious since we all have our biases that are hard to extricate from our actions. However, biased journalists can do greater damage due to their large platforms.

With the use of clickbait titles, misinformation, and satire, fake news has the ability to affect public opinion about a person, country or issue (examples are available at this link).

The main reason why fake news exists is simply due to the desire for MONEY, lots of it! Once you follow the money, everything becomes much clearer. The #1 goal of every fake news creator is to get as many impressionable readers to click on their fake news articles as possible. More clicks means more advertising revenue.

Clickbait titles are very important because fake news creators cannot compete on substance. None of their articles will ever rank well on search (Google, Bing, etc) because most of their content is very thin and filled with grammatical errors on topics that are very ephemeral, e.g., “Southern California Floods Sweep Away Neverland Ranch, Revealing Michael Jackson Is Still Alive!”

The average fake news article might contain 250 words of gibberish, whereas the average article on Financial Samurai tends to be more evergreen with well over 1,200 words, complemented with charts and graphs. Due to the way search engines work, a fake news article would unlikely ever rank above an article I write about on the same topic. If it did, the search engine would be discredited and eventually lose a ton of money themselves.

Fake news creators are paid generally in the range of $1 – $10 per 1,000 impressions. Therefore, if a fake news creator can get 1,000,000 impressions a month, his website stands to earn $1,000 – $10,000 a month. If you’re a fake news teen earning $10,000 a month living in Macedonia [see article at this link] you’re crushing it because the Macedonia GDP per capita is less than $5,000. That’s like making $960,000 a year here in the U.S.!

So how do spammy garbage sites exist on the web if they can’t rank well in search?

The first reason is due to low barriers to entry. Anybody can start a website for less than $50 a year nowadays and compete with the Yahoos, the Forbes, The New York Times, and the Googles of the world. WordPress and other platforms make it easy to create good looking sites that used to cost tens of thousands to create. Chances of creating a reputable website off of fake news are low, but so is the opportunity cost.

The second reason why fake news exists is due to the enablers. More specifically: Facebook. Facebook has almost two billion users each day who waste about an hour of their lives on their platform. Facebook is the largest, most engaged social media platform in the world. Fake news creators know that people who spend lots of time on Facebook are often lonely, highly impressionable people who are looking for validation and a way out of their misery. Since misery loves company, negative fake news does very well.

Why does Facebook enable so much garbage in everybody’s news feed? Money, money, and more MONEY! (More information in this article regarding Facebook is available at this link.)

From the fake news creator’s perspective, if he can spend $1 on advertising to make $1.10 in advertising revenue off a bogus article, he’ll do it all day long until marginal cost exceeds marginal revenue. If you are a skilled fake news creator, sometimes you can spend $1 to make $2 in revenue, which is an absolute goldmine until arbitrage whittles away all profits.

Paying for clicks is what paid marketing is all about. Based on my experience consulting for various marketing departments who regularly spent $50,000 – $200,000 a month on online marketing, Facebook has the highest return on investment in paid marketing, much more so than Google Adwords, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

The reason? Facebook knows more about you than every other platform because you’re spending the most amount of time clicking and sharing on their platform. They track all your behavior and know everything you like and do. Therefore, an advertiser can target their ideal consumer much more granularly, e.g., a get rich quick scammer can target an insecure guy in massive credit card debt who constantly posts selfies of himself with things he cannot afford.

I’ve spoken to many engineers at Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google about how easy it is to stop fake news from running on their platforms, and they all said it is very easy to do. All Facebook has to do is create a new screening algorithm and employ a team to randomly vet the output of these algorithms before articles are advertised on other people’s news feeds. Sure, they won’t catch all fake news, because “good” fake news almost seems like real news, but they’ll certainly reduce the number of fake news articles on their platform.

Ask yourself why there is no fake news on your LinkedIn feed compared to all the garbage on Facebook. The first reason is because LinkedIn doesn’t allow fake news. The second reason is because LinkedIn’s members won’t stand for fake news. They’ll actively report a fake news article and ruin the reputation of the fake news creator/poster. In other words, the quality of users is quite different.

Don’t think for one second a company with over $30 billion in revenues can’t do more to squash fake news on their platform. Even if you are worth millions or multi-billions, the desire for more money is often too strong to allow a person to do the right thing. . . .

Fake news is all about taking advantage of impressionable people in order to make more money. Thank goodness I’m not in the business of reporting the news because that is a never ending grind. But thank goodness there is fake news because it allows media people who build a brand based on substance to get ahead in the long run. . . .

The creators of fake news come from all over the world due to low barriers to entry. Geoarbitrage makes earning money online from a poorer country much more attractive. If all you have to do is make $417 a month in Macedonia ($5,000 per capita GDP) to replicate the $4,416 purchasing power a month in the United States ($53,000 per capita GDP), you’ll absolutely be drawn to the fake news business. Fake news headlines need to stir emotion, usually the negative kind that makes you rage.

Fake news is a get rich quick scheme. . . . (Quote source here). This article is much longer than the excerpts I have posted above and can be read at this link.

I have to admit that I learned a whole lot more about #fakenews than I ever knew before I wrote this blog post. May we all take our online viewing a lot more seriously as there is a lot of #fakenews out there, and unscrupulous folks are not only manipulating us, but they are getting rich off of us, too. . . .

And you shall know the truth . . .

And the truth . . .

Shall make you free . . . (John 8:32)

YouTube video: “Speak Life” by TobyMac:

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

The Perils of People Pleasing

I had to smile when I found the above picture to include on this blog post. People pleasing is an epidemic that nobody really likes, but many people are affected by it in varying degrees. Women especially tend to fall victim to it (see article titled, How Women Can Overcome People-Pleasing and Perfectionism,” by Sharon Martin, LCSW, published in PsychCentral.com in November 2016). Another article titled, Field Guide to the People Pleaser: May I Serve as Your Doormat? by Elizabeth Svoboda, published in PsychologyToday.com, takes a closer look at what situations trigger our people pleasing behavior and why.

As a famous quote states, “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” There are two authors attributed to that quote: (1) John Lydgate, (1370-1451) a Benedictine monk and a prolific writer of poems, allegories, fables and romances (source here); and (2) Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States (1861-1865), who paved the way for the abolition of slavery in America. When the briefer version of that quote came to my attention this afternoon (e.g., “you can’t please all of the people all of the time”), a song with a story behind it came to mind.

Back in 1974, Joni Mitchella Canadian singer/songwriter who settled in Southern California and wrote popular songs like Big Yellow Taxi and Woodstock (also sung by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young), which became a counterculture anthem that helped define an era and a generation (source here), wrote a song titled Free Man in Paris (YouTube Video available at this link). Here are the opening lines to that song:

The way I see it, he said, you just can’t win it
Everybody’s in it for their own gain
You can’t please ’em all
There’s always somebody calling you down

The song is about a music agent/promoter who was a close friend of Mitchell’s in the early 1970s, and she describes him in the song during a trip the two made to Paris, France. While the music promoter is never mentioned by name, Mitchell describes how he worked hard creating hits and launching careers but finally finds some peace from it all while vacationing in Paris. Mitchell sings “I was a free man in Paris. I felt unfettered and alive. Nobody calling me up for favors. No one’s future to decide” (quote source here).

Granted, most of us will never be famous or find ourselves in the same shoes as that music agent/promoter, but we’ve all felt the stress of trying to please “all of the people all of the time” (which is impossible). Yet, some of the “them” out there often try to get us to conform at times and in various and sundry ways, but nobody usually ends up happy–not “them” and certainly not us, either. Well, the “them” might be happy if we keep catering to their wishes that disparage us.

I ran into a brief devotion titled, People Pleasing Is Idolatry,” by Rick Warren, founder and senior pastor of Saddleback Church, an evangelical megachurch in Lake Forest, California. Here is what he had to say on the subject of people pleasing:

In life, you only have to please one person. And that is your Creator. You only have to please the Lord, the one who made you and has a purpose for your life.

That simplifies life enormously! You only need one person’s approval: God’s.

Jesus said it like this in John 5:30: “I don’t try to please myself, but I try to please the One who sent me” (NCV). He said, “I’m living for an audience of one.”

You may have never realized this, but people-pleasing is a form of idolatry. The first commandment in the Ten Commandments is, “Don’t have any gods before me.” Anything you put before God becomes a god. So a boat could be a god. A career could be a god. A girlfriend could be a god. Golf could be a god. Anything that becomes number one in your life that isn’t God becomes your god.

The second commandment is, “Don’t make any idols.” Anything that replaces God in your life is an idol. Success can be an idol. Money can be an idol. Sex can be an idol. A relationship can become an idol. If that relationship to your girlfriend, your wife, your boss, or your friend is more important than God, it’s an idol.

When you are a people-pleaser, you have allowed something other than God to take first place. All of a sudden it becomes god in your life, because you are allowing the opinion of others to matters more than God’s opinion. What they think of you matters more than what God thinks of you. You don’t want to tell them you’re a Christian because they might think less of you. For example, you don’t want them to know you go to church because they may not like you. At that point, you have another god in your life. You have an idol.

You only have to please one person. Paul says in Galatians 1:10, “I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant” (NLT). (Quote source here.)

In an article titled, How to Overcome Being a People Pleaser,” Joyce Meyer, author, speaker, Bible teacher, and president of Joyce Meyer Ministries, states:

There is only one remedy I know of to avoid being a people pleaser and that is learning to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in all we do. That is one of the most exciting things about being a Christian.

As believers, the Holy Spirit lives inside us. He desires to lead us in everything we do, from how we handle our finances, to the type of job we have, to the house we live in, to what we do or don’t do for others. He does not want to just be involved with the spiritual side of our lives; He wants to be involved with the natural side of our lives too.

I love what Romans 7:6 says: “But now we are discharged from the Law and have terminated all intercourse with it, having died to what once restrained and held us captive. So now we serve not under [obedience to] the old code of written regulations, but [under obedience to the promptings] of the Spirit in newness [of life].” What Paul is saying is, when we follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit, we experience newness of life—peace, joy and contentment—that cannot be experienced when we live under the “shoulds,” the “oughts,” the obligations and the expectations of being a people pleaser.

It All Comes Down to One Thing…

Motives… Why are we doing (or not doing) something? Are we being motivated by fear, personal gain or a sense of obligation? Are we being motivated by a desire to be in control, accepted or seen? These are all the wrong reasons for doing something. Our motive for doing anything should always be because God has prompted us and we want to please Him. Following the leading of the Holy Spirit means we are motivated by the fruits of the Holy Spirit, such as love, kindness and goodness. What the Spirit leads us to do or not do, He will give us a peace about.

Remember, whatever you and I do, if we will do it as unto the Lord, our lives and the lives of others will be blessed. If you help a family member, do it as unto the Lord. If you visit with relatives, do it as unto the Lord. If you work in the nursery at church, do it as unto the Lord. If you are getting dressed, washing the dishes, driving to work, cutting the grass, or going to the grocery store, do it as unto the Lord.

In other words, with everything you do, do it with the motive of pleasing God. The result will be a new measure of joy and enthusiasm in your life—even in the everyday, ordinary things.

I encourage you to shake off the way people think or feel about you and just begin to do what you feel God wants you to do. If you need strength in this area, and I think we all do, pray and ask the Lord for His grace to follow after His voice instead of the pressures and demands of others. That you may walk (live and conduct yourselves) in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him and desiring to please Him in all things… (Colossians 1:10). (Quote source here.)

Creflo Dollar, televangelist, pastor, and the founder of the non-denominational World Changers Church International, states the following in his article titled, Avoiding the ‘People Pleaser’ Trap”:

It’s human nature to want people to like us, and the need to be accepted can be a powerful force. We become acquainted with this at an early age, learning who the most popular kids are in school and trying to determine how they became that way. Some people take the need to be accepted one step further, and abandon their values and what they know is right just to please others. But the Bible warns against being a people-pleaser.

In our relationships, trying to please others instead of God can twist us into knots and lead us into places where we know we shouldn’t be. It can cause us to compromise, just to fit in with the crowd. We trap ourselves by fearing confrontation, or what others may think of us if we stand firm in our faith. “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe” (Proverbs 29:25, NIV). We can either cater to others and their whims, or please our heavenly Father by doing what we know is right in His eyes, but we must choose.

Seeking others’ approval is like being on a treadmill, running, running, running, but never going anywhere. It causes stress, anxiety, and tension. Letting fear of people’s opinions bully us into doing this makes us miserable, and that’s not what God wants. During Jesus’ ministry, a number of influential people fell into the trap of worrying about what others would say and do if they listened to Him. “Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:42, 43).

Nothing productive can come from placing people’s opinions before God’s. His children are bound to step on a few toes, because they do everything to please Him. The world’s standards aren’t His standards. When we live according to His spiritual laws, we can expect some people to withhold their approval. “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10, NIV).

Realize, however, that Believers can still receive goodwill and approval from others, as long as we remember that God’s approval comes first. “When a man’s ways please the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him” (Proverbs 16:7, AMP). It pleases Him when we live according to His will, and His favor often manifests through other people. It happened with Esther when she went before the king (Esther 2:15), and it can happen with us.

Relationships blossom when each person focuses on pleasing God, not others. He knows our need to be liked and accepted, so in addition to His liking and accepting us, He wants to bless each of our relationships. Who will you choose to please? (Quote source here.)

Dr. Henry Cloud, leadership expert, psychologist, and best-selling author, has devoted an entire chapter to the topic of people pleasing in his book, Never Go Back: 10 Things You’ll Never Do Again (2014). In an excerpt from Chapter 4 titled, “Never Again… Believe You Can Please Everyone,” he states (on pp. 65-68):

Reaching for the Possible, Not the Impossible

Successful people eventually go through a doorway that is essential to making their personal lives, as well as their professional lives, work: they realize that they do not have to please everyone or have everyone like them. In fact, part of what fuels that realization is the bigger realization that not only do we not have to please everyone, we can’t–even if we wanted to. It is impossible.

The reality is that everyone likes something different, has different agendas, tastes, interests, beliefs, and experiences. It is literally impossible to make everyone happy, even within your closest circle of friends. You are going to like and choose some things that some people won’t like or choose. That is reality. Basically the only way to avoid upsetting anyone is to believe, say, or do nothing at all. Not a good option. Once you realize that, and really, really get it, something happens.

You give up what is impossible,
and begin to focus on what is good.

Playing Offense

Once you get that it truly is impossible to please everyone, you begin to live purposefully. You begin to play offense. You start spending your time and energy on things that bring meaningful results, rather than on the impossible goal of making everyone else happy. Spending energy to get results is “playing offense.” A nice thing about playing offense is that your fruitfulness will actually please people who allow you to be you, provided you are pursuing truly good and fruitful things. The ones who want you to be or do something other than what you are cut out for won’t always be pleased–but when we understand our end goal, to do good, this matters a little less.

And once you begin to play offense, you’ll discover the difference between playing offense and being offensive or offended. Some will take offense at your not doing what they like or want; but that’s the time you need to stand firm, knowing that you can’t please everyone. As we used to say on the golf course, “Every shot makes somebody happy.”

In a memorable movie scene, a son makes a life decision that his father does not like. His father says indignantly, “How could you do this to me?”

The son looks at him and says, “Dad, I am not doing this to you. I am doing this for me.” Big difference. He was not being offensive, he was playing offense, doing what he was called to do. He realized that he was not being offensive nor was he offended because his dad did not approve.

Choices Always Divide

Successful people realize that just because someone is unhappy with them does not require that they give up their purpose, fold their cards, or change. They realize that making some people unhappy is just part of the deal–and they keep going. I once heard Tony Blair say that when you realize that every decision divides, it really helps. It is just part of life. When you turn to the right, there will be some who want you to go to the left, and vice versa. It is the nature of making choices. When we accept that every decision divides, we quit trying to do the impossible, i.e., pleasing everyone, and we begin making the right choices, knowing that our choices will divide.

Psychological research and experience tell us that people-pleasing is not a formula for happiness or success. Happy people do not compare themselves to others or overly concern themselves with others’ opinions of them. They are directed from the inside–their personal values and convictions and staying true to themselves is an inner compass they will not violate. Research shows that people with intrinsic motivations–motivations that come from their own hearts–are the successful ones. The people who reach goals are the ones who do what they themselves have decided to do, from their own hearts, not because of pressure from others. The Bible agrees with the research when it says, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps” (Proverbs 16:9, HCSB). Our hearts and God guide us, not the opinions of others.

This does not mean that successful people ignore correction and input from others. Far from it… The most internally directed people are the most open to feedback. Why? Because they do not fear it. They welcome it and use it to become better directed–internally. When it is good, they make the feedback part of them, which is way different from trying to live up to the expectations of others. As they make changes based on feedback, they are not trying to please the ones who provided the feedback; they are trying to become better versions of themselves.

It turns out that seeking people’s approval is one of the things that God warns us about over and over. Proverbs 29:25 says that “the fear of man is a snare.” Paul says that if he were seeking the approval of men, he would no longer be a servant of Christ (see Galatians 1:10). Jesus unpacks this further and gives us a stronger warning, in the strongest language: “Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you.” (Luke 6:26a, NIV). (Quote source: “Never Go Back,” Chapter 4, pp. 65-68.)

As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog post, people pleasing is epidemic, and we all tend to do it for whatever reasons; however, as we can see from the articles above, it is very detrimental not only to us but to others, too. So the next time we are tempted to try to please someone out of fear or just to get along, stop and think about what God would have us do in that situation, and remember . . .

Fearing people is a dangerous trap . . .

But trusting the Lord . . .

Means safety . . . . (Prov. 29:25 NLT)

YouTube Video: “Warrior” by Steven Curtis Chapman:

Photo #1 credit here
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