A True Love Story Never Ends

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

Journal cover pic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It always protects, always trusts . . .

Always hopes, always perseveres . . .

Love never fails . . . .

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

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

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Lessons from “A Christmas Carol”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Learning begins with listening.

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

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

2. Humility enhances vision.

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

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

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

3. Regret leads to renewal.

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

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

4. Bitterness will poison you.

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

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

5. There’s joy in starting over.

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

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

6. We must be present to win.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9. Redemption is about changed hearts.

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

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

10. It’s never too late to change.

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

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

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

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

But the second best time . . .

IS NOW . . . .

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

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

Serenity and Second Chances

There’s a line near the end of the movie,Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” where Gordon Gekko (played by Michael Douglas) says to his daughter, “Human beings… you gotta give ‘em a break. We’re all mixed bags.” He was in need of forgiveness from her, big time, and she gave it to him.

Six days ago I published two blog posts on the subject of forgiveness. The first post is titled, The Season for Second Chances,” published on this blog, and the second post titled, A Journey to Forgiveness,” is published on my Reflections on the Journey blog. I happen to believe that forgiveness and serenity, along with second chances, are very much intertwined.

Serenity is defined as “the state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled” (quote source here), and it is often very hard to find in the fast-paced world in which we live in today. Most likely, it has always been hard to find.

Most of us are familiar with the Serenity Prayer.” It is the common name for a prayer written by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971) (source here). The best known form of it is the first part of the prayer (available at this link):

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

The complete, unabridged, original version of this prayer is as follows (available at this link):

God, give us grace to accept with serenity 
the things that cannot be changed, 
Courage to change the things 
which should be changed, 
and the Wisdom to distinguish 
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time, 
Enjoying one moment at a time, 
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, 
Taking, as Jesus did, 
This sinful world as it is, 
Not as I would have it, 
Trusting that You will make all things right, 
If I surrender to Your will, 
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life, 
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Amen.

One of our main shortcomings that disrupt forgiveness and serenity in our lives stem from our relationships with other people, situations, and circumstances that we encounter in life that we have little or no power to control or change. It’s not that we don’t try to change them (like quitting a job we can’t stand or filing for divorce or having an affair or “fill in the blank”), but all too often we try to manipulate and coerce our way (either overtly or covertly) to get what we want. However, this life it is not just about us and what we want (contrary to the message often given to us by our surrounding culture).

In the short term we might and often do find some success at our manipulation of circumstances or people, but at what ultimate cost? Nobody knows the future, and all we really have is today. However, there is always a bigger picture going own beyond our own set of circumstances, and that picture is clearly stated in Ephesians 6:10-18. The J.B. Phillips New Testament modern English translation states those verses as follows:

In conclusion be strong—not in yourselves but in the Lord, in the power of his boundless resource. Put on God’s complete armor so that you can successfully resist all the devil’s methods of attack. For our fight is not against any physical enemy: it is against organizations and powers that are spiritual. We are up against the unseen power that controls this dark world, and spiritual agents from the very headquarters of evil. Therefore you must wear the whole armor of God that you may be able to resist evil in its day of power, and that even when you have fought to a standstill you may still stand your ground. Take your stand then with truth as your belt, righteousness your breastplate, the Gospel of peace firmly on your feet, salvation as your helmet and in your hand the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. Above all be sure you take faith as your shield, for it can quench every burning missile the enemy hurls at you. Pray at all times with every kind of spiritual prayer, keeping alert and persistent as you pray for all Christ’s men and women.

It’s hard not to focus on a particular person or persons we think might be the cause of our problem or circumstances, whether at work with coworkers, or in our families or among our friends, and even from complete strangers. Because we live in a physical world we often react accordingly, but the reality is that there is a spiritual world going on behind the scenes all around us, influencing both them and us.

In an article titled, When Life Is Hard: 9 Reminders that God Fights for Us,” by Debbie McDaniel, writer, pastor’s wife, dramatist, and blogger, she states:

Whether we recognize it or not, this truth daily confronts us, we face an enemy here in this life. It’s more than what we can see before us. It’s more than another person who we think has wronged us. It’s more than our own struggles and weaknesses we deal with, or the negative self-talk we sometimes battle….

Remember, your battle today may be more about what is unseen than what you see before you. (Quote source and complete article here).

This brings me back to the subject of forgiveness and, ultimately, serenity. In an article titled, What did Jesus teach about forgiveness,” by Fr. Michael Van Sloun, pastor of St. Bartholomew Catholic Church, and a former school principal, high school instructor and athletic coach, he states:

Jesus often spoke about forgiveness, forgave those who sinned against others, forgave those who sinned against him, and asked the Church to continue his healing ministry. Jesus taught, “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you” (Matt. 6:14). Peter asked Jesus how often it is necessary to forgive, and Jesus replied, “Seventy-seven times” (Matt. 18:22), a number to be taken symbolically, not literally, for the never-ending way that we ought to forgive.

Jesus liked to use parables to illustrate various aspects of forgiveness. During his conversation with Peter, Jesus told the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matt. 18:23-35). Luke’s gospel has a series of five forgiveness parables: the barren fig tree (Luke 13:6-9); the bent over woman (Luke 13:10-13); the lost sheep (Luke 15:4-7); the lost coin (Luke 15:8-10); and the greatest forgiveness parable of all, the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32).

Jesus was extremely kind and merciful in the way that he forgave those who sinned against others. Jesus told the paralytic, “Child, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5); when a sinful woman bathed Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair, Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 7:48); when a woman caught in adultery was brought before him, he said, “I do not condemn you” (John 8:11); and as Jesus hung on the cross he told the repentant criminal, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Even more compelling is the way that Jesus forgave those who sinned against him directly. For Jesus, forgiveness was not automatic; it was intentional, a conscious choice. After the Roman soldiers had scourged and nailed him, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). After the resurrection Jesus had every right to be furious. Peter had denied him. The others had deserted him. When he entered the Upper Room, they deserved a severe reprimand, but instead, with divine compassion Jesus said not once but three times, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19, 21, 26).

Jesus asked his disciples to continue his forgiveness ministry. Jesus told Peter, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:19); and after the resurrection Jesus breathed on the disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them” (John 20:22, 23). (Quote source here.)

The important of extending forgiveness to others (as in all others) cannot be underestimated. In fact, it is crucial, and without it, nothing else matters. In an article titled, Apologies, Forgiveness, and Serenity, a Day of Atonement,” by Samantha Smithstein, Psy.D., a licensed clinical and forensic psychologist, she states:

When friends, family, and community members take the time to reflect upon how they might have hurt each other, sincerely ask for forgiveness, and find it in their hearts to forgive themselves and others, they find themselves experiencing a deep and real serenity. (Quote source here.)

It is in extending forgiveness that leads to “a deep and real serenity.” And since Christmas is right around the corner, this is a gift that is truly priceless, and it has the ability to change everyone and everything it touches. and give everyone involved a second chance.

I’ll end this post with the words from Colossians 3:12-14 from The Message BibleSo, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on . . . .

Wear love . . .

It’s your basic, all-purpose garment . . .

Never be without it . . . .

YouTube Video: “Forgiveness” by TobyMac [ft. Lacrae]:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

The Season for Second Chances

Tis the season of gift giving, and most folks are busy buying presents to give to others for Christmas, and often whether they can afford to do so or not. In an article titled, The Gift of Giving,” by Christie Hoos, wife, mother, writer and blogger, she states:

At a time of year when giving can sometimes feel more like an obligation and a burden than the privilege it really is, how can we become the cheerful givers God intended us to be? The first step is to look for opportunities to give more and to give better. Feeling follows action, not the other way around….

Gift giving is much more than an obligation. It is an opportunity to love somebody else. Since we all have our own love languages, to really show love to another person takes a lot more effort than simply grabbing the first thing you see at the store that fits into your budget. (Quote source here.)

This morning I read a chapter in Max Lucado‘s book, Second Chances: More Stories of Grace,” regarding a gift that fits into everyone’s budget as it doesn’t cost any money to give, but at the same time it costs us our pride, ego, resentment, and our propensity to seek revenge to give it. It’s a short story but the message is quite clear. The chapter is titled, “The Father in the Face of the Enemy,” and it’s in Chapter 30 in the book:

Daniel is big. He used to make his living by lifting weights and teaching others to do the same. His scrapbook is colorful with ribbons and photos of him in his prime, striking the muscle-man pose and flexing the bulging arms.

The only thing bigger than Daniel’s biceps is his heart. Let me tell you about a time his heart became tender. Daniel was living in the southern city of Porto Alegre. He worked at a gym and dreamed of owning his own. The bank agreed to finance the purchase if he could find someone to cosign the note. His brother agreed.

They filled out all the applications and awaited the approval. Everything went smoothly, and Daniel soon received a call from the bank telling him he could come and pick up the check. As soon as he got off work, he went to the bank.

When the loan officer saw Daniel, he looked surprised and asked Daniel why he had come.

“To pick up the check,” Daniel explained.

“That’s funny,” responded the banker. “Your brother was in here earlier. He picked up the money and used it to retire the mortgage on his house.”

Daniel was incensed. He never dreamed his own brother would trick him like that. He stormed over to his brother’s house and pounded on the door. The brother answered the door with his daughter in his arms. He knew Daniel wouldn’t hit him if he was holding a child.

He was right. Daniel didn’t hit him. But he promised his brother that if he ever saw him again he would break his neck.

Daniel went home, his big heart bruised and ravaged by the trickery of his brother. He had no other choice but to go back to the gym and work to pay off the debt.

A few months later, Daniel met a young American missionary named Allen Dutton. Allen befriended Daniel and taught him about Jesus Christ. Daniel and his wife soon became Christians and devoted disciples.

But though Daniel had been forgiven so much, he still found it impossible to forgive his brother. The wound was deep. The pot of revenge still simmered. He didn’t see his brother for two years. Daniel couldn’t bring himself to look into the face of the one who had betrayed him. And his brother liked his own face too much to let Daniel see it.

But an encounter was inevitable. Both knew they would eventually run into each other. And neither knew what would happen then.

The encounter occurred one day on a busy avenue. Let Daniel tell you in his own words what happened:

I saw him, but he didn’t see me. I felt my fists clench and my face get hot. My initial impulse was to grab him around the throat and choke the life out of him.

But as I looked into his face, my anger began to melt. For as I saw him, I saw the image of my father. I saw my father’s eyes. I saw my father’s look. I saw my father’s expression. And as I saw my father in his face, my enemy once again became my brother.

Daniel walked toward him. The brother stopped, turned, and started to run, but he was too slow. Daniel reached out and grabbed his shoulder. The brother winced, expecting the worst. But rather than have his throat squeezed by Daniel’s hands, he found himself hugged by Daniel’s big arms. And the two brothers stood in the middle of the river of people and wept.

Daniel’s words are worth repeating: “When I saw the image of my father in his face, my enemy became my brother.”

Seeing the father’s image in the face of the enemy. Try that. The next time you see or think of the one who broke your heart, look twice. As you look at his face, look also for His face–the face of the One who forgave you. Look into the eyes of the King who wept when you pleaded for mercy. Look into the face of the Father who gave you grace when no one else gave you a chance. Find the face of the God who forgives in the face of your enemy. And then, because God has forgiven you more than you’ll ever be called on to forgive in another, set your enemy–and yourself–free.

And allow the hole in your heart to heal. (Quote source, “Second Chances,” Chapter 30, pp. 183-186)

The gift we can give is the gift of forgiveness. In an article titled, The Many Benefits of the Gift of Forgiveness,” by Patti Armstrong, an award winning author, blogger, and former managing editor at Ascension Press, she writes:

Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.

When someone hurts us, the words “…as we forgive those who trespass against us…” stick in our throats. But according to science, we hurt ourselves even more if we don’t forgive them. It’s not that it’s easy, just necessary to follow God’s command, and for our good health.

Recent studies reveal that unconditional forgiveness leads to higher levels of well-being and less health problems. The studies also show that people who believe God has forgiven them throughout their life, find it easier to forgive others. Yet, forgiveness is anything but easy.

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with malice. be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31-32).

The struggle with forgiveness is common, according to Linda Rose Igrisano, author ofStrength for Your Journey.” Throughout the past 36 years working as a singer/evangelist and retreat master, and serving in a healing apostolate, she often works helps people to forgive.

“Forgiveness is hard, yet it is commanded to follow Jesus,” Ingrisano said. “Otherwise, we hurt and destroy ourselves and each other by our hatefulness, and refusal to forgive, and I am sure that we also hurt our Lord.” She acknowledged that often we are innocent victims but still, we have the power to respond to God’s command to forgive although it may take perseverance and an act of the will.

“I often say to people: ‘I know it wasn’t right what that person did to you, but that’s between them and God,’” she said. “Keep repeating those words out of love and obedience to God and God will, in His time, fill you with that grace to forgive.” (Quote source here.)

In an article titled, When Forgiveness Seems Impossible,” by Ross Rhoads, D.D. (1932-2017), co-founder of Southern Evangelical Seminary, chaplain for the Billy Graham Association, vice chairman on the Board of Directors of Samaritan’s Purse and World Medical Mission, and former pastor at Calvary Church, he writes:

Why is forgiveness so difficult? It is difficult because it is so contrary to human nature. In societies and cultures not affected by the Judeo-Christian ethic, forgiveness is not a virtue, but a weakness. Offenses demand punishment and revenge becomes the only appropriate response. Or if forgiveness is offered, it appears to relieve and excuse the offender of responsibility. What if forgiveness is the willing offer of the person offended, but the offender refuses to acknowledge the wrong?

Throughout Scripture, forgiveness is expressed in various ways. In the Old Testament, forgiveness means “to take away, to atone by sacrifice and substitution.” In the New Testament, it is “to cancel a debt,” but it does not overlook the offender’s act or obligation. The debt is satisfied by the one to whom it was owed, or by someone else. This is the message of the grace of God: He cancels the debt of sin by the payment, or atonement, made by the Lord Jesus Christ.

Repentance and remission are inseparable in forgiveness. These are the means by which God can forgive: by the confession of sinful debt to God and acceptance of the Savior as the substitute sin-bearer. When God forgives, He also releases the offending sinner from the consequences of His wrath and eternal punishment. The forgiven are reconciled with God through Jesus Christ, and peace and joy prevail forever.

Jesus’ model is the secret to interpersonal forgiveness. The Scripture teaches, forgive one another even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:32). The “even as” states the formula. Just as God forgives, we are to forgive. Confession admits the offense and states the truth. It does not ignore the wrong, or deny the reality. It thus releases forgiveness to the offender and restores fellowship. If God’s conditions are met, He is bound by His Word to forgive. But God’s forgiveness is effective only when there is the admission of sin. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, NKJV).

Likewise, in human relationships, forgiveness demands an apology, and that is the obligation of the one who caused the offense. However, apologies can be inadequate.

“Whatever it was that you think I did, I’m sorry.” This claims perception is the problem. “I’m sorry that you took it the wrong way.” This is reverse blame, a denial of responsibility. “I didn’t know you were so hurt.” A plea of ignorance doesn’t settle the wrong. Full restoration of the relationship and complete forgiveness are accomplished only when there is admission of wrongdoing, genuine regret over the offense and an apology that admits the gravity of the injury.

But what if the one who has offended us does not apologize? Are we free to withhold forgiveness? No. Many times withholding forgiveness is a form of subtle control, power and passive punishment in an attempt to get even. God forgives, but people view getting even and settling the score as an easier solution. Are there some offenses and hurts that can never be forgiven? Scripture teaches that we are to offer forgiveness as God does–freely. Whatever forgiveness we offer to others has been first given to us without limit.

Finally, what if we grant forgiveness to the offender, but the memory and pain of the offense remains? Is forgiveness incomplete? The truth is only God is perfect and remembers our sin no more (Jeremiah 31:34). But we must earnestly and prayerfully forgive, in spite of the painful memories. (Quote source here.)

In the last article on forgiveness titled, How to Give the Gift of Forgiveness,” by Alisa Nicaud at FlourishingToday.com, she opens her article with three verses on forgiveness, and ends it with some practical advice on how to genuinely forgive someone who has harmed us in some way:

Then Peter came and said to Him, Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times? Jesus said to him, I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. Matthew 18:21-22 NLT

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. –Colossians 3:13 NLT

[Regarding those who have offended us, she states]:

We never know what people are going through. God will help us to see them the way He sees them if we ask. The truth is, I have been forgiven. Knowing how much I have been forgiven helps me to forgive others more freely. I’ve learned this about relationships: We have to create space for other people’s faults. We need to draw mercy from the same well that we receive mercy from… Christ.

Practical Tips for Giving the Gift of Forgiveness this Christmas:

Forgiveness

Who can you give the gift of forgiveness to? Is there someone who has hurt you that you need to forgive? Make a conscience choice to forgive them and ask God to bless them. Buy them a small gift that will express that you have brought closure to the issue and you no longer hold a grudge against them.

Check Our Hearts

We are given the opportunity daily to be offended by someone. Each day we can check our hearts and ask God if there is anyone that we need to forgive. (Psalm 139:23-24)

Pray

We need to pray for those who offend us. Ask God to bless them every time we think of them or see them. We can’t change people, but God can. Your prayers are powerful. (James 5:16) (Quote source here.)

So this Christmas may we let forgiveness rule in our hearts and lives. And let us also remember the words of Ephesians 4:32 which states: Be kind to each other, tenderhearted . . .

Forgiving one another . . .

Just as God through Christ . . .

Has forgiven you . . . .

YouTube Video: “Forgiveness” by Matthew West:

Photo #1 credit here
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The Best News Ever

Today is the first Sunday of the Advent season leading up to the celebration of Christmas. The following is a brief description of Advent in an article titled, Advent Wreath & Candles: Understanding the Meaning, History & Tradition,” by Laurie Richie, author of The Advent Storybook and a registered nurse:

Advent is a time of expectation and hope. “Advent” means “arrival” or “coming,” and it prompts us to pause each day in December and remember why Jesus came at Christmas. Traditions vary by country, but common ways of commemorating Jesus’ birth are through Advent calendars, wreaths, and candles. Ideally, any Advent tradition should involve families in a fun activity each day of December, helping them remember why we celebrate Christmas….

Advent candles shine brightly in the midst of darkness, reminding us that Jesus came as Light into our dark world. The candles are often set in a circular Advent wreath. In Scandinavia, Lutheran churches light a candle each day of December; by Christmas, they have twenty-four candles burning. Another Advent candle option is a single candle with twenty-four marks on the side–the candle is lit each day and allowed to melt down to the next day’s mark.

The most common Advent candle tradition, however, involves four candles. A new candle is lit on each of the four Sundays before Christmas. Each candle represents something different, although traditions vary. Often, the first, second, and fourth candles are purple; the third candle is rose-colored. Sometimes all the candles are red; in other traditions, all four candles are blue or white. Occasionally, a fifth white candle is placed in the middle and is lit on Christmas Day to celebrate Jesus’ birth.

  • The first candle symbolizes hope and is called the “Prophet’s Candle.” The prophets of the Old Testament, especially Isaiah, waited in hope for the Messiah’s arrival.
  • The second candle represents faith and is called “Bethlehem’s Candle.” Micah had foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, which is also the birthplace of King David.
  • The third candle symbolizes joy and is called the “Shepherd’s Candle.” To the shepherd’s great joy, the angels announced that Jesus came for humble, unimportant people like them, too. In liturgy, the color rose signifies joy.
  • The fourth candle represents peace and is called the “Angel’s Candle.” The angels announced that Jesus came to bring peace–He came to bring people close to God and to each other again.
  • The (optional) fifth candle represents light and purity and is called “Christ’s candle.” It is placed in the middle and is lit on Christmas Day. (Quote source here.)

In another article published in 2017 titled, First Sunday of Advent: He is Coming!” by Michael Simone, S.J., Assistant Professor of Old Testament at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, he describes this first Sunday of Advent as follows:

Jesus is on a rescue mission. That is the major theme of Mark’s entire Gospel, which we will be reading on most Sundays in the new liturgical year that begins on this First Sunday of Advent. The end of the age was near, and God sent the Son to save Israel from the coming calamity. Mark has none of Matthew’s ruminative, “what-does-it-all-mean” discourses. Instead, Mark packs his narrative with action. Blind beggars, sick children, grieving parents and demon-haunted madmen take center stage. As Jesus delivered each one, he progressively revealed himself to be the savior of anyone who believed in his power.

This message suited Mark’s times. He wrote around the year A.D. 70, in a period of chaos in the Roman world. Assassins had killed the emperor Nero two years before. Three feckless emperors followed in quick succession. Subject peoples everywhere rose up against Rome. Each insurrection failed. In Judea, the Roman general Vespasian fought the Jews ferociously before hurrying back to Rome to be acclaimed emperor. He left his son, Titus, to clean up the last of the resistance. On Aug. 30, A.D. 70, Titus broke through the walls of Jerusalem, sacked the city and destroyed the temple, which has never been rebuilt. (The arch of Titus in Rome commemorates this destruction. The Jewish people felt the loss so keenly that until the late 20th century, rabbinic law forbade any Jew from walking through the arch under penalty of permanent excommunication.)

Christians living in these times felt an acute need for rescue. They knew Jesus had come and they believed God was at work to save them, but they did not know what form their rescue would take. To this community, Mark relays Jesus’ message: “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” Throughout his Gospel, Mark shows how hard it was for people to recognize Jesus’ true nature, even when they witnessed the great deeds he performed. Jesus ordered his disciples to remain vigilant for his second coming, lest they too miss his presence. Forty-odd years later, Mark passed this command on to his community, who must have felt, as the world they knew crumbled around them, that they were living in the time Christ foretold.

The church teaches that, although Mark’s historical expectations may have proved incorrect, the message he provides for our salvation is forever true. In today’s Gospel passage, that message is clear: “Watch! May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping!” We wait, like Mark’s community, for the coming of the Son of Man. We know to be alert for Christ at the end of our natural lives. As we begin another Advent, it is also important to remember that Christ appears suddenly in our life every day. Like the characters of Mark’s Gospel, we can easily miss his arrival. If Mark were writing today, he would perhaps use other symbols for that spirit of distraction. “Be watchful! Be alert! May he not find you obsessing over trivia, lusting after images on the internet, preoccupied with your phone or indulging in hate, fear or greed.” May we use these weeks before Christmas to put away our distractions and put our faith in Christ anew. (Quote source here.)

“Jesus is on a rescue mission.” And He is, of course! We have so many distractions in our society today that it is too easy to miss what Jesus is doing. We are way too easily distracted by (everything), or obsessed over (trivia), or lusting after (what we want but don’t have), or preoccupied with (smartphones, money, and lots of other things), and indulging in things like hate, fear or greed, and often all at the same time. And just where is Jesus going to fit in with all of that? In fact, does He fit in at all?

Creighton University’s Online Ministry has provided a few guidelines for us to consider during this first week of Advent:

As we begin Advent we light one candle in the midst of all the darkness in our lives and in the world.  It symbolizes our longing, our desire, our hope.  Three “advents” or “comings” shape our desire.  We want to be renewed in a sense that Jesus came to save us from our sin and death. We want to experience his coming to us now, in our everyday lives, to help us live our lives with meaning and purpose. And we want to prepare for his coming to meet us at the end of our lives on this earth.

So, we begin with our longing, our desire and our hope.

When we wake up, each day this week, we could light that candle, just by taking a few moments to focus. We could pause for a minute at the side of our bed, or while putting on our slippers or our robe, and light an inner candle.  Who among us doesn’t have time to pause for a moment?  We could each find our own way to pray something like this:

“Lord, the light I choose to let into my life today is based on my trust in you.  It is a weak flame, but I so much desire that it dispel a bit more darkness today.  Today, I just want to taste the longing I have for you as I go to the meeting this morning, carry out the responsibilities of my work, face the frustration of some difficult relationships.  Let this candle be my reminder today of my hope in your coming.”

Each morning this week, that momentary prayer might get more specific, as it prepares us for the day we will face.  And as we head to work, walk to a meeting, rush through lunch, take care of errands, meet with people, pick up the phone to return some calls, answer e-mail, return home to prepare a meal, listen to the ups and downs of our loved ones’ day, we can take brief moments to relate our desire for the three comings of the Lord to our life.

If our family has an Advent wreath, or even if it doesn’t, we could pray together before our evening meal.  As we light the first candle on the wreath, or as we simply pause to pray together our normal grace.  Then, as we begin to eat, we can invite each other, including the children, to say something about what it means today to light this first candle. 

Perhaps we could ask a different question each night, or ask about examples from the day.  How am I getting in touch with the longing within me?  How did I prepare today?  What does it mean to prepare to celebrate his coming 2,000 years ago?  How can we prepare to experience his coming into our lives this year?  What does it mean for us now, with our world involved in so much conflict? How are we being invited to trust more deeply?  How much more do we long for his coming to us, in the midst of the darkness in our world?  In what ways can we renew our lives so we might be prepared to greet him when he comes again?  Our evening meal could be transformed this week, if we could shape some kind of conversation together that lights a candle of anticipation in our lives.  Don’t worry if everyone isn’t “good at” this kind of conversation at first.  We can model it, based on our momentary pauses throughout each day, in which we are discovering deeper and deeper desires, in the midst of our everyday lives.

And every night this week, we can pause briefly, perhaps as we sit for a minute at the edge of the bed.  We can be aware of how that one, small candle’s worth of desire brought light into this day.  And we can give thanks.  Going to bed each night this week with some gratitude is part of the preparation for growing anticipation and desire.

Come, Lord Jesus!  Come and visit your people. We await your coming.  Come, O Lord. (Quote source here.)

As we celebrate this Advent season, let us remember what Jesus said in John 8:12“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me . . .

Will never walk in darkness . . .

But will have . . .

The light of life . . . .

YouTube Video: “Best News Ever” by MercyMe:

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Finding Our Gratitude This Thanksgiving

Somewhere in the past eight plus years that I’ve been regularly blogging, I started to include far more quotes from other authors and reduced my own thoughts on a topic. I’ve been known to quote entire articles available from other authors, and I always give credit and links to those authors and articles. I could just make a note in my blog posts to the titles and authors of those articles, but if you’re like me and you read a lot on online (whether in blog posts or on other websites or social media), when an author links to other articles online most of the time we (the readers) skip over those links and never or rarely end up going back to check them out.

When I run across articles online by other authors that I think are very much worth noting, I’ll post those articles on my blog post–not because I’m trying to plagiarize them, but because I want to share them with my readers. And, I know from my own propensity to not take the time to click on links in other blog posts (or websites) unless my curiosity is mightily piqued, I’ll just skip over the link and not take the time to “go there.” Hence, that is my reason for including large portions of blog posts and articles written by others in my blog posts.

With that being said, today is Thanksgiving Day here in America, and I just ran across the following article published two days ago on November 20, 2018, in The Washington Post titled, Find Your Gratitude This Thanksgiving. Here’s How,” by Kristin Clark Taylor, author, freelance editor and journalist, motivational speaker and lecturer, and a former White House communications strategist. She is also the founder and facilitator of the popular Great Falls Writers Group. In her article she writes:

Thanksgiving is the day that gives gratitude a good name.

Golden turkeys will be admired, platters will be passed. And when it comes your turn at the dining room table to sit up and announce the one thing you’re most grateful for, try not to say the same thing as last year. It might be easy to do a repeat, but that’s kind of cheating.

I get it, gratitude might not be at the forefront for you right now.

Most of us are either preparing food today, preparing to travel — or both. We might be steeling ourselves for high-running family emotions. (Family and politics, anyone?) Tensions are taut just about everywhere, and as family members file through that front door, what often blows in with them is the angst that comes from having lots of folks under one roof who don’t always see eye-to-eye. Somebody’s going to say or do something that upsets someone else.

Gratitude gets crowded out.

But here’s the thing: When things go haywire, that’s when we need gratitude more than ever. My relationship with it has evolved over the years, and today it actually defines my life. I carry it around with me as a constant companion. Many times — particularly during my darkest moments — it carries me.

I need it to survive.

That’s how gratitude is. You have to develop a relationship with it, perhaps even a dependence on it, in your own daily life in a way that is deeply personal and only yours (imagine a fingerprint) — but you have to be able to share it, too, (imagine an outstretched hand).

It’s a two-step process, really: You generate gratitude from within — and in my case, from above — then push it back out into the world.

Simple? Yes. Easy? No. It requires energy, discipline and perseverance. Practiced regularly and constantly, grateful living can become an attitude rather than an action, an instinct rather than an exercise. But it requires a sustained connection. It cannot just be a fling. It cannot just be dragged out and dusted off on Turkey Day.

Thankfulness is much more than a warm-and-fuzzy feeling. It’s a purposeful process that requires a push every now and then to remain vibrant; a gentle shove, from time to time, to maintain its momentum. Left alone and untended, it can get lazy and leave.

When the sun sets on this Thanksgiving Day, try not to allow your sense of gratitude and appreciation to set with it. When you wake up Friday morning, search for new ways to remain committed.

Search for gratitude in new places. Find it in the hidden corners and unexplored pockets of your daily life that you’ve never noticed before. It’s there, I promise — and the darkened corners are often the best places to search. (It’s said that the light of hope shines brightest in the dark.)

Today, I offer up a little platter of tips and techniques that might help. I practice them daily, constantly. They keep me centered.

Some of them might sound a little silly, but I see this as a good thing because although the pursuit of gratitude is serious business indeed, the process itself should be simple and joyful. Smiles should be involved. Laughter should be invoked.

10-Toe Gratitude: Throughout each and every day, I check in with my body, just to whisper a thank-you, to my heart that beats, my lungs that breathe, my fingers that type. During evening yoga (downward dog is the perfect place) I say thank you to each of my 10 toes. Toes work hard and are grossly underappreciated. I love my toes and am grateful to have them.

Similarly, when I’m writing (which is often because it’s what I do for a living), I often pause to touch my wrist, find my pulse, and send a jolt of purposeful gratitude to the blood that flows through my veins. To embrace the very miracles that are constantly unfolding within us is right and necessary. I like to call it vital acknowledgment.

Double-Barreled Gratitude: Some people keep a daily gratitude journal that describes all the things we’re thankful to have (i.e., health, family, fresh cilantro). It’s easy and automatic to express gratitude for all that has been given to us, but what about the flip side?

I’m as grateful for the absence of a toothache as I am for the presence of fresh ginger root in my refrigerator; as grateful for the absence of a desire to drink as I am for the presence of my daughter’s quiet smile. Absence itself has a powerful presence.

If you keep a gratitude journal, try expanding it for a day or two and take the double-barreled route. Create a list that’s made up of two columns, one labeled “Presence,” the other “Absence.” Train your brain to assign value to the absences in your life, too. It will expand your perspective in unimaginable ways.

Kitchen Floor Gratitude: Many years ago, I tripped in my kitchen and twisted my ankle badly. At precisely the same moment my brain perceived the pain, a deep and sudden rush of gratitude rushed in.

As I lay sprawled on my kitchen floor, a miraculous dichotomy unfolded: In the midst of our pain, gratitude can find a home. Translated: My ankle hurts like hell but thank God it isn’t broken.

Brown-is-Beautiful Gratitude: From a very early age, my mother taught me to seek the sacred within the ordinary. I remember sitting in the backyard with my mother one summer afternoon just after a rainstorm, when a brilliant rainbow appeared.

After we admired it for a few minutes, she picked up a brown rock and placed it gently into my little hands. “This plain old brown rock is every bit as spectacular as that beautiful rainbow,” she said softly. “Be equally thankful for both.” Tip: Next time you see a stunning sunset, also remember to reach down and embrace the beauty of the brown rock. Be as thankful for the ordinary as you are for the spectacular.

As you sit down to dinner this Thanksgiving, don’t forget that exploring and expressing your own gratitude can be a constant pursuit, not a one-day affair. Not just today, but every day. So seek it. Find it. Pass it along.

We need it now more than ever. (Quote source here.)

First Thessalonians 5:16-18 states, Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Being a part of the human race, we know that it’s not often easy to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances.” The tragedies of life are constantly broadcast on the news on any given day, not to mention the things that we personally experience in our own lives. Rejoice? Pray without ceasing? Give thanks in all circumstances? It’s not easy, and sometimes it seems impossible.

It helps if we understand the concept of “praying without ceasing.” In a blog post titled, Pray Without Ceasing,” on AllAboutPrayer.org (a specific author is not mentioned), the post states the following:

How to pray without ceasing — a heart attitude

  • How does one pray continually? We cannot always be on our knees. With the daily demands on our busy lives, we are fortunate to kneel in prayer even a few minutes each day. However, the context of this passage gives us a clue. This passage focuses on heart attitude. “Rejoice always” is an attitude of joyfulness. Giving thanks in everything also requires a mental attitude of thankfulness. How do we rejoice and give thanks? Through prayer! Therefore, effective prayer is a proper heart attitude: a mental outlook of joyful thanksgiving. It expresses itself throughout the day with silent prayers of vital communication with the LORD.
  • Maintaining a healthy relationship requires communication. Always be “on line” with God so when the Spirit moves you to pray, you can instantly agree with Him. The Holy Spirit prays for us with inexpressible groans (Romans 8:26). When in agreement with the Spirit, we are praying continuously. The heart attitude of praying without ceasing means an ever-open heart to the Lord’s leading.
  • If we are praying without ceasing–even while driving, changing the baby, washing dishes, or running a lawn mower–we can be open to the leading of the Spirit when He urges us to pray for something or someone. At that time, we can agree with God and make a mental note to add that concern to our later prayer time.
  • Praying without ceasing doesn’t take the place of time alone in prayer with God. However, it is a joyful experience to unite with the LORD who lays burdens on our hearts. We can’t always stop and kneel, but our heart attitude can still be “praying without ceasing.” (Quote source here.)

I have found that the more I give back to God my personal expectations in any given situation or set of circumstances, and leave the outcome for God to decide and not for me to try to coerce God into doing for me, there is a “peace that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) that comes from that total relinquishment of me trying to control the outcome when I pray (you know, like begging God to do something to change that we don’t like), especially in trying situations that never seem to end.

So, on this Thanksgiving Day 2018, as Kristin Clark Taylor reminds us to do in her article above, let us be in a constant pursuit of gratitude (regardless of our circumstances), not just today, but every day . . .

So seek it . . .

Find it . . .

And pass it along . . . .

YouTube Video: “It’s Gonna Be Okay” by The Piano Guys:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

With One Week To Go Until Thanksgiving

A few days ago on my other blog, Reflections on the Journey,” I published a blog post titled, Journey Into Thankfulness.” One of the topics mentioned in it was an article titled, Embrace the Family ‘Black Sheep’ This Holiday,” by Kristen Fuller, M.D. I thought it was an important topic given that just about every family has a “black sheep” who feels left out at the holidays.

However, being a family’s “black sheep” is only one reason someone might end up being alone during the holidays. In fact, many people find themselves alone during the holiday season for a variety of reasons. In a 2016 article titled, An Open Letter to Everyone Spending the Holidays Alone,” by Lane Moore, comedian, actor, musician, creator of the hit comedy show, Tinder Live, and author of How To Be Alone,” she writes:

Right off the bat, I want you to know that I totally get it. Right now the entire world is talking about nothing but the freaking holidays. Commercials, movies, special TV episodes, reruns of special TV episodes, social media, advertisements. All of it. And not just that, every single one of those outlets is talking about family over the holidays because “everyone” has a family on the holidays! The holidays are a time to spend with your family! And since everyone has a perfect family they spend regular time with, everyone loves the holidays! And if you don’t love the holidays, you must be a cold-hearted psychopath!!!

This is likely all you’ve been hearing lately, and that’s a shame. Because whether you lost your loved ones because they passed on, or because they were abusive, or because they abandoned you, or because you left them when you felt unsafe, or because they didn’t accept you, you are a special breed who, right now, feels like you do not fit into the expectations of the holiday season. And it’s the loneliest feeling in the world….

You’re not alone during the holidays because you deserve to be—everyone deserves a great family who loves them and makes them feel safe. The fact that you never had that or don’t have it anymore is not the result of your being unlovable or because something is wrong with you. I know it sounds like, “Duh, I know that,” but seriously, around this time of year it’s so easy to subconsciously think otherwise. I don’t know why you didn’t get what most of your friends have, but I know you deserve every bit as much love and normalcy as everyone else. Never doubt this…. (Quote source and complete article here.)

Here’s an article from 2016 titled, Why I Love Being Alone for the Holidays,” by Dena Landon, a single mom who knits, dances and blogs at femmefeminism.com. She writes:

My pattern of spending the holidays alone started during college. I went to school in Boston, but my entire family was back in Seattle. It was too expensive to fly home for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, so I’d usually stay on campus during Thanksgiving. The first year I accepted a friend’s invitation to go home with her to New Jersey. It was awkward. I tagged along to her high school friends’ houses, attended church with her family and sat at the table making small talk with people I’d never met before and wouldn’t meet again. Everyone was nice, but when a group of girls are laughing about that time at Homecoming when so-and-so’s dress ripped it’s hard not to feel like a third wheel.

The next year I was invited to share Thanksgiving with a group from the seminary up the street from my college. I sat down at the table next to the only single guy, who started our conversation by talking about how a pastor needs a wife to receive a calling to a church and wow, was I single? That was worse than awkward.

By my third Thanksgiving, I had had enough. When the girl who lived two doors down in the dorm asked what I was doing, I lied and said, “Oh, I have plans.” I don’t think I imagined the look of slight relief that crossed her face when she said, “Great!”

When you tell someone you don’t have any plans for the holidays, particularly within the context of the Christian college I attended, they often feel obligated to invite you along. But that Thanksgiving spent alone in the dorms was the best holiday I had during college. I went tramping through the woods behind campus, my boots crunching on the ice-tipped leaves. I made tea and curled up with good books on my bed, reading for fun for a change. I got hot cider in a coffee shop on Newbury Street and people-watched to my heart’s content.

Since then I’ve spent many Thanksgivings and Christmases by myself, enjoying the quiet and solitude of my own home. I don’t wish to appear ungrateful to the people who opened their homes to me in the past. Offering a place at your table to someone who might otherwise have nowhere to go is a kind thing to do, and I realize that it creates more work in terms of cooking and cleaning. But the emotional labor is exhausting: chatting with 15 people you’ve never met before, trying to remember names and faces, and worrying because you brought lotion as a hostess gift and then found out she’s allergic to fragrance. And getting caught in the middle of the fight about your friend changing her major, or the sometimes complicated family dynamics that abound in even healthy families, isn’t relaxing.

When I tell people that I sometimes prefer being alone at the holidays, they give me a strange look. They say that it’s a time for family and friends, and ask if I get lonely. But I don’t have much family left: My mother died when she was 58, and because she was an only child that side of my family is gone, and I’m estranged from my father. I do have a family by choice, but there have been years when they traveled to visit their birth families and just weren’t around. And there have also been years when I’ve politely declined and chosen to be alone.

With the rush and bustle of daily life, it’s a luxury to have an entire day or two all to myself. No deadlines, no one asking me to get them water after I just sat down on the couch, no social demands. My time is truly my own in a way that it rarely is the rest of the year. Because I know it will pick back up the moment the holiday ends, I bask in that freedom and that brief time of answering to no one. I’ve found that, if loneliness does start to nip at me, it’s always right before I have to rejoin the real world, and it doesn’t have time to deepen.

I’ll be alone on Thanksgiving again this year, holed up in a cabin on Washington state’s San Juan Islands. I’m looking forward to the break after a fall spent finishing grad school, working on a novel and helping my son, who will spend the week with his father, start kindergarten. I’m an introvert, and I rest and recharge best when there’s no one else around. While I’ll miss my son, I’m pretty sure that the only other thing I’ll miss will be the turkey. (Quote source here.)

Those first two articles were written by women much younger then me (most likely Millennials); however, I found a third article, also written in 2016 on SixtyandMe.com,” titled, How to Celebrate When You Are Alone for the Holidays,” by Elizabeth Dunkel, writer and novelist who has lived in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico for 25 years. She is also the Creative Director of Camp Liza; and, she is definitely in my age range and loving it. She writes:

I hope you noticed that I didn’t title this article, “How to Survive the Holidays, Alone.”

No! This is about making sure to celebrate the holidays if you are alone.

A Moment of Realization

It all started like this. Last September I was strolling down the aisles of Costco and came upon the Christmas decorations. This is one of my pet peeves, Christmas in September… grrr!

Suddenly I was knocked over by a wave of nostalgia — by memories of all my family Christmases, the magical ones I enjoyed as a child, and later, the magical ones I created for my children.

Then, dare I say it, a tinge of dread crept in. Oh no! Who me, dread? This is a new one for me. I don’t do dread.

I live alone at the moment. I had a big family life, with husband, parents, children and extended family. I have always loved the holidays — the cooking, baking, decorating, shopping, and wrapping that went along with each one of them. Whether it was Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Easter, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, or Labor Day, I was Miss Cornball with the lights or bunting and appropriate food at the ready.

But times change of course and my children have grown and flown. I felt a bit iffy — for a moment. Right then and there, in Costco, I made a promise to myself, “I don’t want to ‘get through’ the holidays. I need to find a new way to celebrate them.”

Don’t Let the Holidays Creep Up on You: Plan for Them

Just as I used to plan for holidays in the past — all those lists I used to make! — I realized it is just as important, if not more important, to make a plan for being alone, and not just let the holiday ambush me. I deserve a plan for one.

Now that I no longer “have” to do certain activities or bake certain things, I’m free! In the past, I had my rituals, my kids expected certain foods, etc. Now I’m free to invent new moments, discover new ways to mark a day that can be difficult for so many of us.

Survival Isn’t Good Enough: I Deserve to Celebrate

So I asked myself: Liza, what do you really want to do on… fill in the blank: Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day?

Then I remembered how last January at the Sunday symphony matinee, I spied a couple I hadn’t seen in ages, “So, what did you guys do for Christmas?” I asked.

“We decided to escape from all the craziness, the parties, the food, the booze,” Grant said with glee. Clifford continued, “We went to the beach and got away from it all. It was marvelous. We drank champagne and stared at the ocean.”

The words from the Christmas carol, “Silent Night” came to me: “All is calm, all is bright.” Sounded perfect to me!

You Can Say “No” at the Holidays, Too

I can say “no” now! What a concept!

What I will say no to: Parties that I really don’t want to go to. Socializing with people I don’t feel like seeing. No to: “But Liza, maybe it would be ‘good’ for you to get out.” No to eating too much (because it’s there) and drinking too much (because it’s there). No to inviting someone over simply because I feel sorry for them or because I think it will be cheerier if someone is at my house. If it’s someone I really want to see, great. Otherwise, no thank you.

And most important, I will say no to: Wishing I had planned something. Because I will plan. For me.

Plan for Yourself, Just as You Would for Others

I adore Christmas Eve. The day is palpable with love, desire, wishes, expectations. Just because I’m alone, that won’t change. So I will participate in the collective consciousness by doing the kitchen prep work for my Christmas Day meal.

I love to cook, not “even for one,” but rather, “especially for one.” So whilst everyone in the world is wrapping and cooking I will be too. I’ll do the kitchen prep and then reward myself with a steaming cup of tea, one of my favorite Dark Chocolate Crackles, a recipe I share every year, and a Really Good Book. That’s my idea of heaven.

In the evening, I will sip from a bottle of Very Good Wine and write a gratitude letter for the year past and a wish list for the year to come. For my Christmas Eve supper, I will sup happily on Julia Child’s French onion soup complete with all the gooey cheese and toast floating on top. How sumptuous is that? And how clever are those French for making something so sensually delicious from water and onions?!

I liked the beach idea. It feels fresh and cleansing to me. So whilst the world is sleeping late after the revelries of Christmas Eve, I will wake up early, drive to the beach and go for a long walk. I will enjoy a thermos of hot, creamy cafe au lait and delicate sandwiches of smoked salmon on pumpernickel with honey mustard as I breathe deep the fresh salt air and give thanks for all the goodness in my life.

When I get home, I’ll open a bottle of bubbly and then have a feast. No bowl of cereal for this singleton. I’ve decided to make my Christmas classic but in mini style. A mini beef wellington is so manageable with a small beef tenderloin and the Boxing Day leftovers will be wonderful. Even though he’s a scoundrel, I adore Gordon Ramsey’s recipe. Doesn’t it look easy? Guess what, it is!

Treat Yourself Like the Most Cherished Guest in the World

You deserve to treat yourself like a queen on any holiday. Because if you don’t, who will? If you don’t honor the day, the day won’t honor you. No need to feel left out. Light the fireplace, cue up a good movie on Netflix, open a bottle of something special and cozy down. Gemutlichkeit, Hygge, it’s all about comfort.

My New Year’s Eve Readathon

I have never been a fan of New Year’s Eve, the false gaiety or sudden moroseness that can come upon everyone who’s trying to be of good cheer. Celebrating something so arbitrary is not my style, so I use the occasion to suit my way.

This year, I’ll stay on home New Year’s Eve. I plan to light candles and sup on creamy scrambled eggs dolloped with caviar and sour cream as I watch the New Year roll around the world on CNN. The next day, I’ll have a few friends over for a big pot of comfort food, chili con carne with all the fixin’s.

Friends, all I ask is this: This holiday season, take good care of you. Wishing you peace and love, and wherever you are, whomever you are with: celebrate yourself! (Quote source here.)

I hope these articles have given you some inspiration if you are spending the holidays alone this year. Alone certainly doesn’t need to mean lonely. So start thinking about your options now, even if you just stay home and read a really good book while sipping your favorite concoction! Make the holidays what you want them to be . . .

With . . .

Or without . . .

Company . . . .

YouTube Video: “Thanksgiving” (Piano Solo), 1982, by George Winston:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Unconditional Love

Which side do you take on the debate of whether or not unconditional love is humanly possible? In an article titled, The True Meaning of Unconditional Love,” by a blogger named A Conscious Rethink,” this blogger states the following:

Some people regard unconditional love as pure fantasy, a myth that has been shared and searched for throughout human history. Others believe that it is not only real, but the most real thing there is.

This article will suggest that it is absolutely possible to love unconditionally, but that many people simply misunderstand what it means to do so.

We’ll explore the themes and weigh up the points of debate to try and give a clear explanation of love in its unconditional form.

Unconditional = Selfless

The literal meaning of the word unconditional is without conditions, but how does this translate into reality? To answer this, you have to first consider what conditional love is.

Conditional love is an attachment to and feeling for someone that depends on them behaving in a certain way. At its heart is the premise that the person giving the love (the lover) does so because they get something back in return – namely a response from the person receiving the love (the beloved) that meets their, often unrealistic, expectations.

More accurately, it is the love that relies upon the beloved NOT acting in a way that the lover finds unacceptable or intolerable.

Unconditional love, on the other hand, exists in the absence of any benefit for the lover. It transcends all behavior and is in no way reliant upon any form of reciprocation.

It is completely and utterly selfless. It cannot be given in as much as it flows without effort from one’s heart rather than coming consciously from one’s mind. There is nothing that can stand in the way of unconditional love.

Wishing The Best For The Beloved

With selflessness comes the ultimate desire to see the beloved flourish and find contentment. It doesn’t have to involve any actions on the part of the lover, but it often does. Sometimes it even involves a level of personal sacrifice.

It is the driving force that spurs you on to do whatever you can to help your beloved become the best version of themselves.

It First Requires Self-love

In order to love someone unconditionally, you must start by loving yourself the same way. You must learn to accept who you are without seeking to change. If you insist that change is necessary, you are putting conditions on the love you have for yourself. This is not to say that change will not take place, but it will be natural, unforced, and unlooked for.

Only when you stop chasing changes in yourself can you begin to love others without their needing to change. It is then that love can be deemed unconditional.

Believing In The Good That One Possesses

When love is given without condition, it is a sign that you are able to see the very worst in someone and yet still believe that they are worthy of your compassion. It is the part of you that forgives the seemingly unforgivable when no one else is able to.

Unconditional love does not judge and it does not give up on those whom society may deem as immoral or evil. It is the conviction to see beyond a person’s outward flaws to focus, instead, on the inner being that some may call a soul.

It Can’t Be Said, Only Felt

The first misconception about unconditional love is that you can declare it to someone. There is a chance that you are experiencing it, but you may also be feeling something very close to it, but in some way lacking.

There is no way to predict how you may react to a person in a given set of circumstances. You may find that there are limits to your love that you were simply unaware of previously.

Because of the innate uncertainty of the future, unconditional love can exist only as a feeling and not as a mental or verbal concept (this article itself can by no means describe the very essence of it).

You will never know for sure whether what you feel is unconditional love, but this in no way disproves its existence.

A Relationship Does Not Have To Be Unconditional Too

Another common misunderstanding is the belief that unconditional love requires you to accept whatever your beloved does to you. It is, however, possible for the relationship to have various conditions upon it–certain boundaries–but for the love to have none. You can make a choice to end a relationship because it involves abuse or because your beloved has acted in a way that you cannot stomach. This does not have to mean the end of your love for them.

It is quite possible to still wish the best for them, see the good in them, and accept them as they are – the properties of unconditional love described above. It may be that you will love them from a distance rather than get caught up in a situation that could be self-destructive.

Relationships are mere partnerships between two people. A relationship is not a feeling – it is not love of any kind – it is merely the vessel in which love can be housed. Should the partnership become unsustainable, the vessel can break, but the love does not always cease to be; it can be moved outside of the relationship and exist by itself.

This is because unconditional love has no basis in the actions and behaviors of the beloved. Your lives may end up taking utterly different paths to the point where a relationship becomes impossible, but your love for them does not diminish.

You Can Experience Negative Emotions At The Same Time

Unconditional love does not mean that you feel warmth and affection towards your beloved at all times; you are human after all. You can be angry at them, frustrated with them, and hurt by them while still loving them.

Having arguments does not diminish the love that comes truly free of conditions. Just as the waves atop an ocean do not impact the depths below, the natural highs and lows of a relationship cannot penetrate deep enough to affect the underlying feeling.

Unconditional Love From A Spiritual Perspective

Many religions and spiritual practices involve the concept of non-duality and this can be another source of unconditional love. When you feel separate from others, you have a choice as to whether or not you love them, but if you look upon your neighbor as you would look upon yourself, love is almost inevitable.

If you live free from the mental barriers that exist in the majority of people and experience the universe and everything in it as being of you, why would you choose anything other than love? While rare, this type of unconditional love does exist in some people.

There Should Be No Guilt Where It Is Lacking

You may feel it towards another or you may not, but the absence of unconditional love is not something to feel guilty about.

As much as you may wish to feel this way and rationally see reasons for doing so, it cannot be willed into being. This type of love cannot be wished for, chased, or accumulated; it can only be.

It may hurt to realize that your love for another has conditions, but this is not something you can control. So do not beat yourself up when your love for someone fades, if it was meant to keep burning, it would have done. (Quote source here.)

Now let’s take a look an the topic of unconditional love from a Biblical perspective. On a blog post titled, Love in the Journey, that I just published on my other blog, I quoted the following article written by Omar C. Garcia, who is the Missions Pastor at Kingsland Baptist Church, in his blog, BibleTeachingNotes.com, on the best known chapter in the Bible on the topic of unconditional love, which is found in 1 Corinthians 13:

Who has defined the word “love” for you? There is a lot being said about love these days and you have to be careful who you listen to or you might get the wrong idea about the meaning of love. While musicians and poets attempt to describe and define love in its many splendored forms, no writer deals with the matter of love as musically and poetically as the Apostle Paul. Nowhere else in all of literature, either sacred or secular, will you find the meaning of love more beautifully expressed than in 1 Corinthians 13The 13th Chapter of 1 Corinthians is like a prism. When a beam of light is passed through a prism, it comes out on the opposite side broken up into its component colors…red, yellow, violet, orange, and all the colors of the rainbow. So it is in 1 Corinthians 13.

We must keep in mind two very important things as we look at this chapter:

First, remember that Scripture was not written in a vacuum. We find this great chapter on love included in a serious letter by Paul to the church in Corinth…a church with very serious problems. In this letter, Paul painted for the Corinthians a picture of themselves…in their factions, their jealousies, their vanity, their carnality, their misuse of Christian liberty, and their bragging about their spiritual gifts. In the thirteenth chapter of this letter, Paul momentarily turned aside from his direct counsels and rebukes to show the Corinthians an ideal Christian life, which was pretty much everything theirs was not.

Second, we must remember that, unlike our language, the Greeks had several words for love. The word “eros” was used to refer to love of deep desire, passionate and sensuous longing. It had a physical and sexual connotation and is nowhere used in the New Testament. The word “storge” referred to the kind of affection found in a family. The word “philia” was used to refer to brotherly love. Finally, the word “agape” was used to express the unconditional kind of love that God expressed toward us through Christ. It implies loving when there is nothing worthy to evoke love. This is the word Paul used in this chapter. [Garcia breaks down the chapter as follows]:

Love is Indispensable or All-Important: 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (full explanation is available here).

Love is Invincible or All-Enduring: 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (full explanation is available here).

Love is Immortal or All-Outlasting: 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 (full explanation is available here).

Garcia then states the following practical considerations:

We should evaluate our understanding of love in the light of Scripture.

In view of the many things that we hear about love in our world today, we should evaluate our understanding of love in the light of Scripture. Love is certainly not what many of the songs and movies of our day make it to be.

Ministry, miracles, and martyrdom are meaningless without love.

We must be certain that our actions are motivated by love. We must guard against doing things for selfish and self-glorifying ends.

There is a difference between love and lust.

It would be profitable to read 1 Corinthians 13 in the following light: Lust is impatient, lust is unkind, and is jealous; lust brags and is arrogant, it acts unbecomingly; it seeks its own, is provoked, takes into account a wrong suffered, rejoices in unrighteousness, but does not rejoice with the truth; exposes all things, doubts all things, gives up on all things, does not endure all things. Lust always fails.

Love is characterized by forgiveness.

Love does not keep ledgers or accounts of wrongdoings. Love will not allow the sun to go down on its anger (Ephesians 4:26), but works to extend and receive forgiveness. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the words from 1 Corinthians 13 (NIV) written by Paul:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (Quote source here.)

Without love . . .

Everything else . . .

Is meaningless . . . .

YouTube Video: “Whole Heart” by Brandon Heath:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Life is Short

After publishing a blog post titled, Our Journey Through Time,” on my other blog, I decided to post it also on this blog since the readership is bigger and it’s a good topic for all of us to think about. However, there is no need to dread the topic as it’s not going to add any burden to your life when contemplating just how short life really is. You’ll see. Read on…

All of us on this planet of ours are bound by the same thing–time. King Solomon, who was King David’s and Bathsheba’s son, wrote the following in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8:

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

The Byrds’ song, Turn, Turn, Turn made some of these words of King Solomon’s famous back in 1965 (YouTube Video below). And we’ve all heard that expression, “Life is short.” While the young among us have no concept of just how fast life goes by, those of us who are much older are all too aware of just how fast it passes–in the blink of an eye.

We’ve all been admonished at some point in life to “not waste our life,” but what, exactly, does that mean? I ran across an article published on February 25, 2011, titled, Life is Short–So Don’t Waste It? by Dr. David A. “Gunner” Gundersen, lead pastor at BridgePoint Bible Church in Houston, TX, and here is what he has to say on the subject:

“Life is short.”

You hear it all the time.

You hear it all the time despite all our western attempts to look young, stay young, and never grow up, and despite our over-realized sense of national invincibility. The ticking clock, the graying hair, the growing children, and the changing times all remind us that our lives are blinkingly brief. One mention of your favorite high school CD around a group of middle schoolers reveals just how much the times have changed, and not because they don’t know the band but because they don’t know what a CD was. As a new friend told me several weeks ago as we were talking about making the most of our time with our young children: “The days are long but the years are short.”

Now, the contemporary church has no shortage of books, sermons, and mottos declaring exactly this lesson, because Scripture teaches its truth, experience echoes its veracity, and urgency requires its recognition. It serves as the grounding indicative for all kinds of urgent imperatives:

The general encouragement: “Life is short — make it count.”

The pleasant reminder: “Life is short — enjoy every minute.”

The negative warning: “Life is short — don’t waste it.”

The ministry exhortation: “Life is short — serve the Lord.”

The missional admonition: “Life is short — reach the nations.”

I have a problem with this.

My problem is not that any of the preceding urgings are wrongheaded or unscriptural. My problem is not that Christians (especially young ones) are constantly being told not to waste their lives. And my problem is not with the connection we typically make between the brevity of life and the call to urgency, purpose, focus, and diligence. They are scriptural. And they are needed.

My problem is that when Scripture talks explicitly about the brevity of life, it often emphasizes the opposite of our calls to ambitious action.

Take this morbid salvo from James: “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:15).

How would you expect James to follow up that statement?

I believe the contemporary church has already answered that question (see above).

We are a people who can’t help but do. We hear something like, “Life is short,” and our immediate application is “Do better,” “Work harder,” “Sacrifice more.” Whether pleasure or service or mission, we remember that life is short and we instantly think: Act.

Now, this is all fine and good and (sometimes) scriptural. But it’s worth reminding that in James 4:13-16, James is rebuking presumptuous businessmen who are declaring precisely what we usually begin to declare in our hearts when we’re hit with the “Life is short” reminder.

“Life is short… I better start doing ____.” “Life is short… I better not waste my opportunity to ____.” “Life is short… I’m going to step it up and ____.”

But what does James actually say? “Your life is a vapor. Therefore, you should stop making ambitious declarations about what you’re going to do and instead acknowledge that God is the one in control. Wake up from your arrogance and remember — only with his explicit blessing are you going to do anything, much less do what you’re so confidently planning to do. You don’t even control tomorrow.”

Even the declaration that I’m not going to waste my life can be arrogant boasting (4:16). Why? Because “you do not know what tomorrow will bring” (4:14). My noble resolution that I’m going to maximize my life could actually be an ignoble presumption that I will have a life to maximize. “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (4:15).

My point is simply this: The presumptuous declaration of what a man will ambitiously do with his own life is the exact mentality that God is rebuking when he says through James, “Your life is short.”

So how did a similar kind of declaration become our application anthem for the exact same phrase?

That question probably has more than a couple answers, all of them worth pondering.

Meanwhile, what is James’ exhortation?

“Your life is short. Make the most of it”?

No.

“Your life is short. Humble yourself.” (Quote source here.)

Life IS short. But sometimes we get it all wrong thinking that “doing” more is the answer. The briefest answer in the Bible as to how to live our lives from beginning to end is found in Micah 6:8:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

And it doesn’t get any simpler than that . . . .

Act justly . . .

Love mercy . . .

Walk humbly . . . .

YouTube Video: “Turn, Turn, Turn” (1965) by the Byrds:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Childlike Faith

From 1955 to 1999, “The Marlboro Man [stood out] worldwide as the ultimate American cowboy and masculine trademark, helping establish Marlboro as the best-selling cigarette in the world” (quote source here). Rugged and fiercely independent, the Marlboro Man became an icon of Americana, and his image sold billions of dollars of Marlboro cigarettes around the world (not that cigarette smoking is a good thing since it can severely damage one’s health over time).

As Americans, we love to see ourselves as fiercely independent as the Marlboro Man image that was represented in advertising during those years. We don’t like to have anyone telling us what to do or how to live. And that independent streak follows into everything we do in America. We like to be the Captain of our own ship, even if it eventually shipwrecks (but we certainly hope that it doesn’t).

While our independent streak is part of what has made America great, there is also another side to it. In a July 2015 article titled, Independence… Is It Really A Good Thing? by Cindi McMenamin, speaker and author, she opens her article with the following:

In a day and age when independence is praised, I wonder if it’s really a good thing when it comes to our relationship with God.

“God helps those who help themselves,” we say, as if quoting Scripture. Oh really? I believe Scripture implies God helps those who admit they can’t help themselves. The Apostle Paul, who probably considered himself quite independent before he met Christ, claimed the strength that comes through a total dependence on God when he said God’s “power is perfected in weakness.  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). (Quote source and entire article available at this link).

Power perfected in weakness isn’t something we often think about especially when it comes to acquiring any kind of power, yet it is at the core of what it means to be Christian–e.g., total dependence on God and not in ourselves. It is having a “childlike faith” that Jesus described in Matthew 18:1-7 and again in Matthew 19:13-14:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!” ~Matthew 18:1-7

Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” ~Matthew 19:13-14

In a 2016 article titled, 5 Characteristics of Childlike Faith,” by Barnabas Piper, author, speaker, and blogger at BarnabasPiper.com, he states:

Childish and childlike are similar words with vastly different meanings. The former encapsulates all the worst things about children – petulance, immaturity, obnoxiousness, selfishness, and so on. It is antithetical to faith.

The latter, though, describes all the beautiful things about children – trust, joy, innocence, curiosity, wonder, forgiveness, and so much more. This word, childlike, is the flavor our faith in God ought to have. What follows are five characteristics of childlike faith that make faith robust, rich, and full of life–like a child:

  1. Children ask honest questions
  2. Children ask openly
  3. Children ask with vulnerability
  4. Children don’t know what’s best but trust their parents
  5. Children trust and find satisfaction with parents

1) Children ask honest questions

By honest questions I mean questions that do not challenge or subvert or undermine. They simply want to know the truth. Yes, children are sinful and do challenge authority, but think of their curious questions, their eager questions, their innocent question. Each one has a single motive: teach me.

We forget this as adults because we encounter (or ask) so many loaded questions – questions with ulterior motives, meant to challenge, designed to undermine or embarrass. We become passive aggressive with our questions or just confrontational.

Children are not like this. They are just eager to know truth.

Childlike faith asks honest questions.

2) Children ask openly

Unlike adults, children do not fear for their reputation or image and do not care who is around when they ask a question. This can create some awkward situations when they wonder “why is that lady wearing that” or get curious in the feminine care aisle at Target.

But they simply want to know and think nothing at all of who knows they have a question. There is no shame and no embarrassment until we teach them to be embarrassed.

Children also focus only on the one they are asking with complete trust that an answer will be forthcoming. This is part of the reason they ask so openly; they are only thinking of one person, the one who can provide their answer.

Imagine if we prayed like this and were so singly focused on God that what others thought or who else might know of our questions, ignorance, worries, or doubts would be of no consequence.

Childlike faith asks openly.

3) Children ask from a place of vulnerability with the expectation of an answer

When they are little children see parents as omniscient. They expect parents to know everything, but over time are forced to come to grips with all the things parents don’t know.

Children instinctively know that their knowledge is limited, even if they can’t articulate it; that’s why they ask so many blasted questions. So to find out Dad and mom can’t answer all their questions takes a position of vulnerability and makes it feel uncertain and tenuous.

They start with total trust then grow out of it.

We don’t have to grow out of vulnerability and total trust in God, though. We can grow in it. Unlike parents, God does know everything, including so much that is beyond our capacity to ask or understand.

We can be utterly dependent, or rather admit our dependence. We can be completely vulnerable, honest, and open with our questions and we can expect that God will answer us with precisely what we need. Childlike faith is that which knows we don’t know, knows He does, and asks with the expectation that the answer He gives will be the right one.

We can be confident that even in our weakness, God’s grace is sufficient.

4) Children do not know what is best for them most of the time, but they trust their parents.

Parents generally know what is best for kids, or at least they know better than kids do. No candy for breakfast, don’t play in the street, don’t eat that glue, don’t poke the cat, eat your veggies, do your homework, don’t hit your sister.

Children get frustrated with these commands even though they are for their good just like we get frustrated with how God knows what is best for us and commands us accordingly.

Children don’t always understand why parents say “no” or “do this.” Often the reason is simply beyond their maturity or capacity for understanding. And despite griping and moaning, if parents are loving and generally stable, kids trust them. Kids have an incredible capacity for trust.

We understand even less about God’s reasons because of the depth and breadth of His wisdom and in the infinity of His mind. And we certainly gripe and moan and outright rebel against Him and occasionally throw a tantrum too. But because of His Word, His character, His promises, and all the ways He has shown His love we can absolutely trust Him.

Childlike faith trusts the parents.

5) Children trust and find satisfaction with parents.

Even if children are frustrated or confused by parents, so long as the parents show love the children will trust them deeply and take pleasure in their presence. Kids are home with parents.

Three years ago my family moved from Illinois to Tennessee. At the time my daughters were seven and four, and the move was pretty smooth for them. They were happy throughout the process with just a couple exceptions. That’s because they were with their parents. They were safe and loved and secure.

Imagine if we had handed them each a duffel bag and a bus ticket and sent them to Tennessee. It would have killed them, maybe literally.

How much more should we take pleasure in God’s presence even when we cannot understand His reasons and the future seems terribly uncertain.

We know His love, shown for us in Jesus that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. We know His promises: I will never leave you or forsake you, I will be with you always, nothing can separate you from the love of Christ, fear not for I am with you.

God is the answer to our questions and doubts and the soothing for our anxieties. His presence and love is what we need, always.

Children get this. They understand so little yet they are so much more right than we are. We have grown out of faith in so ways.

Childlike faith finds satisfaction with parents. (Quote source here.)

And, of course, God is our spiritual parent, but He’s so much more than that, too. In another article published in 2016 titled,Childlike Faith Is Not Childish,” by Rusty Osborne, Ph.D., assistant professor of biblical and theological studies at College of the Ozarks, he states:

Faith Like a Child?

“Childlike” isn’t a new term to anyone familiar with Christian thinking and practice. We’re often directed to passages like Mark 10:14: “Let the children come to me,” Jesus says. “Do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” The point: we should be childlike in our faith, trusting our heavenly Father the way a kid trusts his earthly parents.

The notion of childlike faith, though, is often morphed into something more troubling. I’ve often heard Christians rebut tough questions to the faith flippantly: “I don’t know; I mean, aren’t we supposed to have faith like a child? No one can know everything; we just need to leap like a child into our Father’s arms.” Or something like that. 

Sadly, in this context, “childlike faith” becomes like tar slapped on the pruned tree branch to prevent further growth. If there’s a problem in our understanding, or if we venture into uncharted theological waters, we can always retreat to the Neverland of childlike faith.

Childlike Faith vs. Childish Faith 

But childlike faith is not childish faith. The first resonates with and embraces the neediness, dependency, and smallness of those who understand their place in the kingdom of God. The second simply refuses to grow up. 

Over and over again in the New Testament we see the apostles exhort Christians to mature as Christians—to grow up in the gospel. Paul exhorts the church in Corinth toward Christian maturity, insisting that the apostolic wisdom he imparts will be grasped by the “mature [teleiois]” (1 Cor. 2:6). Later he writes: “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature [teleioi]” (1 Cor. 14:20).

Paul isn’t contradicting Jesus’s teaching about becoming like a child in order to inherit God’s kingdom. He’s simply recognizing that having childlike faith doesn’t mean celebrating childish thinking. In fact, he informs the Colossians that the focus and aim of his ministry is maturity:

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature [teleion] in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Col. 1:28–29)

Embracing childlike faith means we accept that Christ’s call to kingdom greatness looks like service and not harsh ruling, meekness and not selfish ambition, and continual dependence on God’s grace. Anyone who has pursued service, meekness, and dependence will tell you these characteristics don’t come easily to sinners. In fact, true childlike faith sees the necessity of growth in these areas and turns to the One source of life and strength for help…. (Quote source here.)

In a 2012 article titled, 7 Qualities of Childlike Faith,” by Tom Stuart, leader of Ignited2Pray Ministries, and founder of Bridgewood Community Church and Interactive Church Resources, he lists these seven qualities of childlike faith, and explanations of each one are available at this link:

[God] wants us to be ever childlike in our faith relationship with Him while continually putting aside our childish self-centered ways. 

Here then is a list of 7 qualities of childlike faith to which every Christian should aspire and seek to nurture, no matter what their age:

  1. Trusting
  2. Transparent
  3. Carefree
  4. Insistent
  5. Spontaneous
  6. Imaginative
  7. Joyful

As mentioned above, you can read explanations for each of those qualities at this link.

By now you know the difference between “childish” and “childlike.” Those seven attributes are very childlike, and that is what we should strive to be like all of the time. In fact, it could even save your life. Read what King David had to say in Psalm 116:6 (NLT)…

The Lord protects those of childlike faith . . .

I was facing death . . .

And He saved me . . . .

YouTube Video: “Giants Fall” by Francesca Battistelli:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here