Divinely Orchestrated

This year of 2020 has certainly turned out to be a year we won’t soon forget, and we are only half way through it right now. This past week I was thrilled to discover that the  Barnes & Nobles Booksellers “brick and mortar” stores are back open again after being closed since mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and as I looked over the books on their bargain shelves, I came across a book titled, Blessed in the Darkness(2017), by Joel Osteen, senior pastor at Lakewood Church in Houston, TX.

That book has a very appropriate title for this particular year with the coronavirus pandemic changing the way we live practically overnight starting in mid-March 2020 when lock downs and stay-at-home orders went into effect around America (and in other parts of the world), and then with the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, that lead to peaceful protests and also violent rioting and looting in many cities across America the following two weeks and in the middle of the pandemic.

It’s all been enough to frazzle the nerves of even the most resilient among us.  You might even be one of the millions who have been left unemployed by the pandemic, or your business was forced to close either due to the pandemic or the rioting that took place in which many businesses, restaurants, and other establishments were burned down, looted, and destroyed. And we are all wondering what America will look like once we are finally on the other side of this pandemic. Will social distancing become a permanent way of life? How long will we need to wear face masks? What will happened to the millions who are unemployed? And the questions go on and on.

To those who have been severely affected and are wondering when the “light at the end of the tunnel” will show up, there is a section in Chapter 12 titled, “Trouble is Transportation,” in Joel Osteen’s book, Blessed in the Darkness,” that I’d like to quote. It is found on pages 135-137, and the section is titled, “Every Step Divinely Orchestrated”:

I wrote about Joseph in the previous chapter. When he was a teenager, God gave him a dream that he was destined for greatness, but before the dream came true, he went through a series of very dark places. There were many years when he did the right thing but the wrong thing happened. It didn’t seem as though the dream would ever work out, but Joseph understood this principle: as he kept being his best, the trouble couldn’t stop him–it was moving him toward his destiny. When you study his life, you can see how God connected the dots. Every step was divinely orchestrated. If you left one step out, the others wouldn’t work. If Joseph’s brothers had not thrown him into the pit, he would have never been taken to Egypt as a slave and sold to a man named Potiphar. If he had never been sold to Potiphar, he would never have met Potiphar’s wife, been falsely accused, and put in prison. If he had not been put into prison, he would never have met the butler and the baker and interpreted their dreams. If he’d never interpreted their dreams, Pharaoh would never have called on him to interpret his dream, which led him to put Joseph in charge of the nation.

If you isolate any of those steps along the way, they don’t make sense. It was just one bad break after another. But you have to believe, as Joseph did, that what looks like a disappointment, a betrayal, or a setback is all a part of God’s plan. It’s transportation. It’s moving you little by little through the darkness into your destiny. God knows what He’s doing. God knew that He was going to need somebody in charge in Egypt who would show favor to the Israelites. So years earlier, He’d started this plan to move Joseph into place. What looked like trouble was really the hand of God. Joseph’s brothers took away his coat of many colors, which represented their father’s favor, but they could not take away the calling on his life. What people take from you doesn’t stop your purpose. What’s on the inside is more powerful than anything on the outside. You keep doing the right thing despite the trouble, despite the betrayal, despite the bad break, and one day God is going to connect the dots for you just as He did for Joseph. He’s going to take you to your throne, so to speak. You’ll say, as Joseph said, “They meant the trouble for harm, but God used it for my good.”

The Scripture says, “God will deliver us from trouble.” That means that God will stop the trouble. But consider it in a different light. The post office picks up a package in New York, and drivers deliver it to California. “Deliver” means they transport it; they move it from one location to another. It may have to go through five different stops along the way. The regional post office sends it to the city post office, which sends it to the neighborhood post office, and the mailman brings it to your house. It is “delivered.” In the same way, right now God is delivering you from trouble. You’re en route, the process has started, and there may be some stops along the way. But don’t worry, you’re not delivered yet. Like Joseph, you may be in a pit or a prison, but the palace is coming. You’re in debt, but God is delivering you into abundance. You’re dealing with depression, but God is delivering you into joy. You’re facing an illness, but God is delivering you into healing, wholeness, and victory. When those thought tell you, “This trouble is permanent. It’s never going to change,” just answer back, “No, I’m being delivered. I’m en route. This trouble is not going to stop me; it’s going to transport me.” (Quote source: “Blessed in the Darkness,” pp. 135-137.)

In Chapter 16 titled, “I’m Still Standing,” the opening three paragraphs on pp. 239-241 state the following:

The Scripture says, “Rain falls on the just and on the unjust.” No matter how good a person you are, there’s going to be some rain in your life. Being a person of faith doesn’t exempt you from difficulties. Jesus told a parable about a wise man who built his house on a rock. This man honored God. Another man foolishly built his house on the sand. He didn’t honor God. Then the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on the houses. What’s interesting in that the same storm came to both people, the just and the unjust. If the story stopped there, you’d think that it doesn’t make a difference whether we honor God or not. “The same thing happens to me that happens to everyone else. I built my house on the rock, yet I’m in this storm. I got a bad medical report, my child is off course, and I lost my biggest client.” But that’s not the end of the story. If you judge it too soon, it will seem as though faith doesn’t make a difference.

Jesus went on to tell that after the storm was over, the house build on the rock was still standing. The house built on the sand collapsed and was completely ruined. The difference is that when you honor God, the storms may come, but you have a promise that the others don’t have–when it’s all said and done, you’ll still be standing. In tough times you have to remind yourself, “This is not the end. My house is built on the rock. The enemy doesn’t have the final say; God does, and He says that when it’s all over, I’ll still be standing,” You may get knocked out. You may suffer a setback and have to go through some dark, stormy times, but don’t get discouraged or bitter–that’s just a part of life. It rains on everybody. If you’ll stay in faith, you have God’s promise that when the smoke clears, when the dust settled, you won’t be the victim, you’ll be the victor. You’ll still be standing.

All of us can look back and see things that should have defeated us. You may have gone through a divorce or a breakup that could have given you a nervous breakdown, but look at you–you’re still standing, still happy, restored, and whole. That’s the goodness of God. That addiction, all that partying, should have killed you, but because of your praying mother, you’re still standing–clean, sober, and free. The medical report said you were done, that sickness would end your life, but God said, “I have another report. It’s not over. You’re still standing.” Maybe you’ve lost a loved one and didn’t think you could go on, believing your best days were over; but God breathed new life into you, lifted you out of the pit, put a new song in your heart, and here you are still standing. You’ve been through some difficult, dark places, but you’ve also seen the goodness of God. You’ve seen Him lift you, restore you, heal you, and protect you. When you have this history with God, and you remember what He’s done, you don’t get discouraged by every difficulty, you don’t get upset when people talk negatively about you, and you don’t fall apart when you have a disappointment. You know that God brought you through the darkness in the past, and He’ll bring you through in the future. (Quote source: “Blessed in the Darkness,” pp. 239-241.)

In a brand new book titled, Acres of Diamonds (2020), by Jentezen Franklin, senior pastor of Free Chapel, a multi-campus church in Georgia, there is a story tucked in Chapter 5 titled, “Hell in the Hallway,” in a section titled, “Thank God for Doors that Didn’t Open,” regarding the story of Esther in the Old Testament (pp. 89-92):

In the story of Esther, we learn about a feast begun to celebrate this very idea [e.g., God protecting and delivering us from things that didn’t happen]. God established seven feasts in the Old Testament so His people would always remember certain events in their history. Human beings have a tendency to forget. This was God’s way of making sure the people of Israel always remembered what was most important.

Before I get to the story, I want to share a couple of interesting things about the Feast of Purim. First, it is not one of the original seven feasts, and it was not commanded by God. It was a divinely inspired feast authorized by King Ahasuerus

The other interesting fact is that the book of Esther is the only book in the Bible in which God’s name is never mentioned. You won’t find one Hebrew name of His. Not Elohim, not Jehovah, nothing. And yet God’s fingerprints are all over this record in Scripture. (Side note: Seasons will come in life when you have zero evidence to believe God is working, but when you look back on that time, you will discover He was there all along. Active behind the scenes. From the shadows. Undercover. God is always at work in your life.)

Here is a quick summary of the story.

The Jewish people were on the verge of destruction because of the evil conspiracy of Haman, one of King Ahasuerus’s advisors. Haman hated Mordecai because he did not bow down to him. Instead of just killing him, however, Haman decided to kill every Jewish person in the kingdom. So Haman cast lots, similar to a lottery, to determine on what day this would happen. Once he established this date, Haman approached King Ahasuerus to make the genocide official. He got his permission, and a decree was sent to everyone in the kingdom, notifying that all Jews, young and old, men, women and children, were to be killed on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month.

You need to understand the significance of this. In the moment that Haman cast this “lot,” he was officiating the worst day in the history of the people of Israel. On the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the Jews would face annihilation. Do you see how precise the enemy’s plan is? He operates the same way today.

Satan comes to steal, kill and destroy (see John 10:10). He hates you because you reflect Jesus Christ. And he sets up certain times and events to destroy you, to take your kids out, to cause your marriage to fall apart, to crush your dreams, to steal your job, to kill your faith. Hell in the hallway.

The word “pur” means “lot,” as in the casting of a lot. Purim, as in the Feast of Purim, is the plural of “pur” with means “lots.” Evidently, the enemy had planned to do one thing on one day, but an unseen party was watching, and He said, “I know you cast your lot, devil, but I’m about the cast lots. And what I cast is going to overcome what you planned and strategized against My people.”

Back to the story.

The people of Israel were about to be slaughtered. Eradicated. Butchered. Massacred. Wiped out. Mordecai sought help from Queen Esther, asking her to appeal to the king on behalf of the Jews. His request meant Esther would have to literally risk her life, for it was very dangerous to approach the king without being summoned first. Consequently, Esther called a fast. Those 72 hours of fasting changed the history of the world.

When Esther finally approached the king on behalf of her people, they became a nation not of defeat, annihilation, suffering and shame, but of favor. Not only did the king abolish Haman’s decree, he also bestowed upon the Jews honor and promotion. The king allowed a holiday called the Feast of Purim to be established, which is honored in Israel still to this day, to celebrate this reversal–to celebrate what didn’t happen. The Jewish people threw a big party. They ate. They drank. They danced. They exchanged gifts. What the devil had marked as a day of massacre, God turned into a time of gladness and joy.

God has a way of canceling the verdict of the enemy.

The enemy may have planned for them a day of destruction, but God, through Queen Esther, determined for them a day of deliverance. God can turn your day of destruction into a day of deliverance.

We often talk about being grateful for what we have and the wonderful things that have happened to us, but when was the last time–if ever–you thanked God for what didn’t happen? We ought to stop whatever we’re doing and throw a party for the door that God didn’t open. For the guy you didn’t marry because years later he would have been a deadbeat. For the girlfriend who broke up with you because she would have gone back to her ex-boyfriend. For the job that didn’t work out because you held out for the one God wanted for you to have. For the business deal that went sour before it would have bankrupted you.

Often, when God shuts a door, it is for our protection. Am I ever glad the Lord is my doorkeeper and not me. I can’t tell you how many doors I would have kicked in, thinking I was supposed to do something that in reality was not part of God’s plan. If something doesn’t work out after you have prayed about it, guess what? God just shut a door. Not to punish you or hurt you, but to protect you.

Like Esther, there are times in our lives when God protected and delivered us from things that didn’t happen. He shut the door and locked it. He kept us safe. He said that no weapon formed against us shall prosper. It should have happened. It almost happened. But because of God’s hand of protection, it didn’t happen.

Hasn’t God been good to you? Where would you be today without Him? Before you take a step forward today, take some time and give thanks to Him for all the things that could have happened, that should have happened, that almost happened, but because of His unseen hand of protection didn’t happen. Think about an opportunity that didn’t pan out for your good, or a situation that could have proved destructive but left you unscathed. Start celebrating all the doors that closed in your life.

When you are in the hallway, God can turn things around. You might not see Him. You may not feel Him. You may think He is not even there. But He is. The enemy may have cast one lot to destroy you, but God casts another lot in your favor. It just takes a door. Whatever it is you are facing, decide today to trust that He who began a good work in your life is faithful to complete it.  (Quote source: “Acres of Diamonds,” pp. 89-92.)

In these very challenging times that we are all going through right now, I hope the above quotes will be of great encouragement to help us get through these trying times. God is not silent, nor is He missing in action. He is very much present each and every day, just like He was back in Esther’s time. God is there for us, too.

I’ll end this post with the words from Paul found in Philippians 4:6-7Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding…

Will guard your hearts . . .

And your minds . . .

In Christ Jesus . . . .

YouTube Video: “Miracle” by Unspoken:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

What I Learned in the Dark

Okay, I have a confession to make. The title of this blog post did not come from me. It is the title of a blog post (actually, a monthly letter) written by a friend of mine whom I have, on several previous occasions, posted about regarding a few of his books as they were published (see here, here, here, and here). His name is Steve Brown, and in April, he wrote his monthly Steve’s Letter,” for his ministry website, Key Life Network, that isn’t actually published until  a couple of months after it is written. With everything that is going on right now here in America, I thought it would be good to include some of what he has written in this blog post. You can read his entire letter at this link. Here is part of his letter for June 2020:

I’m writing this in April and you’ll read it in June. It’s the same way with the broadcasts I record and the books I write. Most of the time that doesn’t matter. Truth is truth whenever it’s spoken. And the general themes of these letters, the broadcasts, and the books concern biblical truth that is, like God, the same yesterday, today, and forever….

As I write this, we are still in quarantine because of the coronavirus. Who knows where we’ll be when you receive this in June? I hope everything will be getting back to some kind of normalcy, but maybe not. Some have said we might have months of social distancing and even the quarantine. Other than how hard it is to smoke my pipe wearing this stupid mask, that irritates me and I don’t know what to do with the irritation. But the real difficulty is that it’s hard to say something relevant about the crisis if, in fact, when you read this, it might be over.

You’ve probably heard Christian teachers say about difficult times that you shouldn’t doubt in the dark what God taught you in the light. That works for me. But let me tell you something else that is also true. Don’t doubt in the light what God taught you in the dark. In other words, this pandemic¾as horrible as it is¾can be a place of growth and learning. As a friend of mine says, one has the past to look forward to. Not only that, one has the past to learn from.

Do you remember the two guys walking on the road to Emmaus after Jesus’ resurrection (Luke 24)? Jesus showed and they didn’t even recognize him. After Jesus taught them and then disappeared, Luke wrote that they said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” They almost missed it…and him. Just so, if we aren’t careful, we could miss stuff too. It’s important (at least to me) that I not waste the aloneness, fear, and worry by missing the reality that God was in the midst of it all. Paul was, of course, talking about salvation when he wrote to the Ephesians, “Therefore remember…that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:11-12). However, the memories aren’t just about salvation, but often about what God taught us in the dark.

For instance, I was quite busy almost all the time before the pandemic and now I’m not busy at all. Makes me wonder how much of all that was just busy work. Nothing has fallen through the cracks, Key Life is functioning the way it always has, and I have a whole lot of time on my hands without hurrying to do anything. How much of what I was doing wasn’t altogether that important? That’s one of the gifts God gives us in a crisis. We can now see more clearly what is important and what isn’t. I’m a man of prayer and I spend considerable time with Jesus each morning. (I’ll repent of my self-righteousness in telling you that after I finish writing you.) But that time was always hurried and harried because of my long to-do list. That’s not as true during the quarantine and I sense God saying, “Settle down, be quiet, and let’s just sit together for awhile. Where do you think you’re going to go and what do you think you’re going to do…play golf?”

Jesus told his disciples in the midst of a very busy time to come apart from the crowd and to “rest a while” (Mark 6:31). What he didn’t say and should have (I know, but it would have been appreciated) was, “If you don’t come apart and rest, I’ll send a pandemic, and then you won’t have a choice.” If we ever get back to some degree of normalcy, I plan to throw away my to-do list and just be still. Well, at least more still than I was before.

But there’s more. The more you want something and can’t have it, the more you want it. Losing something important is often the way we see its value. Someone has said that we never know the value of something until it becomes a memory. I remember after Hurricane Andrew, when we had lost everything, and we were thirsty and hot a lot of the time, just how good the frozen orange juice was at McDonald’s. They were the first fast food restaurant to open after the hurricane, and they served only hamburgers and frozen orange juice. That orange juice was the best orange juice I ever had and, even to this day, I value and love orange juice more than a Floridian should. (Quote source and his letter is available at this link.)

Steve goes on to write about what he has learned in the dark during this pandemic, but I don’t want to spoil it by quoting the entire letter in this blog post. You can read the rest of it at this link.

Also, during this time since the coronavirus pandemic started in mid-March (and after he wrote this letter in April), America has become embroiled with the controversy concerning racism and racial inequality that have been systemic in America’s history from the horrific death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020, at the hands of the police (see articles/videos at this link), and the peaceful protesting and violent rioting and destruction that has following and is still ongoing in cities across America.

2020 is not a year we will soon forget, and it’s not even half over with yet.  It has been compared to one of the worst years in recent American history, 1968. James Fallows, a staff writer at The Atlantic,” has written an article published on May 31, 2020, titled, Is This the Worst Year in Modern American History?” comparing 2020 to 1968 that offers “some disquieting lessons for the present,” at this link. He opens his article with the following:

The most traumatic year in modern American history was 1968. But what is now the second-most traumatic year, 2020, still has seven months to run. The comparison provides little comfort, and several reasons for concern.

How could any year be worse than the current one, in which more Americans are out of work than in the Great Depression, and more people are needlessly dying than in several of America’s wars combined?

How could the domestic order seem more frayed and failing than it has in the past week—when the filmed record of a white Minneapolis police officer calmly killing a black man, George Floyd, as other officers just as calmly looked on, led naturally to protests? Protests in some cities decayed into looting or destruction. Then in many cities, police and troopers kitted out as if for Baghdad circa 2003 widened the violence and hastened the decay with strong-arm tactics sure to generate new protests.

Most of the objects of police roundups have been civilians. But in a rapidly expanding list of cities—first Minneapolis, then Louisville, Seattle, Detroit, and elsewhere—reporters appeared to be singled out by police as targets, rather than caught up by accident. In Minneapolis, CNN’s Omar Jimenez was arrested while in the middle of a broadcast to a live national audience. Also in Minneapolis, according to Molly Hennessey-Fiske of the Los Angeles Times, Minnesota State Patrol members approached a group of a dozen reporters, all bearing credentials and yelling to identify themselves as press, and “fired tear gas … at point-blank range.” In Louisville, Kaitlin Rust, a reporter with WAVE 3, an NBC affiliate, yelled on camera, “I’m getting shot!” as her cameramanJames Dobson, filmed an officer taking careful aim and firing a pepper-ball gun directly at them. In Detroit, the reporter JC Reindl of the Free Press was pepper-sprayed in the face, even as he held up his press badge. The examples keep piling up. (Quote source here.)

In comparison with 1968, he writes:

“… here is what anyone around at that time will remember about 1968: The assassinations. The foreign warfare. The domestic carnage and bloodshed. The political chaos and division. The way that parts of the United States have seemed in the past week, in reaction to injustices, is the way much of the U.S. seemed day after day. I think I can remember every week of that eventful year.” (He describes all of those factors in his article).

I remember 1968. I was a sophomore in high school when the year started. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in April that year followed by Bobby Kennedy, who was assassinated in June (he was a candidate for President on the Democratic ticket). They were 39 and 42 respectively at the time of their deaths. The Vietnam War was raging as was the death count, and there were the protests against that war on college campuses all across America.

There is a big difference between seeing the world through the eyes of a 16-year-old and seeing it through the eyes of a 68-year-old, which are the ages I was back then and I am now during the turmoil of 2020. In between the two has been a lifetime of experiencing the massive changes that have taken place in America during the past five decades. Dark times come in all shapes and sizes, individually and on a national scale. And to use a well worn phrase, it would seem when reviewing history that, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

In answer to a question on Quora.com, “What does ‘the more things change the more they stay the same’ mean?” in May 2017,  John Soroushian wrote:

The quote “the more things change, the more they stay the same” is a reference to situations where there appears to be a meaningful change, but many underlying fundamentals are still the same. It nicely catches peoples thoughts in a diverse array of matters including:

  • A drug lord is arrested and people think things are improving, then another drug lord takes his place and things stay the same.
  • A new government promises change but reverts back to the policies of its predecessors once in power.
  • When a person knows the sun will rise everyday, regardless of what else is happening in her life. (Quote source here.)

That is not to say that there aren’t actual changes going on. A case in point is noted in an article titled, The 10 Most Important Revolutions of All Time,” by Joseph Kiprop, published on May 28, 2018 in WorldAtlas.com. Listed among the top ten revolutions in the world, and coming in at #2, is The American Revolution which took place between 1765 and 1783 (the official start is 1775 but it was preceded by a decade of unrest). Coming in at #1 is The Russian Revolution that occurred in 1917. Indeed, the sun still rises everyday even in the midst of revolutions taking place.

Individually, we all have dark times that we go through regardless of whether or not they affect the rest of society and/or the world (as is the case with the current coronavirus pandemic which is still ongoing around the world). In an article titled, 7 Things You Can Learn in Hard Times,” (subtitled “a pink slip, a medical diagnosis, the loss of a loved one–finding meaning in it all”), by Michelle Cox, published on August 14, 2017, in GuidePosts.org, she writes:

I’ve never heard of anyone attending a “Congratulations on Your Difficult Times” party before. Maybe that’s because job losses, health situations, messed-up family relationships, and disappointments are just plain hard to face.

So how can we cope when we’re reeling from the pink slip we’ve just received, or we’ve just gotten one of “those” phone calls from the doctor, or we’re grieving the loss of a loved one?

Here are some things God has shown me when I’ve taken one of those unplanned—and unwanted—journeys: 

1.  I am never alone when I go through hard times.

2.  His grace is sufficient. It will be there when I need it.

3.  He will provide all that I need.

4.  What I learn from those dark days isn’t wasted. God can use me if I’ll let Him.

5.  Even when I don’t understand what God is doing, I can still trust Him.

6.  Hardships draw me closer to Him in a way that often doesn’t happen when times are good.

7.  Hugs, cards, a casserole or dessert, or some heartfelt words go a long way to help soothe a breaking heart.

Have you ever been reading your Bible and felt like God put a spotlight on a verse? That’s what happened recently as I read Psalm 119:71, “My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees.”

Wow, I’d never thought of it like that before, “My suffering was good for me.” That phrase was a sweet reminder that God has a purpose in all that He does. And if He has a difficult circumstance for me to go through, I’d be foolish to complain about it.

“Lord, during difficult moments in life, help me learn the lessons you want me to learn. Help me find the nuggets you want me to discover. And when I get to the end of those hard times, help me look back and see how those days of suffering were truly good for me. Amen.” (Quote source here.)

During the dark times in which we all find ourselves in right now, the Message Bible translates Jesus’ words found in Matthew 11:28-30 as follows:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

For those who like a more standard version I’ll end this post with the words from Matthew 11:28-30  from NKJV: Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls….

For My yoke is easy . . .

And My burden . . .

 Is light . . . .

YouTube Video: “Come to Me” by Vineyard Music:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Uncertain Times

The current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that has thrown much of the world into a panic is unprecedented in our lifetime. In case you might not be aware (I wasn’t until I ran across the following information online), coronavirus is actually not new. In fact, it has been around since the 1960s (source: WebMD). The following information on coronavirus comes from WebMD:

A coronavirus is a kind of common virus that causes an infection in your nose, sinuses, or upper throat. Most coronaviruses aren’t dangerous.

What Is a Coronavirus?

Coronaviruses were first identified in the 1960s, but we don’t know where they come from. They get their name from their crown-like shape. Sometimes, but not often, a coronavirus can infect both animals and humans.

Most coronaviruses spread the same way other cold-causing viruses do: through infected people coughing and sneezing, by touching an infected person’s hands or face, or by touching things such as doorknobs that infected people have touched.

Almost everyone gets a coronavirus infection at least once in their life, most likely as a young child. In the United States, coronaviruses are more common in the fall and winter, but anyone can come down with a coronavirus infection at any time.

Severe coronavirus outbreaks include:

    • COVID-19In early 2020, after a December 2019 outbreak in China, the World Health Organization (WHO) identified a new type, 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), which can be fatal. The organization named the virus severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and named the disease it causes COVID-19. The outbreak quickly moved from China around the world. Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
    • Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS): About 858 people have died from MERS, which first appeared in Saudi Arabia and then in other countries in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Europe. In April 2014, the first American was hospitalized for MERS in Indiana and another case was reported in Florida. Both had just returned from Saudi Arabia. In May 2015, there was an outbreak of MERS in Korea, which was the largest outbreak outside of the Arabian Peninsula.
    • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome  ( SARS ): In 2003, 774 people died from an outbreak. As of 2015, there were no further reports of cases of SARS.

Common Symptoms of Coronavirus

You could get lab tests, including nose and throat cultures and blood work, to find out whether your cold was caused by a coronavirus, but there’s no reason to. The test results wouldn’t change how you treat your symptoms, which typically go away in a few days.

But if a coronavirus infection spreads to the lower respiratory tract (your windpipe and your lungs), it can cause pneumonia, especially in older people, people with heart disease, or people with weakened immune systems.

What to Do About Coronavirus

There is no vaccine for coronavirus. To help prevent a coronavirus infection, do the same things you do to avoid the common cold:

    • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water or with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
    • Keep your hands and fingers away from your eyes, nose, and mouth.
    • Avoid close contact with people who are infected.

You treat a coronavirus infection the same way you treat a cold:

A humidifier or steamy shower can also help ease a sore and scratchy throat.

Even when a coronavirus causes MERS or SARS in other countries, the kind of coronavirus infection common in the U.S. isn’t a serious threat for an otherwise healthy adult. If you get sick, treat your symptoms and contact a doctor if they get worse or don’t go away.

Sign up for the latest coronavirus news.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on January 22, 2020 (Quote source here.)

When I was out shopping this past week, it was hard not to notice the empty shelves where bottled water, toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizers, and other supplies are usually found. It is obvious that the panic is palpable regarding coronavirus (COVID-19). Many cancellations and closures of schools, university classes, theme parks, concerts, and a host of other public events is taking place all across America right now (click here to see the latest list of cancellations).

I posted the information above from WebMD because I was not aware that coronavirus is not new and, in fact, it has been around since the 1960s, and to hopefully alleviate some of the intense panic feelings concerning COVID-19. That is not to say precautions should not be taken, but rather to ease the severity of panic that is in the air. The latest updates on coronavirus (COVID-19) from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention are available at this link, and the latest updates from WebMD can be found at this link.

In an article published on March 2, 2020, titled, Christians and the Coronavirus,” by Andrew Fouché, Senior Pastor at Sunset Community Church in Renton, WA (King County), he writes:

The alarm of a possible Coronavirus pandemic is increasing and in a sense we find ourselves at the epicenter in our country (the true epicenter is in Wuhan China) now with the only six deaths in America happening in Washington, five being King County. So, whether you’re stocking up on food and staying home or just treating it like any other seasonal flu, we’re all being impacted by its effects, as schools are closing, the stock market is tanking, and surgical face masks are flying off of the shelf.  The fear is real and it’s affecting us, whether we are buying into it or not. Fear also has a way of exposing what we believe and what we place our hope in. 

So, I have to ask you the question; How does your Christian faith affect how you respond to something like a possible pandemic?

How we respond to most things in life is a combination of emotional reaction (you could call it instinct) and what has been modeled for us in the past. For example, when a grease fire happens in the pan on the kitchen stove our initial reaction is to panic, but if you happened to remember your Mom calmly putting a lid on the pan you’ll know that’s far more effective than trying to douse it with water. So, as followers of Jesus, sometimes it’s helpful to look at how Christians from the past have responded to similar circumstances of tragic pandemics. 

The Cyprian plague in the third century was one of the most devastating plagues to hit the Roman world. At its height it’s believed to have killed 5,000 people a day in Rome. This wasn’t the first plague to hit the Roman empire though. The Antonine plague of the second century had been equally devastating and would impact nearly every corner of the empire. What was often noted in these plagues was the response of this still fairly new religious group known as Christians. While many Roman citizens were deserting the sick and dying, the Christians we’re tending to them and even helping with their burial.

Many historians credit the plagues as contributing to the downfall of the Roman empire and at the same time while enduring the same plagues and increasing persecution, Christianity began to spread. The pagan emperor Julian was recorded as saying: “[They] support not only their poor, but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us.” For Christians their faith was causing them to act different in the face of uncontrollable tragedy and this action was rooted in their beliefs.

 We can also look at a more recent example in the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. One aid worker, Stephen Rowden, volunteering with Doctors without Borders was tasked with the terrible job of collecting 10-25 Ebola stricken bodies a day in Liberia. When asked by NPR host Robert Siegel if his Christian faith was tested during this tragic assignment he said: “No. No, I got great strength from my faith and the support of my family.”

The strength that Rowden drew from his faith is based on the belief that there is something greater than this life and someone greater that has made a way to it. Jesus is our peace in this life because he promises us peace in the next one. Fear is powerless when it’s up against this kind of faith.

 As we read the headlines today it’s good to be reminded that we are part of a long line of Jesus followers who know that sickness and death doesn’t have the final word over our lives. And so, as the world is gripped by fear, we have an opportunity, like those who have gone before us, to be people of peace and compassion in the face of uncertainty. Yes, we should pray for and be wise in uncertain times but as followers of Jesus we don’t let fear determine our steps. Just as the message of Jesus spread in times of persecution and plague, you and I have an opportunity to demonstrate that same message of peace and love here in King County.

These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. 1 Peter 1:7 (NLT) (Quote source here.)

In an article published on March 9, 2020, titled, ‘Be of Good Courage’: Greg Laurie Encourages Congregation to Replace Fear of Coronavirus with Faith,” by Mikaela Mathews, freelance writer and editor, and contributor on ChristianHeadlines.com, she writes:

This weekend, pastor Greg Laurie of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Southern California encouraged his congregation to replace fear over the coronavirus with faith.

“I think the viral fear about it may be worse than the virus itself,” Laurie said in a three-minute video posted to Instagram. “And we need to think about it for a moment. And we need to pray about it.”

He gave three “P”s to help his church located in the West Coast state with the highest rate of diagnosed patients:

1. Be Practical

After talking to several doctors, Laurie said that members should be smart about protecting themselves from the virus. Washing hands with soap and for a long time, as well as avoiding touching the face, can help people avoid the virus.

2. Be Prayerful

“We should pray for our church; pray for our nation that God would protect us. And the Lord can do that, he can put a shield around us.”

He added, “And we want to pray for anybody who has it, that they may heal.”

3. Use as Proclamation

He also shared with his congregation that the virus can be an opportunity to share the gospel. Because many communities are fearful of the virus, Christians can tell others about the hope and peace of Christ.

According to CBN News, Christian pediatric infectious disease specialist Scott James has encouraged his patients with similar advice.

“One thing that does cause me some concern is the general tendency to focus on the unknowns in a way that stokes panic and fear,” he said.

“Instead of fretting over potential catastrophes, pay attention to the opportunities that are right in front of you: take care of yourself, take care of others, and do your part to limit the spread of disease.”

As the CDC has warned Americans to prepare for the spread of the virus, James says, “Preparedness simply means we will seek to inform ourselves of the situation and to make responsible choices for our own good and for the good of our communities … [We should maintain] a biblical perspective based on the understanding that no matter what threat is on the horizon, God is still in control. Trusting in God equips us to take the threat seriously without giving into panic or despair.” (Quote source here.)

In the days and weeks ahead we need to allow our faith to replace of our fears, and compassion to replace our panic, because, as 2 Timothy 1:7 (NKJV) reminds us, God has not given us a spirit of fear…

But of power . . .

And of love . . .

And of a sound mind . . . .

YouTube Video: “Faith to Believe” by Shane and Shane:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Fully Known

After I published a new blog post on my other blog earlier today titled, The Right Attitude,” I felt there was still a stirring inside of me to keep on writing another blog post, so here it is. It’s rare that I write two posts on the same day, but the weather outside is dreary and wet, so it’s a great day to write blog posts.

If you read the first post I published titled (as I mentioned above), The Right Attitude,” I was feeling the need for an attitude adjustment as the dreary weather outside for the past several days was starting to give me the blahs (big time!). It worked, too, as I’m feeling much better!

Yesterday, I read a devotion in Our Daily Bread that reminded me of the fact that God knows everything about us even before we were born and he knows all the details of our lives as we live them out day by day (and that includes the good, the bad, and the ugly). The devotion is titled, Fully Known,” by Dr. James Bank, author and founding pastor at Peace Church in Durham, NC. Here is that devotion:

“Before I formed you… I knew you.”Jeremiah 1:5

“You shouldn’t be here right now. Someone up there was looking out for you,” the tow truck driver told my mother after he had pulled her car from the edge of a steep mountain ravine and studied the tire tracks leading up to the wreck. Mom was pregnant with me at the time. As I grew, she often recounted the story of how God saved both our lives that day, and she assured me that God valued me even before I was born.

None of us escape our omniscient (all-knowing) Creator’s notice. More than 2,500 years ago He told the prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5). God knows us more intimately than any person ever could and is able to give our lives purpose and meaning unlike any other. He not only formed us through His wisdom and power, but He also sustains every moment of our existence—including the personal details that occur every moment without our awareness: from the beating of our hearts to the intricate functioning of our brains. Reflecting on how our heavenly Father holds together every aspect of our existence, David exclaimed, “How precious to me are your thoughts, God!” (Psalm 139:17).

God is closer to us than our last breath. He made us, knows us, and loves us, and He’s ever worthy of our worship and praise. (Quote source here.)

The most inspiring passage in the Bible regarding just how well God knows us inside and out was written by King David, and it is found in Psalm 139. Here is what David wrote (actually, composed as a psalm):

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.

If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
    Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
They speak of you with evil intent;
    your adversaries misuse your name.
Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
    and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
I have nothing but hatred for them;
    I count them my enemies.
Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

In an article published on June 4, 2018, titled, What Does It Mean to Be Fearfully and Wonderfully Made?” by Jennifer Heeren, contributing writer on Crosswalk.com, she writes:

Meaning of “Fearfully and Wonderfully Made”

“So, God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God, he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139:14)

Psalm 139 says that God made all the delicate, inner parts of my body. He knit me together within my mother’s womb. I was made wonderfully complex. God knew me as He was painstakingly designing me with much loving care.

I didn’t just evolve into what I am. I was created and designed with a purpose. And the blueprints of me are similar to other human beings but they’re not exactly the same. I am unique—and so are you.

The human body is a unique design of multiple systems that all work intricately together. The cardiovascular system gives you the energy to move. The muscular system gives you the ability to move, lift, and hold things. The digestive system processes food into energy and discards waste. The immune system keeps you healthy. The hormonal system determines your gender. The eyes cause you to see. The nose lets you smell. The tongue and mouth let you eat and taste. The ears enable you to hear. And your skin enables you to feel textures. You have the ability to encounter an incredibly diverse world with an equally amazing diverse body!

Then you were also blessed with a brain so you can think, process, and create. Isaac Asimov said the brain is “the most complex and orderly arrangement of matter in the universe.” Your emotions help you to relate to other people and feel compassion. All of these systems (plus many more) were uniquely designed to make you who you are.

God created you on purpose with love.

You have the innate ability to discern right from wrong. Although, that ability is hindered somewhat until you connect with your Creator. He didn’t just design you to do your own thing. He created you so you would desire an ongoing relationship with Him.

You were made with a hole in the center of your soul that only one thing fits. Until you find that very specific something, you will never be fulfilled. And that very specific something is God Himself. You were designed with an intense need of your Creator, God. Without a relationship with Him, you will always be searching for something to fill that void. 

Drugs, alcohol, food, money, sex, material goods, occupations, hobbies, travel, success, fame—these are some of the ways in which we try to fill that empty space inside. But none of those things will ever fill it. They are like round pegs in square holes. The vacant areas at the edges will still leave you desiring more of something else. Whatever you attempt to put in there will dissipate because it never completely fills the space. Those things were never meant to fill the space; they never can.

Sadly, many continue to shove mismatched pegs into that hole. A little of this, a little of that… hoping that one day they will feel complete. They surmise that this thing over here didn’t work but maybe this other thing will do it. They just haven’t found the right thing yet but one day they hope they will.

One day…

    • I’ll have enough money to feel safe and secure.
    • I’ll find the perfect spouse that will complete me.
    • I’ll get my dream sports car and life will be grand.
    • I’ll be on television and people will know my name.
    • I’ll be the best in my field and people will scout me out.

“One day” will never come. If you’re not happy with who you are today, right here and right now, you’ll never be. You’ll never be happy with who you are today unless you begin to praise God for creating you just as you are.

People want to look at everyone and everything else before they turn to God.

“Yet no one calls on your name or pleads with you for mercy. Therefore, you have turned away from us and turned us over to our sins. And yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, and you are the potter. We all are formed by your hand.” (Isaiah 64:7-8)

Fortunately, God made a way for us to repent and turn to Him by sending His very own Son to make the way.

When you do finally realize that without God you are unable to make the most of yourself, that’s when things begin to change. The clay cannot mold itself no matter how hard it tries. However, God, the Potter, cannot only mold His clay but He also knows what His original design of you was. He is both a Potter and an Architect with a Master Plan.

Sometimes in this fallen world, people are born with birth defects that disrupt one or more of the intricate systems of the body. God foresaw even those defects and uses them for good when we look to Him. Even our weaknesses are fearfully and wonderfully made.

A blind person can develop hearing beyond the normal capacity. Conjoined twins can teach us about getting along with one another, for they have to do it 24/7. Someone born without arms develops the ability to use their feet in wondrous ways. Another born without legs develops the upper body strength to get around smoothly.

We all have weaknesses that sometimes make us feel like we are of no use. But God’s grace is sufficient to cover our weaknesses. More than that, God’s power is made perfect in our weaknesses. Weaknesses keep me humble and leaning on God’s strength which is much more sufficient than my own.

Should I always feel like I am “Fearfully and Wonderfully” made?

No. Sin and pride always want to drag me back into my own way of thinking. The same thinking that kept me reaching for those mismatched pegs. Those thoughts tell me that I can do whatever I want, by myself, without God. They lie and they don’t even make sense. They say I can do anything but then turn around and also say that I’m not good enough to do what I want to do. Feelings can’t be trusted unless they line up with the Word of God. And the Word of God tells me that I’m fearfully and wonderfully made for a specific purpose. Therefore, with God’s help, I will walk in that purpose as often as I can.

Whether I always feel it or not, I can trust God and His plans for my very life.

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:10) (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the words from the chorus of a song titled, Known,” by Tauren Wells (see YouTube Video below): I’m fully known and loved by You. You won’t let go no matter what I do. And it’s not one or the other; it’s hard truth and ridiculous grace, to be known fully known and loved by You…

I’m fully known . . .

And loved . . .

By You . . . .

YouTube Video: “Known” by Tauren Wells:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

A Day of Atonement

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

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

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

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

History and Significance of Yom Kippur

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

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

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

Observing Yom Kippur

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

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

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

Traditions and Symbols of Yom Kippur

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The sins of spreading negative stories about people we know;

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

For the sins of not having compassion for one another;

And for not taking care of one another….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forgiveness . . .

We all need . . .

Forgiveness . . . .

YouTube Video: “Forgiveness” by TobyMac featuring Lecrae:

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

A True Love Story Never Ends

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

Journal cover pic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It always protects, always trusts . . .

Always hopes, always perseveres . . .

Love never fails . . . .

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

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

Lessons from “A Christmas Carol”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Learning begins with listening.

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

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

2. Humility enhances vision.

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

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

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

3. Regret leads to renewal.

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

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

4. Bitterness will poison you.

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

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

5. There’s joy in starting over.

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

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

6. We must be present to win.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9. Redemption is about changed hearts.

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

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

10. It’s never too late to change.

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

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

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

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

But the second best time . . .

IS NOW . . . .

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

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

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]:

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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:

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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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