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Blogs I Follow

The Presidents Club

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The Surest Defense Against Evil

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The Triumph of Grace

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Contemplating God’s Sovereignty

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How Should We Then Live?

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Not a Timid Christianity

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Finishing the Race

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Because the Time is Near

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Revelation Song (YouTube)

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Where The Wind Blows

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Doing Great Things

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Recognizing a False Prophet

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The Power of Forgiveness

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Created for Relationships

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The Only Way I Know

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Faith: The Misunderstood Doctrine

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Our True Home Address

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‘Tis the Season . . . for L-O-V-E

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The Paris Terrorist Attack and the Problem of Evil

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Cherry Picking 101

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Love Sweet Love

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So Goes The Culture

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Idols of the Heart

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Divisions Are Not Always Bad

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The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

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Perceptions

David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons published a book in 2016 titled, Good Faith: Being A Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme (2016). The title is very clear about the subject matter of the book. The inside front cover includes the following statement:

It is easy to feel overwhelmed as we try to live faithfully in a culture that seems increasingly hostile to the Christian faith. With a growing backlash against religion and people of faith, it’s harder than ever to hold on to our convictions while treating friends, neighbors, co-workers, and even family members who disagree with respect and compassion.

Based on groundbreaking research, this timely book by the bestselling authors of “unChristian explores politics, sexuality, race, gender, and religious freedom, helping you:

  • respond with compassion, clarity, and confidence to the most toxic issues of our day
  • discover the most significant cultural trends that are creating both obstacles and opportunities for Christians
  • know what you believe and why it doesn’t make you a judgmental or extreme person
  • stop being afraid to talk about what you believe and start having meaningful conversations about tough issues
  • understand the heart behind opposing views and learn how to stay friends across differences (Source: inside front cover of “Good Faith.”)

David Kinnaman is the president of Barna Group, a leading research and communications company that works with churches, nonprofits, and businesses ranging from film studios to financial services. Since 1995, Kinnaman has directed interviews with nearly one million individuals and overseen hundreds of US and global research studies. He is also the author of unChristian and You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving the Church and Rethinking Faith.” (Source: Inside back cover of Good Faith.”)

Gabe Lyons is the founder of Q (Q Ideas), a learning community that educates and mobilizes Christians to think well and advance “good” in society. Called “sophisticated and orthodox” by The New York Times, “Q” represents the perspective of a new generation of Christians. Lyons speaks on cultural issues where faith intersects public life. He is the author of unChristian and The Next Christians.” (Source: Inside back cover of Good Faith.”)

I presented several parts of this book back on January, 1, 2017, in a blog post titled, Seizing the New Year.” In this current post I want to look at what the authors found from their research and experiences regarding those who hold to Christian beliefs who are being viewed as “irrelevant and extreme” by an ever growing segment of today’s society. The specific chapters are titled, “Irrelevant” (Chapter 2), and “Extreme” (Chapter 3):

Chapter 2: Irrelevant (pp. 25-37). The following quotes are taken directly from this chapter:

Irrelevance happens when your interests and someone else’s don’t overlap–like trying to share with someone the joy of playing your favorite game when to them boards games are joyless, soul-sucking instruments of torture. The other person may admire your passion but cannot relate to it.

For increasing millions of people in the wider culture, Christianity feels like a long list of rules that matter “to someone else.” Some try to hang in there out of a sense of duty or obligation. They might make a sincere effort to participate in church, maybe because it’s important to people they care about. But Christianity just doesn’t stick.

They never roll for the galaxy, much less search out their salvation. They can’t understand how or why faith relates to them, so they look for an excuse to leave the table.

Through our research, we have sorted out clear ways to distinguish those who see faith as background noise from those actively engaged in the game. We call the latter group “practicing Christians,” people who say their Christian faith is very important in their lives and attend church as least once a month. These are folks for whom Christianity is a way of life, not just a cultural identifier. Three out of ten Americans are practicing Christians.

For many millions of people who might be considered “legacy Christians,” however, Christianity is background noise that can safely be ignored. They have the muscle memory of being a Christian but exercise little faith in their lives today. They used to be active or grew up as a Christian, but now the tenets and practices of the faith are just part of the landscape, not guiding lights for their priorities and lifestyle.

We could count this group of people–legacy or nominal Christians–as the largest faith group in America today. Three out of four US adults have some Christian background, but about three in five American Christians are mostly inactive in their faith.

You might think of legacy Christians as people who learned the rules of the game years ago, but at some point the rules, and participating in the competition itself, became almost entirely irrelevant. When we interview them about why they don’t prioritize their faith or participate in faith related activities, legacy Christians tell us they are just too busy or they find God elsewhere–in nature or art, for instance. To them, church is boring. Christianity has faded into the background. It’s a way of life that matters to somebody else. (Source: “Good Faith,” pp. 26-28.)

The authors state several perceptions that drive the “irrelevant” factor. On page 28 they state, “Most legacy Christians think Jesus-followers who prioritize faith are irrelevant and maybe annoying but also largely benign. But others, usually the religiously unaffiliated, think Christianity is bad for society. We are not seen as people of good faith.” Several of these perceptions are as follows:

Perception: Christian Leaders Aren’t Credible Guides for Life. On the whole, pastors and priests are well liked–two-thirds of Americans say their presence is a benefit to a community–but their insights are not considered relevant to living real life. You might say that Christian leaders are viewed like a smiling greeter at Walmart: they might point you in the right direction, but after that you’re on your own (pp. 28-29).

Perception: Faith-Driven Organizations Are Irrelevant to a Charitable Society. Millions of adults are oblivious to how charity happens . . . . Up to half of Americans believe a majority of the charitable work in the nation–including providing food, clothing, shelter, counseling, and disaster relief, for example, would still happen if there were no religious people or organization to do the work . . . . shockingly, 17 percent of practicing Christians believe the same . . . . Although their view is far from reality (explained in detail on pp. 30-31), perception matters. NOTE: See article titled, Christians Provide More Aid To Hurricane Victims Than FEMA, published September 10, 2017 at this link.

Perception: Christianity Is Irrelevant to the “Real Stuff” of Life and Culture. Most people think Jesus was a pretty good guy, but they don’t believe his teaching has made much of an impact on modern society. Large proportions of the population, even Christians, believe our faith has had little or no impact on art, culture, personal well-being, politics, community cohesion, charitable behavior, and provision of community services. Among non-Christians, the perceived line dividing the Christian faith and societal impact is even more distinct.

Furthermore, many people dramatically underestimate the number of practicing Christians in sectors that power our economy and create a healthy society. Public education is just one example. According to Barna estimates, two out of every five public school teachers and administrators in the United States are practicing Christians…. And this is just one sector of society; practicing Christians do good work and meaningfully contribute across a wide spectrum of industries (pp. 31-32).

Perception: People Can Live a “Good Life” without Christianity. For many people, life seems pretty good without faith. They can play the “game of life” without using the Christian rule book and still experience what feels like “winning.” Christians also believe this is true–to a certain extent… and it’s certainly possible to live a decent and productive life without being a Christian. We see this all the time….

The fact that people can live meaningful, fulfilling lives without Jesus does not invalidate the claims of Christianity. . . . But we should acknowledge that the “good life” feels attainable to many people–75 percent of US adults agree “a person can live a pretty good and decent life without being a Christian”–and this keeps them feeling like Christianity is a board game that isn’t worth learning.

Part of this problem is that too many in the Christian community have bought into unbiblical notions about what it means to live a “good life,” so it doesn’t look to outsiders like we’re doing anything special. Rather than living as a counter-cultural community that bears witness to the coming kingdom of God, many of us go with the cultural flow, thoughtlessly consuming the products, ideas, and aspirations streamed for us in an unending deluge of retweets and Facebook likes. It’s so hard, in this screen age, to keep our attention focused on anything for very long, much less a way of life introduced to Middle Eastern peasants two thousand years ago. Talk about irrelevant! Christianity’s rootedness in past events and future hope seems, to many, out of step with the ‘now’ orientation of the hyperlinked life (pp. 32-22).

Chapter 3: Extreme (pp. 39-17). The following quotes are taken directly from this chapter:

If the past decade and a half [e.g., since 9/11] has taught Americans anything, it’s that religious extremism is a real thing. Bombarded by images of terrorism, gun violence, perpetual religious wars, and unthinkable atrocities, we are justifiably wary of people who use their faith as an excuse to do violence and incite terror….

Most people believe being religiously extreme is a threat to society. Three-quarters of all Americans–and nine out of ten Americans with no faith affiliation–agree. But what actions and beliefs, exactly, come to mind when people think about religious extremism?

We asked Americans 18 and older their views on more than a dozen ways people of faith might express or observe the convictions of their religion. We found, as you might expect, that using religion to justify violence against other is almost universally condemned as extremist: more than nine out of ten adults agree doing so is “very” or at least “somewhat” extreme.

But we also discovered that, nowadays,  you don’t have to hijack a plane, blow up a subway train, or cut off somebody’s head to be considered an extremist. The perceptions of extremism hit close to home for most Christians, as you’ll see on the table on the next page [not available to put in this post]. Many historic Christian beliefs and practices are considered to be extreme by large proportions of Americans–especially among non-Christians. For example, two out of five adults believe it is extremist to try to convert others to their faith; 60 percent of all adults in America and 83 percent of atheists and agnostics believe evangelism–one of the central actions of Christian conviction–is extremist. A slim majority says that holding the belief that same-sex relationships are morally wrong is extremist. Two out of five adults believe it’s extreme to quit a good-paying job to pursue mission work in another country.

Even at the bottom of the list, many essential Christian practices are now perceived to be extremist. While not majority opinions, millions of adults contend that behaviors such as donating money to religious causes, reading the Bible silently in public, and even attending church or volunteering are examples of religious extremism.

What most concerns people about extremism is the public expression of religion–when beliefs and practices enter the public square. For the most part, people think you can do whatever you want on Sunday mornings, in your churches, just so long as matters of faith don’t spill out into society.

Beyond the specific religious activities we assessed, broadly speaking, the perceptions of extremism is firmly entrenched among the nation’s non-Christians. Forty-five percent of atheists, agnostics, and religiously unaffiliated in America agree with the statement “Christianity is extremist.”

That’s just shy of half.

Almost as troubling is the fact that only 14 percent of these “nones” (a term used to describe the religiously unaffiliated) strongly disagree that Christianity is extremist; 41 percent disagree somewhat. You might say disagreeing somewhat or disagreeing strongly is the difference between “I guess not” and “Of course not!” So even among non-Christians who reject the idea that Christianity is extremist, there is a lot of ambivalence.

What happened? And what’s behind this growing perception that public expression of religious conviction is extreme?

North America is becoming more religiously plural. There are more faith groups represented among the population than there were fifty years ago, and more faith “tribes” have a significant voice in our cultural dialogue…. Muslims now comprise a significant proportion of the population of several US cities and are an even larger proportion of Europe’s population. And don’t forget the recent advance of atheists and their philosophical cousins, the religiously unaffiliated.

Meanwhile, the Christian share of the population has shrunk. The voice of evangelicals, for many years among the most politically and culturally resonant, sounds less persuasive to an increasing number of ears–especially to those who think religion should be private, never public. Evangelicals’ fundamental belief in the importance of sharing the gospel (a public act, if ever there was one) is seen as extreme by a majority of adults in a society trying to come to grips with religious diversity.

But it’s not only evangelicals. We asked US adults about several minority groups, religious and otherwise. How difficult would it be for them to have a natural and normal conversation with a person from that group…. A majority of Americans would struggle to have a conversation with a Muslim (73 percent), a Mormon (60 percent), and atheist (56 percent), an evangelical (55 percent), or someone from the LGBT community (52 percent)….

In broad strokes, many people think it would be difficult to have a conversation with anyone who is not a part of “their” group. Many of us, in other words, find it challenging to connect and have meaningful conversations with others.

The state of our union is one of dis-union.

The conversational health of our society is in bad shape.

As a culture, we are trying to figure out how to make sense of the widening religious and ideological differences we experience every day. Sometimes it feels like we’re all in an epic tug-of-war to decide who gets to narrate reality and determine what is true and good. And, by default, the mushy middle seems to be winning. Many people are gravitating to a contrived centrist position that says everything will be okay if none of us holds too tightly to any particular belief. Ironically, this contrived center is itself becoming an ideology, as people grip it more and more tightly and call the people tugging on the ends extremists (pp. 41-45).

Given this backdrop, we can see how Christians who do talk about their faith threaten a fragile cultural consensus. And, make no mistake, that faith is a threat. Christians believe God reveals what is true and good–and are willing to keep on tugging even if everyone else disagrees (p. 46).

There is more information in both chapters that is not stated above, but this information will give anyone who tends to be insulated within Christian communities an idea of what is going on in the broader culture when it comes to how many in the broader culture feel about Christians and Christianity in general. The book includes a wealth of information that has been well documented and researched, and also includes a lot of information on how to navigate . . .

These rising waters . . .

We find ourselves . . .

Swimming in . . . .

YouTube Video: “Speak Life” by TobyMac:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

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That Thing Called Love

Over a year ago (July 9, 2016 to be specific), I published a blog post titled, What’s Love Got To Do With It?” I’d like to revisit a major portion of that blog post today. After all, we could all use a little more love if it’s the right kind of love. We tend to casually throw that word around a lot, so first we need to define what real love is and what real love is not. First Corinthians 13:4-8 gives us the description of genuine love (which also happens to include what love is not):

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

From these verses we find what love is. Love is patient, kind, rejoices with the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all thing; and it never, ever ends.

From these verses we also find what love is not. Love is not envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, selfish, irritable, resentful, and does not rejoice in wrongdoing (e.g., doing evil). Love is also not to be confused with desire or lust.

The following is taken from my blog post, What’s Love Got To Do With It?” published in July 2016 with some minor editing:

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Back in 1984 Tina Turner sang a song titled, What’s Love Got To Do With It?” (YouTube video at this link). . . . In the chorus of the song she asks (quote source here):

What’s love got to do, got to do with it
What’s love but a second hand emotion
What’s love got to do, got to do with it
Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken

While genuine love is anything but a “second hand emotion,” nobody likes dealing with a broken heart. And it is genuine love that can heal the brokenhearted. What the world needs now, more than anything else, is large doses of compassion, and understanding, and, yes, love (genuine love).

Five years ago I wrote a blog post titled, What The World Needs Now” (published on August 21, 2012). In that blog post I quoted a short devotion I found in a book of devotional readings titled Day by Day (2000, 2005) by Dr. Charles Swindollformer President and current Chancellor at Dallas Theological Seminary, and he also serves in leadership at Insight for Living Ministries and at Stonebriar Community Church. The title of this particular devotion is “Compassion.”

Compassion

Colossians 3:12-14James 5:11

It was one of those backhanded compliments. The guy had listened to me talk during several sessions at a pastors’ conference. All he knew about me was what he’d heard in the past few days: ex-marine… schooled in an independent seminary… committed to biblical exposition… noncharismatic… premil… pretrib… pro this… anti that.

Toward the end of the week, he decided to drink a cup of coffee with me and risk saying it straight. It went something like this: “You don’t fit. You’ve got the roots of a fundamentalist, but you don’t sound like it. Your theology is narrow, but you’re not rigid. You take God seriously, but you laugh like there’s no tomorrow. You have definite convictions, but you aren’t legalistic and demanding.” Then he added: “Even though you’re a firm believer in the Bible, you’re still having fun, still enjoying life. You’ve even got some compassion!”

“You’ve even got some compassion!” Like, if you’re committed to the truth of Scripture, you shouldn’t get that concerned about people stuff–heartaches, hunger, illness, fractured lives, insecurities, failures, and grief–because those are only temporal problems. Mere horizontal hassles. Leave that to the liberals. Our main job is to give ’em the gospel. Get ’em saved!

Be honest now. Isn’t that the way it usually is? Isn’t it a fact that the more conservative one becomes, the less compassionate?

I want to know why. Why either–or? Why not both–and?

I’d also like to know when we departed from the biblical model. When did we begin to ignore Christ’s care for the needy?

Maybe when we realized that one is much easier than the other. It’s also faster. When you don’t concern yourself with being your brother’s keeper, you don’t have to get dirty or take risks or lose your objectivity or run up against the thorny side of an issue that lacks easy answers.

And what will happen when we traffic in such compassion. The Living Bible says, Then the Lord will be your delight, and I will see to it that you ride high, and get your full share of the blessings I promised to Jacob, your father” (Isaiah 58:14).

If you really want to “ride high, and get your full share of the blessings,” prefer compassion to information. We need both, but in the right order.

Come on, let’s break the mold and surprise ’em. That’s exactly what Jesus did with you and me and a whole bunch of other sinners who deserved and expected a full dose of condemnation, but got compassion instead.

Others won’t care how much we know until they know how much we care.

Source: Day by Day by Dr. Charles Swindoll, p. 258
Word Publishing, Thomas Nelson, 2000

We may talk a lot about “compassion” in our churches, but what do we do with it on an hour-by-hour basis in our own personal lives with the folks we run into every single day? How do we conduct our business with others? Are we honest in our dealings with them? Do we actually care about what they might be going through (if we know their circumstances–for example, the homeless)? If we do anything at all, do we give out McDonald’s food coupons in an effort to appease our guilt and/or rationalize that if we actually gave them money they’d just spend it on less savory indulgences? It’s not that food coupons are wrong to give out, but it’s the attitude behind why we are giving them food coupons in the first place. For the most part we have no idea what it is like to walk in their shoes, and we tend to assume way too much about others we don’t know that is often erroneous at best.

Getting back to the original question: “What’s love got to do with it?” Love has everything to do with it, and it starts with how we treat others–and that includes the person right in front of us whether in a parking lot or in an aisle at a grocery store, or someone who might be yelling obscenities within earshot that we don’t appreciate, or treating us with disdain. Or it might be someone who is a Christian who doesn’t view things exactly as we do on certain topics (and that’s been going on for centuries). . . .

With that being said, I’m not implying that an initial reaction to a bad experience isn’t legitimate, such as anger or frustration or heartache. What I am saying is that there is real evil in this world and there are real enemies out there in society. Within the Christian community today we focus so much on internal “enemies” (fear, guilt, shame, etc.) that we totally forget that we have real enemies (as in the human kind) out there in society, too. Turning on the news on any given day clearly shows that fact. And often they are hiding in plain sight. I read a quote that Joyce Meyer, one of the world’s best known practical Bible teachers and a New York Times bestselling author, shared in her book titled, Let God Fight Your Battles (2015) regarding our real enemy on pages 108-109:

A good friend who is a Greek scholar once shared with me a paraphrase of John 10:10It gives us a clear idea of just how determined the enemy is to kill, steal, and destroy, but it also shows us that Jesus has something else altogether in mind.

The thief wants to get his hands into every good thing in your life. In fact, this pickpocket is looking for any opportunity to wiggle his way so deeply into your personal affairs that he can walk off with everything you hold precious and dear. And that’s not all–when he’s finished stealing all your goods and possessions, he’ll take his plan to rob you blind to the next level. He’ll create conditions and situations so horrible that you’ll see no way to solve the problem except to sacrifice everything that remains from his previous attacks. The goal of this thief is to totally waste and devastate your life. If nothing stops him, he’ll leave you insolvent, flat broke, and cleaned out in every area of your life. You’ll end up feeling as if you are finished and out of business! Make no mistake–the enemy’s ultimate aim is to obliterate you!

But I [Jesus] came that they might have, keep, and constantly retain a vitality, gusto, vigor, and zest for living that springs up from deep down inside. I [Jesus] came that they might embrace this unrivaled, unequaled, matchless, incomparable, richly-loaded and overflowing life to the ultimate maximum! (Quote from Rick Renner, “Sparkling Gems,” 2003, as quoted on pp. 108-109 in Let God Fight Your Battles,” 2015)

There are definitely people out there living among us who are like the description given above, and their agenda is clearly stated in the quote above, too; and those enemies don’t even have to know us personally to show up in our lives and try to take us down. However, when we fight among ourselves and disparage each other (or treat others with total disrespect), and disdain those we don’t know or like, we give our enemies a stronghold on us. And when we judge others or gossip about them, we are actually setting ourselves up for a possible future confrontation with those enemies. As the apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 12:18:

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

What it boils down to is that expressing and showing love even for our enemies really isn’t “just an option” for a Christian. Genuine love keeps us right with God and right with others, even if those “others” (e.g., terrorists and assorted others) couldn’t care less. Jesus stated in Matthew 5:43-48 (MSG):

“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

“In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”

Also, I Corinthians 13:4-8 (previously stated above) gives us a clear picture of what genuine love really looks and acts like:

Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking,
It is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts,
Always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.

We often have no idea of the harm we do when we disdain, disrespect, and discredit others, especially those we don’t know or don’t like for whatever reason. However, for the Christian, evil is fought on God’s battleground (Exodus 14:14), and not in the games we play with others. We can’t win this battle against the unforeseen forces of evil around us (see Ephesians 6:10-18) on our own–only God can win it. But we do have an obligation to do what Jesus has told us to do in living as His disciples, and that is to love God, love others . . . no exceptions.

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That ends the portion taken from the blog post from July 2016. I must confess that I get weary of trying to fight battles that are beyond my power to fight, and I’ll be the first to admit that this reminder from my blog post from a year ago is a reminder for me, too. It’s a reminder that we can easily get off course in this life, and if life throws enough bad stuff at us (and life is just that way sometimes) that we can react in the wrong ways even when we don’t mean to. Having grown up in Christian circles and spent a lot of my life in the church I got so weary of all the books and sermons that focused on “us” and our “internal enemies” all the time–“guilt, fear, worry, and shame, etc.” that is so common today. We don’t read about that kind of stuff in the Book of Acts. Those first Christians in the New Testament (and Jesus, too) had real human enemies, and they weren’t the “internal enemies” we spend so much time focusing on today while ignoring the real enemies in our world. Jesus already gave us the answer to our “guilt, fear, worry, shame, etc.” He is the answer! Today we’d rather fight and quarrel with each other (James discusses this very issue in James 4) and buy the latest book on how to get rid of our “guilt, fear, worry, and shame, etc.”

I’m much older now, and I’ve got decades of experience from my own church experiences to attest to what I’ve stated above from being a part of the church since I was a little girl. We often spend too much time majoring on the minors and ignoring the enemy that is comfortably sitting in our midst and patting us on our backs. Back in the New Testament those early Christians knew that enemy and knew that it lived in their very midst and threatened their lives. Today, we think we’re safe when we walk inside the doors of a church, but the battle rages on as intensely there as it does anywhere else. The history of Christianity down through the ages and today all around the world proves that to be true, too. And the apostle Paul made that battle very clear in Ephesians 6:10-18:

“. . .be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints. . .”

As Christians, all of our battles in this life belong to God. Only He can see the whole picture of what is really going on, and we don’t have the power to fight it on our own anyway (no matter how hard we try). What the world needs a whole lot more of is “that thing called love” . . . .

And it starts . . .

With us . . .

No exceptions . . . .

YouTube Video: “Testify To Love” by Avalon:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Why Theology Matters

The most concise definition of theology is “the study of God.” To add to that definition, GotQuestions.org defines theology as follows:

The word “theology” comes from two Greek words that combined mean “the study of God.” Christian theology is simply an attempt to understand God as He is revealed in the Bible. No theology will ever fully explain God and His ways because God is infinitely and eternally higher than we are. Therefore, any attempt to describe Him will fall short (Romans 11:33-36). However, God does want us to know Him insofar as we are able, and theology is the art and science of knowing what we can know and understand about God in an organized and understandable manner. Some people try to avoid theology because they believe it is divisive. Properly understood, though, theology is uniting. Proper, biblical theology is a good thing; it is the teaching of God’s Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

The study of theology, then, is nothing more than digging into God’s Word to discover what He has revealed about Himself. When we do this, we come to know Him as Creator of all things, Sustainer of all things, and Judge of all things. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end of all things. When Moses asked who was sending him to Pharaoh, God replied “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14). The name I AM indicates personality. God has a name, even as He has given names to others. The name I AM stands for a free, purposeful, self-sufficient personality. God is not an ethereal force or a cosmic energy. He is the almighty, self-existing, self-determining Being with a mind and a will—the “personal” God who has revealed Himself to humanity through His Word, and through His Son, Jesus Christ.

To study theology is to get to know God in order that we may glorify Him through our love and obedience. Notice the progression here: we must get to know Him before we can love Him, and we must love Him before we can desire to obey Him. As a byproduct, our lives are immeasurably enriched by the comfort and hope He imparts to those who know, love, and obey Him. Poor theology and a superficial, inaccurate understanding of God will only make our lives worse instead of bringing the comfort and hope we long for. Knowing about God is crucially important. We are cruel to ourselves if we try to live in this world without knowing about God. The world is a painful place, and life in it is disappointing and unpleasant. Reject theology and you doom yourself to life with no sense of direction. Without theology, we waste our lives and lose our souls.

All Christians should be consumed with theology—the intense, personal study of God—in order to know, love, and obey the One with whom we will joyfully spend eternity. (Quote source here.)

In an article titled What Exactly is Theology? on ReasonableTheology.org, the author (no name appears on the article) states:

For many Christians, theology is something that is consigned for seminaries, books over 3 inches thick, and Europe during the Reformation. However, every believer should consider themselves a theologian, as we all seek to know and understand God.

Strictly defined, theology is simply the study of the nature of God. Whenever we attempt to deepen our knowledge about God and His attributes, we are studying theology. We should never think that this is a realm reserved for academics and those whose LinkedIn profiles include “Theologian” as their job title.

It is not uncommon to hear someone state that because they already believe in God and the saving work of Jesus, they don’t have the need for studying theology. Such a statement reveals two issues; first, they are assuming that studying theology is a dry and difficult task best left to the professionals. Secondly, they don’t realize that they are already a theologian to some degree. A classical description of theology is “faith seeking understanding.” Every Bible study, Sunday school class, church service, and personal quiet time in the Word is dedicated to just that. When we devote our attention to knowing God better we are engaged in theology. . . .

For the purposes of this article, it is enough for us to realize that we don’t need to don powdered wigs and black robes before sitting down to “do theology.” Instead we must understand that when we search the Scriptures for answers about life, Jesus, God, and an endless number of other topics we are actively studying theology. (Quote source here.)

In a follow-up to this article on ReasonableTheology.org titled, Good Ways to Develop Bad Theology,” the author states:

As C.S. Lewis put it, “If you do not listen to theology, that will not mean that you have no ideas about God. It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones.”

What this quote and our article series on everyday theology for the everyday Christian shows is that all believers are theologians to some extent. It is our responsibility to ensure that we are putting our best effort towards becoming good ones. For those uninterested in developing an accurate understanding of God, here are three good ways to end up with bad theology.

Ignore Difficult Bible Passages

The surest way to develop an incomplete picture of Biblical revelation is to skip over and ignore verses and passages that are confusing or conflict with what you previously thought.

When reading Scripture it is important to remember that not a single verse was included by accident.

Rather than merely passing over a verse or passage that presents difficulty, we should compare it to other verses, consult commentaries, and keep digging deeper. Just as muscles become weak when not exercised, our theology is weakened when we avoid being challenged.

Only Read Authors that Agree with You

If you avoid reading or listening to pastors and authors that do not completely subscribe to your exact theology, you’re unlikely to grow beyond your current level of knowledge and spiritual maturity. It is important to gain at least a basic understanding of the ideas of those who believe differently than you.

However, this does not mean that we should spend time submerging ourselves in flawed theology or entertaining heresy for the sake of being open-minded. Rather it is recommended that we acknowledge that in many areas there are a variety of view points represented in the Christian faith.

Even our favorite pastors and teachers are not likely to be correct in every facet of theology. If we allow ourselves to explore other viewpoints we will do one of two things: strengthen our own positions by finding that alternative ideas lack Biblical credibility or, when appropriate, realize we must better conform our understanding to the truth of Scripture.

Compromise to Avoid Confrontation

The opposite of the error above is to simply abandon essential truths in search of harmony among conflicting beliefs. Those who are quick to alter their theology merely to accommodate the shifting opinions of the world are unlikely to develop or maintain solid theology.

There are an unfortunate number of examples where believers are abandoning or downplaying truth in order to satisfy those around them. Areas of creation, sin, and the exclusivity of Christ are often disregarded in order to avoid offending others with truth.

Rather than stand firm on the teachings of Scripture, many compromise their beliefs in order to maintain a level of comfort and political correctness. May our confidence in the essential truths of our faith allow us to stand firm in upholding them, even when facing difficult conversations and situations.

Conclusion

Every Christian is a theologian. The question is not whether we have an understanding of God, but if we have a correct understanding of Him. We should be striving to have a more complete understanding of God and seek spiritual growth.

Avoiding the three errors above can help us to maintain a proper focus on becoming better theologians and better equipped believers. (Quote source here.) The entire series of articles titled,Everyday Theology for the Everyday Christian,” can be found at this link.

In one last article published October 27, 2016 in Christianity Today titled, Ten Reasons Why Theology Matters,” by David W. Congdon, associate editor at IVP Academic, and W. Travis McMaken, associate professor of religion at Lindenwood University, the authors give us those ten reasons why theology matters:

With recent polls showing a declining awareness and interest in theology among evangelicals, we thought of ten reasons why theology matters to every evangelical beyond simply avoiding heresy.

Theology matters…

1. Because even evangelicals need evangelizing.

There is much handwringing today over what it means to be evangelical, and the temptation is strong to define an essential evangelicalism—to pin it down to one particular form. Theologically, the problem with this response is that “taking every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5) is not a once-and-done proposition. It is a task that has to be taken up anew again and again. Just like God’s grace, this fundamentally theological undertaking is “new every morning” (Lam. 3:23).

Evangelicalism is not a fixed and secure religious form or doctrinal system. It is not a confessional tradition or a denomination. Instead, evangelicalism is a way of relating to God and the world, one which emphasizes the good news of Jesus Christ and its importance for how we live our lives. There is no single right way to be an evangelical. In truth, evangelicalism is always ‘in via,’ always “on the way.” Evangelicals thus always need to be evangelized.

2. Because we can’t feel our way toward knowledge of God.

Experience has always been an important part of evangelicalism. From Jonathan Edwards and Charles Finney to Henry Blackaby and Dallas Willard, evangelicals have long understood that the gospel demands a response of the will and a conversion of the heart. Such an emphasis often gives the impression that we can “find” God in experience. Chuck Colsons assessment here is right: The belief “that doctrines must be extracted from inward experience—that is, personal feelings” is “a version of Gnosticism.” The problem is there is no guarantee that one’s experiences do in fact point to God. We need a more certain way to know God.

Thankfully, God has provided just such a way: “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known [exegesato]” (John 1:18). In Jesus we have the exegesis of God and a firm foundation for our faith.

3. Because the Bible is not a grab bag of facts about God.

In an effort to avoid the pitfall of improperly enlisting experience as a foundation for our knowledge of God, some have turned to Scripture as their infallible guide to faith and practice. But often this turn is made without giving enough thought to the difficulties involved in biblical interpretation—and not only the difficulty of learning strange languages! Appeals to this or that text have been used over the years to justify any number of ethical positions, from slavery and apartheid to the subjugation of women and anti-Semitic ‘pogroms.’ Furthermore, all the so-called “heretics” in Christian history knew their Bible very well and could find ample support for their positions within its pages.

In order to address this problem, the church from the outset developed two rules of interpretation: the “rule of faith” and the “rule of love.” The rule of love stipulates that one must read Scripture in a way that promotes the love of God and neighbor, and the rule of faith offers the church’s shared theological affirmations as a similar guide for reading. Jesus Christ stands behind each of these rules: He is the one who both enacts perfect love for God and neighbor, and he makes the Father known, as already mentioned. We must read Scripture with one eye fixed on Jesus Christ, and with a constant effort to see how each portion of Scripture points us back to him. This is the burden of Luther’s claim that “whatever promotes Christ is the Word of God to be sought and found in Holy Scripture” (Luther’s Works 35:396).

4. Because God likes highways, not cul-de-sacs.

The point here is not that God despises the suburbs and prefers the open road. As a metaphor, however, it is hard not to see that God prefers to be—to borrow C. S. Lewis’s language in describing Aslan—“on the move.” But this theological insight is easily forgotten under the pressure within our pluralistic society of defining what “we” believe as opposed to “them.” The result is what Roger Olson has described as “a certain militancy in defense of perceived evangelical doctrinal tradition” and “a tendency to fill up the ‘essentials’ (dogmas) category of Christian beliefs with non-essentials.” This desire to stabilize the tradition and protect against perceived deviations can easily lead to a sort of theological ossification. If the Word of God is indeed “living and active” (Heb. 4:12), then a militant defense of the past can result in the silencing of God in the present. Those who follow such a living God must also be on the move, bearing dynamic witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ in our own place and time.

5. Because the New Jerusalem will be more urban than suburban.

Christians often labor under the false assumption that the cultural forms we have inherited from our ancestors in the faith are distinctively “Christian.” Our cultural blinders lead us to misread the biblical text, to find rules and guidelines that just aren’t there. Cultural norms about money, gender, race, work, and family seep into our subconscious and percolate into our daily life. They appear in television ads, on magazine covers, in playground chitchat, on highway billboards, in church-sponsored parenting seminars, and even in sermons.

Behind all of this is the assumption that there is only ‘one’ way to be truly human and live a truly human life—and, of course, that one way happens to be ‘our’ way. But when we look at the Bible, we see a manifold diversity of human identities and social structures. The “law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2) is not a blueprint but a command to follow Christ in the diversity of our local contexts and the unity of God’s coming reign. When Jesus rejects the prevailing family values of both his day and our own (Matt. 10:35–36), he is not telling us to hate our families. He is proclaiming a vision of fidelity to God’s kingdom that is bigger than a single culture’s social norms.

We are dealing, after all, with the God of Pentecost, a God whose kingdom embraces the full panoply of cultural diversity. We witness in the story of the gospel a God who does not have a “one size fits all” vision for human life, a God who rejects a monochrome creation, a God who prefers the vibrant messiness to spiritless homogeneity.

6. Because God isn’t just a good self-help instructor.

American culture surrounds us with the notion that we possess within ourselves all the resources necessary for success and happiness. Indeed, the United States was founded on the notion that we possess certain “inalienable rights” of self-actualization: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Unfortunately, this mode of thinking has found its way into Christian faith, preaching, and worship. One hears sermons for spiritual—or even material!—fulfillment, sings worship songs that seem more concerned with the singer’s needs and emotions than with Christ, and finds titles on bookstore shelves that promise to give you a fulfilling life now. We start to view God in terms of ourselves: We are weak, so God becomes strong; we are lonely, so God becomes our friend; we lack knowledge, so God becomes the cosmic answer.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us that theology is not in the business of “exploiting human weakness and human limitations.” Rather than understanding God in terms of human life, human life should be defined by the power of God in Jesus Christ. Christian faith acknowledges a God who discloses to us our true weakness—sin—and sovereignly acts in Christ to reconcile us to God and to each other. As the community of this God, the church is not a community of self-help instruction but a place of missionary self-giving. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).

7. Because God isn’t a cosmic dictator.

Many people find comfort in the belief that God is in complete control of our lives. Knowing that God has a “perfect plan” not only provides certainty of salvation, but it also offers solace in times of great suffering. Perhaps it is no surprise that, in an age of political chaos fueled by an inability to find common ground, we find assurance in a Cosmic Decider that makes such clear and final decisions.

Viewed abstractly, we have here another version of the self-help deity—one who seemingly meets our needs and solves all our problems. But as Donald Bloesch observes, “Biblical Christians do not affirm the God of absolute power, the one who can do anything.” God’s sovereignty is not the arbitrary power to make the circle square or evil good. Naked sovereignty leaves us with no confidence in ‘who’ this God really is and whether God loves us and will be faithful to us. Thankfully, the Bible teaches that “God’s power is manifested not in arbitrary decrees but in sacrificial, other-serving love” (Bloesch), namely, in Jesus Christ.

8. Because God’s will for your life isn’t really about “your” life.

The question, “What is God’s will for my life?” is a vexing one for many believers. But, the attempt to “find” God’s will presupposes a separation between God’s “hidden” and “revealed” wills. According to the Reformers, God providentially rules over the world according to God’s hidden or eternal will, while Jesus only provided access to God’s revealed will concerning salvation. We are therefore left searching for clues in Scripture and experience, treating God’s hidden will like a murder mystery to be solved by a prayerful sleuth.

A second look at the New Testament calls into question the notion of two wills in God. According to the apostle Paul, “He [God the Father] predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will. . . . With all wisdom and understanding, he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and things on earth under Christ” (Eph. 1:5, 8–10).

The “mystery” of God’s will is not confined to the dark recesses of eternity but is “made known to us . . . in Christ.” The question about God’s will is never first and foremost about our own lives, but about his life. God’s will is therefore not a riddle to be solved but a reality to be praised and proclaimed.

9. Because the Christian life isn’t all about eating.

If there’s one thing Christians know how to do, it’s eat! Potlucks, coffee hours, picnics—if you can load up a table with food, you can count on church-folk showing up for times of “fellowship” and “spiritual refreshment.” Maybe that’s why the Lord’s Supper so easily becomes a focal point of our communal lives together: It just makes sense. Indeed, it has become increasingly central in recent years even among traditionally “low church” communities, who find the emphasis on communion helpful as an aid to focus on the divine Shepherd rather than on the human pastor.

But here’s the thing about eating: do too much of it without exercise and you get fat. While eating is a restorative and often pleasurable experience, it is finally aimed at a purpose beyond itself. We eat in order to live. The same holds true in the Christian life. We come to the Lord’s table to eat in order to live a certain kind of life. The Great Commission, found in Matthew 28:19–20, describes the sort of life for which Christians are nourished at the table: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” This is the church’s mission, the exercise that it must perform to keep from growing fat and indolent, the life for which it is nourished by word and sacrament. Christians are never fed simply for their own benefit but always on behalf of others.

10. Because it’s not just “what” you believe that matters, but “why” you believe it and “how.”

We are convinced that engaging in careful theological thought is an essential task of the Christian life. We can no more abandon theology than we can abandon God, since theology is involved in some fashion whenever we think or speak about God. Consequently, every person is a theologian. The only question is whether we will be thoughtful, responsible theologians or irresponsible ones. The journey of Christian discipleship is a matter of learning why we believe, and thinking hard and carefully about this belief, not so that we can bludgeon others with our knowledge but so that we can bear faithful witness to God in the totality of our life.

Theology is less about the ‘what’ and much more about the ‘how.’ We are called as Christians not to sign up to a certain doctrinal statement but to follow a certain way of life. To be a thoughtful believer is to be commissioned for a life of disciplined reflection in conversation with the prophets, apostles, and the theologians who have reflected on God in the past and whose legacy we have inherited. The goal is not simply to repeat the words that they used to proclaim the gospel in their time and place, but to think under their tutelage about what words we must use today.

Theology is inherently an act of prayer, insofar as we offer up our words and thoughts in service to God in the expectant hope—by the grace of the Holy Spirit—that they will build up the body of Christ. And this prayerful task of theology is never done. Like God’s mercies, it is new every morning. (Quote source here.)

And that is why theology matters . . . .

God’s mercies . . .

Are new . . .

Every morning . . . .

YouTube Video: “New Every Morning” by Audrey Assad:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Riding Out the Storms of Life

Hurricane Harvey was a Category 4 hurricane when it hit the Texas Gulf Coast last night (August 25, 2017) near Corpus Christi which is about 200 miles from where I am staying in Houston. It is forecast to be hanging around this area of Texas–the Gulf Coast and going as far north as San Antonio and Austin, and including Houston and Galveston–for the next several days dumping tons of rain and causing massive flooding.

Storms. . . . They come at us through natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes, and also through circumstances–like divorce, the death of a family member or a close friend, betrayal, addictions, loss of a job, financial devastation, and any number of things that can happen; and often they happen when we are least expecting them. Sometimes we are the cause; sometimes others are the cause; and sometime they are caused by natural disasters.

Storms, in whatever shape they take, remind us of just how fragile this life really is, and how life can turn on a dime.” I ran into an article titled, Riding Out the Storms of Life,” by Dr. Adrian Rogers (1931-2005), pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, “which grew from 9,000 members in 1972 to more than 29,000 at his retirement in March 2005. He also served three terms as president of the Southern Baptist Convention (quote source here). Dr. Rogers’ Love Worth Finding Ministries is a publication and broadcast extension of his pulpit ministry. In his article he explains the four types of storms that come our way and our responses:

Riding Out the Storms of Life

Sometimes the sea is calm and the wind blows softly. But other times the wind rises, the sky darkens, and we find ourselves in the midst of a terrible storm. We know that’s the way life is, and in Acts 27 we read of such a storm in the life of the apostle Paul.

He had been arrested for preaching the gospel of Christ and was now being taken to Rome to be adjudicated when they encountered a huge storm. Perhaps you’re even in the midst of a terrible storm yourself, and all hope has seemed to vanish.

First we need to realize there are many different types of storms we all encounter. Then we’re going to see what Paul did in his storm and what we can do.

There are normal storms. The Bible says God makes it rain on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45). We simply live in a world that has storms as a natural part of life.

Then there are some storms we engineer by our own foolishness and disobedience. That’s the kind of storm Jonah got into to when he tried to flee from the presence of God (Jonah 1:1-4).

There are also storms God sends us for growth. Jesus commanded His disciples to get into a boat and go to the other side of the sea (Matthew 14:22-24). He knew a storm was brewing but was teaching them a lesson for their development.

And then there are storms we’re dragged into by other people. That’s where we find the apostle Paul. He was a prisoner who had tried to warn them! But they wouldn’t listen so he was dragged into his storm by others.

Sinking the Ship–The sailors on Paul’s ship took some actions that made things worse. We tend to do some of these same things when we find ourselves in a storm. Let’s look at some of the ways we sink the ship.

(1) Make decisions in haste. Verse nine says much time had past, and they felt they had to do something. Have you heard some say “Let’s do something even if it’s wrong!” If you’re in the middle of a decision, wait on God. If you feel something pushing you, I can assure you it’s not the Holy Spirit. He leads and He guides, but He doesn’t shove.

(2) Depend upon worldly wisdom rather than godly wisdom. The captain and owner of the ship believed each other instead of Paul (verse 11). Don’t go to the people of this world and ask them what to do. Seek a godly counselor — one that bases their counsel on the Word of God.

(3) Take the easy way out. Because the harbor wasn’t up to their standards, they decided to depart hastily (Acts 27:12).When they made their decision, it was based on what would be easy. Almost always you’ll find trouble this way! Sometimes, we’re called upon to endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ.

(4) Follow the crowd. There was a crowd on that boat. When they took a vote, Paul was outvoted (verse 12). They said, “Let’s sail.” But if you think about it, often the majority is wrong. Don’t get the idea that if everybody says it, then it’s right. You may go from person to person trying to get permission to do what you already decided to do, but frequently, the majority is simply a lot of people pooling their ignorance.

(5) Depend upon circumstances. In Acts 27:13 they said, “The sun is shining, the sea is calm, and the wind is blowing in our direction; it must be the right thing.” There are a lot of people who are led by circumstances and say, “Lord, it must be Your will. It looks good.” But that soothing south wind may turn into a horrible, ferocious storm.

(6) Responding to Rain. When they found themselves in the teeth of this torrential rainstorm, the ungodly on this ship reacted in some curious ways:

• In verse 15, they saw dashed dreams as the floundering vessel began to sink.
• And they also saw desperate efforts as described in verse 16. They desperately tried to get the tackle of the ship back together.
• Subsequently in verses 18-19, they experienced wasted resources. They started dumping what they thought were precious things into the ocean. What a waste!
• Then in verse 20, they lost hope. The stars, sun and moon had disappeared and they were in complete darkness.
• And finally, in verse 30, we see their foolish actions almost caused their demise as they tried to escape by lifeboats. In our lives today, we often see escapism in the form of alcohol, divorce, desertion, or even suicide. These are all foolish reactions to the storms of our lives.

In contrast to the ungodly responses, Paul said “be of good cheer” (verses 22 and 25). Can you imagine saying that in the midst of these problems? But the same One Who gave him songs in the night in a dungeon at Philippi (Acts 16:25) gave him peace in the midst of this storm — His name is Jesus.

We serve a mighty God! You may fail, flounder, and sin; but God is ultimately in control. Paul believed in God and could say, “Be of good cheer,” even in the midst of his storm. And you can, too, by relying on the same God Who brought him through the storm. (Quote source here.)

In a devotion titled, The Storms of Life,” by Albert Lee, former director of international ministries for Our Daily Bread Ministries, published in Our Daily Bread, he writes the following:

The Storms of Life

In the book of Mark we read about a terrible storm. The disciples were with Jesus on a boat crossing the Sea of Galilee. When a “furious squall came up,” the disciples—among them some seasoned fishermen—were afraid for their lives (4:37-38). Did God not care? Weren’t they handpicked by Jesus and closest to Him? Weren’t they obeying Jesus who told them to “go over to the other side”? (v. 35). Why, then, were they going through such a turbulent time?

No one is exempt from the storms of life. But just as the disciples who initially feared the storm later came to revere Christ more, so the storms we face can bring us to a deeper knowledge of God. “Who is this,” the disciples pondered, “even the wind and the waves obey him!” (v. 41). Through our trials we can learn that no storm is big enough to prevent God from accomplishing His will.

While we may not understand why God allows trials to enter our lives, we thank Him that through them we can come to know who He is. We live to serve Him because He has preserved our lives.

Lord, I know I don’t need to fear the storms of life around me. Help me to be calm because I stand secure in You.

The storms of life prove the strength of our anchor.

“You may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith . . . may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”1 Peter 1:6-7

INSIGHT: In Mark 4:35–5:43 the gospel writer tells of four miracles to prove that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of God” and therefore has absolute authority over the forces of this physical world (4:35-41), over the powers of the spiritual world (5:1-20), over physical illnesses (5:24-34), and over death (5:35-43). These miracles were designed to answer the question, “Who is this?” (4:41). The first miracle was Jesus calming the storm on Galilee. Because the Sea of Galilee is in a basin about 700 feet below sea level and is surrounded by mountains, sudden and violent storms are common (v. 37). That Jesus was tired and soundly asleep showed that He was fully human (v. 38); that the storm instantly obeyed Him showed He was divine (v. 39). ~Sim Kay Tee (Quote source here.)

One last article on this topic is titled, Weathering the Storms of Life,” by Dr. Charles F. Stanley, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. He is the founder and president of In Touch Ministries and also served two one-year terms as president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Weathering the Storms of Life

Reflecting on the divine purpose in hardship can help us respond to trials in a God-honoring way as we seek to understand the lessons He wants us to learn through life’s dark moments.

The disciples experienced several “mountaintop moments” in their time with Jesus. But when a storm arose while they were out on the Sea of Galilee, fear took over. Amidst the roaring waves and with the boat rocking, Jesus’ chosen ones failed to recall the lessons they had learned about the power and purposes of their leader. Even the appearance of Christ walking on water didn’t bring immediate relief (Matt. 14:26).

When trouble strikes, we sometimes forget our knowledge of God, too. We struggle to recall past answers to prayer, specific guidance provided by the Holy Spirit, and lessons learned in previous crises. Only the present seems real. Our minds spin with future implications, and our troubled emotions inhibit clear thinking.

In our own strength, we lack sufficient resources and abilities to meet life’s challenges. So God provides what we need. Our suffering is never a surprise to the Lord. He knows everything we are going through. More than that, He’s orchestrating our circumstances for His glory and our benefit, according to His good will.

Reflecting on the divine purpose in hardship can help us respond to trials in a God-honoring way. Let’s take a moment to fix our attention on the Lord and seek to understand four lessons He wants us to learn through life’s dark moments:

1. One purpose for hardship is cleansing. Because of our own “flesh” nature and the self-absorbed world we live in, it’s easy to develop selfish attitudes, mixed-up priorities, and ungodly habits. The pressures that bear down on us from stormy situations are meant to bring these impurities to our attention and direct us to a place of repentance. Our trials are intended to purify and guide us back to godliness, not ruin our lives.

2. A second reason we face difficulty is so we’ll be compassionate and bring comfort to others. God’s work in our lives is not intended solely for us. It’s designed to reach a world that does not recognize or acknowledge Him. The Lord uses our challenges to equip us for serving others. As we experience suffering, we will learn about God’s sufficiency, His comforting presence, and His strength to help us endure. Our testimony during times of difficulty will be authentic. Those to whom we minister will recognize we know and understand their pain. What credibility would we have with people in crisis if we never experienced a deep need?

3. Third, God promises us He’ll provide a path through any trial we face. The disciples probably wondered how long the storm would last and whether they would make it safely to shore. Most likely, they wished it never happened. But, had they somehow avoided this storm, they would have missed the demonstration of Jesus’ power over the sea and wind. The frightening situation was transformed into a revelation of the Savior’s divine nature. God wants to make His power known through our trials, as well.

4. The most important thing He gives us is an awareness of His presence. At first, the disciples believed they were alone in a terrifying storm. When they initially spotted Jesus, their fear increased. They thought He was a ghost. But as they recognized Him, their fear changed to relief and hope. Similarly, we may not sense God’s presence during a crisis. But He has promised to always be with us (Heb. 13:5-6). The assurance that the Lord will never leave provides immediate comfort, an infusion of courage, and a sense of confidence to endure.

No one enjoys suffering. But in the hands of almighty God, trials become tools. He uses hardship to shape believers into the people He intends them to be. Jesus allowed the disciples to experience the fear and anxiety of being in a boat on a raging sea. He permitted them to suffer because He had something far more important to teach them. He wanted the disciples to recognize their own helplessness, His sufficiency, and their dependence on Him.

Ask God to reveal His abiding presence in the midst of your trouble. And remember—He always provides for your spiritual needs to help you both endure and grow stronger in your Christian faith. (Quote source here.)

Storms come to all of us wrapped in all kinds of packaging. . . hurricanes, natural disasters, our own mistakes, the mistakes of others, and in life in general. The apostle Paul reminds us of a very important fact no matter what the storm is that we may be going through, and it is found in I Corinthians 10:13:

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

A way out . . . . So instead of focusing on the storm, let’s put our focus where it belongs, on the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2) . . .

It is Jesus . . .

Who calms . . .

The storm . . . .

YouTube Video: “Praise You In The Storm” by Casting Crowns:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Mercy Came Running

“In a world that desperately needs mercy we all seem more interested in seeking vengeance and protecting our egos and interests.” That quote is taken from a July 2016 article titled, Show Mercy,” by Ken Byler, speaker, coach, facilitator, and owner of Higher Ground Consulting Group, LLC, during the heat of the presidential election cycle here in America. The opening paragraph in Byler’s article states:

Mercy seems in short supply these days. By mercy I’m referring to compassion shown to an offender or compassionate treatment of those in distress. It’s hard not to pass judgment and even harder to forgive another when we have been wronged. When the person deserving of our mercy is an opponent, the idea of meeting their needs before our own feels awkward and unnecessary. (Quote source here.)

While Byler’s advice is written to business leaders, anyone can heed his advice. Byler states:

Business leaders [and the rest of us, too] can show mercy in a variety of small ways.

  • Be more patient. Find ways to tolerate the person who has annoying habits or tends not to share your sense of urgency or attention to details.
  • Offer help. Notice the people who seem distracted or emotionally vulnerable. They may be hurting because of personal issues and need your assistance.
  • Be kind. Instead of looking for ways to get even when someone offends you, practice kindness and offer forgiveness.
  • Do something good. Don’t wait for an invitation to do the right thing. Actively seek ways to right a wrong or give another person a second chance.
  • Build bridges. Everyone deserves opportunities, regardless of their circumstance. Look for ways to foster relationships with those who don’t have as many friends or who have caused you pain in the past.

Mercy is not dependent on performance; it does not blame or judge. There is plenty of inequity in our world but too few leaders willing to show mercy. Perhaps this is because most of us share a worldview of scarcity instead of abundance. We protect and withhold, especially if we have been the victim of injustice.

We cannot offer mercy until we accept that we are all loved and created to love others. In its purest form mercy is simply love put into action to make a difference in the world. What will you do to show mercy? (Quote source here.)

Byler makes a good point when he states that due in part to the inequity in our world too few leaders (and the rest of us, too) are willing to show mercy–that we tend to protect and withhold it, especially if we have been the victim of injustice. And if we have been the victim of injustice, to show mercy often requires forgiveness:

Mercy and forgiveness are two terms that can be used interchangeably in some contexts. However, these two terms have distinctive individual meanings. Mercy refers to the kind or forgiving treatment of someone who could be treated harshly. Forgiveness refers to letting go of the anger and resentment against a person. This is the main difference between mercy and forgiveness. (Quote source here.)

One other difference that needs to be pointed out is the difference between grace, which we hear about a lot in the Christian community (and it is the most crucial element within the Christian faith), and mercy, which often takes a distant second to grace (perhaps unintentionally). Both are briefly defined in this statement:

Grace (in Christian belief): the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings. There was nothing we can do to earn this salvation ourselves. Mercy: compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm. (Quote source here.)

In an article titled, Don’t Be Reluctant To Show Mercy,” by Rick Warren, founder and senior pastor of Saddleback Church, author, and global influencer, he states the following:

“When people sin, you should forgive and comfort them, so they won’t give up in despair.” 2 Corinthians 2:7 (CEV)

We all need mercy, because we all stumble and fall and require help getting back on track. We need to offer mercy to each other and be willing to receive it from each other.

You can’t have fellowship without forgiveness because bitterness and resentment always destroy fellowship. Sometimes we hurt each other intentionally and sometimes unintentionally, but either way, it takes massive amounts of mercy and grace to create and maintain fellowship.

The Bible says, “You must make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive the person who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others” (Colossians 3:13 NLT).

The mercy God shows to us is the motivation for us to show mercy to others. Whenever you’re hurt by someone, you have a choice to make:

Will I use my energy and emotions for retaliation or for resolution?

You can’t do both.

Many people are reluctant to show mercy because they don’t understand the difference between trust and forgiveness. Forgiveness is letting go of the past. Trust has to do with future behavior.

Forgiveness must be immediate, whether or not a person asks for it. Trust must be rebuilt over time.

Trust requires a track record. If someone hurts you repeatedly, you are commanded by God to forgive them instantly, but you are not expected to trust them immediately, and you are not expected to continue allowing them to hurt you. They must prove they have changed over time.

The best place to restore trust is within the supportive context of a small group that offers both encouragement and accountability. (Quote source here.)

One of the most daunting parables that Jesus spoke was the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant found in Matthew 18:21-25. While it might be easy for us at first glance to nod our head in agreement with the outcome for the unforgiving servant, we need to take a look at our own lives to see where we might be doing exactly the same thing only in a different context. Here is the parable from Matthew 18:21-25:

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

The servant who was shown great mercy by his master could not or chose not to show mercy to his fellow servant who owed him a debt far less than the debt he owed his master–a large debt his master had forgiven him. Due to his inability to extend mercy to his fellow servant, when his master found out what he had done, in anger his master delivered him to the jailers until he had paid off his entire debt. The servant’s lack of mercy and compassion on his fellow servant landed that servant in jail and the mercy he had been given was completely cancelled out.

We might be tempted to say we would never do such a thing but, in fact, in other ways, our attitude towards others is often the same. One of the most common ways we use to get our way or get back at someone for some perceived slight especially in our society is through passive/aggressive behavior. In today’s society (including church culture) we don’t view this behavior (or even admit to doing it) as sin or something our “Master” (God) would hold against us. When we use passive/aggressive behavior on someone we are doing what the original servant in the story did to his fellow servant–we are showing no mercy or compassion towards that person.

In an article in Psychology Today titled, 7 Reasons Why People Use Passive/Aggressive Behavior: Why passive aggression thrives in families, schools and offices,” by Signe Whitson, L.S.W., she states:

Frustrating. Confounding. Relationship-damaging. Effective. Passive aggressive behavior is all of these things…and more. It is a deliberate and masked way of expressing covert feelings of anger that occurs among both men and women, in all civilized cultures and at every socioeconomic level. Why is this dysfunctional behavior so widespread? This article details seven reasons why passive aggressive behavior thrives in families, schools, relationships, and the workplace.

1. Anger is Socially Unacceptable

Anger is a normal, natural human emotion. It is, in fact, one of the most basic of all human experiences. Yet from a very young age, many of us are bombarded with the message that anger is bad. During a period in our emotional development when we are highly susceptible to social pressure from parents, caregivers, and teachers, we learn that to be “good” we must squash honest self-expression and hide angry feelings.

2. Sugarcoated Hostility is Socially Acceptable

When people learn that they cannot express anger openly, honestly, and directly within relationships, the emotion doesn’t just go away. Rather, many of us learn to express it in alternative, covert, socially acceptable ways, often through passive aggressive behaviors.

3. Passive Aggression is Easier than Assertiveness

In this day and age of common core, standardized tests, and Race to the Top, social skills instruction is often edged out of a young person’s formal education. Yet study after study shows that specific instruction in such “soft” skills as assertiveness, emotion management, and relationship building are as essential to a young person’s development as any “hard core” math and reading skills.

Kids are not born knowing how to communicate their feelings in direct, emotionally honest ways; rather, assertiveness is a skill that needs to be taught and is best mastered though repetition. On the other hand, passive aggressive behaviors such as sulking, emotional withdrawal, and indirect communication are much more the mark of immature, untamed emotional expression.

4. Passive Aggression is Easily Rationalized

A young girl doesn’t feel like cleaning her room. When her parents insist, she pouts first, procrastinates second, and then shoves all of her earthly possessions under her bed. When her father becomes irritated by her behavior, she feigns indignation: “I don’t know why you’re so upset. I was going to do it as soon as I finished my homework.” When her mother shows exasperation at the alarming pile of dirty clothing peeking out from below her comforter, she plays the victim: “Nothing I do is ever good enough for you, Mom. You just want me to be perfect!” With both parents, the girl rationalizes her string of compliantly defiant behavior, casting herself in the role of victim and blaming her parents’ “unreasonable” demands and standards as the real problem.

5. Revenge is Sweet

Passive aggression involves a variety of behaviors designed to “get back” at another person without the other recognizing the underlying anger. Jason feels overworked and under-acknowledged in the office. He calls out sick on two consecutive days, thereby missing a key deadline that sabotages his department’s productivity and ultimately reflects poorly on his boss. The boss is overlooked for a promotion; Jason’s mission is accomplished.

As in this example, passive aggression is often a crime of omission; it is what Jason did not do that indirectly caused a major problem for the target of his unarticulated anger. Because it can be difficult to “catch in the act” and often impossible to discipline according to standard HR protocols, passive aggressive behavior often exists as the perfect office crime.

6. Passive Aggressive Behavior is Convenient

Not everyone who uses passive aggressive behavior is a passive aggressive person. For example, a husband who typically communicates directly and honestly with his wife may not have the wherewithal on a particular weekend day to say “no” to her request to fix a leaky faucet, so he promises to do it while making endless excuses to put off the task. The man is not passive aggressive across the board, but on this day when relaxing and avoiding a fight with his wife are his top priorities, he chooses passive aggression as a convenient behavior of choice.

7. Passive Aggression can be Powerful

By denying feelings of anger, withdrawing from direct communication, casting themselves in the role of victim, and sabotaging others’ success, passive aggressive persons create feelings in others of being on an emotional roller coaster. Through intentional inefficiency, procrastination, allowing problems to escalate, and exacting hidden revenge, the passive aggressive individual gets others to act out their hidden anger for them. This ability to control someone else’s emotional response makes the passive aggressive person feel powerful. He/she becomes the puppeteer—the master of someone else’s universe and the controller of their behavior.

In the short term, passive aggressive behaviors can be more convenient than confrontation and generally require less skill than assertiveness. They allow a person to exact revenge from behind the safety of plausible excuses and to sit on the sofa all weekend long rather than complete a list of undesirable chores. So, what’s not to love? Truth be told, while momentarily satisfying or briefly convenient, in the long run, passive aggressive behavior is even more destructive to interpersonal relationships than aggression. Over time, virtually all relationships with a person who is passive aggressive become confusing, destructive and dysfunctional. (Quote source here.)

Passive aggressive behavior is just one of the ways we use to “exact revenge” on our “fellow servants” to get what we want without showing any mercy whatsoever. And that is a very dangerous position to be in (as in showing no mercy to others in whatever way we choose to do it or whatever reason we give for doing it) as the original servant in the parable found out too late.

As the expression goes, we may be able to fool others but we cannot fool God (see Galatians 6:7-8). This is not said to try to keep anyone “in line,” but rather to remind us that there are consequences for our actions.

So what’s the solution? Repentance. In the words to the chorus of the song, Mercy Came Running,” sung by Phillips, Craig & Dean (YouTube video below), “Mercy came running like a prisoner set free. Past all my failures to the point of my need. When the sin that I carried was all I could see . . .

And when I could not reach mercy . . .

Mercy came running . . .

To me . . . .

YouTube Video: “Mercy Came Running” by Phillips, Craig & Dean:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Pick Up The Pieces

When I was a kid several decades ago, we used to play a game called “Jacks.” I loved that game, but I haven’t played it in many years. It’s played with a small rubber ball and a set of ten jacks. And it’s not as easy as it looks, either. I found the instructions on how to play “Jacks” on GrandParents.com:

How To Play Jacks

Bounce the ball, pick up the jacks. Sound easy? It’s not.

By Zachary Collinger

Requires:
At least 2 people, but more people make for more fun
A small rubber ball
A set of jacks (most sets contain ten jacks)

Game Play:
To decide who goes first, use a method of “flipping”; place the jacks in cupped hands, flip them to the back of the hands, then back to cupped hands. The player who holds the most jacks goes first. That player scatters the jacks into the playing area with a throw from one hand. A game is divided into rounds of ascending numbers, which are based on the number of jacks each player must pick up per throw. The first round, “Onesies,” means that the player throws the ball in the air and picks up one jack then grabs the ball after it bounces once. The player must pick up all jacks this way without missing the jack or letting the ball bounce more than once. If that happens, it becomes the other player’s turn and the first player is back to the beginning of Onesies. If all the jacks are picked up successfully, the player moves on to Twosies (pick up 2 jacks per throw), then Threesies, and so on.

Objective:
The winning player is the one to pick up the largest number of jacks at once to get to the highest round.

What Doesn’t Kill You…
In some Southern African countries, there is a variation of this fun childhood game, called Death Jacks. Instead of playing with nubby metallic jacks, the pieces are sharp spikes that seriously injure the participants. The winner is not the person who reaches the highest level — rather it is he who lasts the longest before forfeiting. This game has been known to carry with it unusually high stakes; it is often used to determine the next tribe leader. (Quote source here.)

I have to be honest in that after I read that description, I had never heard of the version of Jacks called “Death Jacks.” That is a much more serious game and not for the faint of heart, either. The objective, as stated above, is that “the winner is not the person who reaches the highest level—rather it is he who lasts the longest before forfeiting.” And also as stated, it was often used to determine the next tribal leader.

The apostle Paul describes a similar situation when running a race in I Corinthians 9:24-30:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

Christianity over the long haul is not for the faint of heart, but neither are we alone in this race. Along with Paul’s words above, the writer of Hebrews 12:1-3 also starts off by describing it as a race:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses [see Hebrews 11], let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

With all that we have available in America today, I’m not sure we often recognize those things that “hinder” us. We too often and too easily give in to them and don’t even think about the fact that they might be a hindrance to us. If we want it, we get it (if we can afford it). And what, exactly, does it mean to “run with perseverance”? We run after a lot of stuff, but most of the stuff we run after is stuff we want in this material world of ours and has no lasting or eternal value. The verse actually states, “and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus . . .”

In our very material world today what exactly does it mean to “fix our eyes on Jesus”? Do we fix our eyes on Jesus hoping he’ll give us a great career and a big fat salary and a lot of perks? Do we fix our eyes on Jesus hoping he’ll give us name recognition among our peers and accolades for our accomplishments? Do we fix our eyes on Jesus hoping to have a nice retirement with plenty of cash to get by on in our golden years? Do we fix our eyes on Jesus for what we want instead of what he wants for us? If the race has already been “marked out for us” why do we insist on getting what we want without any thought for what Jesus wants? Why do we ask him to bless our endeavors instead of asking him to show us what he would have us do with our lives? I’m not saying it is wrong to ask Jesus to bless us in the things that we do, but what do we do in return? Just ask for more? Do we ever consider what he wants for us?

Our Christianity in America tends to be too “us” centered. We might persevere if it will mean more money in our pocket, a bigger home, and fancier car, even a modicum of fame, but would we consider persevering when there is nothing personally in it for us as far as fame, fortune, and “the good life”?

James speaks to the subject of perseverance in James 1:2-18:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

We all face trials in this life. While nobody likes experiencing trials, it’s the testing of our faith in the midst of these trials that produces perseverance. And that perseverance has nothing to do with the material world, but instead it makes one mature and complete. This life is not about who dies with the most toys, the biggest bank account, with name recognition or accolades. It’s about being faithful to the end and “fixing our eyes on Jesus.”

With that in mind, I think it is important that we address the subject of materialism since it has such a hold on most of us living in America (whether we have a little or a lot). GotQuestions.org addresses the subject of materialism:

Materialism is defined as “the preoccupation with material things rather than intellectual or spiritual things.” If a Christian is preoccupied with material things, it is definitely wrong. That is not to say we cannot have material things, but the obsession with acquiring and caring for “stuff” is a dangerous thing for the Christian, for two reasons.

First, any preoccupation, obsession or fascination with anything other than God is sinful and is displeasing to God. We are to “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5), which is, according to Jesus, the first and greatest commandment (Matthew 22:37-38). Therefore, God is the only thing we can (and should) occupy ourselves with habitually. He alone is worthy of our complete attention, love and service. To offer these things to anything, or anyone else is idolatry.

Second, when we concern ourselves with the material world, we are easily drawn in by the “deceitfulness of wealth” (Mark 4:19), thinking that we will be happy or fulfilled or content if only we had more of whatever it is we are chasing. This is a lie from the father of lies, Satan. He wants us to be chasing after something he knows will never satisfy us so we will be kept from pursuing that which is the only thing that can satisfy—God Himself. Luke 16:13 tells us we “cannot serve both God and money.” We must seek to be content with what we have, and materialism is the exact opposite of that contentment. It causes us to strive for more and more and more, all the while telling us that this will be the answer to all our needs and dreams. The Bible tells us that a person’s “life is not in the abundance of the things which he possesses” (Luke 12:15) and that we are to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).

If materialism was ever to satisfy anyone, it would have been Solomon, the richest king the world has ever known. He had absolutely everything and had more of it than anyone, and yet he found it was all worthless and futile. It did not produce happiness or the satisfaction our souls long for. He declared, “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income” (Ecclesiastes 5:10). In the end, Solomon came to the conclusion that we are to “fear God, and keep His commandments. For this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). (Quote source here.)

The writer of Hebrews, in his concluding exhortation in Chapter 13, states the following in verses 5:

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,

“Never will I leave you;
    never will I forsake you.”

And also what Paul stated to Timothy in I Timothy 6:10:

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

If we would only learn to keep our lives free from the love of money. . . .

In closing, the titled of this post, Pick Up The Pieces,” came from a jazz instrumental song that was popular back in 1974 played by the Average White Band (I’ve included the song below as the YouTube Video for this post). When I thought about the title, what came to mind was how I wished we would do more “picking up the pieces” of an authentic Christianity sans so much of the focus on materialism and prosperity, and put the emphasis back where it belongs . . .

On the One . . .

We claim . . .

To believe in . . . .

YouTube Video: “Pick Up The Pieces” (1974), a jazz instrumental by the Average White Band:

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

Tu B’Av 5777 (2017)

Following on the heels of the Jewish National Day of Mourning, Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av on the Jewish calendar, is a festive celebration known at Tu B’Av (the 15th of Av), a Jewish mini-holiday. It can be compared to our Valentine’s Day” that we celebrate every year on February 14th as it is a celebration of love. This year Tu B’Av starts at sundown on August 6th and ends at sundown on August 7th. Chabad.org describes Tu B’Av as follows:

The 15th of Av is undoubtedly a most mysterious day. A search of the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) reveals no observances or customs for this date, except for the instruction that the “tachanun” (confession of sins) and similar portions should be omitted from the daily prayers (as is the case with all festive dates), and that one should increase one’s study of Torah, since the nights are beginning to grow longer, and “the night was created for study.” And the Talmud tells us that many years ago the “daughters of Jerusalem would go dance in the vineyards” on the 15th of Av, and “whoever did not have a wife would go there” to find himself a bride.

And the Talmud considers this the greatest festival of the year, with Yom Kippur (!) a close second!

Indeed, the 15th of Av cannot but be a mystery. As the “full moon” of the tragic month of Av, it is the festival of the future redemption, and thus a day whose essence, by definition, is unknowable to our unredeemed selves.

Yet also the unknowable is also ours to seek and explore. (Quote source here.)

Aish.com gives us further information on the meaning of Tu B’Av:

The Mishnah tells us that: “No days were as festive for Israel as the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur.” (Tractate Ta’anit) What is Tu B’Av, the 15th of the Hebrew month of Av? In which way is it equivalent to Yom Kippur?

Our Sages explain: Yom Kippur symbolizes God’s forgiving Israel for the sin of the Golden Calf in the desert, for it was on that day that He finally accepted Moses’ plea for forgiveness of the nation, and on that same day Moses came down from the mountain with the new set of tablets.

Just as Yom Kippur symbolizes the atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf, Tu B’Av signifies the atonement for the sin of the Spies, where ten spies came bearing such negative reports which reduced the entire nation to panic. As a result of that sin, it was decreed by God that the nation would remain in the desert for 40 years, and that no person 20 or older would be allowed to enter Israel. On each Tisha B’Av of those 40 years, those who had reached the age of 60 that year died – 15,000 each Tisha B’Av.

This plague finally ended on Tu B’Av.

Six positive events occurred on Tu B’Av:

Event #1 – As noted above, the plague that had accompanied the Jews in the desert for 40 years ended. That last year, the last 15,000 people got ready to die. God, in His mercy, decided not to have that last group die, considering all the troubles they had gone through. Now, when the ninth of Av approached, all the members of the group got ready to die, but nothing happened. They then decided that they might have been wrong about the date, so they waited another day, and another…

Finally on the 15th of Av, when the full moon appeared, they realized definitely that the ninth of Av had come and gone, and that they were still alive. Then it was clear to them that God’s decree was over, and that He had finally forgiven the people for the sin of the Spies.

This is what was meant by our Sages when they said: “No days were as festive for Israel as the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur,” for there is no greater joy than having one’s sins forgiven – on Yom Kippur for the sin of the Golden Calf and on Tu B’Av for the sin of the spies. In the Book of Judges, Tu B’Av is referred to as a holiday (Judges 21:19).

In addition to this noteworthy event, five other events occurred on Tu B’Av:

Events #2 and 3 – Following the case of the daughters of Zelophehad (see Numbers 36), daughters who inherited from their father when there were no sons were forbidden to marry someone from a different tribe, so that land would not pass from one tribe to another. Generations later, after the story of the “Concubine of Giv’ah” (see Judges 19-21), the Children of Israel swore not to allow their daughters to marry anyone from the tribe of Benjamin. This posed a threat of annihilation to the tribe of Benjamin.

Each of these prohibitions were lifted on Tu B’Av. The people realized that if they kept to their prohibition, one of the 12 tribes might totally disappear. As to the oath that had been sworn, they pointed out that it only affected the generation that had taken the oath, and not subsequent generations. The same was applied to the prohibition of heiresses marrying outside their own tribe: this rule was applied only to the generation that had conquered and divided up the land under Joshua, but not future generations. This was the first expression of the merging of all the tribes, and was a cause for rejoicing. In the Book of Judges it is referred to as “a festival to the Lord.”

Over the generations, this day was described in Tractate Ta’anit as a day devoted to betrothals, so that new Jewish families would emerge.

Event #4 – After Jeroboam split off the kingdom of Israel with its ten tribes from the kingdom of Judea, he posted guards along all the roads leading to Jerusalem, to prevent his people from going up to the Holy City for the pilgrimage festivals, for he feared that such pilgrimages might undermine his authority. As a “substitute,” he set up places of worship which were purely idolatrous, in Dan and Beth-el. Thus the division between the two kingdoms became a fait accompli and lasted for generations.

The last king of the kingdom of Israel, Hosea ben Elah, wished to heal the breach, and removed all the guards from the roads leading to Jerusalem, thus allowing his people to make the pilgrimage again. This act took place on Tu B’Av.

Event #5 – At the beginning of the Second Temple period, the Land of Israel lay almost totally waste, and the wood needed to burn the sacrifices and for the eternal flame that had to burn on the altar was almost impossible to obtain. Each year a number of brave people volunteered to bring the wood needed from afar – a trip which was dangerous in the extreme.

Now, not just every wood could be brought. Wood which was wormy was not permitted. And dampness and cold are ideal conditions for the breeding of worms in wood. As a result, all the wood that would be needed until the following summer had to be collected before the cold set in. The last day that wood was brought in for storage over the winter months was Tu B’Av, and it was a festive occasion each year when the quota needed was filled by that day.

Event #6 – Long after the event, the Romans finally permitted the bodies of those who had been killed in the defense of Betar (in the Bar Kochba revolt) to be buried. This was a double miracle, in that, first, the Romans finally gave permission for the burial, and, second, in spite of the long period of time that had elapsed, the bodies had not decomposed. The permission was granted on Tu B’Av.

In gratitude for this double miracle, the fourth and last blessing of the Grace After Meals was added, which thanks God as “He Who is good and does good.” “He is good” – in that the bodies had not decomposed, “and does good” – in that permission was given for the burial.

To this day, we celebrate Tu B’Av as a minor festival. We do not say Tachanun on that day, nor are eulogies rendered. By the same token, if a couple are getting married on that day (and, as we will see below, it is the custom for the bride and groom to fast on their wedding day), neither fasts.

Beginning with Tu B’Av, we start preparing ourselves spiritually for the month of Elul, the prologue to the coming Days of Awe [the ten days starting with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur]. The days begin to get shorter, the nights get longer. The weather, too, helps us to take spiritual stock: the hectic days of the harvest are over for the farmer, and the pace has slowed down considerably. Even on a physical level, the heat of the summer makes it hard to sit down and think things out, and now that the days and nights are cooler, it is easier to examine one’s actions.

In earlier times, it was the custom already from Tu B’Av to use as one’s greeting “May your inscription and seal be for good” (ketiva vahatima tova), the same blessing that we today use on Rosh Hashana. Those who work out the gematria values of different expressions found that phrase adds up to 928 – and so does the words for “15th of Av.” (Quote source here.)

In a 2016 article titled, 8 Quirkiest Facts About Tu B’Av–the Jewish Valentine’s Day You Never Heard of,” by Josefin Dolsten, she states the following:

Tu B’Av is the quirky Jewish older brother of Valentine’s Day.

Here’s what you need to know about this ancient day of love:

This romantic holiday used to be the Second Temple period version of a singles mixer. Jewish women would go dancing in the vineyards, according to the Talmud, and unmarried men would go to the fields to pick out a wife.

  1. The women would wear white dresses that they had borrowed, so that no one would be embarrassed if she didn’t own the proper garments.
  2. Women would also go dancing on Yom Kippur, and the Talmud ranks the two holidays as the happiest days for the Jewish people for this reason.
  3. On Tu B’Av day women and men from the different tribes of Israel could ignore earlier prohibitions against intermarriage, according to the Talmud.
  4. The holiday’s Hebrew name simply translates to the date: the 15th of the month of Av. “Tu” is short for the Hebrew letters Tet (which represents “nine” in Hebrew numerals) and Vav (which represents “six”), adding up to the number 15.
  5. The day is celebrated in Israel, much like Valentine’s Day in the United States, with flowers, romantic dinner dates and evening soirées. It is considered to be a good date for a wedding.
  6. From the end of the Second Temple era until the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, it was only commemorated by the omission of “Tachanun,” a penitential prayer included in the weekday morning and afternoon services. It’s not clear why the holiday was revived by Israelis.
  7. Lovers taking an evening stroll outside can enjoy nature’s mood lighting, since the holiday falls on an evening with a full moon. (Quote source here.)

One final note on Tu B’Av comes from an article titled, Celebrating Romantic Love: Tu B’Av carries an important message for modern relationship,” by Susan Silverman on MyJewishLearning.com:

The walls of Jerusalem historically been a source of inspiration for romance and love. Thousands of years before anyone heard of Saint Valentine or Sadie Hawkins, the Jewish people created a Jerusalem-centered love festival for couples. This custom is quite in keeping with the sensuous poetry of the Song of Songs, canonized in the Hebrew Scriptures.

In the glow of a full summer moon, young women, robed in white, would dance in the fields outside the walls of Jerusalem. The men would follow in hopes of finding a bride. This ancient Jewish love festival is called Tu B’Av because it was celebrated on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Av (the Hebrew letters for “Tu” equal the number 15). Coming one week after Tisha B’Av, the saddest day of the Jewish year, Tu B’Av is celebrated outside of the walls of the city, away from the Temple Mount, the site of destruction [a brief historynoted above in another articleis stated at this link]. . . .

Tu B’Av, like Yom Kippur, is about introspection and new beginnings concerning our relationships and personal values. How courting was done is indicative of this view. The young girls borrowed white dresses so that the young men could not choose among them according to materialistic concerns. The Talmud teaches that women set the rules; the women admonish their suitors to pick not according to beauty, but by the good name of the women’s families and by their fear of God. Today we live in a world that is status and fashion conscious, a world of beauty pageants and beauty ideals set by television and movies, and some synagogues are even described as “meat markets” where one goes to look over the unmarried merchandise.

Tu B’Av tells us to look beneath the surface when looking for (or at) a life partner, just as Yom Kippur forces us to look deep into ourselves before God grants us life anew. Like Yom Kippur, Tu B’Av is a time for reflection and introspection. But instead of being an individual process, it is a mutual, shared experience between two people.

Tu B’Av is a great day for weddings, commitment ceremonies, renewal of vows, or proposing. It is a day for enhancing current relationships or defining anew what you are looking for in a partner. It is a day for romance, explored through singing, dancing, giving flowers, and studying. (Quote source here.)

As stated on Chabad.org, Tu B’Av is “a day of love and rebirth.” And as stated above, it is a day for enhancing current relationships or defining anew what we are looking for in a partner (for those of us who are looking). It is a day for singing, dancing, and giving flowers. And it is a day for love . . . .

Faith, hope and love . . .

And the greatest of these . . .

Is love . . . .

YouTube Video: “Testify to Love” by Avalon:

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

Tisha B’Av 5777 (2017)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tisha B’Av and 9/11

Posted on July 29, 2012 by Sara’s Musings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 we read:

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

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

And Tisha B’Av marks . . .

A time to weep . . .

And a time to mourn . . .

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

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

These Are The Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then one day, the world stopped.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quiet. Silence. Distance. Nonexistence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This definition was used in the 2014 WBI U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey. Its national prevalence was assessed. Read the Survey results.

Workplace Bullying…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faith makes all things possible . . .

Hope makes all things work . . .

Love makes all things beautiful . . . .

YouTube Video: “Speak Life” by TobyMac:

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Psalm 25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 25 (NLT) 

A psalm of David.

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

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

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

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

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

O God, ransom Israel
    from all its troubles.

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

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

The Lord is my Shepherd . . . 

I shall not . . .

Want . . . .

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

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