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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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The Bigger Picture

The new year is just over a week old now, and already I’ve started it out on a very positive note. Most of us are familiar with the expression, “Out with the old and in with the new,” especially at the start of a new year. In the past three days I’ve read one new book published on December 5, 2017, and I’m currently in the middle of a second new book published on January 3, 2018. Both have been informative and they have definitely captured my attention. For anyone looking for a challenge on expanding their current mindset, reading one or both of these two new books is a great way to get started.

The two books are (in the order I’m reading them as neither book outshadows the other): Unimaginable: What Our World Would Be Like Without Christianity,” by Jeremiah J. Johnston, Ph.D., President, Christian Thinkers Society, and Associate Professor of Early Christianity, Houston Baptist University; and Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality,” by Nancy R. Pearcey, M.A., Director, Center for Christian Worldview; Scholar-in Residence; and Professor of Apologetics, Houston Baptist University. She is also editor-at-large of The Pearcey Report.

Starting with the first book, from the many endorsement for the book, Unimaginable: What Our World Would Be Like Without Christianity,” here are just a few of them (source here):

“Western culture is under assault, and it may not survive. That’s why ‘Unimaginable’ is so critical to this moment in history. I encourage you to share it with someone who thinks the Christian faith is outdated and irrelevant, because what comes after Christianity may be the end of us all.”

Phil Cooke, PhD, filmmaker and author of “Unique: Telling Your Story in the Age of Brands and Social Media”

“As we live in a world desirous of scourging religion from life, Dr. Johnston shows that without difference-making believers in Jesus, many of the greatest elements of our world would be missing. Atheist, agnostic, or lifelong churchgoer–read this book and realize the importance and power of Christianity.”

Gregg Matte, Pastor, Houston’s First Baptist Church

“‘Unimaginable’ is one of those rare books that successfully combines cutting-edge scholarship on the origins of Christianity with meaningful and thought-provoking reflections on the place of religion in the contemporary world. In a bold way, Johnston presents the strong and unflinching case that in terms of ethics, social values, and human equality the world is a better place because of the contributions of Christianity.”

Paul Foster, Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity, School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh

“Always the scholar who keeps his finger on the pulse of real-world society and culture, Jeremiah Johnston has produced a volume that addresses the myriad of blessings Christianity provides. It immediately reminded me of the ‘New Atheist’ complaints in recent years that religion never produces good results. Read this book and you’ll have more answers than you’ll ever need!”

Gary R. Habermas, Distinguished Research Professor and Chair, Department of Philosophy, Liberty University

“For the past few decades, Western society has been on a path to purge itself of Christian influence. If the trend continues, will progressives want what they get? Engaging and informative, this timely volume considers what our world and even modern Western society might look like without the tremendously positive impact of Christianity. I love the concept! Christian and non-Christian readers alike will walk away with a conviction similar to that of militant atheist Richard Dawkins: ‘Christianity may very well be the barrier preventing the world from becoming a place where freedom and justice are things of the past.'”

Michael R. Licona, PhD, Associate Professor of Theology, Houston Baptist University

“More than one hundred of the foremost atheists, agnostics, secularists, and philosophers have filmed interviews with me. Collectively, their accusation is that Christians do not know how to think critically. Jeremiah Johnston not only refutes the error, but presents the positive, seismic, irrefutable changes Christianity has brought to our world. Every Christian needs to know the crucial truths in this book.”

Dr. Jerry Johnston, jerryjohnston.com

“Many say Christianity is outdated and bigoted, based on a book of ancient myths. Jeremiah Johnston beautifully and biblically outlines that from politics to education to the hope of eternal life through Jesus Christ, Christianity is actually the world’s greatest force for good.”

Janet Mefferd, radio host, “Janet Mefferd Today” and “Janet Mefferd Live”

The following is taken from the inside front cover of the book:

Is God Dying?

That’s what some people think and want. They say Christian beliefs and our way of life aren’t relevant anymore. But what critics and even many churchgoers don’t realize is the life-changing importance of Christianity.

Showing how the world would be a dark place without Christianity, “Unimaginable” guides you through the halls of history to see how Jesus’ teachings dramatically changed our world and continue to be the most powerful force for good today. Learn . . .

· How Christianity has stood against the evils of slavery (more than once), racism, eugenics, and injustices toward women and children

· Why democracy, freedom as a universal value, and modern education and legal systems owe much to Christianity

· How Christians throughout the ages have demonstrated the value of human life by sacrificially caring for the sick, handicapped, marginalized, and dying

· How people of faith are extending God’s kingdom through charities, social justice efforts, mental health initiatives, and other profound ways

This provocative and enlightening book is for anyone concerned about where our world is heading. (Quote source here.)

Regarding the second book, Love Thy Body,” I found a couple of reviews online. The following review is by Tim Challies, co-founder of Cruciform Books, a book reviewer, and author:

It is always a big deal when Nancy Pearcey releases a new book. It’s a special pleasure when that release is timed for the beginning of a new year. Such is the case with “Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality.” In this new work she brings her unique voice to some of the most pressing moral issues of our day. “’In Love Thy Body,’” she promises, “we will move beyond click-bait headlines and trendy slogans to uncover the worldview that drives the secular ethic. By learning the core principles of this worldview, you will be able to engage intelligently and compassionately on all of today’s most controversial moral challenges.”

And, indeed, that is exactly what she does and exactly what she delivers. As in all her works, she shows that the prevailing worldview around us is one that involves a two-tiered reality that places theology and morality in the realm of what is private, subjective, and relativistic while placing science in the realm of what is public, objective, and valid for all people. Thus secular science reigns supreme over all other matters, including faith. This then leads to a fact/value split where values are placed in the first realm and facts in the second. Your values are for you to live by, perhaps, but they have no bearing on the rest of humanity.

In “Love Thy Body” she shows how this very divide is at the heart of so many of today’s moral issues. The world around us neglects the core unity of human beings and instead divides us into two-tiered beings. “Christianity holds that body and soul together form an integrated unity—that the human being is an embodied soul. By contrast, personhood theory entails a two-level dualism that sets the body against the person, as though they were two separate things merely stuck together. As a result, it demeans the body as extrinsic to the person—something inferior that can be used for purely pragmatic purposes.”

After a thorough introduction that will get you caught up if you have not read Pearcey’s previous works, she turns her attention to six key issues, each of which can be explained and combated through a right understanding of the secular worldview that underpins them. In “The Joy of Death” she shows how body/person dualism is behind arguments for abortion and infanticide while in “Dear Valued Constituent” she looks at euthanasia, stem cell research, and even the growing movement toward transhumanism. “Schizoid Sex” shows how the hookup culture so prevalent on campuses today claims to set the body free, but actually diminishes its important. “The Body Impolitic” and “Transgender, Transreality,” turn to homosexuality and transgenderism. The final chapter, “The Goddess of Choice Is Dead,” turn from the individual to wider society.

Put together, this is a powerful book that brings Pearcey’s unique and uniquely-helpful voice to crucial issues. “We live in a moral wasteland,” she says, “where human beings are desperately seeking answers to hard questions about life and sexuality. But there is hope. In the wasteland we can cultivate a garden. We can discover a reality-based morality that expresses a positive, life-affirming view of the human person—one that is more inspiring, more appealing, and more liberating than the secular worldview.” Read this book to grow in your ability to do that very thing. (Quote source here.)

The second review of the book is much longer and it is by Bill Muehlenberg at CultureWatch. I’ve included excerpts from that review below:

Life and death. Sex. Just a few of the massively contentious issues of our time. Whether speaking of abortion, eugenics, assisted suicide, pornography, homosexuality or transgenderism, these are the hard-core topics occupying the attention of so many today – both in theory as well as in reality.

How we are to understand and assess all these hot potato ethical issues can be very difficult indeed. The problem is, most folks simply look at an individual issue and try to wade their way through it, instead of seeing the bigger picture. As noted Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer said decades ago, “The basic problem of the Christians in this country in the last eighty years or so is that they have seen things in bits and pieces instead of totals.”

Thus when dealing with individual moral topics, one needs an ethical model (be it utilitarianism or whatever) with which to assess them, and this in turn should come out of one’s overall worldview. So the proper way to assess an issue such as euthanasia is to see it in terms of one’s worldview.

Worldview thinking was of course one of the chief emphases of Schaeffer, and it has been as well for one of his better-known students: Nancy Pearcey. She has already demonstrated her more than capable grasp of such matters in her earlier important volumes, including Total Truth (2004) and Finding Truth (2015).

In her brand new volume she looks in detail at these contentious ethical issues, and takes us back to see the bigger picture: “The problem is that many people treat morality as a list of rules. But in reality, every moral system rests on a worldview. In every decision we make, we are not just deciding what we want to do. We are expressing our view of the purpose of human life.” . . .

And this is no mere book of philosophy or lofty ideas. It is a very practical book that reminds us of the importance of ideas, and how bad ideas can harm us so very much. But the book is one of hope as well. It not only demolishes faulty worldview thinking, but it points the way forward.

Says Pearcey, “Christians have to become familiar with secular worldviews and learn to uncover their dehumanizing and destructive implications. Only then will the other person be open to considering Christianity as a credible alternative.”

The concluding paragraph nicely sums up the heart and spirit of this book, and of where Pearcey wants us to take all this:

Christians must be prepared to minister to the wounded, the refugees of the secular moral revolution whose lives have been wrecked by its false promises of freedom and autonomy. When people are persuaded that they are ultimately disconnected, atomistic selves, their relationships will grow fragile and fragmented. Those around us will increasingly suffer insecurity and loneliness. The new polarization can be an opportunity for Christian communities to become safe havens where people witness the beauty of relationships reflecting God’s own commitment and faithfulness. (Quote source here.)

As Christians in our society today, we often don’t recognize how much the secular worldview has become a part of our own lives. These two books give us a very clear picture of the differences between a Christian worldview and lifestyle and a secular worldview and lifestyle.

I’ll end this post with the words Jesus said to those who believed in him. He said in John 8:31-32If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. . .

Then you will know the truth . . .

And the truth . . .

Will set you free . . . .

YouTube Video: “Lose My Soul” by TobyMac, Kirk Franklin, and Mandisa:

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

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My Wish For You

On this first day of a brand new year (2018) I thought I would share something short and sweet to get us started off in the right direction. Back in April 2006, the American country music group Rascal Flatts released a new album titled Me and My Gang,” and the third single on that album was “My Wish.” By December 2006 it had hit #1 on the U.S. Country music charts . . . And as of May 2016, the song had sold 2.927 million in the U.S., and in August 2016, a re-recorded version of the song was released to celebrate the song’s 10 year anniversary (source here). Background information on the song can be found at this link.

Here are the words to My Wish (YouTube video is below):

“My Wish”

I hope the days come easy
and the moments pass slow,

And each road leads you
where you want to go.

And if you’re faced with a choice
and you have to choose,

I hope you choose the one
that means the most to you.

And if one door opens
to another door closed,

I hope you keep on walkin’
’til you find the window.

If it’s cold outside,
show the world the
warmth of your smile.

But more than anything,
more than anything…

[Chorus:]
My wish for you
Is that this life becomes
all that you want it to.

Your dreams stay big,
your worries stay small.

You never need to carry
more than you can hold.

And while you’re out there
gettin’ where you’re gettin’ to,

I hope you know
somebody loves you,

And wants the
same things too.

Yeah, this is my wish.

I hope you never look back
but you never forget,

All the ones who love you
And the place you left.
I hope you always forgive
and you never regret,

And you help somebody
every chance you get.

And you find God’s grace
in every mistake,

And always give more
than you take.

But more than anything,
yeah more than anything…

[Chorus x2]

This is my wish
I hope you know
somebody loves you.

May all your dreams
stay big…

Lyrics compliments of AZLyrics.com

So as we travel through this new year of 2018, may your dreams stay big . . .

Your worries stay small . . .

And you never need to carry . . .

More then you can hold . . . .

YouTube Video: “My Wish” by Rascal Flatts:

Photo credit here

Moment by Moment

New Year’s Day is right around the corner, and now is the time when folks who are inclined to set some New Year’s Resolutions do so in preparation for the first day of the New Year on January 1st. A  New Year’s resolution is “a promise that you make to yourself to start doing something good or stop doing something bad on the first day of the year” (quote source here). One of my perennial favorites is to lose “X” number of pounds (and rarely have I ever actually accomplished it) and to start eating more healthy foods (which I actually did accomplish this past year).

New Year’s resolutions can take all forms. Here’s a list of the Top Ten Resolutions in 2015 from an article titled, This Year’s Top New Year’s Resolution? Fitness!!”:

Now that we’ve put the holidays and the leftover pumpkin pie behind us, how are we pledging to better ourselves and our lives in the New Year? Or have we simply thrown in the towel and opted to check our resolutions at the door?

As it turns out, old habits die hard, and Americans say they’re just as committed to getting fit this year as they ever were. Health and wellness are top priorities for U.S. consumers as January takes hold, as data from a new Nielsen survey highlight how “staying fit and healthy” is our top resolution, coming in at 37%, followed closely by “lose weight” (32%). And based on the survey results, just a handful of us are throwing in the towel and not making any resolutions (16%).

TOP 10 NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS

Stay fit and healthy 37%
Lose weight 32%
Enjoy life to the fullest 28%
Spend less, save more 25%
Spend more time with family and  friends 19%
Get organized 18%
Will not make any resolutions 16%
Learn something new/new hobby 14%
Travel more 14%
Read more 12%
Quote source here

It seems as if “losing weight,” “getting fit,” and “eating healthy” top the list every year, and they are good goals for anyone to have (unless you are so fortunate as to not need to lose even a few extra pounds of weight). However, since I write from a Christian perspective, I thought it would be interesting to find out some of the resolutions Christians might think about making (along with the typical resolutions everyone else makes, too).

In answer to the question, What sort of New Year’s resolutions should a Christian make? GotQuestions.org gives us the following answer:

The practice of making New Year’s resolutions goes back over 3,000 years to the ancient Babylonians. There is just something about the start of a new year that gives us the feeling of a fresh start and a new beginning. In reality, there is no difference between December 31 and January 1. Nothing mystical occurs at midnight on December 31. The Bible does not speak for or against the concept of New Year’s resolutions. However, if a Christian determines to make a New Year’s resolution, what kind of resolution should he or she make?

Common New Year’s resolutions are commitments to quit smoking, to stop drinking, to manage money more wisely, and to spend more time with family. By far, the most common New Year’s resolution is to lose weight, in conjunction with exercising more and eating more healthily. These are all good goals to set. However, 1 Timothy 4:8 instructs us to keep exercise in perspective: “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” The vast majority of New Year’s resolutions, even among Christians, are in relation to physical things. This should not be.

Many Christians make New Year’s resolutions to pray more, to read the Bible every day, and to attend church more regularly. These are fantastic goals. However, these New Year’s resolutions fail just as often as the non-spiritual resolutions, because there is no power in a New Year’s resolution. Resolving to start or stop doing a certain activity has no value unless you have the proper motivation for stopping or starting that activity. For example, why do you want to read the Bible every day? Is it to honor God and grow spiritually, or is it because you have just heard that it is a good thing to do? Why do you want to lose weight? Is it to honor God with your body, or is it for vanity, to honor yourself?

Philippians 4:13 tells us, “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” John 15:5 declares, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” If God is the center of your New Year’s resolution, it has chance for success, depending on your commitment to it. If it is God’s will for something to be fulfilled, He will enable you to fulfill it. If a resolution is not God honoring and/or is not in agreement in God’s Word, we will not receive God’s help in fulfilling the resolution.

So, what sort of New Year’s resolution should a Christian make? Here are some suggestions: (1) pray to the Lord for wisdom (James 1:5) in regards to what resolutions, if any, He would have you make; (2) pray for wisdom as to how to fulfill the goals God gives you; (3) rely on God’s strength to help you; (4) find an accountability partner who will help you and encourage you; (5) don’t become discouraged with occasional failures; instead, allow them to motivate you further; (6) don’t become proud or vain, but give God the glory. Psalm 37:5-6 says, “Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.” (Quote source here.)

There is another side to setting resolutions from a Christian perspective that I had not thought about until I ran into a devotion this evening from the book, My Utmost For His Highest,” by Oswald Chambers (1874-1917). The devotion I read is titled, God’s Purpose or Mine?”:

He made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side…Mark 6:45

We tend to think that if Jesus Christ compels us to do something and we are obedient to Him, He will lead us to great success. We should never have the thought that our dreams of success are God’s purpose for us. In fact, His purpose may be exactly the opposite. We have the idea that God is leading us toward a particular end or a desired goal, but He is not. The question of whether or not we arrive at a particular goal is of little importance, and reaching it becomes merely an episode along the way. What we see as only the process of reaching a particular end, God sees as the goal itself.

What is my vision of God’s purpose for me? Whatever it may be, His purpose is for me to depend on Him and on His power “now.” If I can stay calm, faithful, and unconfused while in the middle of the turmoil of life, the goal of the purpose of God is being accomplished in me. God is not working toward a particular finish— His purpose is the process itself. What He desires for me is that I see “Him walking on the sea” with no shore, no success, nor goal in sight, but simply having the absolute certainty that everything is all right because I see “Him walking on the sea” (Mark 6:49). It is the process, not the outcome, that is glorifying to God.

God’s training is for now, not later. His purpose is for this very minute, not for sometime in the future. We have nothing to do with what will follow our obedience, and we are wrong to concern ourselves with it. What people call preparation, God sees as the goal itself.

God’s purpose is to enable me to see that He can walk on the storms of my life right now. If we have a further goal in mind, we are not paying enough attention to the present time. However, if we realize that moment-by-moment obedience is the goal, then each moment as it comes is precious. (Devotion for July 28; quote source here.)

We tend to live either in the past or in the future, but rarely stop and contemplate the present, which is all any of us actually get. The resolutions we make on New Year’s Day always extend out into the future, but it is only in the “moment-by-moment” that we either accomplish them or we don’t. However, God wants us to live in the “now.” Today. Right now. This present moment. God’s purpose for us is in the process and not in the goal we have set. As Chambers stated above, “What we see as only the process of reaching a particular end, God sees as the goal itself.” We need to pay attention to the present moment.

If you are one of the many folks who will be setting some New Year’s resolutions for 2018, may these short readings above give you some food for thought as you go about setting them. And as Proverbs 3:5-6 states: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding . . .

In all your ways . . .

Acknowledge Him . . .

And He shall direct your paths . . . .

YouTube Video: “Testify to Love” by Avalon:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Christmas is Coming

Christmas is literally right around the corner, and no doubt many a last minute shopper is scurrying about purchasing last minute presents. I consider myself fortunate to not be one of them this year. 🙂 However, since the final hours before Christmas are quickly approaching, I thought I would share some Christmas cheer before Christmas morning arrives.

One of the oldest and most common Christmas poems titled “’Twas the Night Before Christmas was written back in 1822 by Clement C. Moore (1779-1863), and it tells the story of Santa’s arrival on Christmas Eve at a typical American household. The original poem is available at this link. A year ago I posted a parody of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas in a blog post titled, A Bit of Christmas Cheer,” and I thought I’d repost that version along with a Christian version of the poem following after it. Here is the version from last year’s blog post:

’Twas The Night Before Christmas
Legal Version

Whereas, on or about the night prior to Christmas, there did occur at a certain improved piece of real property (hereinafter “the House”) a general lack of stirring by all creatures therein, including, but not limited to, a mouse.

A variety of foot apparel, e.g. stocking, socks, etc., had been affixed by and around the chimney in said House in the hope and/or belief that St. Nick a/k/a/ St. Nicholas a/k/a/ Santa Claus (hereinafter “Claus”) would arrive at sometime thereafter.

The minor residents, i.e. the children, of the aforementioned House, were located in their individual beds and were engaged in nocturnal hallucinations, i.e. dreams, wherein vision of confectionery treats, including, but not limited to, candies, nuts and/or sugar plums, did dance, cavort and otherwise appear in said dreams.

Whereupon the party of the first part (sometimes hereinafter referred to as “I”), being the joint-owner in fee simple of the House with the party of the second part (hereinafter “Mamma”), and said Mamma had retired for a sustained period of sleep.

At such time, the parties were clad in various forms of headgear, e.g. kerchief and cap. Suddenly, and without prior notice or warning, there did occur upon the unimproved real property adjacent and appurtenant to said House, i.e. the lawn, a certain disruption of unknown nature, cause and/or circumstance.

The party of the first part did immediately rush to a window in the House to investigate the cause of such disturbance. At that time, the party of the first part did observe, with some degree of wonder and/or disbelief, a miniature sleigh (hereinafter the “Vehicle”) being pulled and/or drawn very rapidly through the air by approximately eight (8) reindeer.

The driver of the Vehicle appeared to be and in fact was, the previously referenced Claus. Said Claus was providing specific direction, instruction and guidance to the approximately eight (8) reindeer and specifically identified the animal co-conspirators by name: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder and Blitzen (hereinafter the “Deer”). Upon information and belief, it is further asserted that an additional co-conspirator named Rudolph may have been involved.

The party of the first part witnessed Claus, the Vehicle and the Deer intentionally and willfully trespass upon the roofs of several residences located adjacent to and in the vicinity of the House, and noted that the Vehicle was heavily laden with packages, toys and other items of unknown origin or nature.’

Suddenly, without prior invitation or permission, either express or implied, the Vehicle arrived at the House, and Claus entered said House via the chimney. Said Claus was clad in a red fur suit, which was partially covered with residue from the chimney, and he carried a large sack containing a portion of the aforementioned packages, toys, and other unknown items.

He was smoking what appeared to be tobacco in a small pipe in blatant violation of local ordinances and health regulations. Claus did not speak, but immediately began to fill the stocking of the minor children, which hung adjacent to the chimney, with toys and other small gifts. (Said items did not, however, constitute “gifts” to said minor pursuant to the applicable provisions of the U.S. Tax Code.)

Upon completion of such task, Claus touched the side of his nose and flew, rose and/or ascended up the chimney of the House to the roof where the Vehicle and Deer waited and/or served as “lookouts.” Claus immediately departed for an unknown destination. However, prior to the departure of the Vehicle, Deer and Claus from said House, the party of the first part did hear Claus state and/or exclaim:

“Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!”

Or words to that effect. (Quote source here.)

Now that you’ve had a bit of laughter, I also found a version of the poem written from a Christian perspective (quote source here):

’Twas The Night Before Christmas
Christian Version

‘Twas the first night of Christmas a long time ago,
The hillside was peaceful, the moon was aglow.
The world couldn’t know from what happened before,
That men would remember this night evermore.

The sheep on the hillside—their days journey over,
Were dreaming sweet dreams of a field full of clover.
The shepherds were watchful while guarding their flock,
The earth was their pillow, the stars were their clock.

Then all of a sudden, they jumped at the sight
Of the sky all a blaze with a heavenly light.
They huddled in fear, then they started to rise
As the lightening-like flash tore open the skies.

The heavens were split by the silvery ray,
The dark disappeared and the night became day.
And lo, at the end of the rainbow of light
Appeared then an angel to banish their fright.

The angel brought news of a birth in a manger
And bade them to hasten to welcome the stranger.
For Mary had just given birth to a boy
Whose coming would bring so much comfort and joy.

A choir of angels looked down from the sky
And heavenly voices were heard from on high:
Peace be on earth and good will to all men.
The Savior has come on this night, Amen.

The heavenly angels then faded from sight,
The sky once again turned from day to night.
The shepherds all quietly rose from the ground,
And hurried to go where the child would be found.

As they reached Bethlehem and the inn was in sight
From the barn came a trickle of half-hidden light.
It led like a path to a soft little bed
And shone very tenderly on a child’s head.

The child in the manger was sleeping so sound,
His eyes were still closed, as the shepherds stood round.
From that instant of grace on that night long ago
Thousands of years would be warmed by the glow.

Guided by light from a bright shining star
Came a pilgrimage led of three kings from afar.
They were dressed in the finest of satins and lace,
Their complexions were that of an Orient race.

The three wealthy kings were wise men and proud,
But they went to the Christ child and solemnly bowed.
They came bearing treasures of incense and gold
To that sweet little child, still not very old.

The star in the sky twinkled down from above,
The world was awakened to kindness and love.
The past was forgotten, the future was bright,
And the spirit of Christmas was born on that night.
(Quote source here.)

And with that being said (or rather, written), may the world be awakened to kindness and love with the past forgotten and the future bright, and . . .

Merry Christmas to all . . .

And to all . . .

A Good Night! ! ! !

YouTube Video: “Carol of the Bells” by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra:

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The Reason Behind The Season

In the past three weeks I’ve written blog posts on Advent including The Three Relationships of Peace and  Gratitude and Wonder; and on the background of the song The Twelve Days of Christmas; and on Celebrating Hanukkah,” so it seems appropriate that I finish up this series of Yuletide blog posts with the actual reason behind the season–the birth of Jesus Christ–which Christians worldwide will celebrate on December 25th. The following account of the birth of Jesus Christ is taken from Luke 2:1-40 (ESV):

The Birth of Jesus Christ

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

The Shepherds and the Angels

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.  And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Jesus Presented at the Temple

And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
    according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
     that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,

    and for glory to your people Israel.”

And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

The Return to Nazareth

And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.

The story of the birth of Jesus Christ is a story that is universally known. In answer to the question, What is the true meaning of Christmas?GotQuestions.org gives us a very concise answer:

The true meaning of Christmas is loveJohn 3:16-17 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” The true meaning of Christmas is the celebration of this incredible act of love.

The real Christmas story is the story of God’s becoming a human being in the Person of Jesus Christ. Why did God do such a thing? Because He loves us! Why was Christmas necessary? Because we needed a Savior! Why does God love us so much? Because He is love itself (1 John 4:8). Why do we celebrate Christmas each year? Out of gratitude for what God did for us, we remember His birth by giving each other gifts, worshiping Him, and being especially conscious of the poor and less fortunate.

The true meaning of Christmas is love. God loved His own and provided a way—the only Way—for us to spend eternity with Him. He gave His only Son to take our punishment for our sins. He paid the price in full, and we are free from condemnation when we accept that free gift of love. “But God demonstrated His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). (Quote source here.)

Granted, this is the Christian story of Christmas–it’s about the birth of Jesus Christ. However, in recent years at least from a media perspective there has been a downplaying of the Christian story of Christmas. Some have called it “The War on Christmas.” One year ago on December 19, 2016 an article was published in The New York Times that tackled the issue. It is titled, How the War on Christmas Controversy Got Started,” by Liam Stack, who covers breaking news and social and political issues for the New York Times express desk. He is also an Arabic speaker, and he worked for seven years as a Middle East correspondent covering authoritarianism and revolution in the Arab world. Stack writes:

It’s that time of year again, folks. It’s time for the War on Christmas.

What is that, you may ask? The short answer: a sometimes histrionic yuletide debate over whether the United States is a country that respects Christianity.

For the longer answer, keep reading.

The idea of a “War on Christmas” has turned things like holiday greetings and decorations into potentially divisive political statements. People who believe Christmas is under attack point to inclusive phrases like “Happy Holidays” as (liberal) insults to Christianity.

For over a decade, these debates have taken place mainly on conservative talk radio and cable programs. But this year they also burst onto a much grander stage: the presidential election.

At a rally in Wisconsin last week, Donald J. Trump stood in front of a line of Christmas trees and repeated a campaign-trail staple.

“When I started 18 months ago, I told my first crowd in Wisconsin that we are going to come back here some day and we are going to say ‘Merry Christmas’ again,” he said. “Merry Christmas. So, Merry Christmas everyone. Happy New Year, but Merry Christmas.”

Christmas is a federal holiday celebrated widely by the country’s Christian majority. So where did the idea that it is threatened come from?

What is the “War on Christmas”?

The most organized attack on Christmas came from the Puritans, who banned celebrations of the holiday in the 17th century because it did not accord with their interpretation of the Bible.

Fast forward 400 years, and the idea of a plot against Christmas gained wide publicity when Fox News promoted a 2005 book by a radio host, John Gibson, that alleged liberal antagonism toward the holiday, according to Dan Cassino, a professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

Mr. Gibson said in an interview that he was “amazed” by the uproar his book caused.

He said it primarily focused on an issue that rarely happens anymore: educators and local officials banning nonreligious symbols like Santa Claus or Christmas trees out of a mistaken belief that displaying them violated the Constitution.

Mr. Gibson said the book had taken on a life of its own over the years — and that it had never dwelled on the political implications of “Happy Holidays.”

He attributed the firestorm to two things: The book’s take-no-prisoners title (“The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought”) and the Fox News host Bill O’Reilly.

“It wasn’t really me. I think it was more Bill, to tell you the truth,” he said. “When Bill made it an issue, it went mega”. . . .

Mr. O’Reilly returned to the War on Christmas this year [December 2016–see article at this link], but his tone has been triumphant.

“That culture war issue ignited and we won,” he said last Tuesday, later adding, “Donald Trump is on the case.”

Is this a real thing?

There is no evidence of an organized attack on Christmas in the United States.

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said the annual uproar is based on “stories that only sometimes even contain a grain of truth and often are completely false.” He has spent years pushing back against it.

“This politicizing of the whole issue is mind-boggling to me,” Mr. Lynn said, “and it has been for well over a decade.”

He added, “They see this as some kind of a politically correct effort, but I see it as reasonable to not use Christmas references as just an accommodation of the reality of America”. . . .

What does the “war” look like in practice?

Many conservative groups have rallied to defend Christmas, lobbying for decorations in public schools or town halls. One group, the American Family Association based in Tupelo, Miss., publishes a “Naughty and Nice” list every year to castigate companies it believes are “censoring ‘Christmas.’ ”

“There are secular forces in our country that hate Christmas because the word itself is a reminder of Jesus Christ,” the group said on its website. “They want to eradicate anything that reminds Americans of Christianity”. . . .

“Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”?

The greeting “Happy Holidays” has been in use as a Christmas greeting for more than 100 years. But it has grown in popularity in recent decades as people have tried to be inclusive and sensitive to those of other faiths and the nonreligious.

The controversy appears to have shifted opinion about the proper greeting. Mr. Cassino wrote in the Harvard Business Review this month that the number of people who said they preferred to hear “Happy Holidays” has decreased sharply in the last 10 years, from 41 percent to 25 percent. “Merry Christmas” remained popular. Indeed, President Obama, a Christian, has frequently uttered the phrase.

It should be noted that Jews, Muslims and others who do not celebrate Christmas often say they are not offended by a hearty “Merry Christmas.”

So perhaps there is hope for peace on earth, or at least cable television. (Quote source here.)

A more lengthy article with lots of links for those interested in the 2017 version of “The War on Christmas” is available on Bloomberg View, published on December 13, 2017, and titled, To the Christmas Barricades, Candy Canes in Hand–The state of the War on Christmas: The movies are too sweet, but Silicon Valley is too judgmental,” by Stephen L. Carter, a Bloomberg View columnist and a professor of law at Yale University. Carter states in the second paragraph of his article (full article available at this link):

Is there a “war on Christmas”? Surely it’s a matter of perspective. A story last year in the New York Times [and yes, he is referencing the article posted above] discussed the history of the idea, but got it only partly right. The piece skipped from the banning of Christmas celebrations by 17th-century Puritans to the 2005 publication of talk-show host John Gibson’s polemic, “The War on Christmas.” That’s a lot of history omitted, and it’s history that matters. But I’ve tacked that subject in this space before; for now, I’ll simply recommend that those who want to learn the holiday’s true and somewhat surprising history should readThe Battle for Christmas,” by the excellent Stephen Nissenbaum. (Quote source and entire article is available at this link.)

GotQuestions.org gives us some advice on how Christians can respond to this “War on Christmas”:

Many people perceive a modern-day “war on Christmas” being waged in the public square. Those who believe in the reality of a war on Christmas see a concerted effort to eliminate the word “Christmas” from public discourse. Stories confirming a war on Christmas seem to be coming more frequently: a grade-school choir sings “We Wish You a Happy Holiday” instead of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” for their “Winter Concert.” A library invites “holiday displays” from the community provided the displays have no religious connotation—the stable may have animals in it, but no people. And major shopping chains forbid their employees from wishing anyone a “Merry Christmas.” It is possible to do all one’s Christmas shopping and never see or hear the word “Christmas” in the stores.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with saying “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings.” But if someone says “Happy Holidays” for the sole purpose of not saying “Merry Christmas,” then we are right to question what’s going on. Is there truly be a cultural “war on Christmas?” “Why is the word “Christmas” censored?” we wonder as we wander through the malls. Why do some public schools celebrate everything from Kwanzaa to Labafana the Christmas witch, and ban the Nativity, all in the name of “inclusion” and “tolerance”?

One reason put forward by those seeking to avoid the word “Christmas” is that it offends non-Christians. But, according to a recent Gallup poll, only 3 percent of adults in America say it bothers them when a store makes specific reference to Christmas. This fact gives the “war on Christmas” a more sinister twist. The exclusion of Christmas is less about sensitivity and more about censorship. Expunging all mention of Christmas from society is not really a way to “adapt” to a more diverse culture but a way to engineer a more secular culture.

Many times, the arguments against Christmas programs and displays are couched in political terms, but the bias against Christmas goes much deeper than that. The war on Christmas is primarily a spiritual battle, not a political one.

How should Christians respond to the war on Christmas and the ubiquitous use of “Happy Holidays” to the exclusion of “Merry Christmas”? Here are some suggestions:

1) Celebrate Christmas! War on Christmas or not, let the joy of the season show in your life. Teach your family the significance of Jesus’ birth and make the Christmas traditions meaningful in your home.

2) Wish others a Merry Christmas. When confronted with a “Happy Holidays,” get specific and wish the greeter a “Merry Christmas!” You may be surprised at how many respond in kind. Even if you are met with resistance, don’t let it dampen your cheer. In Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” Ebenezer Scrooge wages a personal war on Christmas, and his nephew feels the brunt of his uncle’s attacks year after year, but it doesn’t stop him from wishing his humbug of an uncle a Merry Christmas and inviting Scrooge to Christmas dinner.

3) Speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). The Christmas season is a wonderful opportunity to share Christ’s love and the gospel message. He is the reason for the season!

4) Pray for those in positions of power (1 Timothy 2:1–3). Pray for wisdom. Pray for revival so that Christmas, instead of being “offensive,” would be honored by all. May we each be a peaceful warrior in the cultural war on Christmas. (Quote source here.)

“May we each be a peaceful warrior in the cultural war on Christmas.” And that is very wise advice during this Christmas season . . . .

Glory to God in the highest . . .

And on earth peace . . .

Goodwill toward men . . . . (Luke 2:14, NKJV)

YouTube Video: “O Holy Night/Ave Maria” featuring Lexi Walker – The Piano Guys:

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The Twelve Days of Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas! (Quote source here.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A full infographic is available over at PNC »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the first day of Christmas . . .

My True Love gave to me . . .

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

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

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Gratitude and Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

Prepare Your Heart for Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The One who is . . .

The One who was . . .

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

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

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Three Relationships of Peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace with God

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

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

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

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

Peace with Ourselves

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace with Others

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We worry. We even feel anxious about feeling anxious.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In her blog she wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Think about such things.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let your gentleness be known to all men . . .

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

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

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Being Audacious

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But love braves it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The One who is . . .

The One who was . . .

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

YouTube Video: “Beyond Me” by TobyMac:

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Photo #3 credit here

Love Does

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Memorizing Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forgiving one another . . .

Even as God in Christ . . .

Forgave you . . . .

YouTube Video: “Testify to Love” by Avalon:

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

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

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