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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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Mercy Came Running

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can’t do both.

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

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

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

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

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

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Anger is Socially Unacceptable

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

2. Sugarcoated Hostility is Socially Acceptable

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

3. Passive Aggression is Easier than Assertiveness

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

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

4. Passive Aggression is Easily Rationalized

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

5. Revenge is Sweet

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

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

6. Passive Aggressive Behavior is Convenient

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

7. Passive Aggression can be Powerful

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

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

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

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

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

And when I could not reach mercy . . .

Mercy came running . . .

To me . . . .

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

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Pick Up The Pieces

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

How To Play Jacks

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

By Zachary Collinger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the One . . .

We claim . . .

To believe in . . . .

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

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

Tu B’Av 5777 (2017)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This plague finally ended on Tu B’Av.

Six positive events occurred on Tu B’Av:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faith, hope and love . . .

And the greatest of these . . .

Is love . . . .

YouTube Video: “Testify to Love” by Avalon:

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

Tisha B’Av 5777 (2017)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tisha B’Av and 9/11

Posted on July 29, 2012 by Sara’s Musings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 we read:

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

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

And Tisha B’Av marks . . .

A time to weep . . .

And a time to mourn . . .

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

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

These Are The Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then one day, the world stopped.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quiet. Silence. Distance. Nonexistence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Workplace Bullying…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faith makes all things possible . . .

Hope makes all things work . . .

Love makes all things beautiful . . . .

YouTube Video: “Speak Life” by TobyMac:

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Psalm 25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 25 (NLT) 

A psalm of David.

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

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

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

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

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

O God, ransom Israel
    from all its troubles.

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

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

The Lord is my Shepherd . . . 

I shall not . . .

Want . . . .

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

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Anatomy of the Soul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. You’ll pray more biblically faithful prayers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. You’ll enjoy more focus in prayer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lord is my Shepherd . . . 

I shall not . . .

Want . . . .

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

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

The Right Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now that’s perspective!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lean not on your own understanding . . .

In all your ways acknowledge Him . . .

And He shall direct your paths . . . .

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

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

A Heaven Sent Reminder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Total Dependence on God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No matter what your battle is . . .

It is not yours . . .

The battle belongs to the Lord . . . .

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

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

Tuff Enuff

Back in 1986, The Fabulous Thunderbirds sang a song titled, Tuff Enuff (YouTube Video available at this link). It’s a song about a man who would do anything for his woman. Yeah . . . . Absolutely nothing was out of the question. We don’t seem to have that same kind of “sticking” power today. So why is that? Today it seems we can choose to change partners as often as we change clothes, and we have “no-fault” divorces (if we even get married in the first place). Nothing seems to stick for the long haul. Well, maybe it’s not like that with everybody (at least regarding some of the older folks), but the younger the age, the less stability there seems to be in relationships–less “stick-to-it-tiveness.” We often spend more time texting and using social media than actually communicating face-to-face with each other. And we are totally addicted to technology. Whatever happened to actually developing social skills that don’t include social media?

In an October 2015 article titled, Social Media, What Have You Done To Us? by Adonus Dees, Ms. Dees states:

Social media impacts younger generations so overwhelmingly that older generations are surprisingly following suit. It’s like a new dance that has gone viral and people of all ages want to learn it, even if they are a little late.

When we see our parents and grandparents on a site like Facebook, they like to spread all of their personal business across the world, from expressing dinner plans to exposing adultery. With the continuous overflow of social media, adults are shying away from the old-school approach of bashing everything the young folks are doing. It’s a different day; the young generation has more control over this world than ever before.

Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and MySpace (whoever still uses that)—the list goes on of social media websites that shape society today. It’s how we communicate, get news, let others in on our personal lives and even to find our true love. So social media is awesome to have, right?

Social media is positive only when the consumption of social media does not exceed moderation. America doesn’t seem to grasp the idea of moderation anyway when it comes to social media, or anything else for that matter.

With the continual rise of technology, social media continues to be in our lives and it is consumed by all age groups. You may see your fifth grade cousin taking pictures on Instagram, a sorority at your college getting their 15 seconds of fame for taking selfies at a baseball game, or even worse, seeing a friend request on Facebook from none other than your great grandmother.

Of course, being on social media can be fun. But it can also be addicting; so addicting that you could find yourself checking on it 100 times a day like the 13-year-olds in a recent CNN study. It’s becoming so excessive that even things like “selfie sticks” are being popularized—and the grown-ups are the ones who are popularizing it.

The funny thing about social media is that it negatively affects real or personal social life. A date between two people that like each other now consists of being together with their faces in their phones the whole time. Instead of meeting a nice girl in person you may spark an interest in, now you can just “slide in their DMs” (slang for conversing via direct message on Facebook, Instagram or most commonly, Twitter).

Or we record every part of the day on Snapchat for people to see (even though the average person would most likely skip it).

When every activity we share with others is behind a keyboard or camera, what kind of real life social skills can we have? What will our kids do when they have to interview for a job? What will happen when that guy who swipe-righted that hot-girl has to actually speak to her (or does he even have to)?

Adults are the ones following the young teens with the help of reality shows and advertising. Every time you watch a show on television, advertisers want you to tweet about about it with a hashtag (which is good advertising, of course). Adults are then reeled into following the latest trends, which leads into more consumption because of social media’s addictiveness.

Not only that, we’re letting social media determine our morals. Who’s attractive and who’s not, whether or not a celebrity (that we don’t know at all by the way) is a bad person or parent or even what’s right and what’s wrong in society. If I don’t agree with the masses on social media, I could be looked at as an outsider and would be in danger of my character being attacked.

Social media has been taken to another level, and will only continue its excessiveness; it’s up to the individual to decipher whether it is getting to the point where life is just not enjoyable without it. I challenge you to go to a concert without recording any of it on your phone. We see teenagers and adults alike with their phones in the air.

Go on a date with a loved one [or someone new] and put your phone away until the date is over. Try to actually talk to someone face to face without being awkward. Take a break from social media, and improve your social life. (Quote source here.)

Social media has often taken the “human” out of being human. Combine our massive social media consumption with all the other “stuff” on TV and in the movies that passes for entertainment, and we become downright self-obsessed in our approach to others outside of our own circle of family and friends (and maybe even inside that circle, too). We treat others like “digital entities” instead of living, breathing human beings with feelings and emotions and all the other things that make us human to each other. Can we get any more self-absorbed? (Don’t answer that.)

Now, before you think I’m not a techie fan, I am. In fact, I’ve been involved with technology since the 1980’s. However, due to a job loss eight years ago that left me perpetually unemployed I haven’t had the financial resources to keep up with all of latest in techie gadgets, and due to no longer being engaged in a workplace where I had been actively involved with students, faculty, staff and administrators, I didn’t realize how much all that techie stuff has impacted our communication skills since I lost that job. To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, here’s a recent example from my own life.

About about a month ago I was eating lunch in a grocery store that has a space carved out for shoppers to take a breather in a fenced in area with a bunch of very small tables and chairs, a couple of couches, and an HDTV set mounted on the wall. As I sat down at one of the table to eat my lunch, three younger men (who were not together) entered this eating area and each sat down at three separate tables, and each immediately pulled out their smartphones and were soon immersed in whatever they were looking at on their smartphones. They weren’t eating or doing anything other than being totally immersed in their phones. An older man entered the area and sat down at another table. I’d guess he might be in his late 60’s, and I’d guess that three younger guys were probably age 40 or younger. The interesting thing about this older man was that he had a newspaper with him, and a sack lunch, and when he sat down he began eating his lunch and reading the newspaper. There was no smartphone out on his table (although I’m sure he owned one) to distract him. As I look around at these four men, if I had the chance to engage any of them in a conversation, I’d pick the guy reading the newspaper over the three younger guys totally immersed in their smartphones. For one thing, I wouldn’t have the constant competition of a smartphone interrupting my conversation with the older guy; whereas the younger guys would be distracted by their smartphones and most likely not engaging in any kind of meaningful conversation.

Here’s another example. Allstate is currently running an ad on TV that I just love and it really does say it all about our massive consumption of social media at the expense of human interaction with each other. While the ad is advertising Allstate’s Safe Driving Bonus checks, the message in the commercial is a clear sign of the times in which we live. Click here to view the commercial and see if you don’t agree. It’s almost scary at times to imagine what society will look like twenty years from now when the younger generations who have been raised with social media at their fingertips since they came out of womb are a primary force in changing the world. It is unfortunate that one of the biggest drawbacks to the digital world is that it makes us capable of being far less human to each other.

The impact of social media on relationships is the subject of many articles on the internet. In fact, when I went looking for an article to quote for this blog post, I perused so many different articles that it was hard to find just one that succinctly stated the main issues surrounding social media and it’s effects on our relationships whether romantic relationships or family relationships or friendships, and many cited trust issues at the core of the problem.

I did settle on one article by Jen Soule, a Millennial contributor on EliteDaily.com, who wrote an article titled, How Social Media is Killing Relationships and Making Our Breakups Even Worse.” She tells it like it is in a way I never could . . . and here is what she had to say:

Social media is single-handedly breaking up couples everywhere. It’s also making breakups more painful, more drawn out and more public.

Who wants that?

Here are eight reasons you should lay off the social media if you don’t want to ruin your relationship and suffer a breakup that’s even worse than it should be.

1. It’s distracting us from actually spending time together.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been out at a bar or restaurant and I see couples on their phones.

Maybe it’s a first date that isn’t going well, or maybe there’s a huge news story going on that I’m missing out on. But most likely, you’re just ignoring each other.

We are all addicted to our phones and soon, we may actually forget how to meet people in real life.

We are in constant contact with one another whether it’s texting, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or some other outlet. We always know what our friends, family and acquaintances are doing.

2. We’re stalking each other.

Why bother having a conversation with someone when you’ve already crept their Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat story, and blog?

At this point you already know everything you need to know, right?

And that’s before you go into how we all stalk our exes. . . .

3.  We’re oversharing.

Part of being in a relationship is being able to share things with each other that we may not share with anyone else.

Now that we have social media, people are telling everyone literally everything about their life.

4. We’re becoming addicted to attention.

You’re lying to yourself if you don’t get pumped when you reach a new all time high on likes on your latest Instagram post.

All the notifications, comments, likes, and follows are making our brains addicted to attention. We’re looking for the newest way to get engagements on our social media instead of being happy with just the attention in our relationships.

5. Tinder exists.

Tinder launched and we started being able to connect with someone at the swipe of a finger.

A couple tough days in a relationship can lead to curiosity, which leads to wandering, which leads to actually matching with someone and maybe even meeting up with them.

Apps like Tinder have made it too easy to stray from a relationship when things get tough, instead of communicating and working through whatever the problem is.

And there are studies that say Tinder is ruining our self-esteem.

6. We compare our relationships to others.

Just because a couple posts a picture on a beach at sunset does not mean they have a perfect relationship.

Anyone can post a cute picture with their significant other on social media. It doesn’t mean their relationship is better than yours, so stop comparing the two.

7.  We jump to conclusions.

Just because your boyfriend’s or girlfriend’s ex liked their Instagram picture doesn’t mean they’re seeing each other behind your back. It also does not mean they are falling in love all over again.

A lot of people can’t let go of the past and social media allows them to continue feeling connected.

A lot of people also like to create drama. Liking a picture, commenting on a post or even following or friending them will do just that. When we see two people connect on social media, we often jump to conclusions even though in reality, it’s unlikely that they ever even speak.

8.  We focus on strangers’ lives rather than our own.

It’s hard to focus on ourselves when there are so many people sharing every single problem and achievement they have on social media.

We are starting to live vicariously through travel blogs and posts, instead of actually traveling ourselves. We’re watching other people experience life through our computer and phone screens instead of living in the moment of our own lives.

Sad, right? Get off your phone and start talking to the person who’s in front of you. Your relationship will thank you for it. (Quote source here.)

Ms. Soule said it better than I could, and she’s a part of the generations that have been raised on social media from the womb. At least I’m old enough to have a perspective that comes way before social media took over our lives and became the latest addiction. And when it comes to romantic relationships, give me Mr. “Tuff Enuff” any day of the week over a guy who’s smartphone is considered just another appendage like a third arm.  Who needs that anyway, eh? And a romantic relationship doesn’t need the whole world’s involvement or any unnecessary competition from the digital world, either.

I have to admit when I first started this blog post I didn’t think it would be on the subject of social media, but then social media really has transformed our relationships and our lives sometimes not for the better. It’s an addiction we should learn to take a break from periodically (the YouTube Video below gives some examples) if it’s not already too late. I don’t keep my smartphone on when I’m not using it. I can’t imagine anything being so important that I have to keep it on 24/7. But then I’m from an older generation, too.

In this instant access, high tech world we live in today, maybe it would be good if we all took a breather. . . .

To stop and smell the roses . . .

Or talk . . .

To a neighbor . . . .

YouTube Video: “How social media makes us unsocial” by Allison Graham, TEDxSMU:

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

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