Journey Out of the Mid-January Blahs

“The two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.”Mark Twain (1835-1910), American writer, humorist, entrepreneur, publisher, and lecturer
After all the hustle and bustle of the holidays that started right before Thanksgiving and ended several days after the New Year began, you might now be struggling with the fact that a few of those New Year’s resolutions you made aren’t necessarily “resoluting” (yeah, I know that’s not an actual word but you know what I mean if some of them are breathing their last breath already). At this point one can get into sort of a “mid-January” funk, especially if you live in a place where the cold weather, snow, and seemingly endless gray winter days add to the funkiness of how you feel.

I used to live in the Midwest and I remember those gray, cold, dreary winter days. While I don’t live there anymore, I’ve been experiencing that sort of funky feeling lately starting in mid-January.  Another word that describes it is “blah,” which “refers to something which is boring or without meaningful content; dull or unexciting” (quote source here). There are other meanings for “blah,” but for the purposes of this blog post, that will do.

In an article titled, 7 Smart Ways to Beat the Mid-January Blahs,” by Jenn (no last name mentioned) who blogs at TheArtofBetter.com, she writes:

Now that the (sometimes) crazy parts of the year are over, it’s easy to fall into the Mid-January blahs (<–don’t know if that’s a real term or not but I’m going with it!)

The blahs are when life feels a little lackluster, you feel a bit bored, or you get stuck in a rut. So, why is the back half of January often subdued and slightly depressing for so many people?

Well, we’re finally finished shouting “Happy New Year” at each other. Before that, Christmas happened, and before that it was whole Thanksgiving thing. The months of November through the middle of January are basically a blur of major holidays, for many people, at least.

And then comes the middle of January with nothing much to look forward to for the rest of the month.

And then comes the middle of January when most people start faltering in their New Year’s resolutions.

Plus, if you’re in the northern hemisphere, it’s pretty much the gray days of winter.

It’s easy to see where the middle of January blahs come in. Blah is right. BUT! There are a few simple, smart things you can do to contend with it and change your mood. (Quote source and a list of the “few simple smart things you can do” is available at this link.)

I also read the following quote in an article titled, 10 Quotes When You Just Feel Like Blah,” by Jamie Kensinger, who describes herself as “a late-20-something with a framed Higher Ed degree, striving to create culture.” Her article is published on ThoughtCatalog.com,  and she opens with the following statement:

There are days when you just feel like, “Blah.” There is no other way to describe it. You are a bit off, unsettled, irritated, and basically are the poster child for “Blah.” These quotes [see article at this link for quotes] are to serve as a pick-me-up and to let you know that you are not the only one that isn’t really at the top of your game, on cloud nine, loving just being alive, taking in the fresh air…you know, all those happy-go-lucky type things. (Quote source here.)

As “a mid-60-something with two unframed Higher Ed degrees who at this point in time is just striving to understand what has happened to our culture when I wasn’t looking…” 🙂 I do understand where she is coming from. Circumstances, age or even gender notwithstanding, “blah” is a universal feeling that just shows up from time to time, and especially in the winter months.

In my particular set of circumstances, my blah feelings actually showed up a week ago when I got a call from my younger brother who lives in another state who told me that our dad had just been admitted to the hospital with a racing heart beat and breathing issues. He’s 95. He is also in good health otherwise. Unfortunately, he lives about 900 miles north from where I live so that adds to a sort of “helpless” feeling about his situation since I’m not physically there (however, my younger brother lives there). He’s been in the hospital for over a week now and they put a pacemaker in his heart yesterday and he is doing better now. We are not sure when he will get out of the hospital yet but things are looking up and he’ll recuperate at my brother’s home.

This situation has brought up a realization that life for all of us is fragile and that time waits for no one. While I’ve been dealing with my own issues of trying to find affordable housing on a Social Security income for longer then I care to think about without any resolution yet, this health situation with my 95-year-old father has added somewhat of a new twist to it. It’s not that my being there where he is living would change anything (and he has excellent doctors looking after him as well as my brother and his family), but this is the reason that triggered my own set of mid-January blahs.

The fact is that I’m tired of stagnating in this housing situation but I’m still not sure how to move forward. And my dad ending up in the hospital at the age of 95 this past week and not knowing if he was going to come out of that hospital alive or not has put a jolt in me that something in my own situation needs to change. So my current case of “the blahs” has more to do with ambiguity over what I need to do.

In an April 30, 2018 article in Forbes titled, What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do,” by Frances McIntosh, a member of Forbes Coaches Council and Forbes Community Voice, she makes some recommendations for people in work settings which can also be used by those of us who are not currently employed:

We’ve all been there: knowing we need to make a choice, but not knowing how….

So, we don’t make a decision. This leaves us feeling stuck, bringing with it feelings of uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. In other words, vulnerable.

Feeling vulnerable or overwhelmed could be a red flag, a time when we need to pause and intentionally think of what the next step looks like….

It’s a bit tongue in cheek, but the answer is this: Stop over-complicating things and just keep it simple. When you stop overthinking, it’s so much easier to move forward and get out of the rut.

Exercise.

There is a wealth of evidence-based research that shows exercising boosts your mood. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins that give you a natural “high.” Ever wonder why runners smile? They’re high on endorphins!

For the most impact, exercise outside, taking advantage of the sunshine vitamin: Vitamin D. Even just a short walk around the block will release serotonin and other endorphins. No need to get sweaty to clear your mind — just get moving.

Smile.

Did you know that you can smile your mind into a different outlook? Smiling releases a group of feel-good hormones — endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin — acting as a natural pain medication and an antidepressant for the brain. The simple act of smiling can help change your perspective.

An added bonus? Not only is a smile the accessory that goes with everything, it’s contagious. When we’re making ourselves feel better, we make others feel better too, putting them at ease with something as simple as a smile.

Unplug.

We are way too connected to technology today. Switching off your cell phone or computer will allow you to become more creative. As Simon Sinek highlights, when we disconnect from technology, we allow our minds time to wander and access different perspectives within our own thoughts. When we’re not constantly “plugged in,” we can find solutions for problems that we thought there were no solutions for. We become more energized, seeing things around us that would otherwise be lost.

One last word about unplugging, remember that walk around the block I mentioned? Leave your phone at the office and look up and at the world around you. Clarity could be in the trees!

Watch an inspirational movie.

This is one of my all-time favorite things to do when I feel stuck: go to the movies by myself. Being an introvert, this allows me to just be. No worries about having a conversation, no concern if the other person is enjoying the movie or not. It’s a place to just be, watch inspiring stories and recharge.

Movies aren’t your thing? That’s OK. Find something that raises your energy, clears your mind and allows you to focus on something outside of you to give your mind space.

Get candid feedback.

Often, when we don’t know what to do, we miss ideas, solutions or next steps that are right in front of us. Getting honest feedback from a trusted friend, colleague or coach–who we know has our best interest at heart–can help us see a different perspective or uncover a blind spot. This opens our mind up to more clearly see our options.

Revisit your core values.

When stuck, go back to your core values. These are the foundation of who you are and act as an anchor, keeping you grounded when life gets crazy, scary or uncertain. If you’re not making decisions from your core values, this could be what’s keeping you stuck. If not, recenter on your core values and move forward from there.

Do the very next easy thing.

Sometimes we get stuck or overwhelmed because we are looking at our goal without defining the steps it takes to get there. If you’re focusing on the financial side of a project because you know it’s important, but you’re feeling stuck because you don’t know how to reach your goal, stop! Simply ask, “What is the one next easy step? Delegating tasks? Collecting quotes? Going for a walk?” Look at the next stop, not the end goal.

Being stuck or overwhelmed is human, we all do it or feel it at times. The secret is to not stay in that place. Feel the discomfort, process the “data,” rest, refuel, refocus, and do the very next thing to move yourself forward. Don’t overthink this—it could be as simple as a smile. (Quote source here.)

Perhaps, like me, you weren’t expecting these answers, yet they are excellent suggestions to help us start thinking “outside of the box” that we often find ourselves in when it comes to trying to move forward but not knowing how. And, at least I have the first two suggestions down pat (and a third–I love going to movies and agree with her comment on going alone–although I don’t mind company, either). I’ve been exercising regularly for over seven years now, and I’ve always been known to smile a lot all of my life (it’s just part of my nature). In fact, I’m feeling better already after reading her suggestions as who knows what might happen that ends up moving us forward and out of the stalemate we find ourselves in.

In a devotion titled Don’t Give Up!” the author (name not given) states:

1 Corinthians 10:13 in The Message Bible states: “No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it.”

All of us have been tempted to lose hope and give up. But we always have a choice: focus on God and stay in faith, or focus on the problem and give up.

Problems–no matter how huge they seem to us–are no problem to God. Nothing is too hard, or complicated, for God to solve. But God wants us to trust Him.

So what should you do when you are being tempted and feel like giving in and giving up?

Refuse!

Just keep your focus on the Lord and rejoice in His faithfulness. Remember that God cannot lie, and will never fail. God will see you through. (Quote source here.)

No matter what is behind our case of “the blahs,” remember the words Jesus gave to his disciples in Luke 18:1 (regarding the Parable of the Persistent Widow, vv. 1-8). He started off by telling his disciples that they should always pray and not give up, just like the persistent widow did in the parable who finally, after a very long time, received justice from her adversary.

I’ll end this post with these few words…

Don’t give in . . .

And . . .

Don’t give up . . . .

YouTube Video: “Miracle” by Unspoken:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

God of Wonders Beyond Our Galaxy

“God of wonders beyond our galaxy, You are Holy, Holy; the universe declares Your Majesty and You are Holy, Holy” –lyrics by Steve Hindalong & Marc Byrd of the alternative Christian Rock group The Choir
Now there’s a journey for you–going beyond our galaxy. Yesterday I published a blog post on my other blog titled, Technology and Our Relationship with God,” that explores our relationship with God and technology. Cyberspace is the ultimate “galaxy” out there for most of us as we can’t actually touch it (other then touching our keyboards or our screens and interacting with whatever show up on the screen), but there is a real galaxy out there, too, every time we look up into the sky, and it’s vastness is beyond human comprehension.

In 2014, a NASA Space Telescope photographed a high-energy x-ray view of what they nicknamed the Hand of God, which is actually a pulsar wind nebula. “It’s powered by the leftover, dense core of a star that blew up in a supernova explosion… One of the big mysteries of this object is whether the pulsar particles are interacting with the material in a specific way to make it look like a hand, or if the material is in fact shaped like a hand.” (Quote source here.)

In a January 9, 2014 article titled, “‘Hand of God’ Spotted by NASA Space Telescope,” by Tanya Lewis, staff writer at Science.com, she writes:

The Hand of God nebula photographed by NASA

Religion and astronomy may not overlap often, but a new NASA X-ray image captures a celestial object that resembles the “Hand of God.”

The cosmic “Hand of God” photo was produced when a star exploded and ejected an enormous cloud of material, which NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, glimpsed in high-energy X-rays, shown in blue in the photo. NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory had imaged the green and red parts previously, using lower-energy X-rays.

“NuSTAR’s unique viewpoint, in seeing the highest-energy X-rays, is showing us well-studied objects and regions in a whole new light,” NuSTAR telescope principal investigator Fiona Harrison, of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, said in a statement….

The Hand of God is an example of pareidolia, the psychological phenomenon of perceiving familiar shapes in random or vague images. Other common forms of pareidolia include seeing animals or faces in clouds, or the man in the moon. Despite its supernatural appearance, the Hand of God was produced by natural astrophysical phenomena. (Quote source here.)

In our day-to-day interactions with our world, rarely do we think beyond the obvious that we see and experience. Stop for a moment and think about the last time you thought about the universe “out there.” If you’re like me, it is rare, unless you watch or read a lot of science fiction. We get caught up in what is going on in our own lives, and we act accordingly. And even with our technological wonders and devices that can take us to every corner of our world, the vastness of the universe is far beyond our reach or even our thoughts unless we work at places like NASA or Science.com that remind us daily of how infinitesimally tiny and finite we are compared to the universe.

For the non-religious among us, the Big Bang Theory of the universe is the most commonly held theory of how the universe was formed. In an article titled, What is the Big Bang Theory?” by Elizabeth Howell, Canadian journalist and contributor at Science.com, she writes:

The Big Bang Theory is the leading explanation about how the universe began. At its simplest, it says the universe as we know it started with a small singularity, then inflated over the next 13.8 billion years to the cosmos that we know today.

Because current instruments don’t allow astronomers to peer back at the universe’s birth, much of what we understand about the Big Bang Theory comes from mathematical formulas and models. Astronomers can, however, see the “echo” of the expansion through a phenomenon known as the cosmic microwave background.

While the majority of the astronomical community accepts the theory, there are some theorists who have alternative explanations besides the Big Bangsuch as eternal inflation or an oscillating universe.

The phrase “Big Bang Theory” has been popular among astrophysicists for decades, but it hit the mainstream in 2007 when a comedy show with the same name premiered on CBS. The show follows the home and academic life of several researchers (including an astrophysicist). (Quote source and complete article available at this link.)

The alternative explanations besides the Big Bang theory are summed up in this article titled, Alternative to the Big Bang Theory Explained,” by Karl Tate, infographics artist at Science.com:

One alternative theory is the Steady State universe. An early rival to the Big Bang theory, Steady State posits continuous creation of matter throughout the universe to explain its apparent expansion. This type of universe would be infinite, with no beginning or end. However, a mountain of evidence found since the mid-1960s indicates that this theory is not correct.

Another alternative is the Eternal Inflation theory. After the Big Bang, the universe expanded rapidly during a brief period called inflation. The Eternal Inflation theory posits that inflation never stopped, and has been going on for an infinite length of time. Somewhere, even now, new universes are coming into existence in a vast complex called the multiverse. Those many universes could have different physical laws.

The Oscillating model of the universe involved an endless series of Big Bangs, followed by Big Crunches that restarted the cycle, endlessly. The modern cyclic model involves colliding “branes” (a “membrane” within a higher-dimensional volume called the “bulk”).

Implications found in quantum gravity and string theory tantalizingly suggest a universe that is in reality nothing like how it appears to human observers. It may actually be a flat hologram projected onto the surface of a sphere, for example. Or it could be a completely digital simulation running in a vast computer. (Quote source here.)

Now before I lose some of you, the “science” theories behind the creation of the universe is only one side of a two-sided issue. I believe in presenting both sides of any story when possible for clarification, so for those of us who believe God is behind the creation of the universe (known as Creationism), I present the other side of this issue.

Creationism is defined as follows (source: Britannica.com):

Creationism is the belief that the universe and the various forms of life were created by God out of nothing (ex nihilo). It is a response to modern evolutionary theory, which explains the emergence and diversity of life without recourse to the doctrine of God or any other divine power. Mainstream scientists generally reject creationism.

Biblical creationists believe that the story told in Genesis of God’s six-day creation of all things is literally correct. Others, such as old-Earth creationists, believe that a creator made all that exists, but they may not hold that the Genesis story is a literal history of that creation. Both types of creationists, however, believe that changes in organisms may involve changes within a species (often understood as the “kind” mentioned in Genesis 1:24) or downward changes such as negative mutations, but they do not believe that any of these changes can lead to the evolution of a lower or simpler species into a higher or more-complex species. Thus, the theory of biological evolution is disputed by all creationists….

Beginning in the late 20th century, many creationists advocated a view known as intelligent design. This view, which claimed to draw from modern science, was a contemporary interpretation of the argument from design for the existence of God as set forth by the Anglican clergyman William Paley (1743–1805). Intelligent design is not accepted by all creationists, however, because many of its proponents leave open the identity and nature of the “intelligent designer” of the universe, rather than equating it with the God of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. Today most creationists in the United States favor the elimination of evolution from the public school curriculum or at least the teaching of creationism alongside evolution as an equally legitimate scientific theory. (Quote source and more information is available here.)

As stated above, many scientists do not believe in Creationism; however, there is a large number of scientists both past and present who do believe in Creationism, and some of them are listed on Creation.com which represents Creation Ministries International (CMI), a worldwide ministry “that exists to support the effective proclamation of the Gospel by providing credible answers that affirm the reliability of the Bible, in particular its Genesis history.” They also publish Creation Magazine, the world’s most widely read magazine on the creation/evolution controversy, as well as the Journal of Creation. (Quote source here.)

The Institute for Creation Research,” established in 1970, is also a leader in scientific research within the context of biblical creation. Founded by Dr. Henry Morris in 1970, the institute exists to conduct scientific research within the realms of origins and Earth history, and then to educate the public both formally and informally through graduate and professional training programs, through conferences and seminars around the country, and through books, magazines, and media presentations” (Quote course here.)

The other area mentioned above is known as Intelligent Design,” and it “refers to a scientific research program as well as a community of scientists, philosophers and other scholars who seek evidence of design in nature. The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection” (quote source here.) Intelligent Design differs from Creationism as stated below:

The theory of intelligent design is simply an effort to empirically detect whether the “apparent design” in nature acknowledged by virtually all biologists is genuine design (the product of an intelligent cause) or is simply the product of an undirected process such as natural selection acting on random variations. Creationism typically starts with a religious text and tries to see how the findings of science can be reconciled to it. Intelligent design starts with the empirical evidence of nature and seeks to ascertain what inferences can be drawn from that evidence. Unlike creationism, the scientific theory of intelligent design does not claim that modern biology can identify whether the intelligent cause detected through science is supernatural. (Quote source here.)

Here is one more link to a website titled, Reasons to Believe,” and their mission statement reads as follows:

RTB’s mission is to spread the Christian Gospel by demonstrating that sound reason and scientific research—including the very latest discoveries—consistently support, rather than erode, confidence in the truth of the Bible and faith in the personal, transcendent God revealed in both Scripture and nature. (Quote source here.)

Regarding Creation, they state the following:

We believe that the physical universe, the realm of nature, is the visible creation of God. It declares God’s existence and gives a trustworthy revelation of God’s character and purpose. In Scripture, God declares that through His creation all humanity recognizes His existence, power, glory, and wisdom. An honest study of nature – its physical, biological, and social aspects – can prove useful in a person’s search for truth. Properly understood, God’s Word (Scripture) and God’s world (nature), as two revelations (one verbal, one physical) from the same God, will never contradict each other. (Quote source here).

For those of us who believe that God is the Creator of the Universe, GotQuestions.org answers the question, “What does it mean that God is the Creator?” as follows:

One of the foundational truths of the Bible is that God is the Creator of all that is. One of the many passages to proclaim God as Creator is Isaiah 40:28, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.” All three Persons of the Trinity were involved in the creation of the universe (Genesis 1:2Acts 17:24Hebrews 1:2).

A creator is one who makes something new. People can “create” art projects, musical compositions, and physical structures; however, they always have something to work with. They begin with preexisting matter and form it in new ways. Even music and other intellectual creations have rhythms, rhymes, notes, instruments, and artistic mediums that provide structure and offer possibilities. What is commonly called “creativity” is more akin to synthesis. God had no such raw materials to work with. When we say that God is the Creator, we mean that He is truly creative, in a category all by Himself, because He started with nothing (Colossians 1:16).

Genesis 1:1 says that “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” That means that, before Genesis 1:1, there existed no heavens and no earth. God spoke them into being (Genesis 1:369). “In six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them” (Exodus 20:11; cf. Revelation 10:6). He is God. He is not limited by our understanding, nor by time, space, or matter. As the Creator, God is the all-wise originator and designer of all things: “How many are your works, LORD! In wisdom you made them all” (Psalm 104:24).

When God created the heavens and the earth, He did so by speaking it into existence. When He created the things that filled the earth and the sky, He spoke them into being (Genesis 1:11–16). But when He created human beings, He did something different. He took some clay that He had already made and formed a man. Then He breathed His own life into that man, and “man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7). When He created the first woman, Eve, He also used that which He had already made. He caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep and took a rib from his side and formed a woman (Genesis 2:21).

God is the Designer and Craftsman of everything in the universe, and He created human beings a step above all the rest. By breathing His own life into that man, He created the man and woman “in His own image” (Genesis 1:27). That means that human beings are more like God than any other created thing. We have an eternal spirit, just as God has. We can reason, choose good or evil, and love. We have emotions, intellect, and the power and desire to create things ourselves. God desires to have fellowship with us (Genesis 3:8–9Jeremiah 29:12). He does not seek fellowship with dogs, dolphins, or trees. They have life, but not God’s life. And when He came to earth to save us, He came in the form of a man (Philippians 2:5–8Luke 1:35).

When we say that God is the Creator, we mean that no one created Him and that God alone is THE Creator. Satan cannot create; he can only pervert what God creates. People cannot truly create, because we must start with something that has already been created. Everything originated from God (Jeremiah 10:16James 1:17Revelation 10:6). Because He created everything, everything is His (Exodus 19:5Psalm 50:12). As human beings, we are also His, and He has the right to rule over us. He gives us freedom to choose Him or reject Him, but consequences come with either choice. The wise person bows before the Creator and willingly submits himself or herself to the only One who truly knows how we are made (Psalm 78:39103:14Romans 9:20). (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the words from Colossians 1:16-17For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things . . .

And in Him . . .

All things . . .

Hold together . . . .

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

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here (photo by NASA)
Photo #3 credit here

Our Journey to God

“You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.”Jeremiah, Old Testament Prophet (Jeremiah 29:13)
What we think about God says a lot about what we think about life in general. And what we think about God fits in with the “journey” theme of this blog as our understanding of God is a journey in getting to know Him.

The words in the picture above come from Isaiah 55. The entire chapter in the NIV is titled, Invitation to the Thirsty,”  which is an invitation to get to know God, and here is that chapter:

“Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters;
    and you who have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
    listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
    my faithful love promised to David.
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
    a ruler and commander of the peoples.
Surely you will summon nations you know not,
    and nations you do not know will come running to you,
    because of the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel,
    for he has endowed you with splendor.”

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
    declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
    and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
    and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
So is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
    but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
You will go out in joy
    and be led forth in peace;
    the mountains and hills
    will burst into song before you,
    and all the trees of the field
    will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
    and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
    for an everlasting sign,
    that will endure forever.”

I read a short devotion this morning in a devotional titled, 100 Days in The Psalms,” published in 2016 by the B&H Publishing Group editorial staff. The devotion is found on “Day 14” (pages 29-30) and it reads as follows:

Psalm 18:25-26
Depends on Your Perspective

With the faithful You prove Yourself faithful;
with the blameless man You prove Yourself
blameless; with the pure You prove Yourself pure,
but with the crooked You prove Yourself shrewd.

Everyone has an opinion on God. He’s either gruff and easily irritated, like the get-off-my-lawn neighbor next door. Or He’s silent and distant, untouched by what concerns us, unfazed by the extent of our pain. Or He’s sweet like Santa Claus, hearing our “I wanna” wish lists and handing out gifts. Or He’s strong and loving, fiercely loyal, protective of His family, while also astoundingly patient toward his enemies.

There are other opinions too, of course. almost as many as there are people to have them. But the main input that informs these ideas–whether in agreement or disagreement with how God describes Himself in the Bible–is the heart of the person who’s doing the interpreting. Because two people can look at the same set of circumstances, good or bad, and arrive at two entirely different takes on what God has done in the midst of them.

“The faithful” continually see His faithfulness, even in situations where others would accuse Him of being cold and uncaring. Faithful believers can stare into the teeth of crisis, or balance the small numbers on their bank statements, or try out a third type of medical therapy after the first two have failed to produce results, yet still testify to His daily, faithful love and provision.

The “pure” and “blameless” can walk through seasons of challenge and temptation, and rather than seeing them as excuses for giving up on God, they see afresh the beauty of holiness. Others who are not so pure and blameless rush back to old sins and escape patterns, stuffing themselves at the fast-food pantries of rebellion, sick of making all these hard sacrifices for apparently nothing. And yet the upright, having tasted the deeper pleasures of purity and obedience, see love and protection in His calls to virtue. The little feel-goods their sins used to give them, only to steal from them with the other hand–they now see the utter stupidity in it all. Better to trust in a God who will never do them wrong, and who will come forth with blessing at just the right time.

The faithful see faithfulness.
The blameless see blamelessness.
The pure have come to love His purity.

So those who claim that God is capricious and arbitrary, heartlessly cruel, grossly unfair–they’re actually saying a lot more about their own heart than His. The “crooked” man or woman is already bent toward seeing God through a faulty lens. They think they’re conning Him with their well-timed acts of religious showmanship or their occasional soft spot for a worthy cause. But that’s because they imagine a God who’s similarly shallow and shady, whose character can’t be trusted. They don’t really want to be faithful, blameless, pure… and it shows in what they truly think of the One who called them to it.

Want to see God differently? Follow His Word… and watch it all come consistently true as He comes into clearer view. (Quote source: 100 Days in The Psalms,” pp. 29-30)

As I read that devotion I was thinking about who among us are totally faithful, blameless, and pure? The answer to that question is “none” (see Jeremiah 17:9-10).

Our ideas about God are often like what is expressed in the first two paragraphs in that devotion. However, it gets a bit harder when it comes to determining how faithful, blameless and pure we might think that we are in comparison to others we might think are less so. Often our real life circumstances are not as cut and dried as they might sound a bit like in that devotion but are dicey and emotional as we go through them. In other words, there are no perfect saints among us especially when we go through challenging times and situations. And it is God who is faithful, even when we waiver.

Two people from the New Testament come to mind in this regard. The first person is the Apostle Paul when he was still a Pharisee named Saul, who no doubt thought of himself in his service to God as a prominent religious teacher and scholar as being “faithful, blameless, and pure” in God’s eyes; yet when Jesus met Saul on the road to Damascus, Saul discovered just how wrong he was. And the interesting thing about Paul’s (then Saul’s) experience with Jesus on the road to Damascus was that he wasn’t even looking for Jesus, and he never thought he was on the wrong path, either. In fact, he was sure he was right, and he persecuted, even to the point of murdering, the early followers of Jesus wherever he found them. However, it was Jesus who showed himself to Saul/Paul after his resurrection, and in doing so Paul’s conversion changed him in remarkable ways for the remainder of his life. The story of Paul’s conversion is found in Acts 9:1-31.

The second person that came to mind is the tax collector found in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector” in Luke 18:9-14. Tax collectors were despised back in Jesus’ days. Here is that parable from Luke:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

As Christians, we have to be careful not to think of ourselves as being better than anyone else (see Romans 12:3). It’s too easy to start rationalizing just like that Pharisee did in the parable above, thinking that all of our “acts” or “outward appearances” qualify us or make us in some way “superior” to others–as in being more “faithful, blameless, pure.”

At the heart of the Gospel is love, and that’s the bottom line. Jesus made that clear in what he taught and by offering his own life as the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. The most well known verse in the Bible makes it clear, too, and that verse is John 3:16:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son [Jesus Christ], that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Whoever believes…. In the parable above it was the tax collector who went home justified by God and not the Pharisee. It is too easy for us as Christians to fall into the same trap as the Pharisees did in Jesus’ day who couldn’t see how wrong they were even when they had Jesus standing and teaching right in front of them for three years during his earthly ministry. And the Pharisee in the parable above couldn’t see how wrong he was in his judgment of the tax collector.

The devotion brings out some points worth noting; however, we need to be careful and let God be the one who determines who is “faithful, blameless, and pure.” God alone sees into the heart of every single person on earth and knows what is in each heart (see Proverbs 16:2, Jeremiah 17:10, 1 Kings 8:39, and other verses at this link). Our responsibility as Christians is to love others and not judge them like the Pharisee judged the tax collector. It is love that is at the heart of the Gospel.

1 John 4:8 describes one of God’s primary attributes as love. ‘Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.’ This verse does not define God as love; it describes God’s love as permeating His essence in all He is and all He does.” That quote is found in an excellent article titled, God is Love: 5 Implications of This Amazing Attribute,” published on BibleStudyTools.com and available at this link.

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

Always trusts . . .

Always hopes . . .

Always perseveres . . . .

YouTube Video: “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love” – Jars of Clay:

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Photo #2 credit here

Moving Forward in the New Year

“And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been”Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926), a  BohemianAustrian poet and novelist.

I must confess after publishing my last blog post on December 29, 2018, on this blog on the topic of New Year’s resolutions titled, Journey into a New Year,” that I didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions this year. Well, maybe I did make one. I decided it was time to leave the past in the past (especially the past decade) and start fresh and new with the beginning of another new year.

Appropriately, the first book of this new year that I decided to read is Becoming (2018), by Michelle Obama, lawyer, university administrator, writer, mother, wife of our 44th President, Barack Obama, and former First Lady of the United States of America. As of this moment I have read 130 pages of the 426-page book, and it is fascinating. It got me to thinking about my own growing up years as I was reading her account of growing up on the South Side of Chicago.

Amazon.com states the following regarding her book:

In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare. 
 
In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, “Becoming” is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same. (Quote source here.)

On the back cover of the book is this quote from the preface:

There’s a lot I still don’t know about America, about life, about what the future might bring. But I do know myself. My father, Fraser, taught me to work hard, laugh often, and keep my word. My mother, Marian, showed me how to think for myself and to use my voice. Together, in our cramped apartment on the South Side of Chicago, they helped me see the value in our story, in my story, in the larger story of our country. Even when it’s not pretty or perfect. Even when it’s more real than you want it to be. Your story is what you have, what you will always have. It is something to own. (Quote source: Becoming, back cover and preface, pp. x-xi.)

I still have a lot left to read and I plan to complete reading it in the next couple of days. I started reading the book yesterday, so much of what I’ve read has stuck with me so far, including something she wrote on page 7 when she was a young girl living in an upstairs apartment with her brother, Craig, who was two years older then her, and her mom and dad. The house where the apartment was located was owned by her great-aunt Robbie and great-uncle Terry who lived on the first floor. She describes their part of the house (the first floor) as being “like a mausoleum with the furniture swathed in protective plastic” and “her shelves were loaded with porcelain figurines we were’t allowed to touch” (page 6). Her aunt also taught piano lessons in her home and she was very strict. She describes her uncle, Terry, as being “like a shadow, a distinguished-looking man who wore three-piece suits every day of the week and pretty much never said a word” (page 7).

Michelle goes on to describe the difference between the two parts of the house on page 7:

I came to think of the upstairs and downstairs as two different universes, ruled over by competing sensibilities. Upstairs, we were noisy and unapologetically so. Craig and I threw balls and chased each other around the apartment. We sprayed Pledge furniture polish on the wood floor of the hallway so we could slide farther and faster in our socks, often crashing into the walls. We held brother-sister boxing matches in the kitchen, using the two sets of gloves my dad had given us for Christmas, along with  personalized instructions on how to land a proper jab. At night, as a family, we played board games, told stories and jokes, and cranked Jackson 5 records on the stereo. When it got to be too much for Robbie down below, she’d emphatically flick the light switch in our shared stairwell, which also controlled the light bulb in our upstairs hallway, off and on, again and again–her polite-ish way of telling us to pipe down.

Robbie and Terry were older. They grew up in a different era, with different concerns. They’d seen things our parents hadn’t–things that Craig and I, in our raucous childishness, couldn’t begin to guess. This was some version of what my mother would say if we got too wound up about the grouchiness downstairs. Even if we didn’t know the context, we were instructed to remember that context existed. Everyone on earth, they’d tell us, was carrying around an unseen history, and that alone deserved some tolerance…. (Quote source: Becoming, page 7.)

That last sentence, “everyone on earth… was carrying around an unseen history, and that alone deserved some tolerance,” has really stuck with me this morning. It goes to what I stated above that my only New Year’s resolution for 2019 was to let the past stay in the past, especially the past decade.

“Becoming” is an action word–it implies a journey, maybe even a journey of the soul and spirit in each one of us.  We tend to get a bit myopic about life in thinking our side of the journey is the most important side (which is a very human tendency). However, as Michelle’s mom wisely spoke, everyone on earth is carrying around an unseen history that deserves some tolerance.

In putting the past behind me for this new year, as I read that sentence stated by Michelle’s mom I realized something I truly needed to consider. I don’t know why what happened at that last job that sent me headlong into this past decade happened, but each person involved in it was carrying around an unseen history that caused them to be who they were when our paths crossed under that same roof. Too often we never reflect on the other person’s side of the story (whether what they did was right or wrong or that we even knew all the facts involved). We speak of tolerance being a big deal in our society right now but the fact of the matter is that it is too often not a big deal, and our actions prove that to be true most of the time. We mostly only see things from our own perspective, and we don’t have a lot of tolerance for those who don’t.

Tolerance is defined as (1) “the ability or willingness to tolerate the existence of opinions or behavior that one dislikes or disagrees with” and (2) “the capacity to endure continued subjection to something such as a drug or environmental conditions without adverse reaction” (quote source here).

As I look back to ten years ago, I can honestly say I seriously have no idea why I ended up losing that job, or why it has left me unemployed for the past decade since losing it (see tolerance definition #1 above). I had a stellar 20-year work history in that profession when I started that job, and I gave that job my “all,” too, just like I did with every job I had in the past. However, I don’t know the “behind the scenes” story from the employer’s side as to why I lost that job as I was never privy to that side; and I can only assume things about why it happened from my own experience when I worked there (and I did find some physical evidence after I was fired, but that doesn’t automatically make the details of the story about what happened crystal clear to me).

Tolerance also has to do with that second definition above which states “the capacity to endure continued subjection to… environmental conditions without adverse reaction.” In my case the “environmental conditions” have been going on for a decade now starting with chronic long-term unemployment and all of the financial and other hardships it brings into a person’s life.

Paul wrote something on the subject of tolerance in Philippians 3:12-16:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

 All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

The truth is that I may never know the facts behind what caused me to lose that job or why losing that particular job lead into these past ten years of chronic unemployment. However, like Paul, I have decided to “press on toward the goal” and move forward, and that is my plan for 2019…

Forgetting what is behind . . .

And straining toward . . .

What is ahead . . . .

YouTube Video: “Moving Forward” by Lakewood Worship Team ft. Israel Houghton from “Hope for Today”:

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Photo #2 credit here