I’m Dreaming Of A Bright Christmas

“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas with every Christmas card I write…” — lyrics from “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas,” composed in 1942 by Irving Berlin (1888-1989), famous and prolific American composer and lyricist.

With only a few more days until Thanksgiving is here, I’m already thinking about starting on my Christmas card project that takes me several hours to complete every year. Also, since I live in a southern state where snow is a very, very rare occurrence, dreaming of a white Christmas is more of a pipe dream then anything else. Irving Berlin’s very famous song published in 1942 titled, “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas,” is good if you live in an area where it snows in the winter, or plan to travel there for Christmas; however, I’d rather dream about having a “bright” Christmas which isn’t dependent on snow… 🙂

And speaking of dreams, I rarely remember most of the dreams that I dream, and those that I do remember are very few and very far between. Research shows that everybody dreams every night whether they remember their dreams or not according to an article published on VeryWellMind.com on October 7, 2019, titled, 10 Interesting Facts About Dreams, by Kendra Cherry, Educational Consultant, author, and speaker; and medically reviewed by Claudia Chaves, M.D., Associate Professor at Tufts Medical School, and Medical Director at Lahey Clinic Multiple Sclerosis Center. Here is that article:

Dreams can be fascinating, exciting, terrifying, or just plain weird. While there is no clear consensus on why we dream, researchers have learned quite a bit about what happens while we are dreaming. Here are 10 things you should know about dreams.

Everybody Dreams

Adults and babies alike dream for around two hours per nighteven those of us who claim not to. In fact, researchers have found that people usually have several dreams each night, each one typically lasting for between five to 20 minutes.

During a typical lifetime, people spend an average of six years dreaming.

You Forget Most of Your Dreams

As much as 95 percent of all dreams are quickly forgotten shortly after waking. According to one theory about why dreams are so difficult to remember, the changes in the brain that occur during sleep do not support the information processing and storage needed for memory formation to take place.

Brain scans of sleeping individuals have shown that the frontal lobes—the area that plays a key role in memory formationare inactive during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the stage in which dreaming occurs.

Not All Dreams Are in Color

While most people report dreaming in color, there is a small percentage of people who claim to only dream in black and white. In studies where dreamers have been awakened and asked to select colors from a chart that match those in their dreams, soft pastel colors are those most frequently chosen.

Men and Women Dream Differently

Researchers have found some differences between men and women when it comes to the content of their dreams. In several studies, men reported dreaming about weapons significantly more often than women did, while women dreamed about references to clothing more often than men.

Another study showed that men’s dreams tend to have more aggressive content and physical activity, while women’s dreams contain more rejection and exclusion, as well as more conversation than physical activity.

Women tend to have slightly longer dreams that feature more characters. When it comes to the characters that typically appear in dreams, men dream about other men twice as often as they do about women, while women tend to dream about both sexes equally.

Animals Probably Dream

Many think that when a sleeping dog wags its tail or moves its legs, it is dreaming. While it’s hard to say for sure whether this is truly the case, researchers believe that it’s likely that animals do indeed dream.

Just like humans, animals go through sleep stages that include cycles of REM and non-REM sleep.

It’s Possible to Control Your Dreams

A lucid dream is one in which you are aware that you are dreaming even though you’re still asleep. Lucid dreaming is thought to be a combination state of both consciousness and REM sleep, during which you can often direct or control the dream content.

Approximately half of all people can remember experiencing at least one instance of lucid dreaming, and some individuals are able to have lucid dreams quite frequently.

Negative Emotions Are More Common

Over a period of more than 40 years, researcher Calvin S. Hall, PhD, collected over 50,000 dream accounts from college students. These reports were made available to the public during the 1990s by Hall’s student William Domhoff.

The dream accounts revealed that many emotions are experienced during dreams.

The most common emotion experienced in dreams is anxiety, and negative emotions, in general, are much more common than positive ones.

Blind People May Dream Visually

In one study of people who have been blind since birth, researchers found that they still seemed to experience visual imagery in their dreams, and they also had eye movements that correlated to visual dream recall.

Although their eye movements were fewer during REM than the sighted participants of the study, the blind participants reported the same dream sensations, including visual content.

You Are Paralyzed During Your Dreams

REM sleep is characterized by paralysis of the voluntary muscles. The phenomenon is known as REM atonia and prevents you from acting out your dreams while you’re asleep. Basically, because motor neurons are not stimulated, your body does not move.

In some cases, this paralysis can even carry over into the waking state for as long as 10 minutes, a condition known as sleep paralysis.

While the experience can be frightening, experts advise that it is perfectly normal and should last only a few minutes before normal muscle control returns.

Many Dreams Are Universal

While dreams are often heavily influenced by our personal experiences, researchers have found that certain dream themes are very common across different cultures. For example, people from all over the world frequently dream about being chased, being attacked, or falling. Other common dream experiences include feeling frozen and unable to move, arriving late, flying, and being naked in public. (Quote source here.)

In another article published on HuffPost.com that was updated on December 7, 2017, titled, 14 Common Dreams and Symbols and Why They’re Important,” by DreamsCloud, Contributor, the following information is provided. This exact same article is also available under the title of Dream Meanings at Evangelical Christian Academy:

For 90 minutes to two hours or more each night, every single person on Earth dreams. Sometimes, the dreams are straightforward in their meaning to the dreamer: a long-lost friend reappears, a tropical beach beckons or the lottery jackpot is within reach.

But dreams don’t always tell a simple story, and the field of dream research becomes even more fascinating when people from different cultures and backgrounds report having similar dreams.

“Dreams are a universal language, creating often elaborate images out of emotional concepts,” explains Suzanne Bergmann, a licensed social worker and professional dream worker for more than 16 years.

Bergmann, who is part of the experienced team of Dream Reflectors at DreamsCloud that provide feedback and insight about dreams, has identified 14 common images found in dreams posted to the DreamsCloud user-generated dreams database.

“There’s no single, definitive meaning for symbols and images in dreams,” Bergmann notes. “But just as a smile usually means that someone is happy, these dream images are so common, that they do have a generally accepted meaning.”

1. Being Chased

This is one of the most commonly reported dreams. Mostly because the anxiety we feel in the dream is so vivid, that it makes it easier for us to remember them. Often, the reason for these dreams comes not from the fear of actually being chased, but rather what we’re running from. Chase dreams help us to understand that we may not be addressing something in our waking lives that requires our attention.

2. Water

Water frequently represents our emotions or our unconscious minds. The quality of the water (clear vs. cloudy; calm vs. turbulent) often provides insight into how effectively we are managing our emotions.

3. Vehicles

Whether a car, airplane, train or ship, the vehicles in our dream can reflect what direction we feel our life is taking, and how much control we think we have over the path ahead of us. Vehicles can give us the power to make a transition and envision ourselves getting to our destination — or highlight the obstacles we think we are facing and need to work through.

4. People

Seeing other people in your dream often is a reflection of the different aspects of the self. The people in dreams can relate to characteristics that need to be developed. Specific people directly relate to existing relationships or interpersonal issues we need to work through. Dreaming of a lover, in particular, is frequently symbolic of an aspect of ourselves, from which we feel detached.

5. School or Classroom

It’s a very common situation for people in dreams to find themselves in a school or classroom, often confronted with a test that they aren’t prepared to take. This is a great example of a “dream pun” — the mind using a word or concept and giving it a different definition. The “lesson” or “test” we face inside the school or classroom is frequently one we need to learn from our past — which is one reason these dreams are often reported by people who have long since finished school.

6. Paralysis

Unknown to most people, the body is actually encountering a form of paralysis during dreaming, which prevents it from physically performing the actions occurring in their dreams, therefore dreaming about paralysis frequently represents the overlap between the REM stage and waking stage of sleep. Dreaming about paralysis can also indicate that the dreamer feels he or she lacks control in their waking life.

7. Death

Although death is often perceived as negative, it’s often more directly related to dramatic change happening for the dreamer — the end of one thing, in order to make room for something new.

8. Flying

Flying in a dream, and how effectively or poorly it’s done, relates to how much control we feel we have in our lives, and whether we are confident and able to achieve our goals. High flying is one of the most euphoric dreams imaginable, while flying or “skimming” low to the ground or being caught in obstacles like power lines can be immensely frustrating.

9. Falling

Not all falling dreams are scary and negative. Some dreamers report a type of slow falling that indicates serenity and the act of letting go. Often, falling uncontrollably from a great height indicates something in waking our life that feels very much out of control.

10. Nudity

Emotional or psychological exposure or vulnerability is very often expressed in dreams through nudity. The body part that’s exposed can give more insight into the emotion that our dreams are helping us to understand.

11. Baby

Dreaming of a baby often represents something new: It might be a new idea, new project at work, new development or the potential for growth in a specific area of our waking life.

12. Food

Food symbolizes energy, knowledge or nourishment and is directly related to our intellect, emotions and spirituality. Food can also be a manifestation of idioms like, “food for thought,” and reveal that we may be “hungry” for new information and insights.

13. House

Houses frequently represent the dreamer’s mind. Different levels or rooms may relate to difference aspects of the individual dreamer and different degrees of consciousness. The basement often represents what has been neglected, or what the dreamer is not aware of in his or her waking life, while bedrooms relate to intimate thoughts and feelings — those closest to the dreamer’s core self.

14. Sex

Sex in dreams can simply be an outlet for sexual expression. But dreams about sex can also symbolize intimate connections with one’s self and others, and the figurative integration of new information.

Despite the commonality shared by many dream symbols, it is important to point out that only the dreamer can truly interpret the meaning of their dream and how these symbols and their meanings may connect to the specific events occurring in their waking life. (Quote source here and here.)

At least now I know more about dreams then I did before, and I hope you do, too. However, given that the Christmas season has already started in most stores and malls around the country, and that the season will officially get underway right after Thanksgiving, perhaps many folks in areas where it snows in the winter will start dreaming of a white Christmas, and the rest of us not living around snow or planning to visit areas where it snows at Christmas can dream of having a bright Christmas right where we live.

I’ll end this post with the last line from the song, I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas”; however, I’ve changed the very last word to also accommodate those of us living where there is no snow at Christmas. Here goes… ( a little music, please )–May your days be merry and bright…

And may all . . .

Your Christmases . . .

Be BRIGHT (too). . . .

YouTube Video: “I’m Dreaming Of A White Christmas” by The Drifters:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Real Religion

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”James 1:27Do you ever find yourself feeling a bit defensive if someone tells you that you are being too religious? The term “religious” or “religion” often comes with very negative connotations. Phrases like “holier than thou” come to mind, or in many cases thinking about the Pharisees in Jesus’ day certainly brings about negative connotations of what “religion” is often viewed to look like “up close and personal” to the world-at-large.

However, our perceptions about “religion” aren’t even close to what James 1:27 states is God’s view of religion:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Many of us fall short regarding that definition of religion. How often do we actually “look after orphans and widows in their distress” and “keep oneself from being polluted by the world”?

So… what is “pure and undefiled religion”? GotQuestions.org gives us this explanation:

In James 1:27, the apostle James gives us insight into what pleases God: “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (NASB). The word for “undefiled” is translated “faultless” in the NIV.

When interpreting any verse in the Bible, including James 1:27, we should always look at its context to get an idea of what the verse means within the surrounding verses. In this case, we can look at what comes immediately before James 1:27 and get some idea of what is going on in this particular passage. Verse 26 says, “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.” So, in these final two verses of James 1, we have a contrast between what makes religion “worthless” and what makes religion “acceptable” to God.

Here it would be good to define the word “religion.” Byreligion,” James means the external evidence of inward piety; that is, worship as expressed in ritual acts.

In the “worthless” religion, it doesn’t seem to matter what rituals or pious acts the worshiper engages in—it is all negated by an out-of-control tongue. A man may go through all the external motions of Christianity, yet if he tells lies or speaks unkindly or gossips or slanders or profanes God’s name, then his religion is empty. Everyone around him will see it, but he himself remains self-deceived. “By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:37).

The implied contrast in the “pure and undefiled” religion that pleases God is that the worshiper keeps his tongue under control. “Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies” (Psalm 34:12–13). But James goes beyond just tongue control and gives examples of the religious acts God is looking for. One is outward-focused: “Look after orphans and widows in their distress.” The other is inward-focused: “Keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). Holy living, coupled with service to others, is the key. Or, as Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30–31).

“Pure and undefiled religion” happens when believers take care of the less fortunate and strive for personal purity. The right kind of religious practice involves helping those who cannot help themselves (and who cannot pay you back). As Jesus taught, “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:13–14). The right kind of religious practice also requires a personal commitment to growing in Christian virtue (see 2 Peter 1:5–8).

The apostle Paul also wrote about pure and undefiled religion, i.e., the actions of those who wish to please the Lord: “If a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God” (1 Timothy 5:4). Taking care of one’s family is a proper religious practice.

Looking after widows and orphans and keeping oneself “unspotted” from the world (KJV) are just two practical examples of what the Christian might do who desires to please God in his or her religion. James is not trying to create an exhaustive description of what religious practice must include. He is most likely highlighting some areas of concern among the believers to whom he was writing. But the result—pure and undefiled religion—is what believers of all eras should have as their goal. (Quote source here.

In an article published on September 12, 2014, titled, Polluted By the World,” by Steve Gillis, Founder and Executive Director of PatchOurPlanet.org (an orphan care organization), he writes:

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.“ James 1:27 NIV

This verse is not unfamiliar in orphan care circles.

If orphan care advocates were a football team (the Advocates), this verse would be on a sign hanging over the exit door in the stadium tunnel. Every advocate would reach up and touch it on the way out to the playing field. It’s been our rallying verse.

A rally is “an occurrence in which a team or player that has been behind or playing badly begins to play well.” Guess what? Our team is behind.

We have pockets of communities beginning to play well, but there are still too many churches who have yet to give it any effort. There is no rally. We’re falling behind.

Why are we falling behind?

We see in our rallying verse above that we have a clear understanding of what God calls “pure and faultless” or undefiled religion. Powerful words. But did you also see that the biggest threat to our team also exists in that very same verse?

“….keep oneself from being polluted but the world.”

Twitter. Facebook. iPhone. Text messages. Netflix. World News. YouTube.

It’s not that these things are bad. They are simply contributors to the noise in our world and they, along with so many other things, are polluting our world, derailing our focus, and limiting our face to face interaction with people. Only because we let them.

Why knock these things? They can be great tools if used with wisdom. I agree. I use them, too.

But many people would rather post something about themselves on Facebook than meet someone at a coffee shop who may need a little encouragement. Many would rather “influence” the masses on Twitter than sit patiently with a widow in a nursing home. Or worse, “creatively” tell everyone in your social network about how good you were to do those things (I know, that was below the belt. I’ve done it too, unfortunately.) Many would rather look down at their phones when their children are crying for their attention – just look at them and be all there for a moment. You will need their full attention one day.

And this is the way we lose the ministry of James 1:27 in churches as well.

Busy people = busy churches. Polluted.

What can we do?

Pray. Ask God to identify and illuminate the noise in your life. Then ask Him what He would have you to change. It’s always a good idea to talk to God about things before you talk to someone else. Let’s start there and continue this talk after we get the most important step rolling. Rid ourselves of the excess noise in our lives. Clear the pollution.

It’s late in the game and our team is behind.

We desperately need you and your church to come charging out of that faith tunnel with a renewed focus to serve those who are most vulnerable in your community and those within your influence globally. (Quote source here.)

In another article titled, Marks of Maturity: A New Beginning,” by Greg Laurie, senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship, he writes:

After years of walking with the Lord, the apostle Paul said, “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection! But I keep working toward that day when I will finally be all that Christ Jesus saved me for and wants me to be” (Philippians 3:12 NLT).

Truly spiritual people will always recognize that there is so much more to learn and so much more in their lives that needs to change.

In contrast, self-deceived people—people who think they are spiritual but really are not—think they know it all, which only shows how little they know. They are like those whom the Book of Revelation describes from the church of Laodicea, claiming to be rich and lacking nothing. But God’s assessment was that they were “wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17 NLT).

So how can we know if we are truly spiritual people? In James 1, we find three things that we as Christians should be actively doing if we are really seeking to live godly lives:

If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world (vv. 26-27 NKJV).

If you are a true Christian, a truly spiritual person, you will:

Control your tongue. The true test of a person’s religion is not his ability to speak his mind, but to hold his tongue. That is why the psalmist wrote, “I will watch what I do and not sin in what I say. I will curb my tongue when the ungodly are around me” (Psalm 39:1 NLT).

As Christians, we may pride ourselves on the fact that we don’t steal from others or attack other people or commit immoral acts. But we may bring pain worse than a blow to the body by wounding the heart of someone with our words. We can steal someone’s good name and their reputation, and that, too, is sin.

Gossip, slander, and backbiting are extremely widespread sins in the church today, so we must seek to control our tongues. If you are a godly person, then you will exercise self-control over what you say.

Care about others. “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble…” (James 1:27 NKJV). This phrase “to visit” suggests the idea of caring for or looking after. It is the idea of not just seeing someone in need, but taking action to help meet that need. Jesus said that if you give a drink to strangers or invite them into your home or clothe them or visit them when they are sick or in prison, it is the same as doing it for Him (see Matthew 25:35-40).

Keep yourself unspotted from the world. Have you ever worn an outfit that you didn’t want to spill anything on? Doesn’t it seem that you always spill on it? If I am wearing jeans and a T-shirt, I don’t spill anything. But if I am wearing a suit and will be going to a meeting or maybe giving a little talk, I will always spill on myself. It happens immediately: a big stain somewhere. Even when I cover myself in napkins, inevitably, a big glob will find its way through that one, little, microscopic gap in the napkin. To try and keep oneself unspotted takes effort.

While Scripture says we are “kept by the power of God through faith for salvation” (1 Peter 1:5 NKJV), we are also to keep ourselves pure (see 1 Timothy 5:22). Rather than being a contradiction, this shows us there is God’s part and there is our part in keeping ourselves unspotted from the world.

God will keep us. The question is, do we want to be kept?

You see, true spirituality is not measured primarily by what we say, but by what we do. Truly godly people will come humbly to His Word, recognizing their great need for Him and His truths. Truly godly people will control their words. Truly godly people will reach out to those who are hurting and will keep themselves unspotted by the world.

In short, truly godly people will be doers of His Word — not just hearers. (Quote source here.)

And in one last article for this blog post titled, What does James 1:27 mean?” published on BibleRef.com (the author’s name is not mentioned), the article states:

In the previous verse (v. 26), James called out anyone who labels themselves as religious, but doesn’t control their tongues—their words. Such people are lying to themselves. What this implies is that it is not enough to participate in religious ceremonies, keep a few commands, or refer to ourselves as a religious followers. So far as Christianity is concerned, obedience to God is meant to be followed down to the level of every word we speak.

James lived in a very religious time in history. He was born into the religion of Judaism, a political-religious system instituted by God Himself. It had been corrupted over time by its human leadership, leading to great misunderstanding about who God was and what He wanted from His people. In addition, the culture of that era was packed with religions that included the worship of all kinds of idols and false gods. All of them had specific rules and practices. All of them gave people a false sense of security in exchange for money or loyalty or ritualistic obedience. None of them was pure or undefiled religion.

Now, though, James writes that there is a form of religious expression that is still pure and undefiled before God. It is simple, though not easy: show up with the widows and orphans in their suffering. Help them. And don’t let yourself be polluted or stained by the world.

As with other verses, we need to carefully understand the point at hand. James is not restricting “right religion” to only literal care for literal widows and orphans. At the time James wrote, these represented society’s most helpless members. Widows, in that culture, were women who had lost their husbands prior to bearing children. This left them destitute. Children without parents, and women without husbands, were among that culture’s most needy. According to this verse, “pure” religion is defined as caring for those who are in need, and avoiding the sins of the world.

When the New Testament speaks of “the world,” it usually means the “world system.” This is the fallen, sin-soaked attitude of humanity, which rejects God and opposes His wisdom. Later in this letter, James will describe worldly wisdom as bitter envy and selfish ambition. To be unstained by the world means that we refuse to be driven by our own appetites and desires and selfish goals. It means not compromising with a system that hates God. Just as James pointed out in James 1:5–8, the world’s wisdom is not like God’s.

With this, James is also implying that it’s very difficult to practice pure and undefiled religion before God…unless we see some serious changes inside of us. Merely planning to follow the right list of regulations is not enough. (Quote source here.)

The above information gives us plenty of “food for thought” on the topic of being religious. It really boils down to the question that was asked to Jesus, “What is the greatest commandment in the Law?” (see Matthew 22:36-40). And Jesus answered: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it…

Love . . .

Your neighbor . . .

As yourself . . . .

YouTube Video: “The Least of These” by Matt Maher:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here