A Gift That Keeps On Giving

“Carpe diem. Seize the day. Make your lives extraordinary.” –John Keating, played by Robin Williams in the movie, “Dead Poets Society.”
With only a couple of weeks left before Christmas, if you’re still wondering what to get that one person you have no clue what to get them, there is a gift you can give that doesn’t cost anything, but it could just change your perspective on life.

Yesterday I found a hardback copy of a book published in 2000 that was in new condition for only $2.00. There isn’t hardly anything that thrills me more than finding a gem of a book in a used bookstore at a very cheap price and in excellent condition. The title of the book is Reflections on the Movies: Hearing God in the Unlikeliest of Places (2000), by Ken Gire, author of more than 20 books, and founder of Reflective Living, a nonprofit ministry devoted to helping people learn how to slow down and live more reflective lives. An introduction to the book written on Amazon.com states the following:

Can a movie feed your soul?

Stories. Be it a parable of Jesus, a C.S. Lewis fantasy, or a movie such as “Saving Private Ryan,” stories have been around since Creation; a means of both education and entertainment. By far, our favorite way to listen to a story today is at the movies, whether in a theater or a family room. Indeed, says Ken Gire, movies are the parables of our culture—earthly stories that sometimes have heavenly meanings.

Can we discern God’s voice in the modern parables of film? Yes, it is there, sometimes loud and crystal-clear, sometimes barely a whisper, sometimes even despite the filmmaker’s intent. In “Reflections on the Movies,” Ken helps us:

• sensitize our “eyes to see and ears to hear” God speaking,
• develop the skills to understand movies and their themes, and
• learn to reflect on the medium as a form of spiritual enrichment.

In 1999, Ken was one of thirty Christians selected for a month-long study under some of the film industry’s top talent in Hollywood. He has led numerous spiritual retreats where he has used movie clips to illustrate his messages.

Reflections on the Movies and Ken’s previous books in this series—The Reflective Life,Reflections on the Word,” a devotional, andReflections on Your Life,” a journal—are designed to help you become more spiritually sensitive to the everyday moments of life. (Quote source here.)

In his book, Gire reflects on 14 major movies produced in the latter half of the 20th Century. Of the 14 movies mentioned, the reflection that I turned to first is one of my favorite Robin Williams’ movies titled, Dead Poets Society,” a 1989 film starring Robin Williams as an English teacher named John Keating. “Set in 1959 at the fictional elite conservative Vermont boarding school Welton Academy, it tells the story of John Keating, a progressive English teacher, who encourage his students to break free from the norm, go against the status quo and live life unapologetically” (quote source here.)

Gire opens the chapter titled, “Reflections on ‘The Dead Poets Society,'” with the following:

The battle cry of the summer of ’89 was “Carpe diem,” from the Latin phrase for “Seize the day.” It came from “Dead Poets Society,” an unlikely summer hit move about a group of prep school boys. Some audience members reported making new life decisions as a result of seeing the film. Teachers were inspired. Everyone fondly remembered the teachers of their past. Virtually no one walked out of the theater unmoved or unaffected. (Quote source from “Script to Screen” by Linda Seger and Edward Jay Whetmore as quoted in “Reflections on the Movies,” page 159.)

Gire continues on the next several pages with the following:

Film invites dialogue. That, I think, is why this movie was particularly life-changing for a lot of people. It engaged them in a dialogue about their life.

There were pauses the director structured into the film that gave the audience an opportunity to enter into that conversation. I especially remember the one classroom scene where Professor Keating talks to his students about passion, huddling them all around him. “The powerful play goes on,” he tells them, “and each of us can contribute a verse.”

Keating pauses long enough to let that thought sink in, then repeats it. “The powerful play goes on, and each of us can contribute a verse.”

Another pause, then a question.

“What will your verse be?”

Keating looks right at Ethan Hawke’s character when he asks it. That is where the director lets the camera rest for maybe an extra beat longer than might be expected. In that extra beat, you are not wondering what Ethan Hawke’s verse will be, you’re wondering what yours will be.

And you’re not sure.

Which would be okay, except you’re not a kid in prep school. You’re a thirtysomething or a fortysomething and should have a verse by now. But you don’t, and that’s a little unsettling.

At some point in that powerful play, our character steps onstage. Between our cue to “Enter” and our cue to “Exit,” we have a part in the unfolding drama of redemption. But none of us really knows how big a part.

If I were to audition for a part in a story, say,To Kill A Mockingbird,” I would want to play Atticus Finch, the lawyer everyone respects, who has a great part to play and great lines to deliver. God, of course, may have different casting plans. Maybe He’s looking for someone to play Boo Radley, a misunderstood man with the mind of a child. He has only a few short scenes. We see him in his house, in the shadows, hiding behind the door in Jem’s room, and finally sitting with Scout on a porch swing at her house. Boo has no lines to speak. His purpose in the story, as determined by the author, is to save Scott and Jem from the vengeance of Bob Ewell, which in the end he does. Who would have thought Boo would have ever amounted to anything, least of all a hero?

But then, who would have thought Rahab would have amounted to anything either? When Moses sent two men to spy out Jericho, they hid in the house of Rahab the harlot. When the king of Jericho learned this, he ordered her to hand over the men. At great risk to her own life, she told him the men had already left. As the soldiers roamed the city in search, she lowered a rope from her window, allowing Joshua and Caleb to escape. She had only one scene and only a few lines in that scene. Her entire story amounted to a little over a page.

And how about the thief on the cross? He had only one verse: “[Jesus,] Remember me when You come into Your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). A seemingly insignificant verse, heard by only a small audience. And yet, how many prisoners awaiting execution have come to Christ because of that one verse? How many people on their deathbeds have looked to that thief, thinking that if he had a chance at getting into heaven, maybe there is still hope for them? And maybe this Jesus would accept them on the basis of such a simple expression of faith, who knows?

The life of the thief on the cross was pulp fiction. Rahab’s life was a Harlequin romance. Paul’s life, before the Damascus Road, was a Pulitzer Prize-winning autobiography. Yet none of those were God’s story. If you were able to ask the thief, I’m sure he would say he’s rather have that one sentence in God’s story than a thousand pages in his own. 

It’s a humbling realization that sometimes a fragment of our life is all that is useful to God in the story He is telling. When I think about my life, I think of it in terms of a miniseries with a to-die-for role that Richard Chamberlain is chomping at the bit to play. I think those things until I see my life from God’s perspective, as did Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran minister who openly opposed Hitler during World War II.

While Bonhoeffer was imprisoned in a German concentration camp, he reflected on his life, wondering what the deeper meaning of it might be. It seems to him so confusing. The fragments of his life seemed disconnected, like sentences in search of a story. A few months before his execution, he came to this conclusion, “It all depends on whether or not the fragment of our life reveals the plan and material of the whole. There are fragments which are only good to be thrown away, and others which are important for centuries to come, because their fulfillment can only be a divine work. They are fragments of necessity. If our life, however remotely, reflects such a fragment… we shall not have to bewail our fragmentary life, but, on the contrary, to rejoice in it.”

When we look at our life from that perspective, even the most fragmentary parts may have eternal significance. What “Dead Poets Society” does particularly well is to challenge us to look at life from a little different perspective than what we are used to, as in the scene where Professor Keating has his students stand on their desks to look at the classroom through new eyes. In the process of looking at life from a different perspective, it causes us to look at our own lives from a different perspective, too. The movie does this primarily through the character, Professor Keating.

Keating, himself a graduate of the boarding school where he now teaches, is new to the faculty. It is his romantic view of life that sets up the conflict between himself and his more traditional colleagues, eventually leading to his dismissal. He is, in every sense of the word, a nontraditionalist. You know that the very first day of class. He enters the room from his office in front of the class, walks past a row of students, whistling while he walks, and leaves the classroom. He steps back in and calls to them, “Well, come on.”

The boys hesitate to follow, but one by one they do. As they spill into the hallway, Keating is standing in front of the trophy case. Once he has their attention, he asks Mr. Pitt [one of the students] to read a page from the textbook on poetry:

Gather ye rosebuds while you may,
Old time is still a-flying.
And this same flower that smiles today,
Tomorrow will be dying.

“The Latin term for the sentiment is ‘carpe diem,'” he tells them.

He asks for a translation, and one of the students says, “Carpe diem, seize the day.”

“Why does the writer use these words, ‘Gather ye rosebuds while you may”? Because we are food for worms, lads. Believe it or not, each and every one in this room will one day stop breathing, turn cold, and die.”

As Keating tells them this, the camera becomes their eyes and they study the faces on an old, faded photograph of a bygone basketball team. “Look at the pictures in the trophy case. Same haircuts. Same raging hormones. They believe they are destined for great things, just like you. Invincible, just like you. Eyes full of hope, just like you.”

Their eyes drift to a team picture of football players.

“These boys are now fertilizing daffodils. If you listen real close, you can hear them whispering their legacy to you.” As the students lean in, Keating whispers the haunting words, ‘Car-pe . . . car-pe . . . carpe diem. Make you lives extraordinary.'”

It is the most memorable moment in the film. One generation face-to-face with another. Looking through the glass at one another. Studying one another. There is great drama in this moment, and when Keating whispers their legacy, the effect is powerful…. (See the YouTube video at the end of this post for the scene in the move described above.)

Here’s what I struggle with in that scene. I don’t know about you, but the thought of my life being fertilizer for daffodils doesn’t seem the most compelling argument for making my life extraordinary.

The argument is a fashionable form of hedonism, wearing a coat instead of a toga. Seizing the day because we’re all going to end up as food for worms is not exactly the same as “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” But it’s not a whole lot different either.

There are other philosophical options for seizing the day that are, in my opinion, better than the one the movie gives us. Jesus promised to give us not only life but life in its fullness, its richness, its abundance. That should be our reason for seizing the day. The day is a gift, given us from the generous hand of God. And we are to receive it as the incalculable treasure it is, take hold of it, and enjoy it to the fullest.

Just as we have gifts to receive from the day, we also have gifts to give. Gifts of love. Of understanding. And compassion. Of kindness. And forgiveness. Of wonder. And gratitude. This, I think, is how we make our lives extraordinary. By the gifts we give and joyful generosity with which we give them. (Quote source, “Reflections on the Movies,” pp 160-165.)

And those are the gifts we can give to anyone this Christmas. They are priceless, and we can keep on giving them throughout the days, weeks, months, and years ahead. They are the gifts, as Gire states, that make life “extraordinary.”

I’ll end this post by quoting the last line in a movie clip from “Dead Poet’s Society” in the YouTube Video below: Carpe diem…

Seize the day . . .

Make your lives . . .

Extraordinary . . . .

YouTube Video: “Carpe Diem–Seize the Day” –a movie clip from “Dead Poets Society”:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

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

The Other Side

“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” –The author of the Hebrews (13:2) in the New Testament
Halloween is quickly approaching in a few days on October 31st, and the entire month of October is when several TV stations announce “31 days of Halloween” movies, and new spooky movies show up at the theaters. Of course, on Halloween children dress up in costumes and go door-to-door trick or treating just as I did when I was a kid. My mom always had to ration out the goodies so I didn’t eat too many sweets at any one time. Spooks and goblins and Harry Potter type stuff, along with The Addams Family who first showed up in 1991 and they are still quite popular today, proliferate during this month. However, when I woke up this morning I got to thinking about “the other side” of the spirit world–Angels–as they appear in the Bible many times including their association with us human beings. In fact, Hebrews 13:2 states:

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

Imagine entertaining an angel and not even knowing it. Obviously, according to this Bible verse they are able to take on human form. Most likely if we think of angels at all it is sort of like this picture as being “bright, glowing, ethereal, winged messengers or guardians” (quote source here). However, the angels of the Bible are described as follows:

Superhuman or heavenly being who serves as God’s messenger. Both the Hebrew  malak and the Greek angelos indicate that these beings also act decisively in fulfilling God’s will in the world. But these two terms also apply to human beings as messengers (1 Kings 19:2 ; Hag 1:13 ; Luke 7:24 ). “Angels” are mentioned almost three hundred times in Scripture, and are only noticeably absent from books such as Ruth, Nehemiah, Esther, the letters of John, and James.

From the beginning, angels were part of the divine hierarchy. They were created beings (Psalms 148:2 Psalms 148:5), and were exuberant witnesses when God brought the world into being (Job 38:7). By nature they were spiritual entities, and thus not subject to the limitations of human flesh. Although holy, angels could sometimes behave foolishly (Job 4:18), and even prove to be untrustworthy (Job 15:15). Probably these qualities led to the “fall” of some angels, including Satan, but the Bible contains no description of that event [Note: see “The Devil” on History.com at this link]. When angels appeared in human society they resembled normal males (Genesis 18:2 Genesis 18:16 ; Ezek 9:2), and never came dressed as women. (A full explanation including some Old Testament and New Testament examples along with the quote source above is located here.)

In a four-part series on angels by Greg Laurie, senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship, published on Harvest.org, he states the following:

INTRODUCTION

Angels have been the featured subject of national news magazines, countless books, many movies, and several television shows. They have even surfaced on the Internet. You can find them on postcards, T-shirts, calendars, and sunglasses. In fact, entire seminars, newsletters, and boutiques have been devoted to these beings. There’s no doubt about it, America is experiencing a wave of angel-mania.

Polls have shown that most Americans do believe angels exist. Many people also believe that they have personal guardian angels, or that they have felt an angelic presence at some time. Even most teenagers say they believe there are angels.

WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT ANGELS

Our word “angel” comes from the Greek word meaning “messenger.” Angels have superhuman intelligence and powers. People today often describe angels as kind, non-judgmental, wise, and loving beings. But do they take into account that there are also fallen angels who may not be so nonthreatening and loving? In many cases, the answer is no. Let’s examine what the Bible teaches us about these angelic beings.

Angels are beings created by God

“For by Him all things were created that are in Heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him” (Colossians 1:16).

Angels generally operate undercover

They are God’s secret agents, not seeking to draw attention to themselves, but to do God’s bidding. One of the reasons we may not be personally aware of angels in our life is because they are doing their job properly. The Bible cites a limited number of instances when God has given people a glimpse of these beings at work.

Angels have a special work and ministry in the lives of Christians

Angels are all around us, taking care of us and ministering to us even when we are not aware of their presence. “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14). Angels are sent by God to deliver us from our troubles. “The angel of the LORD encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them” (Psalm 34:7). God also sends angels to bring His messages to guide us in our own ministry (Acts 8:26).

Angels are intelligent, powerful, and invisible spirit beings

Angels are not visible to us, with the exception of those occasions when God sends them on a special mission or clothes them in human form (see Hebrews 13:2). The descriptions of angels in Scripture are certainly awe-inspiring. If we could remove the veil that blocks our view of the unseen spiritual world, we would see that there are angels all around us. That happened to the servant of Elisha the prophet in the Old Testament. Seeing his servant’s fearfulness of the vast enemy army surrounding their city, Elisha prayed that God would open his servant’s eyes to see the invisible hosts protecting them. “Then the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (2 Kings 6:17).

Angels do not seek our worship

If an angel were to appear to us right now, we might be tempted to worship it. This happened to the apostle John. “Now I, John, saw and heard these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who showed me these things. Then he said to me, “See that you do not do that. For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book. Worship God” (Revelation 22:8–9). The angel would not accept John’s worship.

There are not only holy angels, but also unholy ones (fallen angels or demons). If an awe-inspiring angel were to appear to us right now, we would be inclined to believe just about anything he said—even if it were a different gospel! That is why Scripture tells us to test any so-called angel’s message with what we find in God’s Word. “But even if we, or an angel from Heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8).

Angels are numerous

The world of angels is mysterious and, to a large degree, unknown to us. The Bible does not precisely say how many angels exist. It was a “multitude” of the heavenly host that told the shepherds of Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:13). Daniel 7:10 tells us, “A thousand thousands ministered to Him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him.” That would mean there are more than 100 million angels—a number almost too vast to imagine. Perhaps that is why Job asks, “Can His forces be numbered?” (Job 25:3 NIV).

THE ORGANIZATION OF ANGELS

Let’s consider some of the distinctions in the angelic realm. In the Bible, we are given the names of two angels in particular: Michael the archangel and Gabriel (there are three named angels, if you want to count Lucifer, who once was a high-ranking angel in God’s service, but is now in rebellion against God, and is now called Satan). The Bible also mentions the cherubim and the seraphim.

Michael, the Archangel

The term “archangel” occurs just twice in the New Testament (1 Thessalonians 4:16 and Jude 1:9). In both instances, it is used in the singular and is preceded by the definite article “the.” This would indicate that there is only one archangel. It would appear that Michael is the top-ranking angel in God’s heavenly host. He will play a special role in the rapture of the church:

“For the Lord Himself will descend from Heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17)

As powerful as Michael is, he does have his limitations—as well as a healthy respect for his adversary, Lucifer. “Yet Michael the archangel, in contending with the devil, when he disputed about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him a reviling accusation, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’” (Jude 1:9). Ultimately, however, Scripture says that Michael and the angels will prevail over Satan and cast him out of Heaven forever (see Revelation 12:7–9).

Gabriel

This high-ranking angel brought special messages to God’s people.

    • He appeared to Daniel and revealed the future to him (Daniel 8:16; 9:21).
    • He appeared to Zacharias regarding the birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:19).
    • He appeared to Mary to announce the birth of Jesus (Luke 1:26–38).

The Cherubim

The Bible depicts these beings as powerful and majestic angelic creatures, servants of God, which surround God’s throne (see Ezekiel 1:5–14; Psalm 99:1). They appear as winged human-animal forms (Revelation 4:6–8). God sent them to guard Eden after the expulsion of Adam and Eve: “So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life” (Genesis 3:24).

The Seraphim

These angelic beings seem to hold a special position of worshiping and praising God. The prophet Isaiah vividly describes them in his vision of God:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory! (Isaiah 6:1–3).

ANGELS IN ACTION

Angels have many duties to carry out for God. They protect, guide, encourage, and assist people. They bring messages from God. They interpret God’s Word and carry out God’s will for His people. They sometimes punish God’s enemies. Here are some examples in Scripture of how angels work.

Angels in the lions’ den

One of the most dramatic and well-known stories about angels in Scripture is the story of Daniel in the lions’ den (see Daniel 6:16–22). The aged prophet found himself in this dilemma because God had raised him up to a position of honor in the kingdom of Darius. His enemies scrutinized his every move, but they could find no inconsistency in his life. So they baited a trap. They had the king unwittingly sign a decree that no one could pray to any god but him. Daniel prayed to the true God, as his enemies expected, and his punishment was to be thrown into a den of hungry lions. Just when it appeared that all was lost, God dispatched one or more of His angels to deliver him by shutting the mouths of the lions.

Angelic activity in Daniel’s prayer

Daniel chapter 10 gives us a rare glimpse into what happens behind the scenes when we pray. In that story, Daniel’s prayer is heard in Heaven, and an angel is dispatched with a special message for Daniel. The angel encountered opposing forces, and he became engaged in supernatural combat, delaying the message for 21 days! Michael, the archangel, was finally dispatched to help the other angel, who then gave the message to Daniel. This incident makes it clear that delays in God’s answering of our prayers are not necessarily denials.

The angel and the donkey

In Numbers chapter 22, we read the story of Balaam, who was asked by the king of Moab to place a curse on the Israelites. When Balaam began his journey to the king, his donkey saw an angel standing in their path and refused to go on. After several beatings from Balaam, God enabled the donkey to talk and protest Balaam’s beatings. At that point, the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes to see the angel. The angel then explained that he had come to stop Balaam because he was headed for destruction.

ANGELS IN OUR LIVES

We probably will never know how many times angels have delivered us, gotten us out of tight situations, protected us from harm, or even directly spoken to us. Does that mean that each of us has a guardian angel? Matthew 18:10 seems to indicate that possibility: “Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in Heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in Heaven” (Matthew 18:10).

God dispatched an angel to personally escort Peter from prison in response to the prayers of believers (Acts 12:5–11). Yet, it is unclear whether we actually have personal guardian angels. One thing is certain: God promises His protection to those who closely follow Him. In Psalm 91:1, God promises, “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1).

The Hebrew word used for dwell literally means “in quiet and resting; enduring and remaining with consistency.The phrase shall abide literally means “to stay overnight,” much like someone being offered the protection and comfort of home. When we follow this condition, we are also promised angelic protection: “For He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways” (Psalm 91:11).

For our part, we are to stay as close to Jesus as possible. To “abide under the shadow of the Almighty” would indicate extreme closeness. Have you ever tried to walk in someone’s shadow? You have to stay very close.

We are not to test the Lord, but to trust the Lord. If we do our part, God will do His. His promise of angelic protection and guidance stands. (Quote source: Article starts here and each section can be located by clicking on the link in the lower right hand corner at this link.)

This gives us a view from “the other side” this Halloween season which is usually filled with ghosts and goblins and witches riding brooms. There are fallen angelsbriefly mentioned above that fit right in with the Halloween theme, but there are many, many innumerable angels still on God’s side.

I’ll end this blog post with this verse from Psalm 34:7The angel of the Lord…

Encamps around . . .

Those who fear him . . .

And he delivers them . . . .

YouTube Video: “Angels” by Amy Grant:

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

 

Great Is Thy Faithfulness

“Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow…” (from “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” by Thomas Chisholm (1866-1960), composer of 1,200 poems and hymns
I woke up this morning with a favorite old and much loved hymn playing in my mind. The hymn is Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” Most of us can sing a few bars from it the minute we hear the title. Here are the words, and most likely you know the music (and if not, listen to the YouTube Video at the end of this post):

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.

Chorus: Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Verse 2: Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Verse 3: Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
(Quote source here.)

The song/hymn was written in 1923 by Thomas Chisholm, and he was inspired to write it from Lamentations 3:22-23 (KJV):

It is of the Lord‘s mercies that we are not consumed,
because his compassions fail not.
They are new every morning:
great is thy faithfulness.

The following background information on Thomas Chisholm is taken from Gaither.com (the author’s name is not mentioned):

You don’t need to be rescued from life-threatening danger or see God’s miraculous provision in the direst of financial crises to truly know the faithfulness of the Lord. God remains faithful day in and day out in the largest and smallest of circumstances.

Thomas Chisholm wrote “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” as a testament to God’s faithfulness through his very ordinary life. Born in a log cabin in Franklin, Kentucky, Chisholm became a Christian when he was twenty-seven and entered the ministry when he was thirty-six, though poor health forced him to retire after just one year. During the rest of his life, Chisholm spent many years living in New Jersey and working as a life insurance agent. Still, even with a desk job, he wrote nearly 1,200 poems throughout his life, including several published hymns.

Chisholm explained toward the end of his life, “My income has not been large at any time due to impaired health in the earlier years which has followed me on until now.  Although I must not fail to record here the unfailing faithfulness of a covenant-keeping God and that He has given me many wonderful displays of His providing care, for which I am filled with astonishing gratefulness.”

Just think, with each new day, God gives us the chance to prove His faithfulness. And throughout history, He’s never once been proven wrong, for His mercies are new every morning, no matter what. (Quote source here.)

To our modern ears, the wording of the hymn might sound a bit quaint. However, there is nothing quaint about the faithfulness of God. So how do we learn to trust in God’s faithfulness in our lives no matter what our circumstances might be? GotQuestions.org gives us the following answer:

Many places in Scripture extol the faithfulness of God. Lamentations 3:22–23 says, “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.” So, what is faithfulness?

The Hebrew word translated “faithfulness” means “steadfastness, firmness, fidelity.” The opposite of being faithful is to be ever-changing or wishy-washy. Psalm 119:89–90 says, “Your word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. Your faithfulness continues through all generations.” Here faithfulness is equated with God’s Word. God speaks never-ending truth. If God spoke something a thousand years ago, it still stands. He is faithful to His Word, because His Word is an expression of His character. The promises He made still hold true because He does not change (Malachi 3:6). We see this illustrated from a human perspective in a couple married for eighty years. When the wife lies on her deathbed, her husband sits nearby holding her hand. He won’t leave her, even though she no longer recognizes him. He is faithful to the promises he made to her. In the same way, God remains faithful to His promises, even though we are often unfaithful to Him (2 Timothy 2:13).

We learn to trust the character of a person by getting to know that person. We would not entrust our bank account to a stranger we met in line at the post office—we have no experience with him. We don’t know his character. Before we know God, we are afraid to trust Him. We don’t yet know who He is or what He may do. We learn to trust God by getting to know His character. There are three ways we can get to know Him: studying His Word, reviewing His working in our own lives, and learning to follow His voice.

When we study God’s Word, a pattern emerges. We learn that God never changes and never lies (Numbers 23:191 Samuel 15:29). We learn through Scripture that God has never failed in the past (Isaiah 51:6). He was always true to His Word as He worked in the lives of the ancient Israelites. When He said He would do something, He did it (Numbers 11:23Matthew 24:35). We begin to build trust upon His proven character. We can trust that God will be true to Himself. He will never cease acting like God. He will never cease being sovereign, being holy, or being good (1 Timothy 6:151 Peter 1:16).

We learn through our own history that He has never failed us, either. One command God often gave the Israelites was “Remember” (Deuteronomy 8:2Isaiah 46:9). When they remembered all God had done for them, they could more easily trust Him for the future. We need to intentionally remember all the ways God has provided for us and delivered us in the past. Keeping a prayer journal can help with this. When we recall the ways God has answered our prayers, it equips us to continue asking and expecting answers. When we come to Him in prayer, we know that He always hears us (1 John 5:14Psalm 34:15). He provides what we need (Philippians 4:19). And He will always make everything work together for our good when we trust Him with it (Romans 8:28). We learn to trust God’s future faithfulness by remembering His past faithfulness.

And we can also learn to trust Him by learning to distinguish His voice from the others that compete for attention. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them and they follow me” (John 10:27). We who belong to Jesus need to cultivate the ability to hear Him. He speaks primarily through His Word, but He can also speak through other people, through circumstances, and through the inner confirmation of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:16). As we carefully read and meditate upon Scripture, the Holy Spirit often quickens our hearts to a verse or passage and helps us claim it and apply it to our current situation. What the Spirit shows us in His Word is to be taken by faith as His message to us. We build trust by claiming His promises and applying them to our lives.

Above all things, God loves for us to demonstrate faith (Hebrews 11:6). Faith is trusting in the character of God before we see how He is going to work things out. He has given us His Word, and His promises still stand. As we see the ways He brings His promises to fulfillment, our trust in His faithfulness grows. Just as our trust in other people grows with daily interaction, our trust in God grows the same way. We trust Him when we know Him, and to know Him is to trust Him. When we know Him, we can rest in His goodness, even when we don’t understand the circumstances that seem to contradict it. We can trust that God’s plan for us will prevail (Proverbs 19:21). As a child trusts a loving father, we can trust our heavenly Father to always do what is right. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on April 28, 2016, titled, God Wants You to Stop Stressing Over Your Circumstances, by Jade Mazarin, contributor at Relevant Magazine, she writes:

There is a verse in the Psalms that really hits home to me: “My soul finds rest in God alone” (Psalm 62:1). It’s a statement that I remind myself often. Because, like many of us, it’s easy for my soul to seek rest in other places.

I want everything to run smoothly. And sometimes if I encounter a bump along the road of my plans or receive an outcome that’s unpleasant, I feel unable to rest until it’s fixed. Our circumstances can easily rule our emotions if we let them. But God doesn’t want us to be at the mercy of our varied life events, or the hopeless perspective we can sometimes have about them.

The Bible directs us to look beyond our circumstances. This is a recurring message throughout His word. Rather than getting swept up in the whirlwind of daily events, we should become rooted in the solid foundation of God. Practically speaking, this means leaning on God’s character and seeking after His perspective.

LEANING ON GOD’S CHARACTER

In order to be able to rest in God, we need to meditate on His goodness. Focusing on God’s love is the door to trusting Him. When we grasp that we are precious to Him, we will know He’ll take care of us. Combine this with the realization of His power—His ability to do immeasurably more than we can imagine—and we know we’ll be okay.

Unlike the unpredictability of life, Scripture comforts us with the fact that God is unchanging. “He is the same, yesterday today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). He is referred to as the “rock” (Psalm 62:2) on which to stand. While even close friends will change, we can depend on God remaining good. We can depend on His being continually loving and compassionate.

I love the way in the book of Isaiah talks about what it means to be confident in God. It gives an illustration of a tree near a stream. It says that even when heat comes, even during a drought, the tree continues to flourish. The reason for this is that the tree “sends out its roots by the stream.” It is constantly drawing from a life giving source. Therefore, “it does not fear when heat comes and its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought, and it never fails to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17:7-8).

Drawing from the source of God, means shifting the focus of our minds and hearts to Him. It means awakening our awareness to His good and powerful presence.

THE GREATNESS OF GOD

We are first to see God as our friend who comforts us by His incomparable understanding. Then, we find comfort in knowing He is bigger than whatever is going on around us. Like the tree, our circumstances of “heat” and “drought” will come and go, but we have a stream near us.

The disciples must have been petrified when a huge storm rocked their small boat. But Jesus is unfazed as He says to them, “Why are you so afraid, you of little faith?” Perhaps if they knew at that moment who they were with, they would not have been afraid. We need to know who we’re always with. John Ortberg says, “Peace doesn’t come from finding a lake with no storms. It comes from having Jesus in the boat.”

When we know who God is, and truly believe we are in His hands, we are, as David said, “not shaken” (Psalm 62:5).

I like the illustration of flying in an airplane. When you simply know that the airplane will get you from point A to point B, you don’t really worry when you hit a rough patch. You know it’s just momentary turbulence, a patch that comes and goes. However, if you doubt the skill of the pilot, you might see that turbulence as a sign that any second you’re going to crash.

We can choose if we will believe in God’s character and trust He will take care of us. And if we do, our problems can be seen as merely turbulence on the way to His destination.

SEEKING HIS PERSPECTIVE

Along with grabbing on to His nature, the way for us to remain grounded in stressful times is to seek His view. God has a perspective for everything that happens in our lives. He has a purpose for allowing events, be it the desire for our growth, repositioning us for the future or bringing issues up in order to heal them (to name a few).

We may see a situation that looks hopeless or unfixable, but God sees the potential beneath it. Gaining God’s view, is looking beneath what circumstances look like, into what could be its a deeper purpose.

It is also recognizing that God will get us to the other side. God is the author of hope, and He wants His children to receive this medicine to their souls during trials. Sometimes this means He will turn an event around completely, and He wants you to anticipate that. Sometimes it means He will teach us something new to help you or a relationship. Perhaps He wants you to cling to Him, refine your faith and experience a new level of intimacy with Him.

So, while we may see something as pointless, horrible, or impossible to change, God sees it differently. And since His thoughts are always the truth, we should attempt to look for them.

TEACHING OURSELVES

We are invited to follow David’s example, and redirect our focus by speaking to our own souls. “My soul finds rest in God alone. He alone is my rock and my salvation … He is my fortress, I will never be shaken” (Psalm 62:1-2). Mind you, David said all this while being chased by Saul’s army. If he can train himself to take refuge in God, can we not?

Sometimes if I feel myself being emotionally overwhelmed, I will place my hand on my heart and focusing on each word, say slowly out loud, “My soul find rest in God alone.” It’s our choice. No matter the hardship of changing old habits, we can decide to practice new ones. We can deliberately start looking up “to the hills, to where our help comes from” (Psalm 121:1), even if we have to remind ourselves of it constantly. We can meditate on the truth of God’s character and then lean on it, as David did. (Quote source here.)

I don’t know about you, but I needed to hear that today. I hope you did, too. God is faithful, and we need to trust Him. Period. “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” Repeat….

Great . . .

Is Thy . . .

Faithfulness . . . .

YouTube Video: “Great Is They Faithfulness” by Israel Houghton:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Time to Reboot

“Because your future is not chained to your past.” –Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, Rosh Hashanah 5780Back on August 25th, I published a blog post on this blog titled, Elul and the High Holy Days.” The Jewish month of Elul is now almost over, and the celebration of the Jewish New Year known as Rosh Hashanah begins this Sunday at sundown, September 29, 2019, and ends at nightfall on Tuesday, October 1, 2019. It is also the beginning of the month of Tishrei and the beginning of the High Holy Days on the Hebrew calendar.

Rosh Hashanah is all about rebooting. “Reboot” is one of those techie terms that, according to Urban Dictionary, is defined as follows:

To start anew with fresh ideas in a way that is consistent with the principals of the original, but not unnecessarily constrained by what has taken place before. (Quote source here.)

In a brief article titled, Reboot,” by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, senior editor at Chabad.org, he writes:

Time is not a train of cars hitched one to another.

A year is not dragged along by the year preceding. The present is not hitched tightly to the past. The future is not enslaved to the present.

Rather, every year arrives fresh from its Creator, a year that never was before and could never have been known before its arrival.

That is why we call Rosh Hashanah “the birth of the world” in our prayers. The past has returned to its place, never to return. With the blowing of the shofar, the entirety of Creation is renewed.

From this point on, even the past exists only by virtue of the present. (Quote source here.)

I like the idea that “the entirety of Creation is renewed” on Rosh Hashanah. Much like our New Year’s celebration on New Year’s Eve and January 1st for those of us who are not Jewish, the New Year in both cases offers a “clean slate” to begin afresh from the past. However, Rosh Hashanah is just the beginning of the celebrations that take place during the month of Tishrei.

In an article titled, Happy and Sweet New Year,” by Esther Rosen, contributor on Chabad.org, she writes:

Tishrei (Tishri), the first month of the Jewish year (the seventh when counting from Nisan), is full of momentous and meaningful days of celebration. Beginning with the High Holidays, in this month we celebrate Rosh Hashanahthe Ten Days of RepentanceYom KippurSukkot and Simchat Torah. Each one is filled with its own meaningful customs and rituals. Some are serious, awesome days set aside for reflection and soul-searching. Some are joyous days full of happy and cheerful celebration.

But all of these days, throughout the month of Tishrei, are opportunities to connect, to be inspired, and to become more fulfilled and in tune with our true inner selves. Tishrei is considered the “head” of the year, and the reservoir from which we draw our strength and inspiration throughout the year ahead. (Quote source here.)

Specific to the High Holy Days,” also known as “The High Holidays,” Rosh Hashanah begins these days and culminates with Yom Kippur, which is quickly followed by the festive holidays of Sukkot and Simchat Torah. An article titled, The High Holidays: Rosh Hashana and Yom Kipper,” (the author’s name is not mentioned) states the following:

What Are the High Holy Days?

If the year is a train, the High Holidays (AKA High Holy Days) are its engine. A delicate blend of joy and solemnity, feasting and fasting, prayer and inspiration make up the spiritually charged head of the Jewish year.

The High Holiday season begins during the month of Elul, when the shofar is sounded every weekday morning, a clarion call to return to G‑d in advance of the sacred days that lay ahead.

The two-day holiday of Rosh Hashanah is the head of the Jewish year, the time when G‑d reinvests Himself in creation as we crown Him king of the universe through prayer, shofar blasts, and celebration.

A week later, the High Holidays reach their crescendo with Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). Like angels, we neither eat nor drink for 25 hours. Dressed in white, we pray in the synagogue—united as one people, children of One Father.

But it does not end there. The other-worldliness of the High Holidays is then channeled into the festive holidays of Sukkot and Simchat Torah, which bring the annual fall holiday season to a most joyous conclusion. (Quote source here.)

As a Christian, I must admit that I never gave much thought to the Jewish holidays until I stumbled upon Tisha B’Av(also known as The Ninth of Av) in June 2012 which “commemorates a list of catastrophes so severe it’s clearly a day set aside by G‑d for suffering” (quote source and a list of those catastrophes is available here.) Since that time, I have written a number of blog posts on my regular blog not only on that particular Jewish holiday but others, too.

Christianity has it’s roots in Jewish history, and Jesus celebrated the Jewish holidays during his lifetime on earth. In fact, his death and resurrection take place during the Jewish holiday of Passover with his death taking place on Passover and his resurrection taking place on the Feast of Firstfruits(see article titled, The Timing of Jesus’ Deathat this link).

The significance of the Jewish holidays to Christianity cannot be understated. They are very much intertwined with Christian history, and the Old Testament (Jewish history) is filled with prophesies concerning the coming of the Messiah which were fulfilled by Jesus Christ (see article titled Biblical Prophesies Fulfilled by Jesus at this link). Also, check out an article titled, What Proof Do You Have that Jesus is the Messiah?” by Jews for Jesus at this link.

In an article published in November 2011 in HuffPost.com titled, Dreams, Renewal and Rosh Hashanah,” by Levi-Ben Schmuel, contributor, writer, singer-songwriter, and inspirational speaker, he writes:

As we know, life is seldom a smooth road. Our dreams do not always manifest in the form we had hoped or in the time we imagined they would. As you reflect on why your dreams have not been realized, and perhaps look to place blame for them not working out on yourself or others, how will your frustrations and disappointments impact you moving forward?

The Jewish tradition counsels that before arriving at Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year also known as the Day of Judgment, it is wise to reflect back on the previous year. The opportunity is to honestly examine where you have fallen short, then go through a process of asking for forgiveness that allows you to become renewed before God, ready to face life’s challenges in the new year. But in the process of renewal, will you simply wipe the slate clean, forget about your dreams, perhaps go for something less grand and safer, or continue to believe in your vision for your life?

Sister Joan Chittister, a Roman Catholic nun, was ready to enter a graduate program in creative writing as a step to fulfill her dream of becoming a novelist. Before the program started, her order directed her to serve God and the church in a more traditional way. Regarding the loss of her dream, Sister Joan wrote in her book “Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope,” “There is no one who has not known what it is to lose in the game of life…. There is no one who does not have to choose sometime, some way between giving up and growing stronger…. The essence of struggle is the decision to become new rather than simply to become older…”

Sister Joan did not let her disappointment and loss get in the way of moving forward with renewed strength. In her case, she chose to let go of a dream. Her story also points out some important things to consider as you reexamine your dreams and hopes for the New Year. Where does your dream come from? Is it inspired by God, or simply a desire of your ego? And does your dream conflict with God’s plans for you?

Joseph, the great dreamer from the Bible, did not have an easy time with his dreams. Early in his story, sharing his dreams led him to slavery in Egypt and eventually jail with no end in sight. Through his dark times, he went through a healing process that led him to devote his life and his dreams to God. His childhood dreams became reality many years later, certainly in a form he never imagined. Through partnering with the Divine, through weathering challenging times and gaining strength from them, Joseph renewed himself and became a great blessing to a foreign nation and his own family.

Dreams and hopes are wonderful things. We need to be on guard not to let the disappointments in life sour us on them. Yes, it takes work to clear away the results of our mistakes and failures. Therein lies a great beauty in life: When we clear away the debris, genuinely ask for forgiveness and recommit to work in partnership with God, God answers us with open arms. We can be renewed and energized to follow our dreams for another year trusting in God’s plans and our ability to work with the Divine in creating them.

Happy New Year! (Quote source here.)

In an article published just 21 hours ago in The Times of Israel titled, Rosh Hashanah: The Gift of Life, Hope and Renewal,” by Bonnie Chernin, pianist, writer, certified professional coach, and founder of Jews for Life (now known as Jewish Life League), she writes:

Rosh Hashanah is nearly upon us, and we are preparing for the High Holidays with hope, reflection, renewal….

Rosh Hashanah means the Head of the Year, and there is a mission that is sometimes hidden that each of us as a unique human being needs to fulfill. Think about revealing your mission so you can achieve renewal and positive change. Change requires action. How can you change your situation today when you are so worried about what will happen in the future?

For change to happen in 5780 [the Jewish year starting on this coming Sunday evening], welcome each day with a new understanding of doing teshuvah, and that means returning to G-d every day for renewal. The year 5780 is called the year of redemption. Consider your most redeeming qualities. Cultivate your good qualities and do something meaningful every day. When in doubt about something, show restraint in your speech. Letting go of limiting beliefs is a liberating experience.

G-d did not intend for us to seek His forgiveness when we are preoccupied with personal judgments, insurmountable shame, fear or guilt. This is the time to remember what went wrong, how we can correct past mistakes and improve our lives.

During the Ten Days of Repentance, it is important to be introspective and commit to doing good deeds. By giving charity, attending services and connecting with others in the Jewish community, we can effect positive change in the world. We ask for forgiveness from people we have hurt. Sometimes it is not possible, so do what you can.

Rosh Hashanah commemorates G-d’s creation of the world, and of Adam and Eve.   Tishrei is a month of creation. According to tradition, the blast of the shofar is a call to repentance for the Jewish people. G-d is accessible to us and He is listening. During the Ten Days of Repentance, He is especially aware of the prayers of each and every one of us.

The best way to know that G-d is there for us is to be there for G-d. Teshuvah [repentance] should not be a temporary thing. Show up all year for G-d, not just on Rosh Hashanah.

Why not see today–this unique day that you are alive–as a day to experience growth, self-examination and improvement. What is your mission and purpose? My mission is to end abortion and provide resources that can help heal post-abortive women. My hope is to see a day when every unborn child is protected as a human being with potential. My purpose is to continue to involve myself in pro-life activities until a “Personhood Amendment” is passed to protect unborn children.

If I only lived for that future and got anxious over pro-abortion politicians, abortion policies, elections and obstacles in my way, I would not be able to do the pro-life actions that I take each day. I always keep my hopes high and my expectations in check. You can do the same.

Don’t think about what you will do tomorrow or for the entire year. You only have today, and no one is infallible. Did you know that by January 9th most people give up on their New Year’s resolutions? Likewise, on October 18th (nine days after Yom Kippur) will you give up on your resolutions to G-d? Will you forget about the promises you made for self-improvement in 5780? Or will you embrace each day with joy, enthusiasm, a sense of purpose and appreciation for the life that G-d created just for you?

If you can answer that one last question with a resounding “YES!”, then you are all set.

Shanah Tovah! (Quote course here.)

By including the above article, it is not meant to try and “guilt” anyone, but rather to cause us to reflect on our own personal relationship with God and what He means to us. In a brief article on the meaning of Shanah Tovah (that ends the article above) written by Rabbi Menachem Posner, staff editor at Chabad.org, he states:

Ever wondered what to say on Rosh Hashanah when you meet a Jewish person? Here’s what you need to know.

The Jewish new year is not just a time to renew our resolve to lose another fifteen pounds. Rather, it’s the time when our fate stands in the balance as G‑d reviews our past year and decides whether or not to renew our lease on His planet. As such, Jewish greetings for this time of year (the Jewish New Year is in the fall) reflect our prayers for a good, sweet year up ahead.

The catch-all greeting you can use for the entire season is “Shanah tovah” (שנה טובה), which means “Good year.” The word “u’metuka” (ומתוקה), and sweet, is sometimes appended to the end….

No matter what we say, the main thing is to wish each other a good, sweet year with all our heart–because that is what G‑d values the most. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post by saying “Shanah Tovah,” 🙂 and quoting Micah 6:8: He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice…

And to love kindness . . .

And to walk humbly . . .

With your God . . . .

YouTube Video: “Rosh Hashanah Rock Anthem” by Aish.com:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

It’s All Good

“Always loved… Never forgotten… Forever missed…”AnonymousIt has been said that the death of a parent changes us forever. It does. I wrote a blog post on this blog titled, A Eulogy for Dad,” on the day Dad died on June 22, 2019; and later I wrote a second blog post on July 21, 2019 on my other blog titled, Forever Changed,” after I returned from a week-long trip to my hometown to attend Dad’s funeral on July 13, 2019. And, I published a blog post on what would have been Dad’s 96th birthday, July 23, 2019 on this blog titled, Remembering Dad.”

It has now been six weeks since that last blog post I published on July 23rd, and even in this short amount of time, it is true, at least in my case, that time has a way of softening the negative stuff. For one thing, Dad and I didn’t have much of a relationship after my stepmother died in 2011. Before Dad’s death on June 22, 2019, the last time I was physically around Dad was at my youngest nephew’s wedding in October 2015 (for one thing, we lived in different states). It was Dad’s choice, not mine, to keep me at a physical distance these past several years. I wanted a relationship with him and I would have liked to visit him during those years.

I’ve had time to reflect over these past seven plus weeks since Dad’s funeral, and I realized that as time passes that I have many good memories of Dad especially from my younger years, and I’ve decided to let those memories overshadow any of the strains in our relationship especially over the past decade, and since my stepmother died in 2011. The only choices we get to make in this life are our own choices. We can’t make choices for other people. They make their own.

Just four days ago I wrote an email to a friend stating that a funny (not in “ha ha” funny but funny as in “unusual”) thing has happened to me since Dad died over two months ago. It’s as if all of the “bad” stuff in our relationship has just sort of faded away, and only the good stuff remains. And it has brought about a major peace in me regarding our relationship (between Dad and me). I also feel like a different person now in some ways. The somewhat perpetual anxiety I felt over my relationship with Dad while he was alive (because I couldn’t “fix” whatever it was on my own) has totally evaporated now. It’s very “freeing”  which is the only way I know how to express it. I only have good feelings towards Dad now. Of course, I will never know what caused the friction in the first place as he never would tell me.

So this is the last blog post I will be writing regarding my relationship with Dad. Call it closure. I love Dad, and that’s all that matters. For his funeral he requested three songs be played. I’ve included two of them previously on the blog posts mentioned above. This last one is the most fitting, and it was one of his favorites. Nat King Cole sang it back in 1951 (before I was born), and Michael Bublé sang the latest version of it in the YouTube video below. It’s titled, “Unforgettable.”

Unforgettable . . .

That’s what you are . . .

Dad . . . .

YouTube Video: “Unforgettable” by Michael Bublé:

Photo #1: Pic of Dad as a Navy Pilot/Instructor during World War II
Photo #2: Pic of Dad (2014) and second pic of Dad and my stepmother and their dog (circa 2000)

Elul and the High Holy Days

“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.”King Solomon, third and last king in the ancient Kingdom of Israel, renowned for his wisdom, his prolific writings, and his building accomplishments. (Quote is from Song of Solomon 6:3)Back in the summer of 2012, I discovered the Jewish holiday known as Tisha B’Av (the 9th of Av), which is an annual fast day in Judaism, on which a number of disasters in Jewish history occurred, primarily the destruction of both Solomon’s Temple by the Neo-Babylonian Empire and the Second Temple by the Roman Empire in Jerusalem. Tisha B’Av is regarded as the saddest day in the Jewish calendar and it is thus believed to be a day which is destined for tragedy. Tisha B’Av falls in July or August in the Gregorian calendar–our Western Calendar (quote source here). I have previously written five blog posts on Tisha B’Av on my regular blog (see search link here) beginning with my first blog post published on July 29, 2012, titled Tisha B’Av and 9/11.”

The minor holiday of Tu B’Av follows Tisha B’Av six days later, and it is known as a Jewish Valentine’s Day. Tu B’Av was the topic of my last blog post published on August 14th on this blog titled, A Day of Love.” I have also previously published a blog post on my regular blog on this holiday on August 5, 2017, titled, Tu B’Av 5777 (2017).”

Av is the eleventh month on the Jewish calendar (the Jewish civil year), and it is followed by the month of Elul, the last month of the Jewish civil year. The following information gives a brief description of the activities associated with the month of Elul leading up to the High Holy Days and Sukkot which follows the High Holy Days:

Elul usually occurs in August–September on the Gregorian calendar (Western calendar). In the Jewish tradition, the month of Elul is a time of repentance in preparation for the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur…. “Elul” can be understood to be an acronym for the phrase “Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li” meaning “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” (Song of Solomon 6:3). Elul is seen as a time to search one’s heart and draw close to God in preparation for the coming Day of Judgement, Rosh Hashanah, and Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.

During the month of Elul, there are a number of special rituals leading up to the High Holy Days. It is customary to blow the shofar every morning (except on Shabbat) from Rosh Hodesh Elul (the first day of the month) until the day before Rosh Hashanah. The blasts are meant to awaken one’s spirit and inspire him to begin the soul searching which will prepare him for the High Holy Days. As part of this preparation, Elul is the time to begin the sometimes-difficult process of granting and asking for forgiveness. It is also customary to recite Psalm 27 every day from Rosh Hodesh Elul (1st day of Elul) through Hoshanah Rabbah on Sukkot (Hoshanah Rabbah is the seventh day of Jewish holiday of Sukkot and the 21st day of Tishrei, the first month of the new year on the Jewish civil calendar). (Quote source here.)

From the first day of Elul through the last day of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot (Hoshanah Rabbah), these dates convert to the following dates on our Western calendar for 2019: September 1, 2019 through October 20, 2019. This time period will start on Sunday, September 1st, which is one week from today. Actually, it will start at sundown on Saturday, August 31, 2019, as days on the Jewish calendar start at sundown.

As an introduction to the month of Elul, Chabad.org states:

Elul is the 12th and final month in the Jewish calendar (the sixth month counting from Nisan). It is a month that connects the past year with the coming year—a time when we reflect on where we stand and where we should be going.

It is called “the month of repentance,” “the month of mercy” and “the month of forgiveness.” Elul follows the two previous months of Tammuz and Av—months of tragedies that were brought upon us through our sins. In Tammuz, the Jews sinned with the golden calf; on Rosh Chodesh Elul, Moses ascended to Mount Sinai for a third 40-day period until Yom Kippur, when he descended with the second tablets (luchot) and G‑d’s word of joyful, wholehearted forgiveness. (The first time Moses ascended was to receive the first tablets; the second time was after the sin, to ask for forgiveness; and this third time was to receive the second set of tablets.) These were days when G‑d revealed to the Jewish people great mercy. Since then, this time has been designated as a time of mercy and forgiveness, an opportune time for teshuvah”repentance.

The four letters of the name “Elul” are an acronym for the phrase in “Song of Songs (6:3): “I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me.” “I am to my beloved”—we approach G‑d with a desire to return and connect. “And my beloved is to me”—G‑d reciprocates with Divine expressions of mercy and forgiveness.

This is the month when “the King is in the field.” Read: The King is in the Field

G‑d, the King of all Kings, is accessible. All can approach Him, and He shines His countenance to all. (Quote source here.)

In an article titled, Elul: 5 Things to Know About the Lead-up to the High Holidays,” by Jane E. Herman, senior writer and editor at the Union for Reform Judaism, she writes:

Elul is the Hebrew month that precedes the High Holidays (Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur).

Some say that the Hebrew letters that comprise the word “Elul”–aleph, lamed, vav, lamed–are an acronym for “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li,” a verse from Song of Songs that means “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” Most often interpreted as love poetry between two people, the phrase also reflects the love between God and the Jewish people, especially at this season, as we assess our actions and behaviors during the past year and hope for blessings in the coming year.

Several customs during the month of Elul are designed to remind us of the liturgical season and help us prepare ourselves and our souls for the upcoming High Holidays.

1. Blowing the shofar

Traditionally, the shofar is blown each morning (except on Shabbat) from the first day of Elul until the day before Rosh HaShanah. Its sound is intended to awaken the soul and kick start the spiritual accounting that happens throughout the month. In some congregations the shofar is sounded at the opening of each Kabbalat Shabbat service during Elul.

2. Saying special prayers

Selichot (special penitential prayers) are recited during the month of Elul. A special “Selichot” service is conducted late in the evening–often by candlelight–on the Saturday night a week before Rosh Hashanah.

3. Visiting loved ones’ graves

Elul is also a time of year during which Jews traditionally visit the graves of loved ones. This custom not only reminds us of the individuals on whose shoulders we now stand and helps us honor their memories, but also prompts us to think about our own lives and the legacies we will leave to others–kind words spoken, comfort offered, love given and received–which take on added meaning as we enter the High Holiday season. Rabbi Daniel B. Syme explains more about this custom.

4. Reading Psalm 27

It is customary to read Psalm 27 each day from the beginning of Elul through Hoshana Rabbah, which is the last day of Sukkot.

5. Reflecting

It also is a month during which we are encouraged to study and take time for personal reflection around our actions of the past year and to seek forgiveness from those we have wronged or with whom we otherwise have “missed the mark” in our interactions and behaviors. Many readily available resources can help you make this process interactive, including:

Whether you participate in some, none, or all of these Elul traditions, may you find meaning and fulfillment in this time leading up to the High Holidays. (Quote source here.)

Regarding the daily reading of Psalm 27, in an article titled, I Am My Beloved’s and My Beloved is Mine,” by Reuven Hammer, Ph.D., former president of the International Rabbinical Assembly, and author of The Torah Revolution: Fourteen Truths that Changed the World,” he writes:

The selection of Psalm 27 is very interesting. The interpretation of that psalm found in the rabbinic commentary on Psalms, Midrash Tehilim, indicates that from ancient times this psalm was connected to the Days of Awe. “The Lord is my lighton Rosh Hashana, since this is the day of judgment… The Lord is my salvationon Yom Kippur, when He saves us and forgives our sins” (27:3).

The psalm itself is complicated. On the one hand, it begins by asserting that because of closeness to the Lord, one has no reason to fear or be afraid (verse 1); yet toward the end, the psalmist pleads, “Do not hide Your face from me; do not thrust aside Your servant in anger… do not forsake me, do not abandon me…” (verse 9). It seems that the psalmist very much desires the closeness of God–echoing the idea of “I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine”but feels he has not yet attained it, and God is still far from him. Thus he does feel fear and trepidation, which he has to work to overcome.

He concludes by encouraging himself to continue the search and not give up–“Look to the Lord: be strong and of good courage! O look to the Lord!” (verse 14). The message being conveyed by the psalm is that it is not easy to attain the feeling of intimacy with God, which is desirable and will banish our fears, but we must work toward it and never abandon the search.

There is no question that feelings of concern and even trepidation are part and parcel of the High Holy Day experience, even if they do not define it. The reason is simple. As we confront a new year, we begin to think of what lies ahead–and one never knows what that is. Uncertainty breeds concern.

This is expressed most openly and strongly not in the order of prayer itself, but in “piyyutim”–liturgical poems–that have been added to it, especially the magnificent “Unetaneh Tokef,” which describes the Day of Judgment.

The images there are taken from prophetic books in which the end of days, the final day of judgment, is depicted. “Who will live and who will die,” we say….

Fortunately, the month of Elul gives us the opportunity to grapple with these feelings, of accepting responsibility for those things that are within our control, namely our own actions, of seeing how we can improve and, most of all, of moving closer to a relationship of love with God which will help us to deal with our fears.

“I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine”: These are our tasks during the month of Elul. (Quote source here.)

This post has turned out to be an introduction of sorts to the Jewish month of Elul, a time of reflection and repentance. I will most likely, later in the month, be following up with a blog post or two on the Days of Awe/High Holy Days and Sukkot.

As Chabad.org states, “The High Holiday season begins during the month of Elul, when the shofar is sounded every weekday morning, a clarion call to return to G‑d in advance of the sacred days that lay ahead” (quote source here). For a brief introduction to what follows, click here.

I’ll end this post with the last verse in Psalm 27 (verse 14): Wait on the Lord; Be of good courage…

And He shall strengthen your heart…

Wait, I say . . .

On the Lord . . . .

YouTube Video: “Psalm 27 (One Thing)” by Shane & Shane:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

A Day of Love

“Touched by Fate’s tender hands, love springs eternal.”Anthony Halat, poetHappy Valentine’s Day! Yes, it’s true that there is a Valentine’s Day in August. Today is Tu B’Av, the 15th of Av, on the Jewish calendar, which is also known as the Jewish Valentine’s Day. I wrote a blog post about this holiday on my regular blog two years ago in 2017 (click here). This year it started yesterday at sundown yesterday and it ends tonight at nightfall.

According to MyJewishLearning.com, a brief description of the holiday is as follows:

Tu B’ Av, the 15th Day of Av, is both an ancient and modern holiday. Originally a post-biblical day of joy, it served as a matchmaking day for unmarried women in the Second Temple period (before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.). Tu B’Av was almost unnoticed in the Jewish calendar for many centuries but it has been rejuvenated in recent decades, especially in the modern state of Israel. In its modern incarnation it is gradually becoming a Hebrew-Jewish Day of Love, slightly resembling Valentine’s Day in English-speaking countries.

There is no way to know exactly how early Tu B’Av began. The first mention of this date is in the Mishnah (compiled and edited in the end of the second century), where Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel is quoted saying:

There were no better (i.e. happier) days for the people of Israel than the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur, since on these days the daughters of Israel/Jerusalem go out dressed in white and dance in the vineyards. What were they saying: Young man, consider whom you choose (to be your wife)? (Ta’anit, Chapter 4) (Quote source here.)

The following article gives a brief but informative history behind the celebration of Tu B’Av. It was published on August 13, 2005, and it is titled, The Meaning of Tu B’Av,” by Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, Chairman of Yad Vashem and Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv. He previously served as the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, and he is also a Holocaust survivor (source here). He writes the following:

Six events occurred on Tu B’Av, the fifteenth of Av, making it a festive day in the Jewish calendar.

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 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, chapter 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, chapters 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 Tahanun 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 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. (From “Practical Judaism” published by Feldheim Publishers.) (Quote source here.)

In modern times, JewishVirtualLibrary.org states:

Tu B’Av is a popular date for Jews to hold weddings, coming only a few days after the end of the three-week period (from the Fast of Tammuz, commemorating the breach of the walls of Jerusalem, until Tisha B’Av, commemorating the destruction of the Temple) in which weddings are prohibited.

In Israel, Tu B’Av is a day of love. While it is a regular workday, music and dance festivals are typically held to celebrate the day. Israelis give cards and flowers to their loved ones on Tu b’Av and the date is popular for weddings. These customs are observed by all segments of Israeli society, whether they consider themselves religious or non-religious. (Quote source here.)

So celebrate Tu B’Av! I’ll end this post with a reminder from 1 Corinthians 13:13 (CJB): But for now, three things last—

Trust, hope, love . . .

And the greatest of these . . .

Is love . . . .

YouTube Video: “Tu B’Av–Jewish Celebration of Love” by Hanan Leberman:

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Photo #2 credit here

An Inside Job

“So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” –Apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians 13:13


Three days ago on my other blog I published a blog post titled, The Sound of Silence.” The title came from Chapter 3 in a brand new book titled, Talk the Walk: How to Be Right Without Being Insufferable,” by Steve Brown, radio broadcaster and founder of Key Life Network, Professor Emeritus at Reformed Theological Seminary, Visiting Professor of Practical Theology at Knox Theological Seminary and Westminster Theological Seminary, host on the radio talk show, Steve Brown, Etc.”, Bible teacher, keynote speaker, author of over a dozen books, a former pastor, and a personal friend of mine. Chapter 3 is titled, “The Sound of Silence.”

Chapter 8 in Steve’s book is titled, “Love Happens,” and after I read it, I knew I wanted to include some of what he wrote in this chapter in another blog post. In the opening paragraph to Chapter 8 he writes:

I want to talk to you about love, but it is hard. I have been putting off writing this chapter–not because I do not have anything to say. I am a preacher and I always have something to say. I have preached and taught often on the subject of love. I am not having difficulty in writing this chapter because I am unloving (even though sometimes I am), or because I do not think love is a good thing (it is). The difficulty is not because Love is not important. In fact, there is no way believers can speak truth without love, and certainly no reason to live it before the world except for love. It is not that it has become such a cliché (even though it has). The difficulty is not because there is only one word in English for love when there are several different kinds of love (there are at least four different words in the Greek). And it is not because I think everything that can be said about love has already been said (even though it has). (Quote source: “Talk the Walk,” Chapter 8, page 71).

Steve continues with the following:

The reason this is a hard chapter to write is because I have discovered that so much of what I have said, taught, and preached about love is either wrong or irrelevant. And so have many Christians.

Believers too often have made love an impossible and unreachable standard of the Christian walk. Christians faked love for so long that, most of the time they do not even know what it is anymore.

You might already know that the title of this chapter comes from the 2009 film of the same title. The film is about a therapist whose wife is killed in a car accident. He writes a book (it’s what I sometimes do, and for the same reason) claiming he wants to help others, but what he’s really doing is dealing with his own issues. It’s a feel-good, idealistic, and kind of shallow movie, but with a good point. I’ll spare you the details, but the therapist is surprised by a number of things. In his efforts to fix others, the therapist discovers that he is the one who needs fixing. Then, to his amazement and joy, love happens.

It does, you know. Love–as is true in any number of important things–is something we very often discover when we’re on the road to and looking for somewhere else….

When you least expect it, you find love in all sorts of surprising places. When it happens, it’s God. The Scripture says that God not only loves, is loving and loves us, but that God is love (1 John 4:8). That’s who God is. It’s called an “attribute” of God, meaning that wherever you encounter love, there is a sense in which you encounter God. It’s not something one defines very well, can put in a gift-wrapped box, or even adequately put in doctrinal form. At any time, in any place, and when you least expect it, love really does happen–and when it does, you know it and are surprised by it….

For years, the ministry with which I am associated (Key Life Network) conducted a seminar on radical grace titledBorn Free.” I have taught the seminar material in a number of countries and seminary classrooms. When people heard that it was a seminar on grace, they immediately thought, “Been there, done that, got it.” It was like selling ice cubes or air conditioning to people who live in the Arctic. A chapter on love could have the same problem. When any writer, preacher, or teacher starts talking about love, most Christians think, “Been there, done that, got it.”

Actually, we believers often do not understand love. Yet, it is probably the most salient attitude Christians can feel and practice in their lives, and certainly in their witness. There is something about love that changes everything. The Scripture says, “Let love be genuine” (Romans 12:9). What this means is that there is a kind of love that is not genuine. It is so very important that love be the real thing, or the attitude will become just another cliché that nobody understands and therefore nobody experiences. “I love you so much that I don’t want you to miss Christ and be lost for all of eternity” (even if it is sincere and well-intended) can become another manipulative tool in the Christian toolbox….

Jesus taught that Christians are defined by love for one another and that the world would know about him because of their love for one another. Jesus said that it was love that would cause the world to notice and understand about him. Paul wrote the amazing “song of love” in 1 Corinthians 13, and nothing before or since has spoken of love with greater beauty or power.

How can a Christian love other Christians (no mean task but the first step), and then, how can a Christian love those who would rather be left alone? If believers are going to love, it is important that we understand what it really is–and it is not what many Christians have mostly thought it was.

I am not so arrogant or naïve to suggest that this chapter is new revelation, or that I will straighten out the spurious teaching extant in the church for thousands of years. I simply want to point out what has always been there.

In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul struggles with the idea of love, and while what Paul writes is incredibly beautiful it is not definitive. Paul is not going a definition of love but a description of its essence. Paul says that if people have everything and do not have love, they do not have anything important. Love is kind; love is not envious; and love is not prideful. Love affirms others; love does not often get angry; and love is happy about the good, the true, and the beautiful. Love is protecting, trusting, hopeful, and keeps on keeping on. Then Paul says that when everything else is gone, love will still be around.

That is the essence of love, but it will drive people nuts if they use it as a checklist. Almost everything in 1 Corinthians 13 can be faked, and people are all good at that. Do you (or anybody else you know) live without a degree of anger, never envy, never show pride? Do you (or anybody else you know) always trust, always remain hopeful, never give up? Have you (or anybody else you know) always found great happiness in the good, true and beautiful? Is it not true that people rejoice in what they call justice when someone gets what they deserve? How about kindness, when you are on the receiving end of gossip and slander? The danger of 1 Corinthians 13 (and a great variety of other passages in Scripture about love) is that people can check off the items listed therein and do (at least publicly) what is required, but very often others know when love is fake. People sense when what is on the inside is quite different than what is on the outside. The truth is that love is an inside job, and there is not a thing–not one single thing–you and I can do to fix the inside.

Sometimes it is helpful to understand something by understanding what it is not. (Quote source: “Talk the Walk,” Chapter 8, pp. 72-75.)

Steve writes several more pages in this chapter about what love is not, and you can read them in his new book, Talk the Walk,” which can be purchased at Key Life and it is also available on Amazon.com at this link. The section titles are: “Love is not just a verb” (pp. 75-76); “Love is not useful” (pp. 76-77); “Love cannot be controlled” (p. 77), “Love cannot be manufactured” (pp. 77-78); “Love is not often recognized” (p. 78), and Love cannot be earned (p. 78). And he ends the chapter with a section titled, “What is Love?” (pp. 79-82).

Here are the first four paragraphs from that last section titled, “What is Love?”:

Love is Jesus. That is it. If people go much further in trying to understand love than Jesus, they will miss it. John says:

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:16-19)

C.S. Lewis referred to lust in one of his science fiction books, and he said that if someone reading what he wrote had never experienced an overwhelming sexual lust no description would suffice, but if the reader had experienced it, nothing else needed to be said. That is true of love when it is real. If you have never been loved deeply, without condition, and without requirement, I do not have the words to explain it to you. On the other hand, if you have experienced it, I really do not have to say much more.

A number of years ago, I wrote a bookThree Free Sins.” Its main thrust was that the reason people are so bad is that they are trying so very hard to be good. The trying is often so prideful, ego-centered, and narcissistic that holiness is hardly ever the product. The message of the book was that–because of justification (we’re forgiven), imputation (we’re clothed in the righteousness of Christ), and adoption (we now have a cool father)–believers can lighten up and allow God to show them his love when they get better and when they do not. And then, Christians will be surprised with the goodness that often follows. That happens because goodness and failure to be good are no longer the issue. Jesus has taken care of that, and now believers can go out and play.

It is the same way with love, being loved, and loving others. Christians have been trying way too hard to love, and the harder they try, the less they love. The more people chase love, the more it recedes. Try to define, manufacture, control, earn, or use love, and love will not be found. But if people give up trying to look for love in all the wrong places, love finds them. And that love will become the key to their efforts to speak and live the truth we’ve been given. The reason God did not send a book to express his love, but instead sent his Son, was because of the nature of love. Love is not a concept, an action, or a doctrine. Love is an experience, both when it is received and when it is given. (Quote source: “Talk the Walk,” Chapter 8, pp. 79-80).

If you are interested in reading Steve’s new book, Talk the Walk,” it can be purchased at Key Life and it is also available on Amazon.com at this link.

I’ll end this post with the words from 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a (ESV): Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things…

Love . . .

Never . . .

Ends . . . .

YouTube Video: “Love Never Fails” by Brandon Heath:

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