Changing Our World

“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.”Robin Williams (1951-2014), American actor and comedian.

Dr. Jim Denison, CVO of Denison Forum, posted a news article on his news blog, Denison Forum, a few days ago titled, Holocaust survivor honored 75 years after his liberation: How people you don’t know change your world.” He writes:

Max Glauben was liberated from the Holocaust on April 23, 1945. His parents and brother were murdered by the Nazis.

He came to the U.S. as an orphan, served in the US Army, met his wife Frieda, and started a family that now includes three children, seven grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. He helped launch the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum. Since 2005, he has returned to concentration camp sites fourteen times, leading March of the Living trips.

Each time, he goes to a mausoleum that holds seven tons of human ashes and recites a prayer for the dead. “I look at the ashes, the seven tons of ashes, and I wonder how many of the owners of these ashes, how many diseases they could’ve cured,” he says.

Mr. Glauben intended to spend the seventy-fifth anniversary of his liberation back overseas on his fifteenth March of the Living trip. But because of the coronavirus pandemic, the trip was canceled.

Last Thursday, he expected to spend the day at home with family but went outside to find an amazing surprise: a drive-by procession was held to celebrate him and his story of survival.

When asked how to move forward when you don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, Mr. Glauben said, “Never, never, never, never give up. Enjoy life and try to treat everybody that you are surrounded with the way you’d like to be treated.”

You may not have heard of Max Glauben before today. However, every person he teaches about the atrocities of the Holocaust who then works to confront anti-Semitism will benefit the world as a result of his efforts. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on October 2, 2014 titled, The Golden Rule: Treat others how you want to be treated,” by Georgia Lee, FamilyShare, she writes on the topic Max Glauben stated above when he said, “…try to treat everybody that you are surrounded with the way you’d like to be treated.” Here is what she wrote:

Remember The Golden Rule?

“Treat others how you want to be treated.”

This saying goes far beyond simply being kind to people, or going out of your way to be available or helpful to those in need. Yes, you would want others to assist you in a bind or be pleasant even in an unfavorable circumstance. But there are many ways to create equality in your world that may go completely unnoticed by others. It’s really just about adjusting your views and attitudes.

Instead of just treating others the way you would want to be treated, think about others the way you would want to be thought of. Feel about others the way you would want others to feel about you. Speak to others the way you would want to be spoken to or spoken of.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Focus less on punishing those who cross you or others and choose to guide them into a better frame of mind. Teach them not only the error of their ways, but the error in their thinking. This is not a lesson in condescension, or even conversion, but a way to understand the progression from thought to action. If someone believes he is doing the right thing by trying to control another or become invasive in another’s life, first try to understand how that person feels his actions will get him from a desire to a result. Then, help him evaluate the consequences and perhaps choose a better way to achieve his goals and consider the goals of others. Always be open to seeing the other side as well, you may learn something.

Speak to and of others how you would like to be spoken to, and about. We all talk about other people, but assigning roles to those in our lives and trying to cast a melodrama is unnecessary. (Although it occurs frequently.) Everyone is multifaceted and cannot be fit into the box we would like to crop them into. When you retell a story, make sure to tell the unabridged, objective version, where all the characters have depth and empathy. Do not speak disparagingly about someone just because you disapprove of him.

Feel about others how you would have them feel about you. Holding onto harsh feelings will only harm you and make you hardened to feeling love and compassion. Whether or not you bear responsibility in another’s harsh feelings toward you, knowing these feelings remain is unpleasant. Especially if you feel they are unjust.

Think of others the way you would like to be thought of. Refrain from thinking, or speaking, pityingly of someone — particularly if you feel you are better off than she is. Things may seem disparate, but just as you may feel this way, others may think they are in a better position than you. Thinking of yourself as superior, more or better than another is not a beneficial way of thinking. Given or received. If you would like to help someone you think is less fortunate, do if from love, not pity.

Make an effort to respect even the unrespectable. Find something in a person or experience that was positive or beneficial and focus on that. There are inevitably circumstances in which you were or were made out to be the bad guy, and others made no effort to respect your role in the matter, or went out of their way to demolish your integrity or reputation. Do not follow in the same order, even if you feel it is just or deserved. You do not know what goes on in the mind of another or what motivates another’s actions. All you can do is take responsibility for your response to this situation, and choose to show ultimate compassion and respect when it is hard to find. Not only will this make you a better person, it will show others your true integrity and make it nearly impossible to doubt yours if it is threatened or attacked in the future. It may even redeem it in the past.

I have made a conscious effort to see everyone in my life as equal. I have come across certain people, generally of a particular faith or non-faith, who make clear through their conversations with me, and about others, that they feel a distinct superiority to others who disagree with their ideology. In the conversations I have admittedly had myself, I’ve discovered that I do not appreciate being looking down on, by believers and non-believers alike. So I’ve decided not to look down on anybody, or try to convert anybody to any ideology. I simple sit and talk with people, ask questions, listen to different schools of thought, and share my wisdom as I see fit. I’ve learned to enjoy conversations as a way to connect, instead of using them to push my agenda.

Even the Messiah sat down and ate dinner with the sinners. And if only in your mind, you can do the same. Whether others treat you with kindness and compassion has no bearing on how you treat them. Become the compassion and respect you want to receive. It’s easy for someone to be nasty to you if you’re nasty to them. Don’t give them that chance. Make it hard for people not to see you in the radiant light you portray. Make them work to hate you, disrespect you or be ugly toward you. Make it easy for them to love you, respect you, and see you as the magnificent being you are. (Quote source here.)

Those are some very important suggestions to consider. As we all know, it is hard not to want to be nasty back to people who are nasty to us, especially if we have no idea why they are being nasty. But how many of us today have had to endure what Max Glauben endured and survived during the Holocaust, when his parents and brothers were murdered by the Nazis. So let’s take a look at some ways we can change our world for the better since it really does start with us.

In an article published on July 27, 2017 titled, Nice ways to deal with mean people,” by Amy Sciarretto, writer at TheList.com, she writes:

Dealing with mean people is a fact of life that is often unpleasant and is something many of us would prefer to avoid. These not-so-nice folks can be varying degrees of nasty, ranging from prickly to semi-cranky, to straight up grumpy and ornery in either work, life, or both. Mean people can be passive, aggressive, passive aggressive, or loud, confrontational, and in your face. 

Whatever the case, you have to come up with effective ways to address a personality conflict and to co-exist with a mean person, ultimately preventing them from ruining your day or interfering with your ability to function as a happy, productive human being. 

Here are a variety of nice ways to deal with mean people, that can lessen or diffuse the meanness [Note: Only a few of the ways she lists in her article are listed below. For the complete list click here.]

Swap negativity for positivity

Rather than let someone else’s nastiness consume you, especially after you’ve had an unsavory interaction with them, Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW, recommends making a daily gratitude list so that you substitute their negative energy for your own positive thoughts and vibes. Yes, it’s that simple.

Hershenson suggests writing down ten things you are grateful for. “Anything from your family, to legs to walk on, or to reality TV,” she tells me. “Focusing on what is good in your life as opposed to what the mean person said or did today helps relieve anxiety around the situation.” Rattling off positives is a brilliant, easy way to keep the other person’s negativity at bay.

Know when to fold ’em

Mean people can feel endlessly frustrating. Most of the time, they want to get a rise out of you or use their nastiness to leverage themselves. But rather than scream, yell, or stoop to their level, you can make like Kenny Rogers in “The Gambler” and know when to fold ’em. Realize when it’s best to just bail, especially when you know you’re never going to get a resolution. Executive coach Debra Benton says the most simple way of dealing with mean people is, “Smile. Ignore. Walk away. Repeat.” 

This is a low key way to deal with a high stress interaction, but it’s also very effective. You can leave the situation with your head held high and with no shame over how you handled it.

Be the change

One of Ghandi’s most famous sayings is, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” You can apply that sentiment when dealing with nasty people. Rather than being passively kind, you can show that you really do care about what is making this person so unpleasant.

“If you’ve ever encountered a mean salesperson or co-worker, then you know it’s easy to be turned off immediately by their behavior,” says Weena Cullins, M.S., a licensed marriage and family therapist and relationship therapist. “However, taking the time to ask, ‘How’s your day going?’ or ‘Are you okay?’ is an extremely effective way to disarm someone whose bad attitude is currently on autopilot. It’s rare for people to fight meanness with concern, so don’t be surprised if they seem a bit disoriented by your question. Take the time to listen and offer a word of encouragement. You might just turn their mood around.”

Keep your enemies closer

Alison Blackman, author of six books about relationships and communication and who runs a his-and-her advice website, offers a twist on the “keep your friends close, but enemies closer” concept. She tells me, “If someone is a mean person and you can’t avoid them, mirror the opposite of what they are. Be as nice, polite, considerate, and pleasant as you can muster and limit your interaction as much as possible.”

This requires you to go out of your way a little. She finishes, “As much as it makes you want to gag, say something nice about them where it is genuine, like, ‘That’s a beautiful necklace you are wearing’ or ‘I really liked what you said at the meeting today.’ Chances are they will stare with hostility or say something nasty. Smile as if you didn’t hear it. The fact that you weren’t nasty to them will still register somewhere deep in their dark souls.” 

Or maybe, they’ll even realize the errors of their ways, and apologize….

Dealing with mean people is a part of every day life. You have to amend your behavior, walk on eggshells, and try to be considerate of the mean person’s feelings when, oftentimes, you just want to flip them off. But cooler heads prevail. Try kindness. Set boundaries. Attempt to diffuse the situation and make it better. Work to improve your repeated, or even future interactions with a mean person…. (Quote source and complete article is available here.)

Hardly a week (or maybe even a day) goes by that we don’t encounter someone who is being nasty, mean, or confrontational. But don’t give in to their meanness, and, in the words of Max Glauben…

Never, never, never . . .

NEVER . . .

Give up . . . .

YouTube Video: “Miracle” by Unspoken:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

The Singing Revolution

“Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise from the ends of the earth” Isaiah 42:10 and Psalm 96:1
A couple of days ago the following devotion showed up in Our Daily Bread titled, The Singing Revolution,” by Bill Crowder, Vice President of ministry content at ODB Ministries. It makes for a good “follow-up” post to my last blog post on this blog titled, Singing in the Rain.” Here is what he wrote:

The Singing Revolution

Today’s Scripture & Insight: Psalm 42:1–5

What does it take to ignite a revolution? Guns? Bombs? Guerrilla warfare? In late-1980s Estonia, it took songs. After the people had lived under the burden of Soviet occupation for decades, a movement began with the singing of a series of patriotic songs. These songs birthed the “Singing Revolution,” which played a key role in restoring Estonian independence in 1991. [Information on the Singing Revolution is available at this link].

“This was a non-violent revolution that overthrew a very violent occupation,” says a website describing the movement. “But singing had always been a major unifying force for Estonians while they endured fifty years of Soviet rule.”

Music can also play a significant part in helping us through our own hard times. I wonder if that’s why we so readily identify with the psalms. It was in a dark night of the soul that the psalmist sang, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 42:5). It was in a season of deep disillusionment that Asaph, the worship leader, reminded himself, “Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart” (73:1).

In our own challenging times, may we join the psalmists with a singing revolution for our hearts. Such a revolution overwhelms the personal tyranny of despair and confusion with faith-fueled confidence in God’s great love and faithfulness. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on October 9, 2019, titled, 3 Spiritual Benefits of Singing in Church, by Daniel Darling, Vice President of Communications at ERLC, he writes:

Singing in Church Matters

When I was a kid, singing hymns was not an option. The Baptist church we attended had hymns so thoroughly woven into our common life together. From the age of five, I was required to attend adult church services, clad in suit and tie, three times a week. And every service began with at least three, sometimes four hymns. And on Sunday nights, half the service consisted of people picking their favorite hymns.  As a child, you really don’t understand what’s happening when you are singing hymns. I mean sure, you understand “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” But others are hard to get your head around. What’s an Ebenezer, for instance? 

But in my adulthood I’ve come to treasure, so deeply, the way our singing together burrowed God’s truth into the deepest recesses of my heart. And now, those words I sang as a seven-year old on a hot summer night in Chicago or around campfires in northern Minnesota or in Vacation Bible school now speak to me, every day. In fact, I can hardly finish singing a hymn without my lips quivering and my heart full of emotion. When I hear “Jesus keep me near the cross, there a precious fountain, free to all a healing stream, flows from Calvary’s Mountain,” I’m transporting to that dining hall at camp where I first committed my life to Christ. When I’m struggling to see God’s goodness in a difficult season, Fanny Crosby’s words, “Summer, winter, 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.” When I’m enduring a trial, I always go back to the lyric, “When darkness veils his lovely face, I rest on his unchanging grace. In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds, within the vale.” 

Our singing matters, which is why the Bible is full of rich examples and powerful instruction to the people of God to not only recite and read and study God’s truth but to sing it, over and over again, to each other. The Old Testament contains a rich treasure of hymns in the Psalms and in the New Testament, contains the hymns we read in Colossians and Philippians, contained in letters written by Paul to the church while both church and he were under duress and the great hymns of praise in Revelation, a vision of that great eternal worship in the New Jerusalem. 

Singing, then, is not an accessory to our worship every week. Singing is not filler in a service. Congregational singing is essential to our life with Christ. To the Ephesians, Paul urged them, based on their identity as the new and redeemed people of God, to “sing to yourselves songs, hymns and spiritual songs, making melody in your hearts to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19). There are really three important spiritual benefits to congregational singing. 

1. Congregational singing teaches our hearts. 

Humans are created in such a way that repetition and rhythms help cement ideas in our minds. This is why certain song lyrics bring you back to moments in your life or can stir the soul so powerfully. This is why hard facts are often set to music. Educators use song to teach math and science and history. And so it is with our singing. You don’t always have to feel good when you are singing congregationally. Sometimes life is so hard you can barely mouth the words. But something is happening when you sing rich truths about God. It burrows these truths deep into your soul so they can be retrieved when the Spirit knows you need them. God has done this for me so often in the last several years, when I’ve encountered difficult and trying seasons or seasons of doubt and discouragement A lyric, a line, a hymn just brings back the heart prone to wander. 

2. Congregational singing helps us disciple others. 

When we sing we are not just singing to ourselves, but we are joining with our new family, the body of Christ, to each and declare to others the truth. And we are declaring to the world what we believe so strongly. Our singing is a witness. This is why our music shouldn’t be so watered down that it is immediately understandable to those who don’t know Christ. There should be a kind of gospel language that is both different and appealing to those God is pursuing through the Spirit of God. I’ve attended college football games with friends and have watched the unique rituals each school engages in as part of this shared communal bond. As an outsider, their rituals are foreign to me and yet I’m not offended. I’m intrigued. Similarly when I’m at Wrigley Field with tens of thousands of Cub fans, singing “Go, Cubs, Go” after a thrilling win, I get goose bumps. There is something human about it all. And so much for our corporate worship practices. This is why I’m often brought to tears singing a familiar hymn in church. We share something. When we sing about this glorious gospel, we are teaching ourselves, we are teaching our fellow believers and we are witnessing to outsiders.

3. Congregational singing offers praise and worship to the Lord. 

“Singing with your hearts to the Lord,” Paul urges. We are offering back praise to the One who is worthy. In the new covenant, we don’t bring animals to the altar, but we bring ourselves as a sacrifice of praise, rejoicing in our reconciliation to God through Christ. This is why it is imperative for us to always sing in church, regardless of our voice sounds or if it makes us uncomfortable to sing with others. God is not interested in the quality of our voices. Some of us are extraordinarily gifted, gifted enough to be on stage leading with excellence. But most people in the congregation are not great singers, but their heartfelt worship comes to God as a sweet and special music, the sounds of his children abandoning themselves in praise to him. So, next time you are in church, don’t stand there and stare. Sing, praise, let God move in you. The one who gave himself for us is worth embracing the awkwardness of worship. 

When you do this—faithfully attending church and singing with brothers and sisters in Christ over a lifetime—you will see how much God uses this to sanctify your heart and draw you into intimacy with him. You will experience a grace greater than your sin.  (Quote source here.)\

And as if that’s not enough reason to sing, singing also has many physical benefits. In an article published on May 19, 2016, titled, 6 Reasons to Sing Your Heart Out for Health,” by Emily Lockhart, a personal trainer and contributor on ActiveBeat.com, she writes:

Do you sing your heart out whenever a favorite song comes on the radio? Or do you reserve belting out a ditty to the shower or confines of your car? According to Chorus America, a U.S. advocacy, research, and leadership group that promotes signing in choruses, singing has some little known harmonious health benefits. So let’s “do-re-me-fa-so-la-ti-do” over these six singing health perks…

1. Singing Soothes Asthma Symptoms

If you sing, really sing, from your belly, you’re already well aware that singing is a lot easier if you breathe properly. Well, a 2014 review published by the National Institutes of Health touts the many benefits of music therapy, particularly for asthma patients.

The NIH study reveals that the slower, purposeful breaths taken while belting out a tune helps to lessen the symptoms of mild asthma and improve overall lung function.

2. Sing for Better Heart Health

Some might say you put your whole heart into karaoke night, however, it turns out that singing actually has rocking (in a good way) affects on your cardiovascular health. Much akin to yoga, a Swedish study found that singing improves heart function essentially by forcing us to take larger, slower, more purposeful breaths.

The 2013 study, published in the journal, Frontiers in Psychology, found that choral singers had slower respiration, which in turn improved their heart rate variability (HRV) and had a biologically soothing effect on overall heart function.

3. Sing to Snore Less

Do your nightly snores, sputters, and sleep apnea have the dog (and your spouse) howling for respite? Luckily, you may find some sleepy solace (for you, your spouse, and the family pet) if you take up singing.

According to a 2008 snoring study published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine those who sing, snore far less. The study monitored the snoring of a group of choral singers and compared them to non-song birds. The study concluded that singers had stronger airway muscles, which drastically reduced the music in the tune of zzzzzzzzzzzz (aka: sawing logs) during sleep.

4. Sing a Tune to Boost Immunity

Even though we are not Disney princesses who sing to cure all of our troubles. Wouldn’t that be nice? However, in real life, research published in the journal, eCancer Medical Science, claims that singing can improve immune function and the body’s ability to lower stress and fight off disease.

The UK study took samples of saliva samples from cancer patients and detected increased cytokines (immune system molecules) and decreased cortisol (stress hormone) in patients who’d recently sang a tune or two. The researchers consider this positive preliminary proof that singing can strengthen immunity.

5. The Bond of Song

Personally speaking, I have to really like someone in order to break into song in front of them. However, a study published by the Royal Society of Open Science claims that singing creates tight social bonds between individuals.

Study researchers claim it’s all thanks to the “ice breaker effect”, a bond that was common among new-established singing choir and band members. The findings note that in new-formed non singing groups (i.e., book clubs, writing clubs, and quilting clubs, etc.) the bonds were not as strong.

6. Singing in Praise of Positivity

You might believe you need a pretty high opinion of yourself to sing in front of a group of people. However, this National Institutes of Health study from 2004 claims that the more you sing, the more improved your positivity and self image will become.

The study monitored a group of amateur choral singers and found that the very act of singing reduced cortisol (stress hormone) while improving overall mood and emotional states (by measuring S-IgA) levels in saliva samples. Overall, the singers enjoyed positive boosts to their emotional and immune health. (Quote source here.)

So sing your heart out with great zeal and enthusiasm! I’ll end this post with the verse at the top of this post from Isaiah 46:10 and Psalm 96:1Sing to the Lord a new song…

His praise . . .

From the ends . . .

Of the earth . . . .

YouTube Video: “Amazing Grace” sung by Judy Collins and choir:

YouTube Video: “How Great Thou Art” sung by Carrie Underwood:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Singing in the Rain

“Singing in the rain, I’m singing in the rain. What a glorious feelin’, I’m happy again.”Gene Kelly in the musical film, “Singing in the Rain” (1952).
I thought the above painting was such a cool painting when I came across it while doing a Google search this afternoon that I just had to find a reason to include it in a blog post. It turns out that today is the perfect day as it is definitely raining outside during our current stay-at-home order in the city where I live concerning the coronavirus pandemic that is going on right now around the world and here in America.

Here are the words to the first verse in the song Singing in the Rain:

I’m singing in the rain
Just singing in the rain
What a glorious feelin’
I’m happy again
I’m laughing at clouds
So dark up above
The sun’s in my heart
And I’m ready for love
Let the stormy clouds chase
Everyone from the place
Come on with the rain
I’ve a smile on my face
I walk down the lane
With a happy refrain
Just singing,
Singing in the rain
(Lyrics at this link)

You can find Gene Kelly singing this song in the YouTube video at the end of this blog post (or you can click here to go it now, too). Tell me if that doesn’t put a smile on your face while watching and listening to it.

While there isn’t anything any of us can do to make this time during the coronavirus pandemic go faster and to get it over with, we can keep a check on our attitude to keep it going in the right direction during this time (and after, too). In fact, my previous blog post on this blog was written about a week before the pandemic really took hold here in America, and it is titled, The Right Attitude.” You can check it out at this link.  Also, yesterday I published a new blog post on my regular blog titled, The Power of Silence,” that might lend a hand in helping us get through this pandemic. too. Click here to read that blog post.

The following article was published on Crosswalk.com a decade ago on April 15, 2010, and it is titled, Alter Your Attitude to Change Your Circumstances.” Granted, this coronavirus pandemic is nothing we can alter on our own other then by following the social distancing guidelines and “stay-at-home” orders established while we are going through it, but we can still keep our attitude in check during this time. The authors of the article mentioned above are Kevin and Kay Marie Brennfleck, National Certified Career Counselors and authors of “Live Your Calling: A Practical Guide to Finding and Fulfilling Your Mission in Life.” Here is what they have to say about altering our attitudes:

How long does it take for your attitude to plummet into the “zone of negativity”? Just a few seconds of looking at news headlines or listening to TV news sound bites is all it takes for most of us to feel a new tsunami of fear, discouragement, and even depression wash over us. And if that’s not enough, the pessimism and worry of people around us is contagious, threatening to infect us to the depths of our being.

The fact is that there are lots of things going on in our world that can tempt us to develop a negative attitude about life. If you are looking for work or seeking to make a career change, however, negativity (or as Zig Ziglar aptly describes it, “stinkin’ thinking”) can sabotage your efforts!  When you get caught up in negative thinking, you lose. Not only do you lose momentum and energy, but you also can lose your ability to think creatively, make positive connections with other people, and demonstrate faith and trust in God.  Negative thinking is a “calling blocker” because it hinders us in living the life God calls us to live.

Confronting Our Stinkin’ Thinking

We are living in some of the toughest economic times many of us have encountered, and each of us is challenged with how we will respond. John Homer Miller said, “Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens.” One of the keys to living your calling–that is, doing the things God is calling you to do with your life–is learning that you are in control of your attitude.

Each of us has conditioned ourselves to think in particular ways. Our thought patterns have become so ingrained and habitual, however, that we don’t “feel” like we are making choices in how we react to life experiences-but we are. If you want to fulfill your God-sized calling, you will need to master your attitude. Charles Swindoll has important words for each of us to heed:

The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude to me is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill… The remarkable thing is you have a choice every day regarding the attitude you will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past…we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is ten percent what happens to me and ninety percent how I react to it. And so it is with you. You are in charge of your attitude.

Attitude Affects Outcomes            

Joan (not her real name) was working with a career counselor, and really wanted to make a career change. She was researching the field of meeting planning as a possible job option. Her next step in investigating the field was to conduct some “informational interviews” with people who worked as meeting planners, asking them questions about their jobs and the career field in general. When her career coach asked how her assignment had gone, she said, “I can’t find anyone to talk to. No one is willing to meet with me. I’ve tried doing this before and I didn’t get anywhere then, either. This just isn’t going to work.” Some gentle probing uncovered the fact that she had become discouraged after not hearing back from the first two people she called. She then had decided that the task was impossible and had chosen to give up.

Interestingly, the career counselor’s next client was exploring the same field. Kathy, however, had a very different experience with her informational interviewing assignment. “It wasn’t easy because everyone is pretty busy in this type of work. But I kept at it. I knew there had to be a way to find some people to talk to. I had to ask about eight people I knew before I finally found someone who had a good lead. His cousin, John, works at a convention center. He was willing to talk with me, and then he gave me the names of some of the meeting planners he has worked with. So now I’ve met with five different people!” Her positive perspective enabled her to accomplish her goal.

The Power of Self-Talk

Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.” Joan and Kathy bring Henry Ford’s words to life. Joan thought she couldn’t complete the task, and she didn’t; Kathy thought she could, and she did. They both were right about the outcome. Each of the women shaped their attitudes–and their eventual results–by the messages they told themselves as they were in the midst of the experience. During all of our waking hours, we have a continuous stream of “self-talk” going on in our minds. It happens automatically, and we are usually not even aware that we are doing it.

Our self-talk interprets our experiences, which in turn shapes our attitudes. Joan’s self-talk had been a litany of “I won’t be able to find anyone to talk to…no one wants to meet with me…this didn’t work before and it won’t work now…I’ll never be able to do this.” No wonder she gave up! From the perspective she had created with her self-talk, it would be a waste of time and energy to continue on with an impossible task.

Kathy, on the other hand, was optimistic that she would succeed. The messages she mentally reinforced were things like “I know this is challenging, so I’ll just have to keep at it…I need to be resourceful to connect with people…it will be great to talk to people in the field…I can do this.” Her self-talk created a positive “frame” through which she viewed her experiences. The first seven people she talked to had no helpful leads for her. Instead of interpreting this to mean, “I’ll never find anyone to talk to,” she framed it as “I’ll have to work harder to find contacts.”

Reframing Your Experiences

Taking charge of your attitude often means that you have to “re-frame” experiences. Reframing is changing the way you look at an experience. Joan viewed her experiences through the frame of “It will never work, so there’s no point in trying.” Had she instead been seeing the unreturned phone calls through a frame of “I may have to work at this awhile before I succeed,” she would have called back or contacted additional people. A negative frame on our experiences and life will hold us back, while a positive frame will motivate us to keep going until we accomplish our goals.

A positive frame on life doesn’t “just happen,” however. We have to create it intentionally on a daily basis. Developing a positive, optimistic attitude is challenging. We have to work at monitoring and changing our self-talk, and may have to re-frame how we see ourselves as well our perceptions of past, present and future events in our lives. We do have the power to change our lives by changing our thinking.

Each of us is the most limiting factor in our own lives. We will only attempt what we believe is possible. What we do in our lives-or don’t do-is a reflection not only of our self-image but also of our faith in God. Shallow faith produces limited results; deep faith produces miracles. No matter what has happened in the past or what weaknesses we may have, God is greater. Neither our past nor our present hampers God. The opinions and perspective of the other people in our lives do not affect or limit God. He can transform and empower you to accomplish everything he calls you to do.

Calling Catalysts for Taking Charge of Your Attitude

More than anything else, your attitude–how you think–will impact how far you go in discovering and living your calling. Our book, Live Your Calling, contains several “calling catalyst” strategies to help you enlarge your faith, change your thinking and live your calling. Here are two of them:

Exchange limiting “self-talk” and “frames” for motivating messages and positive views on life. We choose how we think and see the world. The Apostle Paul illustrates this truth when he exhorts us to choose to rejoice always; to pray with thanksgiving rather than choose to be anxious; and to choose to think about things that are excellent or praiseworthy (Phil. 4:4-9). Ultimately, the power to think positively comes from having faith in the One with whom all things are possible (Phil. 4:13).

Intentionally work on changing any “limited thinking” habits you have developed. They won’t change by themselves. To get rid of a bad habit, you have to replace it with a good habit. For example:

    • Ask yourself “How CAN I…?” instead of thinking “I CAN’T…”
    • Ask “In what ways CAN I make this work?” instead of “It will NEVER work.”
    • Respond with “Let’s figure out how I/we CAN make this happen! instead of “Yes, BUT (here are all the reasons I can’t do this thing).”  

Trying to think this way may feel very foreign to you, especially if you have well-developed negative thinking habits. You can make major progress just by taking sports psychologist Bob Rotella‘s advice: “If you don’t want to get into positive thinking, that’s OK. Just eliminate all the negative thoughts from your mind, and whatever’s left will be fine!”

Choosing to see the positive in ourselves and in the life situations we encounter comes down to a matter of faith. For Christians, our optimism is founded on trusting that God is in control, and regardless of how bleak or hopeless circumstances seem to be, He is using them for our good and His glory. (Quote source here.)

Hopefully, some of these suggestions will help us get through this unique time we are all going through right now, and it doesn’t hurt to keep on “singing in the rain,” too… I’ll end this post with these words of comfort from Jesus found in Matthew 28:20 (NLT)–And be sure of this…

I am with you always . . .

Even to the end . . .

Of the age . . . .

YouTube Video: “Singing in the Rain” sung by Gene Kelly (1952):

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The Right Attitude

“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”Proverbs 17:22When I opened Facebook two days ago, I found the following list of “ten attitude busters” posted by a friend that were mentioned in a recent sermon she heard at Victory Church in Lakeland, FL:

Ten Attitude Busters

1. Never take opposition personally.
2. Never speak when negative thoughts loom.
3. Maintain an attitude of grace and mercy.
4. Run from the pity party.
5. Pray and allow the person of God to show through.
6. Choose your battles carefully.
7. Understand the nature of opposition.
8. Choose to be a victor, not a victim.
9. Be compassionate.
10. Always honor God first.

As I read through that list, I was reminded of just how important our attitude is no matter what is going on in our lives at any given moment. And considering that this is an election year here in America, our attitude can definitely get bent out of shape. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be an election year for our attitude to get bent out of shape. It can start as soon as we get out of bed in the morning.

In article published on July 2, 2011, titled How Important Is Your Attitude?” by Jan Coates, international speaker and author, she states:

Your attitude is one of your most valuable assets! Stanford Research Institute reports that only 12.5 percent of our success in life is determined by knowledge; the other 87.5 percent comes from attitude. More than skill, knowledge, or aptitude, our attitude dictates our success in life.

Did you know that? Perhaps you’ve never thought of it that way before. Chuck Swindoll, bestselling author, writes, “I believe the single most significant decision I can make on a day-to-day basis is my choice of attitude. The attitude I choose keeps me going or cripples my progress. When my attitudes are right, there’s no barrier too high, no valley too deep, no dream too extreme.”

Most of us believe we possess a positive attitude. But what would happen if we asked our best friend or spouse for a no-holds-barred honest assessment of our attitude? Chances are high their comments might include:

*Not too bad after three cups of coffee

*Little things get blown out of proportion

*Irritable and moody

*Overly sensitive

*Whiny

*Frets and worries over everything

*Unforgiving toward certain people

In the midst of foreclosure notices and layoffs and personal and professional pressures, it is hard to maintain a positive attitude 100 percent of the time. Why? Because we’ve become reliant on outside influences, such as friends, family, teachers, bosses, and media to color our perspective. We wrongly believe attitude is something we’re given or born with, rather than a choice we make.

That was the mistake I made in my early life.  Due to many factors, including abuse, my childhood lacked a positive, healthy environment. Bitterness, anger, and envy hovered over me like an unwanted black cloud. I made major wrong decisions and bad choices and lived with the consequences. In other words, my past circumstances contaminated my attitude.

Then I discovered that a positive attitude is not something that goes on around you, but rather, it resides within you. A healthy, positive attitude comes from within your heart, mind, body, and spirit. It can’t be bought. It can’t be manufactured. You can’t inject it, transfer it, or swallow it because you already possess it. It begins with a decision—one that you make.

The Bible clearly says, “But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart” (Matthew 15:18, NIV). The English word “heart” referred to in this scripture translates to the Greek word “kardia”—the fountain seat of thoughts, passions, desires, purposes, and endeavors. These components interrelate and produce:

*Positive or negative words.

*Positive or negative actions.

A from-the-heart positive attitude requires a lifelong commitment to change the way we view everyday experiences as well as the challenges we encounter. It can only happen with a sincere desire to experience a new, positive you. I know that was the only way I ever made it out of any of the deep, dark pits I was in—and it’s the only way I stay out of them today.

God filled me with a desire and the power to transform my attitude from negative to positive.  I’ve discovered the honest-to-goodness, power-filled benefits of a positive attitude, including:

*More energy

*Less stress

*Ability to rebound from defeat

*Better physical and mental health

*Improved coping skills

*Flexibility in day-to-day living

*Enhanced relationships

When you’re willing to honestly look into your heart and do something about what you discover, then with the help of Jesus Christ, you can begin to experience godly, positive change from the inside out. (Quote source here.) (Additional information from a book by Jan Coates that was published in an article on August 20, 2011, titled, “How to Change Negative Attitudes to Positive Ones,” is available at this link.)

That list of ten attitude busters as well as the article above should inspire us to check our own attitudes on a daily and maybe even an hourly basis. I’ll end this post with a reminder from Romans 8:28 that will help us in adjusting our attitude in the right direction no matter what is going on in our lives. That verse states: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” And that is a . . .

Very . . .

Good . . .

Reminder . . . .

YouTube Video: “Intentional” by Travis Greene:

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The Royal Rule of Love

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you…” Jesus Christ, John 13:34 The following article titled, Love One Another–The National Day of Prayer,” by Nathan Nass, a pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church, was published on the National Day of Prayer on May 2, 2019.  Here is what he wrote:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35 NIV)

Jesus makes it sound so simple. Sometimes we think being a Christian is complicated. It’s not! “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” So what’s being a Christian—or a Christian Church—all about? “Love one another.” Simple! Christianity is not about buildings or programs. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

So how’s that going? May 2nd is the National Day of Prayer. Christians are encouraged to pray for our country. What a great idea! But if being a Christian hinges on loving one another, how’s that going in our country? Division on all sides. Lies spread. Churches burn. Students die. Immigrants suffer. Hatred grows. Right? Here’s the saddest part: Christians, or should I say “Christians,” are often right in the middle of it. Gathering around their “tribe.” Mocking others. Spreading rumors. “Love one another.” Is that what we see? How often aren’t Christians known more for political parties than for love? Why don’t people just love each other?

Well, why don’t we? The devil loves getting us concerned about everybody else’s sins, as long as we don’t think about our own. “Love one another.” Is your heart filled with love for everyone else? It’s simple, right? But Jesus’ simple command shows how sinful we are. If Jesus had said, “As I have loved you, love yourself,” I’d be doing a lot better. I want other people to love me. I want other people to sacrifice for me. What about you? As a church, how often don’t we expect other people to become like us? To act like us? To change for us? But loving them? Sacrificing for them? We don’t have time for that, do we? What sounds simple isn’t so simple!

In the Bible, God repeatedly convicted his nation—the Israelites—of not loving others. Do you know whom the Israelites most often refused to love? The foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow. Over and over again, God rebuked his people for refusing to love the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow. In fact, this was a sure-fire sign that people had fallen away from God—when they refused to love the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow. Does that sound familiar? “They don’t belong here! Get them out of our country!” How far we’ve fallen! You still hear people say America’s a Christian country. If that’s true, then Jesus is a liar, because Jesus says that Christians will be recognized for their love for each other. That’s not our country!

So the solution seems simple: “Choose love!” A group of well-meaning Christians have put together some nationwide materials for the National Day of Prayer. That’s what those materials emphasize: “Choose love not hate!” That’s really what everybody’s saying, right? “Choose love not hate!” Sounds great! But how’s that working? I can’t! I can’t choose to love everyone. Not when my heart is filled with pain and bitterness and hurt and hate. Not when our world is filled with pain and bitterness and hurt and hate. When are we going to realize that we don’t have the power to fix things? It’s not a matter of just choosing love, not hate.

A slogan can’t save us. Government can’t fix it. Politics aren’t the answer. Do you know what is? Five little words. There’s a little phrase we’ve skipped over. “As I have loved you…” “As I have loved you…” Nothing starts with you. Nothing depends on us. If you want to find love, don’t look inside your heart. Look to Jesus. “As I have loved you…” What do you see? On the night before his death, Jesus wrapped a towel around his waste and washed his disciples feet. In the Lord’s Supper, he gave them his own body and blood. Then he let himself be arrested and tried and crucified. Why? Because Jesus loves you. That much! “As I have loved you.”

There is only one source of real, unconditional love—Jesus! Our country needs a movement—a movement back to Jesus! Jesus didn’t say to us, “You need to change and become like me!” When would that have happened? Never! Jesus gave up all that he had to become one of us and live for us and die for us and save us. Jesus didn’t see people who looked different and say, “Get them out of here!” His Word says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). He made us part of his family!

And Jesus turned to his disciples, and to you and me, and said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” A “new” command. There’s nothing new about the idea of loving each other. Here’s what’s new: Before Jesus, no one knew what love really is. The world had never seen love like Jesus’ love. We’re used to give and take. To love in order to be loved. But grace for sinners? Love for the unlovable? Unconditional love? Self-sacrificing love? That’s new. That’s Jesus! But that love doesn’t end with Jesus. It’s a chain. We’re part of it! “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

This is what America needs. This is our community needs. Christ-like love. What if we loved like Jesus? What if everybody loved like Jesus? Wouldn’t that be a great prayer? May Jesus and his love lead Christians everywhere to love like him! Because this is what Christians do—“Love one another.” Christians enter into other people’s lives and care about them—body and soul—like Jesus for us. Jesus set the bar of love pretty high, and then he tells us: “Go for it! I’ll help you love like me!” And do you know what? People will notice. They will notice you. They will notice our church. But most of all, they will notice our Savior Jesus. And they and our country will be blessed. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Quote source here.)

James 2 in The Message Bible tells us how to live out this  “royal rule of love,” and follows it up with “faith in action”:

The Royal Rule of Love

My dear friends, don’t let public opinion influence how you live out our glorious, Christ-originated faith. If a man enters your church wearing an expensive suit, and a street person wearing rags comes in right after him, and you say to the man in the suit, “Sit here, sir; this is the best seat in the house!” and either ignore the street person or say, “Better sit here in the back row,” haven’t you segregated God’s children and proved that you are judges who can’t be trusted?

Listen, dear friends. Isn’t it clear by now that God operates quite differently? He chose the world’s down-and-out as the kingdom’s first citizens, with full rights and privileges. This kingdom is promised to anyone who loves God. And here you are abusing these same citizens! Isn’t it the high and mighty who exploit you, who use the courts to rob you blind? Aren’t they the ones who scorn the new name—“Christian”—used in your baptisms?

You do well when you complete the Royal Rule of the Scriptures: “Love others as you love yourself.” But if you play up to these so-called important people, you go against the Rule and stand convicted by it. You can’t pick and choose in these things, specializing in keeping one or two things in God’s law and ignoring others. The same God who said, “Don’t commit adultery,” also said, “Don’t murder.” If you don’t commit adultery but go ahead and murder, do you think your non-adultery will cancel out your murder? No, you’re a murderer, period.

Talk and act like a person expecting to be judged by the Rule that sets us free. For if you refuse to act kindly, you can hardly expect to be treated kindly. Kind mercy wins over harsh judgment every time.

Faith in Action

Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?

I can already hear one of you agreeing by saying, “Sounds good. You take care of the faith department, I’ll handle the works department.”

Not so fast. You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show you my faith apart from my works. Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove.

Do I hear you professing to believe in the one and only God, but then observe you complacently sitting back as if you had done something wonderful? That’s just great. Demons do that, but what good does it do them? Use your heads! Do you suppose for a minute that you can cut faith and works in two and not end up with a corpse on your hands?

Wasn’t our ancestor Abraham “made right with God by works” when he placed his son Isaac on the sacrificial altar? Isn’t it obvious that faith and works are yoked partners, that faith expresses itself in works? That the works are “works of faith”? The full meaning of “believe” in the Scripture sentence, “Abraham believed God and was set right with God,” includes his action. It’s that mesh of believing and acting that got Abraham named “God’s friend.” Is it not evident that a person is made right with God not by a barren faith but by faith fruitful in works?

The same with Rahab, the Jericho harlot. Wasn’t her action in hiding God’s spies and helping them escape—that seamless unity of believing and doing—what counted with God? The very moment you separate body and spirit, you end up with a corpse. Separate faith and works and you get the same thing: a corpse.

I’ll end this post with the same words of Jesus that opened this post: A new commandment I give you . . .

Love one another . . .

As I have . . .

Loved you . . . .

YouTube Video: “Love One Another” by the Newsboys:

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Photo #2 credit here

Demonstrating Grace

“Be kind and compassionate to one another”…Ephesians 4:32 Recently I had an opportunity to choose between seeking justice or dispensing grace. I was surprised at how much I was pulled in both directions until I finally came to a final decision. I was wronged in a way that the cost would come out of my own pocket even though I was not at fault. The counsel I was given went both ways. Some said to seek justice.

I considered every side of the issue I could come up with, and in the end, I decided to let it go. While I see the damage done to my car everyday when I get in it to drive somewhere, and I would have been within my rights to pursue it further, I decided to not move forward regarding the other party involved who caused the car accident. The owner of the vehicle (a pickup) that hit my car had no idea it was his vehicle involved in the accident as the driver of his vehicle who hit my car wasn’t him. The driver was a young woman who didn’t own it, but she failed to let me know that information at the time of the accident. She did give me the information on her car insurance which is under her husband’s name (he was not the owner of the pickup, either), but it turned out to be expired and not currently valid.

It was the corner right bumper of the pickup that cause the damage to my car when she backed into my car as I was leaving a parking lot. The pickup was not damaged at all. The damage to my car was not such that my car was inoperable nor was I physically harmed. The damage that was done to my car was a significantly large dent in the back left door behind the driver’s seat, and the estimate to get it repaired is approximately $1200.

As it turned out, the “uninsured motorist” coverage on my own car insurance did not cover the physical damage done to my car, even though the woman who hit my car had no insurance that was in effect at the time of the accident. While I carry collision insurance on my car (it is 15 years old now but I kept full coverage on it), it comes with a $500 deductible which I would have to pay out of pocket to fix the door.

I was planning to trade in the car at some point this year on a newer car, and the trade-in value of my car, since it is 15 years old, is not high. I did file claims with my own car insurance company and the car insurance company of the woman who hit my car, and it was the woman’s insurance company who tracked down the owner of the pickup, and he had no idea his pickup had been in an accident. She said I could pursue it with him to recover damages, but I would have to do that through my own insurance company.

As I thought about it, I had an ethical issue (at least to my way of thinking) in doing that because it was not the guy who owned the pickup who caused the accident, and he didn’t even know that his pickup had been in an accident. In the end, since I was planning to trade in my car at some point this year and it is 15 years old, I decided to not pursue trying to get the damage repaired through the insurance company of the guy who owned the pickup. It would go against his insurance premium for several years to come, and he didn’t even cause the accident nor did he know about it. And due to the age of my car, it is not worth me paying a $500 deductible to put a new door on a 15-year-old car that is about to be traded in anyway.

So, I’m now driving my car with a big dent in the back door until such time as I trade it in. I was told that a car the age of mine would most likely end up on an auction block and the parts sold after I trade it in anyway, and the trade-in value of it would not be affected that much because of the dented door because it was low to start with even before the door was damaged.

I mention all of this to say that it is not an easy thing to do when one has the right to try and seek justice or, instead, to choose to turn the other cheek and dispense grace. We live in a world that seeks and wants justice most of the time, and dispenses grace sparingly, if at all in many cases. And, in no way am I “patting myself on the back” for doing this. I am just trying to be honest in what it takes to come to a decision like this when justice could be served but it is set aside instead.

This morning I read a devotion in Our Daily Bread titled, Demonstrating Grace,” by Amy Boucher Pye. Here is what she wrote:

Demonstrating Grace

You will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.Micah 7:19

Today’s Scripture & Insight: Micah 7:18–20

In moments where tragedy happens or even hurt, there are opportunities to demonstrate grace or to exact vengeance,” the recently bereaved man remarked. “I chose to demonstrate grace.” Pastor Erik Fitzgerald’s wife had been killed in a car accident caused by an exhausted firefighter who fell asleep while driving home, and legal prosecutors wanted to know whether he would seek the maximum sentence. The pastor chose to practice the forgiveness he often preached about. To the surprise of both him and the firefighter, the men eventually became friends.

Pastor Erik was living out of the grace he’d received from God, who’d forgiven him all of his sins. Through his actions he echoed the words of the prophet Micah, who praised God for pardoning sin and forgiving when we do wrong (Micah 7:18). The prophet uses wonderfully visual language to show just how far God goes in forgiving His people, saying that He will “tread our sins underfoot” and hurl our wrongdoings into the deep sea (v. 19). The firefighter received a gift of freedom that day, which brought him closer to God.

Whatever difficulty we face, we know that God reaches out to us with loving, open arms, welcoming us into His safe embrace. He “delights to show mercy” (v. 18). As we receive His love and grace, He gives us the strength to forgive those who hurt us—even as Pastor Erik did. (Quote source here.)

In an article titled, Why We Should Extend Grace to Others,” by Larry Thompson, International Director, Athletes in Action, Cru’s sports ministry (Cru was formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ), he writes:

One of the most frequent reasons missionaries return home is due to interpersonal conflicts.

When one of our American missionary women first arrived in Eastern Europe many years ago, I asked about her previous experience.

She told me that after finishing college, she’d worked two years with a small mission in Africa, where she taught school for the children of missionary families.

“That must have been a wonderful experience,” I said.

“Oh no,” she replied, “it was awful!”

She explained that ministry with the children was great, but living on the mission compound was awful due to infighting between the missionary families.

Within two years the conflict had become so serious the mission center closed down.

The closing created a domino effect that closed other mission centers and, tragically, led to the folding of the mission.

Growing Strong in God’s Grace

What happened? Why did people who loved the Lord and wanted to make Him known make choices that led to such heartache?

The answer, I believe, is that those families failed to live according to God’s grace.

Unfortunately, this story is repeated often, not only on the mission field, but also in the lives of individual Christians and their churches.

And it could happen to us.

As this Easter season approaches, I believe all of us need to take a fresh look at God’s grace and how to grow strong in the grace that comes from the Cross. 

I first began thinking about this topic several years ago, while memorizing the first few verses of 2 Peter. Verse 2 says, “Grace and peace be multiplied to you.”

What does it mean to have grace multiplied to you? I began to ask myself.

It occurred to me that many of the Epistles mentioned something of grace and peace in their opening greetings. I looked at 2 Timothy 2, which begins with Paul’s admonition to Timothy to “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”

What does it mean to be strong in grace? I wondered.

Of course, I understand and can give the definition of “grace”—God’s unmerited favor—and I can even give the clever acrostic for grace—God’s riches aChrist’s expense” (GRACE).

But what does this mean in an experiential sense?  How can we live according to grace and avoid the mistakes of that mission compound? I began searching for some deeper, yet practical, insight into what it means to be “strong in grace.”

The answer, I discovered, was quite down-to-earth: We grow strong in grace when we understand God’s unconditional forgiveness of us, then learn to unconditionally forgive others.

Understanding the Cross

Although Easter rolls around just once a year, we should, in reality, celebrate Easter every day by reflecting on what Christ did for us. Christ’s death on the Cross is more than just an event in history, or a symbol of Christianity. It represents the very foundation of God’s grace.

If we hope to grow strong in grace, we must develop a deeper, more personal appreciation for what Christ did on the Cross.

“But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, New International Version). His love for us is unconditional. We do not earn His grace:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8, NIV). Salvation, and God’s forgiveness, is a free gift! We don’t deserve it.

Though once we were enemies of God, according to Colossians 1:21,22, now, through His shed blood, we are set free and reconciled to Him. He canceled out the certificate of punishment and death against us through His shed blood on the Cross.

This is only a sampling of what God reveals to us in His Word about the meaning of the Cross. We need to continually study the Scriptures to understand, deep in our souls, just what Christ did for us. We deserve nothing, yet through the Cross, God gave us everything. This is grace.

I personally begin virtually every prayer time, whether privately or in a group, with an expression of my deep appreciation to God for redeeming me. I spend time thinking and reflecting on His redemption of me.

He sought me out when I was in rebellion, and He brought me unto Himself. I am deeply grateful.

Indeed this attitude of gratitude should be the foundation of our worship and service.

Giving Grace to Others

God wants us to grow strong in giving grace to others. Giving grace to another person is simply to forgive them, unconditionally, just as God forgave us through Christ.

“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13, NIV).

Just as we don’t deserve God’s forgiveness, someone you know may not deserve yours. It doesn’t matter: We are still commanded to forgive them.

In our family, when we apologize to one another, we don’t just say, “I’m sorry.” Rather, we make sure that each person specifically admits what he did wrong and then specifically asks forgiveness for that wrong.

The person forgiving must reply with a specific “I forgive you” instead of saying, “Oh, it’s OK.” It wasn’t OK. It was wrong! It is, however, forgiven.

As we have trained our children, we’ve sought to teach them the true meaning of forgiveness and to see that even though a person is wrong, you can still forgive them, and apply grace to the person who wronged you.

The opposite of forgiving can become tragic. We see tragedy in the case of the mission center and, much too often, in individual relationships, the workplace and even in the church.

There is no middle ground with forgiveness. We either apply God’s grace or we follow a road toward bitterness.

Hebrews 12:15 tells what happens when we fall short of grace:

“See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (NIV).

Not forgiving means to fall short of the grace of God, and that results in bitterness. A root of bitterness doesn’t destroy the other person, but instead destroys ourselves and those closest to us — just as it destroyed the mission compound in Africa.

God’s Far-Reaching Forgiveness

For me personally, learning to extend grace toward others and forgive unconditionally has been one of the most important lessons that I’ve learned.

Indeed, God is still teaching me this lesson. I often fall short in my relationships and responsibilities with my family or co-workers. I then must humbly come and ask their forgiveness.

Likewise I must be forgiving to my wife, children and fellow staff when they fail. In the role of a leader I have endured some very difficult experiences that could have led to holding a grudge or developing a root of bitterness. These truths of giving grace to others and not harboring a root of bitterness have preserved and protected me.

The choice is clear, and extremely serious. Determine not to fall short of the grace of God.

Remember that Christ forgave you far beyond what you deserve, and forgive others in the same way.

Give up that grudge or bitterness. Forgive that family member, friend, associate at work or other person with whom you have a problem.

The stakes are high, for if you fail to grow strong in grace, and are unable to forgive, you are charting a path to pain and heartbreak—not for the other person, but for yourself. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the words from Ephesians 4:32Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ…

God . . .

Forgave . . .

You . . . .

YouTube Video: “Forgiveness” by TobyMac ft. Lecrae:

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Strangers Among Us

“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 TestamentI read an interesting devotion this morning (January 6, 2020) in Our Daily Bread titled, Mysterious Helpers,” by Sheridan Voysey, writer, speaker and broadcaster in the United Kingdom. Here is that devotion:

Louise suffers from muscular dystrophy. While trying to exit a train station one day, she found herself facing a large flight of stairs without an elevator or escalator. On the verge of tears, Louise saw a man suddenly appear, pick up her bag, and gently help her up the stairs. When she turned to thank him, he was gone.

Michael was late for a meeting. Already stressed from a relationship breakdown, he started battling London’s traffic only to get a flat tire. As he stood helplessly in the rain, a man stepped out of the crowd, opened the boot (trunk), jacked up the car, and changed the wheel. When Michael turned to thank him, he was gone.

Who were these mysterious helpers? Kind strangers, or something more?

The popular image we have of angels as radiant or winged creatures is only half true. While some appear this way (Isaiah 6:2Matthew 28:3), others come with dusty feet, ready for a meal (Genesis 18:1­–5) and are easily mistaken for everyday people (Judges 13:16). The writer of Hebrews says that by showing hospitality to strangers, we can entertain angels without realizing it (13:2).

We don’t know if Louise and Michael’s helpers were angels. But according to Scripture, they could have been. Angels are at work right now, helping God’s people (Hebrews 1:14). And they can appear as ordinary as a person on the street. (Quote source here.)

On October 25, 2019, I published a blog post titled, The Other Side,” on this blog that dealt with the topic of angels, and it included a four-part series on angels by Greg Laurie, senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship, published on Harvest.org. You can read that series of articles at this link. I published that blog post a few days before Halloween since the emphasis placed on Halloween usually centers around the dark side of the spiritual world.

Angels are not a topic I usually deal with on my blog posts as I leave that topic to others with more knowledge about them from a Biblical perspective. However, we all run into strangers every day of our lives (and we, ourselves, are strangers to others that we pass by) when we are “out and about” doing whatever it is we do on any given day, and this is what I want us to give consideration to in this blog post.

The question for this blog post is this–How do we treat the strangers that cross our paths at any given point in time? Much of the time it depends on the situation, and most strangers we just pass by quickly as we are walking down the street or down an aisle in a store, or walking through crowds in malls and elsewhere, or when we are driving down the road or highway. Dare I say that it probably never crosses our minds that we might be entertaining an angel in the midst of all of those strangers that cross our paths. Well, if one takes Bible verses seriously, Hebrews 13:2 clearly states that it does happen to some of us.

Whether or not we are do actually cross paths occasionally with an angel unaware, it is important to consider how we treat the strangers among us. In answer to a question on Quora.com asking, Does It Matter How We Treat Strangers? Why?” here are a few of the answers they received:

Morgan Oxley, Certified Hypnotist from National Guild of Hypnotists, responded:

Here’s a great quote: “You can tell a lot about a person by how they treat someone who can do absolutely nothing for them.”

In the past, human beings have been indifferent, afraid and even cruel to strangers. In the modern world, we’re confronted by strangers all the time.

As some of the other good responses to this question have pointed out, how you treat someone has a lasting impact on them. If you’re kind, it lifts them. If you’re unkind, it drags them down.

Humans are fundamentally emotional creatures, and emotional contagion exists. If you treat someone poorly, they’re far more likely to let it “roll down hill” with the next person they meet.

Being kind to strangers, even a quick hello and a smile makes people feel connected and accepted and makes it far more likely that they’ll be kind to the next person that they meet.

Isn’t this the world we want to live in?

You live in a world full of strangers. It’s no longer optional to be kind to people you don’t know. It’s becoming an imperative.

William Bates, writer, historian, and reflector on wisdom, responded:

According to the fairy story, a stranger came to town and agreed a price with the council for getting rid of their plague of rats. He kept his side of the bargain but the townspeople refused to pay him. As he walked away from the town, playing his pipes, all the children followed him and entered a hill, never to be seen again.

In other fairy stories a stranger is eventually shown to be a person who has power to do great good to those who treat them well, even though they initially appeared as poor or very old. The message is clear: treat strangers well because, in spite of their appearance, they may have power to hurt or enrich you. While such stories relate to people’s fear of unknown and initially mysterious travelers, they also speak to a deep rooted obligation in traditional societies to offer hospitality to strangers.

Jesus takes a rather different approach to strangers whom he views as having a temporary need for food and shelter. Jesus identifies himself with such people and says of those who enter his heavenly kingdom, ‘I was a stranger and you invited me in’ (Matthew 25:34-36).

In the first century some teachers of Christianity traveled from church to church and the apostles encouraged believers to show these strangers hospitality. Some unscrupulous people, who could spin a good yarn but did not really follow Jesus, took advantage of churches. In 2 John 7-11 believers are warned, “Do not take them into your house or welcome them”. While this does not take away from the teaching of Jesus, it is a reminder of the need to try and discern the genuine from the deceitful, even if we try to give a stranger the benefit of any doubt.

In today’s world this is live issue globally as well as at a more local level. Children are rightly warned to be wary of strangers who might be grooming them prior to some kind of abuse. Yet even when this is taken into account, the truth is that some time I may be in an unfamiliar country where I know no one at all. On the day when I find myself in the position of being a stranger, I will really appreciate being shown some kindness and hospitality. If that is how I would wish to be treated in those circumstances, it makes sense to build the kind of world in which strangers are treated with fairness and compassion.

Ganesh Thayagarajan, “your friendly, over-the-top amateur writer,” responded:

I work as a cashier at a supermarket. I meet strangers every single day. And let me tell you, it is important to treat these random people with proper respect.

I may not know them, and they most certainly do not know me, but we are all living our lives. We have our struggles, our peace, but what we choose to let out when we interact may make or break someone else’s mood completely.

I’ve had people treat me like garbage. My colleague was racially abused for making a minor mistake. Subsequently, I have caused upsets for these strangers with my mistakes. And sometimes they get angry when something is out of my control.

Sure, we don’t even know one another! What difference does it make?

A whole lot.

We may not know one another, but there is still a need for common respect for each other. Despite what we may be facing, it isn’t right for us to treat others we, let alone don’t even know, like they are nothing.

We all are living life. Though we may be strangers, there is still a need to treat each other properly. It is how we can live peacefully.

Keep that in mind when you want to piss a stranger off.

Mike Rommel, three years of Bible school, 25+ years in the working world, responded:

Yes, of course it does. Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself, then he was asked, “well who is my neighbor?” That is where you get the parable of the Good Samaritan. Go find it and read it for yourself starting at Luke 10:30. Then there is this verse….Hebrews 13:1 “Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters.” Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it! Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself. Remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies.”

Barke Saidstating this is what worked for me, responded:

Yes it does matter, so so much.

Treating people defines who we are. You don’t have to know someone for you to treat them nicely. Treat everyone nicely regardless of who they are and whether you know them or not. Because you never know that you may mistreat a stranger who will turn out to be your job interviewer, future boss or a distant relative. So you need to be cautious. And I don’t see any harm in treating strangers nicely however, there is a lot of risk and maybe harm in mistreating them. (Quote source here.)

Those few quotes should get us thinking about how we treat others we come into contact with on any given day. And, it’s not too late to make a new resolution for this new year to make an effort to treat others as we would want to be treated, especially the strangers in our midst (and maybe family members, too).

I’ll end this post with two statements Jesus made in Matthew 7:12“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets,” and in Luke 6:31

Do to others . . .

As you would have them . . .

Do to you . . . .

YouTube Video: “Speak Life” by TobyMac:

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Photo #2 credit here

Taking the High Road

“Dwell in possibility”Emily Dickenson (1830-1886), one of America’s greatest and most original poets of all time.On this last day of 2019 which is also the last day of the decade (2010-2019), a “Verse for the Day” email in my inbox this morning reminded me of the words found in Isaiah 43:18-19 (NIV):

Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
See, I [the Lord] am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.

The Message Bible states these two verses like this:

Forget about what’s happened;
    don’t keep going over old history.
Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.
    It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?
There it is! I’m making a road through the desert,
    rivers in the badlands.

Let’s start off by looking at an article titled, Is forgetting the past biblical?” on GotQuestions.org. Here is their answer to that question:

The apostle Paul ends a section in Philippians 3 by saying, “One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (verses 13–14). Is Paul instructing us to forget everything that ever happened before we met Christ? Is this a command to purge our minds of all memories?

It is important to consider the passage that precedes these words. Paul had just listed all his religious qualifications that, to the Jewish mind, were of supreme importance. He then states, “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (verse 8). Paul is making the point that no fleshly accomplishment matters in comparison with knowing Christ and trusting in His righteousness alone for salvation (Ephesians 2:8–9). Regardless of how good or how bad we may have been, we must all come to Christ the same way: humble, repentant, and undeserving of His forgiveness (Romans 5:8Titus 3:5).

The word “forgetting” in this passage means “no longer caring for, neglecting, refusing to focus on.” Our memories store millions of pieces of information gained through our senses since birth. Some experiences are impossible to forget, and any effort to forget them only makes them more prominent. Paul is not advising a memory wipe; he is telling us to focus on the present and the future, rather than the past.

It’s easy to “live in the past.” Whether it’s a past victory that our minds continually replay or a past defeat that hangs over us like a shroud, it needs to be left in the past. Nothing hinders present service quite like being mired in another time. Modeling Paul’s forgetfulness means we count the past as nothing. We cut the strings that tie us to that bygone moment. We refuse to allow past successes to inflate our pride. We refuse to allow past failures to deflate our self-worth. We leave it behind and instead adopt our new identity in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).

We are not to forget “everything,” however, in the sense of being oblivious to it. In fact, there are many times God instructs us to remember. In Deuteronomy 9:7, Moses tells the Israelites to “remember this and never forget how you aroused the anger of the Lord your God in the wilderness. From the day you left Egypt until you arrived here, you have been rebellious against the Lord.” We are encouraged to remember all God has done for us (Psalm 77:11103:2), others who are suffering for Christ’s sake (Hebrews 13:3Colossians 4:18), and what we were before Jesus saved us (Ephesians 2:11–121 Corinthians 6:9–11). But the remembering should be to the glory of God and for our spiritual benefit. If we are cleansed by the blood of Christ, then no judgment remains for past failures (Romans 8:1). If God chooses not to remember our past sins (Hebrews 8:12), we can choose to set them aside as well and embrace the future He promises to those who love Him (Romans 8:28Ephesians 2:10). (Quote source here.)

A follow-up article also found on GotQuestion.org answers the question, Does the Bible instruct us to forgive and forget?” Here is the answer to that question:

The phrase “forgive and forget” is not found in the Bible. However, there are numerous verses commanding us to “forgive one another” (e.g., Matthew 6:14 and Ephesians 4:32). A Christian who is not willing to forgive others will find his fellowship with God hindered (Matthew 6:15) and can reap bitterness and the loss of reward (Hebrews 12:14–152 John 1:8).

Forgiveness is a decision of the will. Since God commands us to forgive, we must make a conscious choice to obey God and forgive. The offender may not desire forgiveness and may not ever change, but that doesn’t negate God’s desire that we possess a forgiving spirit (Matthew 5:44). Ideally, the offender will seek reconciliation, but, if not, the one wronged can still make a decision to forgive.

Of course, it is impossible to truly forget sins that have been committed against us. We cannot selectively “delete” events from our memory. The Bible states that God does not “remember” our wickedness (Hebrews 8:12). But God is still all-knowing. God remembers that we have “sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). But, having been forgiven, we are positionally (or judicially) justified. Heaven is ours, as if our sin had never occurred. If we belong to Him through faith in Christ, God does not condemn us for our sins (Romans 8:1). In that sense God “forgives and forgets.”

If by “forgive and forget” one means, “I choose to forgive the offender for the sake of Christ and move on with my life,” then this is a wise and godly course of action. As much as possible, we should forget what is behind and strive toward what is ahead (Philippians 3:13). We should forgive each other “just as in Christ God forgave” (Ephesians 4:32). We must not allow a root of bitterness to spring up in our hearts (Hebrews 12:15).

However, if by “forgive and forget” one means, “I will act as if the sin had never occurred and live as if I don’t remember it,” then we can run into trouble. For example, a rape victim can choose to forgive the rapist, but that does not mean she should act as if that sin had never happened. To spend time alone with the rapist, especially if he is unrepentant, is not what Scripture teaches. Forgiveness involves not holding a sin against a person any longer, but forgiveness is different from trust. It is wise to take precautions, and sometimes the dynamics of a relationship will have to change. “The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty” (Proverbs 22:3). Jesus told His followers to “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). In the context of keeping company with unrepentant sinners, we must be “innocent” (willing to forgive) yet at the same time “shrewd” (being cautious).

The ideal is to forgive and forget. Love keeps no record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:5) and covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). However, changing hearts is God’s business, and, until an offender has a true, supernatural heart change, it is only wise to limit the level of trust one places in that person. Being cautious doesn’t mean we haven’t forgiven. It simply means we are not God and we cannot see that person’s heart. (Quote source here.)

The above answer leads to yet another question that is also answered on GotQuestions.org. That question is, What does it mean to be wise (shrewd) as serpents and innocent as doves?” Here is their answer to that question:

In sending out the Twelve, Jesus said to them, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16, KJV). The NIV says, “shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

Jesus was using similes (figures of speech that compare two unlike things) to instruct His disciples in how to behave in their ministry. Just before He tells them to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves, He warns them that they were being sent out “like sheep among wolves.”

The world, then as now, was hostile to believers—not incidentally hostile, but purposefully hostile. Wolves are intentional about the harm they inflict upon sheep. In such an environment, the question becomes “how can we advance the kingdom of God effectively without becoming predatory ourselves?” Jesus taught His followers that, to be Christlike in a godless world, they must combine the wisdom of the serpent with the harmlessness of the dove.

In using these similes, Jesus invokes the common proverbial view of serpents and doves. The serpent was “subtle” or “crafty” or “shrewd” in Genesis 3:1. The dove, on the other hand, was thought of as innocent and harmless—doves were listed among the “clean animals” and were used for sacrifices (Leviticus 14:22). To this very day, doves are used as symbols of peace, and snakes are thought of as “sneaky.”

Nineteenth-century pastor Charles Simeon provides a wonderful comment on the serpent and dove imagery: “Now the wisdom of the one and the harmlessness of the other are very desirable to be combined in the Christian character; because it is by such an union only that the Christian will be enabled to cope successfully with his more powerful enemies” (Horae Homileticae: Matthew, Vol. 11, London: Holdsworth and Ball, p. 318).

Most people don’t mind having their character compared to a dove’s purity and innocence. But some people recoil at the image of a serpent, no matter what the context. They can never see a snake in a good light, even when used by Jesus as a teaching tool. But we should not make too much of the simile. We cannot attach the evil actions of Satan (as the serpent) with the serpent itself. Animals are not moral entities. The creature itself cannot perform sin, and shrewdness is an asset, not a defect. This is the quality that Jesus told His disciples to model.

The serpent simile stands in Jesus’ dialogue without bringing forward any of the serpent’s pejoratives. It is a basic understanding in language that, when a speaker creates a simile, he is not necessarily invoking the entire potential of the words he has chosen—nor is he invoking the entire history and tenor of the linguistic vehicle. Rather, the speaker is defining a fresh relationship between the two things. A quick look at Matthew 10:16 shows that Jesus was invoking only the positive aspects of the serpent. There is no hint of His unloading Edenic baggage upon His disciples. He simply tells them to be wise (and innocent) as they represented Him.

When Jesus told the Twelve to be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves, He laid down a general principle about the technique of kingdom work. As we take the gospel to a hostile world, we must be wise (avoiding the snares set for us), and we must be innocent (serving the Lord blamelessly). Jesus was not suggesting that we stoop to deception but that we should model some of the serpent’s famous shrewdness in a positive way. Wisdom does not equal dishonesty, and innocence does not equal gullibility.

Let us consider Jesus as exemplar: the Lord was known as a gentle person. Indeed, Scripture testifies that He would not even quench a smoking flax (Matthew 12:20). But was He always (and only) gentle? No. When the occasion demanded it, He took whip in hand and chased the money changers out of the temple (John 2:15). Jesus’ extraordinarily rare action, seen in light of His usual mien, demonstrates the power of using a combination of tools. This “dove-like” Man of Innocence spoke loudly and clearly with His assertiveness in the temple.

In His more typical moments, Jesus showed that He was as wise as a serpent in the way He taught. He knew enough to discern the differences in His audiences (a critical skill), He used the story-telling technique to both feed and weed (Matthew 13:10–13), and He refused to be caught in the many traps that His enemies laid for Him (Mark 8:1110:212:13).

Jesus showed that He was as harmless as a dove in every circumstance. He lived a pure and holy life (Hebrews 4:15), He acted in compassion (Matthew 9:36), and He challenged anyone to find fault in Him (John 8:4618:23). Three times, Pilate judged Jesus to be an innocent man (John 18:3819:46).

The apostle Paul also modeled the “wise as serpents, harmless as doves” technique. Paul lived in dove-like innocence in good conscience before God (Acts 23:1) and learned to deny his carnal desires so as not to jeopardize his ministry (1 Corinthians 9:27). But Paul also displayed serpent-like shrewdness when he needed it. He knew his legal rights and used the legal system to his advantage (Acts 16:3722:2525:11). He also carefully crafted his speeches to maximize the impact on his audience (Acts 17:22–2323:6–8).

In Matthew 10:16, Jesus taught us how to optimize our gospel-spreading opportunities. Successful Christian living requires that we strike the optimal balance between the dove and the serpent. We should strive to be gentle without being pushovers, and we must be sacrificial without being taken advantage of. We are aware of the unscrupulous tactics used by the enemy, but we take the high road. Peter admonishes us, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12). (Quote source here.)

In a few short hours, we will pass from the old year to a brand new year, and from the past decade to a brand new decade. Hopefully, the answers to the questions above will guide us in making the transition a successful one by forgetting the past (whether good, bad, or indifferent); forgiving others and ourselves when needed; and striving to be gentle without being pushovers; sacrificial without being taken advantage of; being aware of the unscrupulous tactics used by the enemy…

And by always . . .

Taking . . .

The high road . . . .

YouTube Video: “Auld Lang Syne” sung by Home Free:

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Home for Christmas

“I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.” –from the song “I’ll Be Home for Christmas
With the passing of Dad this past summer, the family home that our family has grown so familiar with over the years since Dad married my stepmother back in 1979 has been sold, and it is now no longer a part of the family. In other words, there is no physical “home” to go home to anymore.

When Dad died in June, the last member of that generation in my family died, too. While my two brothers have their own families, and they have their own homes to celebrate Christmas with their children and grandchildren, I have been single all of my life, so my “home” is literally found in the statement, “Home is where the heart is.”

I’ve moved a lot over the years and I’ve lived in three different states due to my profession. Yet, I’ve always made wherever I was living at the time feel like a “home” to me even though I’ve lived in apartments all of my life. Originally from the Midwest, since 1992 I have lived in Southern states (primarily Florida for over 20 years and now in Texas). I’m not entirely sure you can ever take the “Midwest” out of a Midwesterner no matter how many years one lives in another part of the country, especially in the South where customs and even language takes on a new flavor and meaning. I still have not learned to be “Southern” yet, and I’m not sure I will ever be successful at it.

I ran across an article published on December 21, 2015, titled My Heart is Where My Home Is,” by Lynn Soots (although at the bottom of the article it credits Julie Ostrow as the author), that gives a defining experience as to what I mean about being a transplanted Midwesterner living in a Southern state. Here is what she wrote:

What does it mean to ‘go home’?

I recently had the opportunity to visit the town where I grew up. I haven’t lived there in decades, yet, I visited two weekends in a row. One weekend was reconnecting with the past—my high school reunion. The following weekend was spent sharing my present—leading an improv workshop at the Grand Rapids Improv Festival and being interviewed on a local morning show. Funny thing…and believe it or not, I was somewhat shy in high school. I didn’t take a single acting class or ever performed on stage in high school. Yet, decades later, I appear on TV and teach an improv workshop in my hometown.

Attending my high school reunion brought unexpected connections and friendships. New and renewed friendships. Classmates I was friends with before are now in my life again. We shared laughter and stories of old and new.

It felt like I never left-sort of

Having been away from Grand Rapids, Michigan through the years left me with a constant longing for home. Being uprooted after my freshman year of college and embarking on an adventure to Raleigh, North Carolina with my mom and dad, this youngest of six was forced to make a home wherever she was.

Moving from a Midwestern town to a Southern town was a culture shock for this once 18-year-old. I was told I talk funny by people from all over the Southern United States. For those of you not aware, just like there are different Midwest accents—from Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota—there are various Southern accents—from the mountains to the beach of North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama.

Although my Southern friends and I had a few communication “mishaps,” we always laughed and poked fun at our language differences. Not to mention the different colloquialisms. I was feeling at home with my new friends.

Just as I was starting to feel like I could plant roots in Raleigh, my parents uprooted once again. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer during the summer after my sophomore year of college. After having her mastectomy, she and my dad moved back up to the Midwest exactly one year after the three of us moved to Raleigh. From then on I was on my own.

Constant journey toward home

I realized that throughout my life, I continued to listen to my inner voice, my intuition, and follow my passion and my joys. Multiple times I have had to push myself beyond my own boundaries and limitations. Sometimes by my choice and sometimes because of circumstances beyond my control. As I pushed myself through new experiences, one feeling remained the same…my desire to connect with others, to have a sense of family, and to belong.

My Heart is Where My Home Is

No matter how long and hard I look outside of myself and beyond my inner circle for connection, I am reminded by my loved ones that I am loved, I do belong, and that we are family.

As I reflect this holiday season, I bask in the feeling of knowing that I am home. (Quote source here.)

And here is another article published on June 14, 2016, titled, Home Is Where The Heart Is, by Zanteria Nelson, who was a student at the University of West Florida at the time this article was published. Here is what she wrote:

Home is where the heart is.

That statement is much more profound than it appears because it means that your home can be anywhere on this spinning orb. It means your home will always be the place where you feel the deepest affection, no matter where you are. It means you can find a home with your family in your hometown, when you are alone overseas, or anywhere in between. It means the place you long to be. It means that you could be homeless, living in a nomadic life, and find a home everywhere you go in every experience you have. It means you can find a sense of home in a friend’s hug, in exploring the unknown, in a familiar tingle of love, in a warm bed or in the midst of a joyful run. It means that your home is wherever you take your heart, and if you are like me and you live with your heart and for your heart, then you will forever be at home. You will never be homeless, and will always feel at home.

In others words, “Home is where the heart is,” is not just a mere phrase. It means so much to your life, my life, and the lives of others. Home is not necessarily your house. Sometimes during our walk of life, we do not understand where we belong in this world. We tussle with the fear of not belonging to anyone or anything. Of course we have families, but our families do no not dictate the way our life should be.

It is our innermost soul that guides our lives, and that soul lives in our hearts. Whatever our heart expresses it truly represents who we are. Wherever our heart lays is truly where we belong. Our heart is a spiritual source that connects to the things that are most beneficial for us.

To be honest, in many ways, I myself have been feeling lost, lost in a spiritual and emotional sense. These feeling are evident in the most unexpected moments, moments where I find myself in my car, at the beach floating in waves, or sitting at a table.

Surrounded by unfamiliar faces, and I start to think. Where do I want to be? Where do I feel the most relieved? Why am I here? What is my meaning? What is my truth? What is my purpose? What is my path? What is my bliss?

Sometimes, I am lost in the sense where I find myself wondering what the point of this life is. If everything eventually fades, if we all eventually die, if nothing is permanent, then what is the point? My heart answered all of these questions for me. For wherever my heart leads me, I am truly home. For your home is where your heart is, and my heart is with me. (Quote source here.)

Of course, for those of us who are Christians, our heart is owned by another–Jesus Christ. And He is exactly who Isaiah so clearly described in Isaiah 9:6-7:

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.

In an article published on OnePlace.com titled, When Jesus Came to Town–A New Beginning,” by Greg Laurie, author and senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, CA, he write:

In his excellent little book,My Heart, Christ’s Home,” Robert Boyd Munger writes of Jesus coming to his home and describes his sense of embarrassment when the Lord begins walking around. Imagine what it would be like to have Jesus come to your home and actually visit, especially if you weren’t expecting Him?

The Bible unfolds this very scenario in Luke 19 and introduces us to a man named Zacchaeus. Into his home walked the Creator of the universe in human form.

Zacchaeus was a successful businessman, a chief tax collector. In those days, there were three primary places where taxes were collected: Capernaum, Jerusalem, and Jericho. Zacchaeus, being the chief tax collector in Jericho, was over one of the “Big Three.” He was head of a tax farming cooperation with collectors who extorted the people and paid him before he paid the Romans. You might say that he was the kingpin of the Jericho tax cartel. He was hated, despised, and isolated by his fellow Jews.

But Jesus had a different view of Zacchaeus. He assessed him this way: “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10) In other words, Jesus saw the real problem with Zacchaeus. He did these things because he was lost.

As Jesus came into town, Zacchaeus could not see over the crowd. So, he sprinted down the street and scurried up a tree, trying to catch a glimpse of Him. In this culture, it was considered undignified for an older man to run. If you were a government official, you did not do something like this. It was not appropriate. But Zacchaeus didn’t care. He wanted to see Jesus.

Here came Jesus with the crowd. They were pushing and pulling, amidst a lot of noise and excitement. Suddenly, as the Lord passed by, He stopped, looked up at Zacchaeus, and called out his name.

Everyone stopped and looked at Zacchaeus. I doubt they were looking at him with love. They were probably thinking, “Let’s cut this tree down with this creep in it.” But I believe Jesus’ look was different than the rest. I think His look was one of love and compassion.

Jesus told him, “Make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” Can you imagine the excitement that filled the heart of Zacchaeus? He probably came down that tree a lot more quickly than he went up.

Jesus and Zacchaeus momentarily disappeared from the crowd. They had a conversation that changed the course of this chief tax collector’s life. Something dramatic happened during that visit, but Scripture doesn’t reveal what it was. It is clear that Zacchaeus came out a different man than when he went in.

Zacchaeus realized that Jesus was not merely a guest in his home, but in reality, the host. How important it is that we make this same discovery: once we have given our lives to Jesus, we are under His command.

When we have placed our faith in Jesus, we are no longer our own. It is not even correct for a believer to say, “my future, my life, my plans, my career, my family.” Rather, a believer should say, “Now I belong to the Lord, and I want to do what He wants me to do.”

The Apostle Paul prayed for the believers in Ephesus, that Christ would dwell in their hearts through faith (Ephesians 3:17). A literal translation of this statement would be, “My prayer is that Christ would settle down in your heart and finally be in your home, that He would settle down as a family member.” It was the idea of Christ being at home in their hearts and lives.

Clearly, this change had taken place in Zacchaeus. Salvation had come to him. He was no longer the same man.

Can someone see by the evidence in your life that salvation has come to you? Jesus may be calling your name right now, wanting to settle down in your heart. Maybe you are treating Him like a guest, an honored guest, granted, but a guest nonetheless.Is Jesus at home in your life right now? Does He have free reign? Can He do what He wants to do?

Jesus wants to help you and change you. Like Zacchaeus, welcome Him into your life and let Him have His way. If He does throw something out, just know that He will put something better in its place. (Quote source here.)

For Christians, Jesus gives us a whole new meaning to the word “Home”

And home…

Is where . . .

The heart is . . . .

YouTube Video: “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” by Rascal Flatts:

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

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