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:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

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:

Photo #1 credit here
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:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

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

I’m Dreaming Of A Bright Christmas

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

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

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

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

Everybody Dreams

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

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

You Forget Most of Your Dreams

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

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

Not All Dreams Are in Color

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

Men and Women Dream Differently

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

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

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

Animals Probably Dream

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

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

It’s Possible to Control Your Dreams

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

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

Negative Emotions Are More Common

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

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

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

Blind People May Dream Visually

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

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

You Are Paralyzed During Your Dreams

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

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

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

Many Dreams Are Universal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Being Chased

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

2. Water

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

3. Vehicles

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

4. People

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

5. School or Classroom

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

6. Paralysis

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

7. Death

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

8. Flying

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

9. Falling

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

10. Nudity

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

11. Baby

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

12. Food

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

13. House

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

14. Sex

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

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

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

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

And may all . . .

Your Christmases . . .

Be BRIGHT (too). . . .

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

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Real Religion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This verse is not unfamiliar in orphan care circles.

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

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

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

Why are we falling behind?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Busy people = busy churches. Polluted.

What can we do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love . . .

Your neighbor . . .

As yourself . . . .

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

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

The Other Side

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTRODUCTION

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

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

WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT ANGELS

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

Angels are beings created by God

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

Angels generally operate undercover

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

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

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

Angels are intelligent, powerful, and invisible spirit beings

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

Angels do not seek our worship

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

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

Angels are numerous

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

THE ORGANIZATION OF ANGELS

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

Michael, the Archangel

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

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

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

Gabriel

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

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

The Cherubim

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

The Seraphim

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

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

ANGELS IN ACTION

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

Angels in the lions’ den

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

Angelic activity in Daniel’s prayer

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

The angel and the donkey

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

ANGELS IN OUR LIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Encamps around . . .

Those who fear him . . .

And he delivers them . . . .

YouTube Video: “Angels” by Amy Grant:

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

 

Great Is Thy Faithfulness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many places in Scripture extol the faithfulness of God. Lamentations 3:22–23 says, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” So, what is faithfulness?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LEANING ON GOD’S CHARACTER

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

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

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

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

THE GREATNESS OF GOD

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

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

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

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

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

SEEKING HIS PERSPECTIVE

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

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

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

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

TEACHING OURSELVES

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

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

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

Great . . .

Is Thy . . .

Faithfulness . . . .

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

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Time to Reboot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Are the High Holy Days?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year! (Quote source here.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shanah Tovah! (Quote course here.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

And to love kindness . . .

And to walk humbly . . .

With your God . . . .

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

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here