Elul and the High Holy Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Blowing the shofar

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

2. Saying special prayers

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

3. Visiting loved ones’ graves

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

4. Reading Psalm 27

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

5. Reflecting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And He shall strengthen your heart…

Wait, I say . . .

On the Lord . . . .

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

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

A Day of Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mishnah tells us that: “No days were as festive for Israel as the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur. (Tractate Ta’anit) What is Tu B’Av, the 15th of the Hebrew month of Av? In which way is it equivalent to Yom Kippur?

Our Sages explain: Yom Kippur symbolizes God’s forgiving Israel for the sin of the Golden Calf in the desert, for it was on that day that He finally accepted Moses’ plea for forgiveness of the nation, and on that same day Moses came down from the mountain with the new set of tablets.

Just as Yom Kippur symbolizes the atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf, Tu B’Av signifies the atonement for the sin of the Spies, where ten came bearing such negative reports which reduced the entire nation to panic. As a result of that sin, it was decreed by God that the nation would remain in the desert for 40 years, and that no person 20 or older would be allowed to enter Israel. On each Tisha B’Av of those 40 years, those who had reached the age of 60 that year died – 15,000 each Tisha B’Av.

This plague finally ended on Tu B’Av.

Six positive events occurred on Tu B’Av:

Event #1 As noted above, the plague that had accompanied the Jews in the desert for 40 years ended. That last year, the last 15,000 people got ready to die. God, in His mercy, decided not to have that last group die, considering all the troubles they had gone through. Now, when the ninth of Av approached, all the members of the group got ready to die, but nothing happened. They then decided that they might have been wrong about the date, so they waited another day, and another…

Finally on the 15th of Av, when the full moon appeared, they realized definitely that the ninth of Av had come and gone, and that they were still alive. Then it was clear to them that God’s decree was over, and that He had finally forgiven the people for the sin of the Spies.

This is what was meant by our Sages when they said: “No days were as festive for Israel as the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur,” for there is no greater joy than having one’s sins forgiven – on Yom Kippur for the sin of the Golden Calf and on Tu B’Av for the sin of the spies. In the Book of Judges, Tu B’Av is referred to as a holiday (Judges 21:19).

In addition to this noteworthy event, five other events occurred on Tu B’Av:

Events #2 and #3 Following the case of the daughters of Zelophehad (see Numbers, chapter 36), daughters who inherited from their father when there were no sons were forbidden to marry someone from a different tribe, so that land would not pass from one tribe to another. Generations later, after the story of the “Concubine of Giv’ah” (see Judges, chapters 19-21), the Children of Israel swore not to allow their daughters to marry anyone from the tribe of Benjamin. This posed a threat of annihilation to the tribe of Benjamin.

Each of these prohibitions were lifted on Tu B’Av. The people realized that if they kept to their prohibition, one of the 12 tribes might totally disappear. As to the oath that had been sworn, they pointed out that it only affected the generation that had taken the oath, and not subsequent generations. The same was applied to the prohibition of heiresses marrying outside their own tribe: this rule was applied only to the generation that had conquered and divided up the land under Joshua, but not future generations. This was the first expression of the merging of all the tribes, and was a cause for rejoicing. In the Book of Judges it is referred to as “a festival to the Lord.”

Over the generations, this day was described in Tractate Ta’anit as a day devoted to betrothals, so that new Jewish families would emerge.

Event #4 After Jeroboam split off the kingdom of Israel with its ten tribes from the kingdom of Judea, he posted guards along all the roads leading to Jerusalem, to prevent his people from going up to the Holy City for the pilgrimage festivals, for he feared that such pilgrimages might undermine his authority. As a “substitute,” he set up places of worship which were purely idolatrous, in Dan and Beth-el. Thus the division between the two kingdoms became a fait accompli and lasted for generations.

The last king of the kingdom of Israel, Hosea ben Elah, wished to heal the breach, and removed all the guards from the roads leading to Jerusalem, thus allowing his people to make the pilgrimage again. This act took place on Tu B’Av.

Event #5 At the beginning of the Second Temple period, the Land of Israel lay almost totally waste, and the wood needed to burn the sacrifices and for the eternal flame that had to burn on the altar was almost impossible to obtain. Each year a number of brave people volunteered to bring the wood needed from afar – a trip which was dangerous in the extreme.

Now, not just every wood could be brought. Wood which was wormy was not permitted. And dampness and cold are ideal conditions for the breeding of worms in wood. As a result, all the wood that would be needed until the following summer had to be collected before the cold set in. The last day that wood was brought in for storage over the winter months was Tu B’Av, and it was a festive occasion each year when the quota needed was filled by that day.

Event #6 Long after the event, the Romans finally permitted the bodies of those who had been killed in the defense of Betar (in the Bar Kochba revolt) to be buried. This was a double miracle, in that, first, the Romans finally gave permission for the burial, and, second, in spite of the long period of time that had elapsed, the bodies had not decomposed. The permission was granted on Tu B’Av.

In gratitude for this double miracle, the fourth and last blessing of the Grace After Meals was added, which thanks God as “He Who is good and does good.” “He is good” – in that the bodies had not decomposed, “and does good” – in that permission was given for the burial.

To this day, we celebrate Tu B’Av as a minor festival. We do not say Tahanun on that day, nor are eulogies rendered. By the same token, if a couple are getting married on that day (and, as we will see below, it is the custom for the bride and groom to fast on their wedding day), neither fasts.

Beginning with Tu B’Av, we start preparing ourselves spiritually for the month of Elul, the prologue to the coming Days of Awe. The days begin to get shorter, the nights get longer. The weather, too, helps us to take spiritual stock: the hectic days of the harvest are over for the farmer, and the pace has slowed down considerably. Even on a physical level, the heat of the summer makes it hard to sit down and think things out, and now that the days and nights are cooler, it is easier to examine one’s actions.

In earlier times, it was the custom already from Tu B’Av to use as one’s greeting “May your inscription and seal be for good” (ketiva vahatima tova), the same blessing that we today use on Rosh Hashana. Those who work out the gematria values of different expressions found that phrase adds up to 928 – and so does the words for “15th of Av. (From “Practical Judaism” published by Feldheim Publishers.) (Quote source here.)

In modern times, JewishVirtualLibrary.org states:

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

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

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

Trust, hope, love . . .

And the greatest of these . . .

Is love . . . .

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

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

An Inside Job

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


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

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

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

Steve continues with the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love . . .

Never . . .

Ends . . . .

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

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

 

Remembering Dad

“Love is how you stay alive, even after you are gone.”Mitch Albom, internationally renowned best-selling author, journalist, screenwriter, playwright, radio and television broadcaster, and musicianToday (July 23, 2019) is Dad’s 96th birthday. Dad passed away on June 22, 2019 (see post titled, A Eulogy for Dad,” published on that same day on this blog, and Forever Changed,” published two days ago on my regular blog) just one month shy of his 96th birthday, so this is the first milestone of many that will be celebrated without his physical presence.

It still doesn’t seem quite real yet that Dad is really gone (as in “never coming back” gone). While Dad and I lived one thousand miles apart and our relationship was somewhat strained especially during the past decade, I always knew he was only a phone call away, but now not even the internet or cyberspace can reach him (not that Dad ever owned techie stuff except for a cellphone, and he never had an email address or used text messaging). Technology may be the 8th Wonder of the World,” but not even all of our techie wonders can reach Dad now.

Dad (circa 2014) & Dad and my stepmother at Manhattan Beach, CA, in 2001

Despite our differences, my feelings and love for Dad never waned. While Dad went to his grave with me never really understanding what it was that he let come between us especially in these past ten years, it never stopped me from loving him. He’s the only dad I’ve ever had, and he has left an indelible mark on my life for the better even though at times he tried to make it for the worse (I say that humorously). He may have divorced Mom many years ago when I was only 12, but he can’t divorce me. I’m his own flesh and blood, and I’m his only daughter made from his flesh and blood.

Dad and I did not get into a lot of arguments (none, actually, when I was very young), but he was the son of a hellfire and brimstone preacher and he could dish it out with the best of them once he got started. There was no getting a word in edgewise when Dad got started on one of his tirades. Fortunately, they were few and far between, and the physical distance between us after I moved to Florida when I was 40 as the recipient of a doctoral fellowship at a private university helped to keep the heat mostly turned down to lukewarm.

I never understood his anger (maybe discontent is a better word) at me, and he was often quite critical even when I was very successful at something that I had accomplished, but beneath his anger I knew that he loved me. Our relationship went fairly well during the almost 32 years he was married to my stepmother until she died suddenly and unexpectedly in 2011. She softened him towards me and I was forever grateful to her for that. Dad could blow up at me when I was just sitting in a chair watching TV when I visited them, and I never knew what I did to set him off. She was a sort of buffer between us. After her death, the distance between Dad and me grew again, but not because I wanted it to be like that. I always wanted a close relationship with Dad, but he was the one who built the wall between us, and he kept it in place right up until he died a month ago.

I am not a fighter and I hate arguing with anyone. I will walk away from an argument before I try to fight back especially when I know it is a fight I’ll never win or that a compromise is not possible. And with Dad, I never won that fight as he would just shout over anything I tried to say, so a couple of decades ago I stopped trying to make him see that I wasn’t the person he perceived me to be. I felt like I was fighting against a phantom image he had created of me, and that’s about as effective has punching at water.

I can’t tell you how many years I prayed that we could be reconciled and have a real relationship as father and daughter. I watched him have relationships with other women like my sisters-in-law, and later my stepsister, and my niece, and even Dad’s girlfriends between his marriages. I didn’t even come close in comparison to them in his eyes. It was brutal, and I never understood why he felt the way he did about me. I could only assume it had something to do with my mother who he divorced when I was 12. He never let me be who I was. I was always this phantom image he had created in his mind that he did not like, and he never got to know the real me. And because of that, I never got to experience the side of him that he showed to everybody else in life, either.

It takes two to tango, and I know I wasn’t perfect either. I have my flaws as does every human being on the planet. There’s a line near the end of the movie, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” (2010) where the main character, a Wall Street guy named Gordon Gekko (played by Michael Douglas), who had a very strained relationship with his adult daughter in the movie, says to her, “Human beings… you gotta give ’em a break. We’re all mixed bags.” He and his daughter reconcile at the end of the movie. In real life, Dad and I did not reconcile before he died, and it was his choice, not mine. I was told that he didn’t even want to see me on his deathbed, but he said he knew that I might need the “closure.” I didn’t need the closure; I just wanted to know that he really loved me, and I wanted him to know that I really loved him. After all, we are all mixed bags.

I knew Dad loved me at some level, although we had only physically seen each other twice in the past dozen years before Dad died (both times were at two nephews’ weddings–one in January 2008 and the second in October 2015), and I was the one who made the effort to “show up.” When my stepmother was still alive and after I moved to Florida when I was 40, I called home and talked to Dad and my stepmother every Sunday for all of those years until my stepmother died, and then Dad no longer showed much interest in talking with me by phone once he started a relationship with a widow he met several months after my stepmother died in 2011. This widow was really good for Dad and she no doubt had a big hand in keeping him alive for as long as he lived as he was devastated after my stepmother died. I have no hard feelings toward her whatsoever, and she has her own significant health issues going on right now, too. I was glad she brought life back into Dad for those few years they were together before Dad died, and I was happy to see that she was able to make it to Dad’s visitation and funeral with her family.

My grief for Dad is not only because he died but when he died so did the last opportunity to try to make things right when I didn’t even know what was wrong. My grief is also for the relationship we could have had if he had only gotten rid of the phantom image he created of me that kept him from having a real relationship with me all those years, and especially in the past decade.

Dad really was a great guy and he really did have a great life. He never knew a stranger; he was an honest and very successful businessman; he was enormously proud of his WWII service as a Navy aviator and his military career, and he loved being a Mason (he was a “33rd Degree” Mason which is part of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry) and a Shriner during the years he was active. He did love his family, and he had a great sense of humor, and he was loved by many including me. That is the dad I will always remember, and I refuse to let the negative stuff get in the way. We all make our choices in this life, and he chose to keep me at a distance. I would have made a different choice if I could have but, as I stated above, it takes two to tango, and his life wasn’t a dance he was interested in sharing with me.

Dad’s death might be a little easier on me then my two brothers because of the difficult relationship Dad chose to have with me (actually, that could make it harder on me if I let it, but I won’t), and also due to the physical distance between Dad and me from the time I was 40 and moved to Florida for that doctoral fellowship. Dad was very close to my two brothers and their families, and he communicated with them either daily or weekly right up until his death.

As stated above, I only actually saw Dad twice in the past dozen years–the last time being in October 2015. I asked Dad if I could come home to visit many times but I was repeatedly told “no” after my stepmother died. I will never understand why Dad did not want me around nor will I ever know the reason behind it. I sometimes felt like an orphan long before Dad died especially in the past decade.

I do love Dad with every fabric of my being. I love him as much as I love Mom who died over 36 years ago. I was very grateful I was able to make it back to Dad’s funeral even though it required me to drive 2000 miles in my almost 15-year-old Honda. It was a very positive and uplifting time for me from start to finish as I got to see family again along with folks who came to the visitation and Dad’s funeral that I had not seen, in some cases, in over 40 years. It was truly a celebration of Dad’s life and it was a wonderful celebration amidst much crying. Dad will be missed by many including me.

To those who might be reading this post who knew and loved Dad, I do not want what I have written above to in any way affect the way you knew him and loved him. Life is full of difficult relationships for most if not all of us at some point, and just because Dad and I had a difficult relationship does not mean it has to affect anyone else’s view of Dad. I wish I was able to get to know Dad like you did, and sometimes I did get to see that side of him (I saw it a lot more when I was much younger). I want you to remember him just as you do–as a great guy who didn’t know a stranger and who celebrated life right up to the end.

And life . . .

For the rest of us . . .

Still goes on . . . .

YouTube Video: “Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night (this is the last of three songs that Dad requested to be played at his funeral):

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit–personal photo
Photo #3 credit–personal photo

He Who Laughs Lasts Longest

“Humor is a rubber sword–it allows you to make a point without drawing blood.”Mary Hirsch, HumoristFour days ago when I wrote my blog post, A Eulogy for Dad,” on the day Dad died one thousand miles away in another state, I ended by saying that Dad, if he was still here, would end his own eulogy with a funny joke–probably more likely a funny story.

Later, I got to thinking about the term “funny joke” as I thought maybe it is a bit redundant to use the term “funny” with “joke” as most jokes are supposed to be funny, aren’t they? Of course, that lead to a Google search for an answer as I hate being redundant, and I tend to use too many words as it is. One of the links that came up in my search lead to an article published in 2006 titled, When the Truth Hurts, Tell a Joke: Why America Needs Its Comedians,” by  and . The article opens with the quote at the top of this blog post by Mary Hirsch, a humorist. Farther down in the article is found the following:

Most of American comedy has its roots in the stand-up routine.  Nearly all of the great comics of television, Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Carrey, David Letterman, and Jamie Foxx, to name a few, started their careers as stand-up comics. Characteristic of a stand-up act is its fast string of amusing stories, short jokes, one-liners, and the occasion of spontaneous interaction with the audience. Normally, the stage contains nothing more than the microphone, a stool, and perhaps a glass of water.  

What makes stand-up comedians worthy of research is that their search for laughter leads them to seek out, explore, and articulate the unspoken taboos of society. Much like Adam Smith’s observation in the eighteenth century that “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest,” it is through the comedian’s selfish pursuit of the laugh that society receives its social critique.

“Comedians don’t start out to change the world, but in the end, that’s what they do,” says Stephen Rosenfield, founder and director of the American Comedy Institute in New York City, where he teaches aspiring comedians the art of writing and performing comedy.  “Comedians are aware of the power of jokes to change societies, but they’re not necessarily idealistic about it.  A comedian’s first concern is to find funny material. That is his job.”

“A good joke provides tension, and then, release of that tension,” says Greg Giraldo, (1965-2010), a Harvard Law School graduate turned comic who hosted Comedy Central’s Friday Night with Greg Giraldo show.  “You build the tension by saying things that are controversial. The release is the laugh. The bigger the surprise or insight in your joke, the bigger the laugh.”

This anatomy of tension and release ensures that the comic is going to discuss material that is at the fringe of what polite society will talk about. There’s plenty of controversy to confront, said Giraldo, enjoying a meal of sushi after a Tuesday night appearance at the Comedy Cellar in New York’s Greenwich Village. “A lot of racially charged [crap*] happens here in New York City. Yet mainstream culture likes to pretend that race issues don’t exist. Ninety-five percent of white people and ninety-five percent of black people live on different planets. They don’t speak the same language. They don’t interact. They’re not comfortable around one another. That’s [screwed*] up. It’s the sad reality of our culture. Unfiltered honest talking on race is rare, but comics are comfortable with race. Comics are honest.” [Note: * indicates expletives in original article were changed] (Quote source here.)

Comedians can “bring down the house” with gales of laughter but also make us squirm in our seats. I think of George Carlin (1937-2008), an American stand-up comedian, actor, author, and social critic, who was a master at making us squirm in our seats. Reality can be hard to face most of time. Comedy makes it palpable.

In an article published on September 20, 2016 in The Chicago Tribute titled, Policing humor is not funny–keep the offensive humor coming,” by Karith Foster, a bicoastal comedian, speaker and author who is featured in the documentaryCan We Take a Joke?” which “explores the plight of comics in an age of political correctness” (quote is at bottom of the article) she writes:

There are no rules in comedy, save for one: It has to be funny. That has always been the attraction and the challenge.

Until a few years ago, I assumed everyone stuck to this simple standard. Then the “war on comedy” erupted. We’ve seen the battlefield pop up everywhere in the past few years: students protesting visiting comics over perceived sexist or racist sets, the social media storms after a seemingly off-color joke, the explosion of think pieces over the insidious intent behind a thoughtless retort.

Although outrage vigilantes waging these battles claim to be stomping out bigotry, instead they have become hypersensitive to the point where they have gone, hard, after just about anything. The mob rarely suggests starting conversations — instead leaping to cries to cancel sitcoms, boycott comedy shows, or blacklist comedians as unequivocal misogynists or racists.

Take what happened when talk show host Ellen DeGeneres tweeted an edited image of her piggybacking on Olympian sprinter Usain Bolt. The joke was a caption that read “This is how I’m running errands from now on. #Rio2016.” Because he’s the fastest man in the world! Get it?! Well, thousands did not get it, saying the image of a white woman on the back of the black Jamaican runner echoed the old tradition of slaves carrying their masters. They called for DeGeneres’ head on a platter.

As a black woman, I’m attuned to instances of everyday racism that can seep into the lives of African-Americans. This wasn’t one of them. This was a funny image of an adult getting a piggyback ride and making fun of LA traffic. (It really is hell!) The cacophony got to be so much that DeGeneres actually had to reassure the public that she was not a racist.

I would never be so bold as to tell someone how to process humor. It’s as subjective as taste in fashion or food. Based on a complex web of experiences and worldviews, some people are left in stitches, while others are left with a shrug. But in the case of DeGeneres and in so many other examples, the outrage that follows these jokes seems to be more a reflexive hunt for things to take offense at rather than thoughtful critique.

The real problem, however, isn’t the wasted energy of the political correctness patrollers or the hurt careers of comics. The danger of this outrage phenomenon is that, in the process of policing every sensitive subject, we lose comedy itself — one of the only tools we have to grapple with our testiest issues. Humor is an entryway unlike any other for talking out things we’re too afraid, too uncomfortable or too pained to broach head on. If we can’t joke about issues such as ethnicity, sexuality, class, politics, pain and death, we may never get through them or find ways to heal.

I see this power of comedy first-hand when people approach me after my sets. Whether it was a joke about race, size, age or sexuality, people who say something almost always tell me they are grateful that someone is addressing, rather than shying away from, one of these taboo issues. For example, I have a joke, inspired from real life, where I riff on the less-than-strait-laced members of my black family:

“My cousin just got married, had a baby, and names the daughter … Daijanera.

“Someone asked me what that means? What does it mean?! She made it up!

“No, I’ll tell you what it means. It’s apparently African-American for ‘I never want my daughter to have a job in corporate America.'”

When my audience laughs at that—and they do, even if it’s uncomfortable laughter—I follow it up with:

“I’m so glad y’all laughed at that because that joke did not go over so well in Atlanta. I know this because after the show, Ryshaneequa came up to me and she had some choice words.”

Then I’ll proceed to go into a litany of other names given to Caucasian girls that are equally absurd—showing that this name game crosses all color lines and ethnic barriers. It never fails that at least two people come up to me after a show and either share their name or a family member’s name and we all have a laugh. The joke works because beneath the surface, it’s more of a knock on the racism in corporate America—and on the stereotypes we’re all willing to pile on certain names—than it is on my cousin’s first-born. I’ve heard from audience members about how the joke opened up conversations that made them rethink their prejudices or consoled them that they’re not the only ones unfairly judged for their unusual name. Reactions such as this remind me why I fell in love with comedy.

Comedy is an intricate art that often relies on getting a laugh at the things about which we’re most afraid to talk. If we lose our sense of humor about the difficult issues, I’m afraid we may lose our nerve to bring them up at all. (Quote source here.)

A quote from a January 6, 2016 article titled, Jokes and Social Commentary: Comedians Who Stirred Controversy, by Manas Mishra, author on The Quint, states:

Jokes and comedy are very powerful tools of socio-political commentary, and under a layer of humor may be a profound statement on our society. A country’s ability to take a joke is often a reflection on that society’s openness and the actual freedom of speech. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on August 21, 2014 in Christianity.com titled, Why We Need Comedy,” by Daniel Darling, Vice President for Communications for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (ERLC), author, contributing editor to Christianity Today’s CT Pastors, and a contributor to The Worldview Study Biblehe writes:

“Are you sure about that?”

This was the remark a very conservative professor made to me, over lunch, during my freshman year of college. He was responding to a flippant and hyper-spiritualized comment I made, something I was want to do in those heady days when I knew everything there was to know about the Bible and about the world. These were the days before I got married, before I had children, before I pastored. In other words, I thought I knew everything, but I really knew nothing.

The comment I made was about the death of a comedian. I said something callous like, “Can you imagine a life spent making people laugh? What a waste!”

Yeah, I really said that.

Thankfully my conservative professor at my conservative Bible college offered this subtle, but pointed rebuke.

I thought about this conversation afresh as I considered the recent death of comedy great, Robin Williams. What struck me about the response to his death was how comedy unites the social classes.  As tributes poured in about Williams, they came from Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, religious and non-religious. Much of this can be attributed; I think, to the kind of raw, real-world comedy that Williams employed. But mostly, I think, it reveals to us just the importance of laughing in a flourishing civil society.

The Scriptures tell us that laughter is a kind of medicine for the soul (Proverbs 17:22). The very fact that God made us as creatures who have the capacity for laughter, who instilled in us the very desire for joy should tell us that laughter matters and matters more than we might think it does. This is why, I think, the writer of Ecclesiastes, perhaps Solomon, reminded us that there is indeed a time to laugh.

Of course there are darker types of laughter or laughing at things God hates or laughing so as to mock and disrespect someone. Comedy at the expense of someone’s dignity isn’t really comedy at all. It’s a kind of rhetorical assault.

But I’m talking about genuine, hilarious, soul-refreshing laughter. This is good for us, good for our well-being. It helps us get through difficult days and it, often, humbles us enough to be vulnerable to let someone see us as human. I think back on the days after 9/11, when comedians gingerly stepped back into the fray. I remember seeing David Letterman cry, but I was really glad when our country had the strength to laugh again.

I’ve often thought that my best friendships were built by two things: enduring hardships with someone and enjoying laughter. Laughter breaks down barriers. It penetrates walls of pride and prejudice and distrust.

I like to think, in my sanctified imagination, that Jesus was someone who was unafraid to laugh. The gospels don’t record it, so I can’t be dogmatic about this, but my guess is that if you spend three years with 12 guys from different walks of life, you are going to have moments of sheer laughter and joy. Imagine the stories we might hear in Heaven about the things Peter said that didn’t get published in the gospel narratives. We know little about what their conversations were like in those three years, but if they were like normal, human conversations among close friends, we have to imagine there was much laughter. (Quote source here.)

In the opening statement in an article published on March 16, 2014 in HuffPost.com titled, Why Laughing is Good for Your Health,” by , cardiologist, author, and founder of Revitalize-U, she states:

An old Yiddish proverb says, “What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul.” Everyone knows that laughter makes you feel good and puts you in high spirits, but did you also know that laughter actually causes physiological responses that protect the body from disease and help your vital organs repair themselves? A good laugh can be compared to a mild workout, as it exercises the muscles, gets the blood flowing, decreases blood pressure and stress hormones, improves sleep patterns and boosts the immune system. Furthermore, a study by the John Hopkins University Medical School showed that humor and laughter can also improve memory and mental performance. Yet despite the fact that laughter has so many benefits, far too many of us forget to even crack a smile every once in a while, let alone laugh. (Quote source here.)

The title of this blog post comes from the Quote Investigator which states that this expression comes from a 1917 poem by W. E. Nesom, and it is the fifth stanza of the poem which states:

If laughter be an aid to health,
Then logic of the strongest
Impels us to the cheerful thought
That he who laughs lasts longest.

Dad lived almost 96 years, and he enjoyed comedy and laughter and “kidding around” all of his life. He is a testament to that poem that “he who laughs lasts longest.”

I’ll end this post with a quote from Mark TwainAgainst the assault of laughter…

Nothing . . .

Can . . .

Stand . . . .

YouTube Video: “Celebrate” by Kool and the Gang:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

A Eulogy for Dad

“Life, if well lived, is long enough.”Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 BC – 65 AD), Roman philosopher, statesman, and dramatist.Three days ago I wrote a blog post on my regular blog titled, And Life Goes On.” I didn’t give a reason for writing it, but then I usually don’t give any reason for writing most of the blog posts I have published over the years. However, And Life Goes On,” is different. I had a reason.

My dad died today.

Dad lived a good and full life. He was loved by many, and he died just one month shy of his 96th birthday, which is a lot longer then most people live. He outlived my mom by 36 years, and he outlived my stepmother who he was married to for almost 32 years when she died in 2011, and my stepbrother who died much too young back in 2008 at the age of 45. He is survived by me and my two brothers (one older and one younger) and their families, and our stepsister who has lost everyone in her family except for us, her step family.

In January of this year, Dad had to have a pacemaker put in to keep his heart going, and he needed heart valve surgery four months later that was supposed to “fix” everything. But it didn’t. He still had breathing issues, and he completely lost his appetite and essentially stop eating. He didn’t want to go back to the emergency room nor did he want to be tube fed. Hospice was called in. He lived with my younger brother for the past few months since he had the pacemaker put in until his death this morning.

I live in a different state from where my dad was living. It wasn’t until just two weeks ago that I finally realized that Dad was dying. I kept thinking if he would just get his appetite back again or at least force himself to eat, that he would get better. That is known as  “Stage 1: Denial” in the Grief Cycle (see my blog post, And Life Goes On,” for the five stages of grief).  I knew he was going on 96 and that his body was wearing out, but some folks live to be 100 or older, and that was my wish for him. “Just eat, Dad” is what I wanted to say, but I wasn’t there, and it would have only made things worse.

You see, I wanted Dad to walk me down the aisle if I ever found the right guy to marry, and I didn’t care how old he was or I was when it happened. But more then that, I wanted us to be like we were back when I was 21, when on my 21st birthday Dad took me out to dinner and then asked me if I wanted to go bar hopping to some of his favorite hangouts. It sounded like fun, and while it might not be what most fathers would do with their daughters on their 21st birthday, we had a blast and at our last stop at a ballroom type place we had a father and daughter dance. I guess I wanted my “younger” father back before the years wore on and the image of my mother took the place of me in his eyes. They divorced when I was 12, and there was no love lost between them right up until my mom died in 1983 at the age of 54.

Dad in Oregon 11-26-17

Dad was a great guy and a very honest businessman who got totally screwed over by a business partner when he was 52, and he literally ended up on the street with nothing more then a suitcase full of tools that he used to repair typewriters in the business he and his partner started a few years earlier. His partner had yanked it out from under him. But Dad didn’t let that faze him, and with hard work and a stellar reputation around the city for being an honest businessman, he built up his own business from scratch that eventually put his old partner’s business out-of-business. And he was so successful that he was able to retire from his business at the age of 64.

Dad married my stepmother in 1979 and they were perfect for each other, and they fit together, as Forrest Gump said about Jenny in the movie, Forrest Gump,” like “peas and carrots.” They traveled and took cruises and went out every summer to see my older brother and his family in Oregon, and they had the time of their lives. When my own mother died in 1983 (my parents divorced in the mid-1960’s and Mom never remarried, and she acquired some horrific health issues starting at the age of 36 that took her life by the time she was 54), my stepmother became like a second mother to me, even though I was 27 at the time they married.

Dad could tell stories from his WWII years as a Navy flight instructor training cadets to fly in Corpus Christi, Texas, that would keep you spellbound. And he had framed pictures of the planes he flew in WWII hanging on the walls in their home. He was rarely at a loss for words, and he had a great sense of humor. He didn’t know a stranger. And everybody loved him.

Unfortunately, by the time he reached his current age (95) most of his friends and the people he knew from his past had all died. But I think what hit him the hardest was when my stepmother died. That really took a toll on him. So did losing my stepbrother back in 2008. But Dad was a survivor, and he never complained, and he moved on with his life.

He was raised as the oldest son of my paternal grandparents, who were actually his aunt and uncle as his birth mother died a few days after giving birth to Dad. His birth mother and my paternal grandmother were sisters. His dad was a Free Methodist minister who could give “hellfire and brimstone” sermons with the best of them back during that time. I remember Dad talking about all the times his father made him walk down the aisle at church when he would give an “alter call” hoping to inspire others in the audience to follow. Or when he did something wrong and he ended up being taken to the woodshed and whipped by his father (a common form of punishment for kids back in that time), or worse yet, being forced to pray for hours on end as penance. Needless to say, once he got out from under all that hellfire and brimstone preaching when he joined the Navy during WWII, he became more of a party guy. I can’t say that I blame him since I was raised in the church, too. It’s a fine line we have to walk between extremes on either side. He tilted on the party side of that fence. I tend to sometimes, too, but not as extreme as Dad did it as I acquired too much guilt when I was a kid, and I was sure if I had sex outside of marriage that I’d be struck by lightening, and that one alcoholic drink would lead to hell. The church could be a very tough place to grow up in.

While there were extremes in the church when I was growing up, just like Dad had when he was growing up, at least Dad was not a hellfire and brimstone preacher like Grandpa was which was my saving grace. But my parents’ marriage hit the rocks when I was way too young, and the division that started between us back then ended up lasting a lifetime. Dad always saw my mother in me, and it made our relationship difficult. I loved both of my parents but they were as opposite as night and day. I got caught in the middle as the only girl in my family and Dad thought I always sided with Mom. Little did either of them know that I didn’t want to have to pick sides at all. I was only 12 when they divorced.

Life is what it is and we have little control over the things or people we think we should be able to have control over. We can’t control others. We are lucky if we can control ourselves most of the time. When I was awarded a one-year doctoral fellowship at a private university in Florida when I turned 40 and I left Iowa in 1992, I ended up finding work in Florida after my fellowship year was over and I remained there for over two decades. It was during this time that the divide between Dad and I widened, but I never wanted it that way. Still, as I said above, we cannot control others. Dad was not happy when I left for that doctoral fellowship in Florida, but my stepmother was thrilled for me. She was the buffer between us although I am sure it was an awkward position for her at times.

I always wanted to mend the rift with Dad and I prayed that it would happen. In fact, I felt sure that before he died (or if I died first) that we would come to some type of reconciliation because I desperately wanted it. He just wasn’t able to ever separate me from my mother. I was told that he didn’t want to see me when he was dying.

And life goes on.

I love Dad with every fabric of my being. I loved Mom, too. And I loved my stepmother, who was the best “second mother” I ever could have asked for. I can’t fix what was or what is, but I can accept life as it has been handed to me and move forward. Dad had a great life, and I am grateful for that and for him, too. I learned a lot from him over the years; he just didn’t know it or he didn’t choose to believe it (even though I told him often enough). That was his choice.

I’m not exactly sure how to end a eulogy as I’ve never written one before. Dad would want it to be upbeat. He’d probably tell a funny joke. I guess I’ll just say that despite our difficulties over the years, I am grateful that he was my dad, and I learned a lot about life from him. I love you, Dad. I really, really do…

And life . . .

Goes . . .

On . . . .

YouTube Video: “Talladega” by Eric Church (“Talladega” video makes a visual out of a song that is about a lot more than racing. The clip spans one man’s entire lifetime while he lays in a hospital bed, reminiscing before his death–longer explanation available at this link):

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit: family photo

Becoming

“You don’t have to be somebody different to be important. You’re important in your own right.”Michelle Obama, lawyer, university administrator, writer, and wife of the 44th President, Barack Obama. She was the first African-American First Lady of the United States.I’ve read a lot of books since the beginning of this year, but the very first book I read is one of my favorites. I wrote a blog post on it on January 6, 2019, titled, Moving Forward in the New Year.”

The book I’m referring to is Michelle Obama‘s book, Becoming.” It is a fascinating look at her life starting on the South Side of Chicago and leading to all the way to the White House and beyond. And no matter which side of the political fence you are on, the book is a memoir and not a political statement. It comes from the very heart of who Michelle Obama has become through her life experiences.

On her website for her book, BecomingMichelleObama.com, the following statement is written:

In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, “Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same. (Quote source here.)

In the preface to her book written in March 2017, she writes:

When you’re First Lady, America shows itself to you in its extremes. I’ve been to fund-raisers in private homes that look more like art museums, houses where people own bathtubs made from gemstones. I’ve visited families who lost everything in Hurricane Katrina and were tearful and grateful just to have a working refrigerator and stove. I’ve encountered people I find to be shallow and hypocritical and others–teachers and military spouses and so many more–whose spirits are so deep and strong it’s astonishing. And I’ve met kids–lots of them, all over the world–who crack me up and fill me with hope and who blessedly manage to forget about my title once we start rooting around in the dirt of a garden.

Since stepping reluctantly into public life, I’ve been held up as the most powerful woman in the world and taken down as an “angry black woman.” I’ve wanted to ask my detractors which part of that phrase matters to them the most–is it “angry” or “black” or “woman”? I’ve smiled for photos with people who call my husband horrible names on national television, but still want a framed keepsake for their mantel. I’ve heard about the swampy parts of the internet that question everything about me, right down to whether I’m a woman or a man. A sitting U.S. congressman has made fun of my butt. I’ve been hurt. I’ve been furious. But mostly, I’ve tried to laugh this stuff off.

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

One of my favorite scenes in her book is when Barack proposed to her (pp. 155-157 in the hardcover edition). It’s time to warn you of a “spoiler alert” if you’d rather read the account in the book. Here goes….

At a favorite restaurant where they were having dinner one night, at the end of the dinner Barack raised the subject of marriage and said that as much as he loved her, he still didn’t see the point. They had discussed the subject of marriage plenty of times up to that point and nothing much ever changed. She was a traditionalist and Barack was not, and neither of them would sway. But as she writes on page 156:

But still, this didn’t stop us–two lawyers, after all–from taking up the topic with hot gusto.

After a long discussion of quarreling and doing it “attorney-style”; punching and counter-punching, dissecting and cross-examining (and she states she was clearly more inflamed and doing most of the talking), their waiter came around holding the dessert plate, covered by a silver lid. Michelle writes:

He [the waiter] slid it in front of me and lifted the cover. I was almost too miffed to even look down, but when I did, I saw a dark velvet box where the chocolate cake was supposed to be. Inside it was a diamond ring.

Barack looked at me playfully. He’d baited me. It has all been a ruse. It took me a minute to dismantle my anger and slide into joyful shock. He’d riled me up because this was the very last time he would invoke his inane marriage argument, ever again, as long as we both should live. The case was closed. He dropped to one knee then and with an emotional hitch in his voice asked sincerely if I’d please do him the honor of marrying him. Later, I’d learn that he’d already gone to both my mother and my brother to ask for their approval ahead of time. When I said yes, it seemed that every person in the whole restaurant started to clap.

For a full minute or two, I stared dumbfounded at the ring on my finger. I looked at Barack to confirm that this was all real. He was smiling. He’d completely surprised me. In a way, we’d both won. “Well,” he said lightly, “that should shut you up.” (Quote source: Becoming,” pp. 156-157.)

I just love that story! It makes the romantic in me melt. The book is warm and engaging, even though I am personally at the more conservative end (I’m an Independent–neither Democrat nor Republican) of the political spectrum from the Obamas. But the book is not about politics. It’s about, as the title implies, “becoming” over a lifetime of experiences. Her book is a memoir, and not a drumbeat to a particular political point of view.

At the end of the short section I quoted above from the Preface is this sentence: “Your story is what you have, what you will always have. It is something to own.” While it goes without saying that most of us won’t ever come close to Michelle Obama’s experiences in this life, we still have our own story. “Becoming” for all of us is a lifetime journey filled with many twists and turns, ups and downs, high points and low points. And it is a reminder for us to never stop or give up at the rough places or low points. We should “keep on truckin'” until our last breath, and not allow the hard places or negative people we run into in life to discourage us from going on.

At the beginning of the Parable of the Persistent Widowfound in Luke 18:1-8, Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up. Here is that parable:

One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up. “There was a judge in a certain city,” he said, “who neither feared God nor cared about people. A widow of that city came to him repeatedly, saying, ‘Give me justice in this dispute with my enemy.’ The judge ignored her for a while, but finally he said to himself, ‘I don’t fear God or care about people, but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!’”

Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?”

Let that parable be an encouragement to you, and no matter what kind of situation you find yourself in, remember to…

Always pray . . .

And . . .

Never give up . . . .

YouTube Video: “Miracle” by Unspoken:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Every Day is a Gift

“Every birthday is a gift. Every day is a gift.”Aretha Franklin (1942-2018), the Queen of Soul, singer, songwriter, pianist, and civil rights activist.At the beginning of this month (May), I wrote a blog post titled, A Month Long Celebration.” Well, it is now the last day of May so the month is now ending. Today is my birthday but as birthdays go, this one has been rather subdued. I had absolutely nothing planned for today, and since I’ve been dieting since the end of April (and I’ve lost 13 lbs so far), I’m not blowing my diet on ice cream and cake.

While a birthday is a special day every year, the truth is that every day is a gift. As anyone reading my blog posts knows, I write from a Christian perspective because I’ve been a Christian since I was a young girl. As our society has become more and more secular over the decades that I have been alive, I’ve found myself wondering at times what a person who does not have any specific spiritual beliefs does when really tough times come into their lives (and tough times comes into everyone’s life at some point). I have also been surprised, especially in the past decade, how Christianity even in America today is often mocked and even visibly so by others, and that number is growing at what seems to be a fast rate.

Yesterday I published a blog post on my regular blog titled, The Ultimate Comeback, and it deals with the issue of nominal Christianity since there is a lot of it in America today. And it is the folks in the “nominal” category that are often shifting to what is now being called the Nones group who claim no particular spiritual beliefs at all (see the March 21, 2019 article titled, ‘Nones’ now as big as evangelicals, Catholics in the U.S.,” published in Religion News Service).

Folks with little or no spiritual beliefs will most likely find the rest of this blog post irrelevant, but for those of us who truly believe, I would like to share an article titled, You Can Enjoy Your Life–Everyday,” by Joyce Meyer, Christian author, Bible teacher, speaker, and President of Joyce Meyer Ministries. Here is what she wrote:

Are you enjoying the journey of your life?

The truth is, God wants you to enjoy your life every day. Did you know that? If you didn’t, or maybe you just aren’t sure whether God approves of people enjoying their lives, take a look at John 10:10. It says, “The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows).”

This is an absolutely amazing scripture because it clearly tells us that God doesn’t just want us to be alive, but He wants us to enjoy being alive. He wants us to live with joy – abundant, overflowing joy!

Learning to Live the Life

My passion as a teacher of God’s Word is to help people learn how to live the life Jesus died to give us. That’s why we’ve titled our program “Enjoying Everyday Life.” And I’ve learned through my own experience that if you don’t have joy, then no matter what you have or what you do or how great your circumstances may be…it doesn’t mean much.

So how do we get the joy of the Lord? Jesus tells us in John 15 that if we will abide in Him, we will experience God’s will for our lives, and everything Jesus has will be ours. Abiding means making Jesus the most important person in your life, living and remaining in Him, and making everything in life revolve around Him. That’s when we bear the fruit of a godly life. And that’s when God’s true joy is released in us.

It’s easy to see that focusing on Jesus has so many benefits. For one, when we’re paying attention to Him, we won’t be focused on the problems in the world; and we’ll be able to live with God’s peace and joy. Another benefit of living this way is that it keeps us from being continually stressed-out, living in survival mode and just getting through the day.

Don’t Wait on “When…”

So many people have the mindset that they will be really happy and enjoy life when…when they go on vacation, when the kids are older, when they get higher on the ladder of success at work, when they get married…the list could go on and on. I can relate to this because there was a time when even though I really loved being in the ministry, I wasn’t enjoying the daily responsibilities and activities it involved. I had to learn to live in the moment and enjoy what God was doing in me and through me now, not when the conference was over or when I could go on vacation.

I really want you to get this: God wants you to enjoy your life now, not when.

I’m so thankful that we have the Holy Spirit, who lives in every believer in Jesus Christ. He is the Helper who gives us supernatural strength and anointing to live this ordinary, day-to-day life with the supernatural joy of the Lord. Nehemiah 8:10 says the joy of the Lord is our strength. And we need that strength every day.    

It’s important to understand what joy is. It’s not about entertaining yourself all the time, getting your way all the time or laughing all the time. Joy can be extreme hilarity or calm delight and everything in between! I’m a more serious person by nature, so the “calm delight” definition is usually my state of joy. But a good belly laugh is sometimes just what you need.

Good Medicine for Your Heart

The Bible says in Proverbs 17:22 that “a happy heart is good medicine and a cheerful mind works healing….” Interestingly, there have been studies done that show laughter has some exciting benefits:

Laughter causes the release of endorphins, a chemical in the body that relieves pain and creates a sense of well-being.

It can raise your energy level, relieve tension and change your attitude.

It increases antibodies and strengthens your immune system.

A good belly laugh causes you to inhale more oxygen and stimulates your heart and blood circulation. It’s like internal aerobic exercise!

No wonder the devil wants to steal our joy and get us discouraged, depressed and downtrodden. Remember that the thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy. But we don’t have to give in to him and lose our joy.

Lighten Up!

Make a decision today to enjoy your life. If you’re too serious about everything, lighten up! Learn to laugh at yourself and the things that normally frustrate you. Remember that God loves you always. He knows everything about you and loves you anyway. We all have things about us and in our lives that need to change, but they will really only change when we’re abiding in Christ, living with the joy of the Lord.

As you go about your day today, make this your goal: Rejoice in the Lord! As the joy of the Lord gives you strength, you’ll be able to face any problems you have to deal with, and you’ll enjoy your life while you’re doing it! (Quote source here.)

And that is what I want to share with you on my birthday today for your every day! I’ll end this post with Psalm 37:3-4Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Take delight in the Lord…

And He will give you . . .

The desires . . .

Of your heart . . . .

YouTube Video: “Rock Steady” by Aretha Franklin:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Waiting in the Wings

“And sure enough even waiting will end…if you can just wait long enough.”William Faulkner (1897-1962), American writer and Nobel Prize laureate.I’ve recently written on the topic of waiting in a blog post titled, The Waiting Game.” However, the subject came to mind again today while reading a book titled, Just Enough Light for the Step I’m On (1999, 2008) by Stormie Omartian, a bestselling Christian author.  She opens Chapter 12 titled, “Waiting in the Wings,” with the following two paragraphs:

Has it ever seemed like you are waiting in the wings for the next scene of your life to start? The stage is dark and you’re expecting the lights to go up and the curtain to rise. The first act may or may not have gone smoothly, but by now you’ve been on an extended intermission and you’re beginning to wonder if the second act will ever begin.

How many times in our lives have we found ourselves waiting like that? Waiting for things to change. Waiting for something to happen. Waiting for life to get back to normal. Waiting for more time or more money. Waiting for the relationship to get better. Waiting for the right door to open. Waiting for the right person to come along. Waiting for somebody to notice. Waiting, waiting, waiting.  (Quote source: “Just Enough Light for the Step I’m On,” 2008 edition, p. 107.)

Sound familiar? On page 109 she writes, “Going through a waiting period doesn’t mean there is nothing happening, because when you are waiting on the Lord, He is always moving in your life.” And he is moving in your circumstances behind the scenes, too (see blog post titled, Backstage: Behinds the Scenes).

Isaiah 40:31 reminds us that “…those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” So what, exactly, does it mean to “wait on the Lord”? GotQuestions.org gives us the following answer: 

The command to wait on the Lord is found extensively throughout the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, it is more about waiting for the Lord’s providential care, but most New Testament references relate to Christ’s second coming. In all cases, it is about waiting expectantly and with hope. Fundamental to being able to wait is trusting God’s character and goodness.

Waiting on the Lord is something the godly do. It’s about holding on tight, hoping with expectation and trust, knowing that our Lord is not making us wait just to see how long we can “take it.” There are times when God will delay His answer, and we will at times wonder why He seems so reluctant to intervene in our affairs: “I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God” (Psalm 69:3). But, knowing the Lord, we trust that He will come at the perfect moment, not a second too soon or too late.

Waiting on the Lord necessitates two key elements: a complete dependence on God and a willingness to allow Him to decide the terms, including the timing of His plan. Trusting God with the timing of events is one of the hardest things to do. The half-joking prayer, “Lord, I need patience, and I need it RIGHT NOW,” is not far removed from the truth of how we often approach matters of spiritual growth and the Lord’s will. To wait on the Lord produces character in the life of the Christian in that it involves patience (see James 1:4). Waiting involves the passage of time, which is itself a gift of God.

The word “wait” in the Bible carries the idea of confident expectation and hope. “For God alone my soul waits in silence . . . my hope is from him” (Psalm 62:15, ESV). To wait upon the Lord is to expect something from Him in godly hope, “and hope does not disappoint” (Romans 5:5). We wait on the Lord in a way similar to how we wait on the arrival of out-of-town relatives, with loving anticipation of seeing them again. All creation eagerly awaits God’s restoration: “The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed” (Romans 8:19). Those who wait for God to keep His promises will not be disappointed.

Waiting on the Lord involves being at rest in the Lord. Psalm 23 provides a lesson concerning being still. Sheep will not be at peace near rushing water, but they will lie contentedly by “still” water, and that’s where the Good Shepherd leads us (Psalm 23:2). The words “He makes me lie down” can be translated “He causes me to rest.” When we, like sheep, are still, we are resting in the Lord and trusting our Shepherd.

Being still means we have ceased from following our own agenda or ingenuity; we have stopped trusting in our own strength and will power. We are waiting upon the Lord to exchange our weakness for His strength (see 2 Corinthians 12:9). The apostle Paul had athorn in the flesh,” and, as he gains spiritual insight, he understands that the affliction is a protective suffering meant by God to keep him from sin. As a result, the apostle is content to rest in God’s grace. God does not remove the thorn; He gives Paul a place to be still in the bearing of it. Paul learned to be still and wait on the Lord.

To wait on the Lord is to rest in the confident assurance that, regardless of the details or difficulties we face in this life, God never leaves us without a sure defense. As Moses told the panicky Israelites trapped at the Red Sea by Pharaoh’s army, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:14). The heavenly perspective comes as we focus not on the trouble but on the Lord and His Word. When it seems God has painted us into a corner, we have an opportunity to set aside our human viewpoint and wait upon the Lord to show us His power, His purpose, and His salvation.

When we don’t choose to wait on the Lord, we solicit trouble for ourselves. Remember how Abraham and Sarah did not wait on the Lord for their child of promise; rather, Sarah offered her maid, Hagar, to Abraham in order to have a child through her. The account in Genesis 16 and 18 shows that their impatience led to no end of trouble. Any time we fail to wait on the Lord and take matters into our own hands—even when we’re trying to bring about something God wants—it leads to problems. When we “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33, ESV), we can allow God to work out the rest of the details.

This doesn’t mean we sit idly by as we wait on the Lord to act on our behalf. We should not spend our time doing nothing; rather, we should continue to do the work He has given us to do. Psalm 123:2 says, “As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a female slave look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he shows us his mercy.” That is, we should look to God with the constant anticipation and willingness to serve that a servant shows to his master. The idea of waiting on the Lord is not like waiting for the dentist in the waiting room (thank goodness!). Rather, the sense of waiting on the Lord is somewhat akin to what a waiter or waitress does in a restaurant. Our attitude and actions should be as those of a waiter anticipating and meeting the requests of the one he’s waiting on. Our waiting on the Lord is not biding our time until we finally get the service we’ve been waiting for; it’s filling our time with service to the Master, always on our feet, ready to minister.

The command to “wait on the Lord” means that we are to be near Him and attentive so that we may catch the slightest intimation of what He wants for us. We naturally think of ourselves as self-sufficient. We turn here and there and expect help from our own ability, from friends, or from circumstances. But in the spiritual life we are taught to distrust self and depend upon the power of the Holy Spirit.

Waiting on the Lord involves the confident expectation of a positive result in which we place a great hope—a hope that can only be realized by the actions of God. This expectation must be based on knowledge and trust, or we simply won’t wait. Those who do not know the Lord will not wait on Him; neither will those who fail to trust Him. We must be confident of who God is and what He is capable of doing. Those who wait on the Lord do not lose heart in their prayers: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14).

Waiting on the Lord renews our strength (Isaiah 40:31). Prayer and Bible study and meditating upon God’s Word are essential. To wait on the Lord we need a heart responsive to the Word of God, a focus on the things of heaven, and a patience rooted in faith.

We should not despair when God tarries long in His response, but continue to patiently wait on Him to work on our behalf. The reason God sometimes waits a long time to deliver is to extend the goodness of the final outcome. “Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him” (Isaiah 30:18, ESV). (Quote source here.)

In an article published in 2015 titled, The Spiritual Benefits of Waiting, by Pete Wilson, president of The A Group, and the founding and former senior pastor of Cross Point Church, he writes:

God often uses waiting as a crucible in which to refine our character. Perhaps the prophet Isaiah realized this when he wrote, “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”Isaiah 40:31

Faithful waiting on God makes us stronger, not weaker. Waiting is also a sign of humility. Remember that, long ago, persons of lesser rank who served nobility and royalty were said to “wait upon” them. In a similar way, they were said to “attend” their lords and rulers. Even today, the French word for “wait” is “attend.” Maybe there is something to learn here. Maybe we should think of waiting on God less as passively sitting around until something happens and more as actively attending—listening carefully for God’s voice and watching intently for evidence of His moving in our lives and in the world around us.

Now, believe me, I understand that those of you reading these words who are in the midst of waiting for a miracle or waiting for a dream to be realized or waiting to be delivered from a dark, scary place probably feel helpless. You feel as if you’re doing nothing, but you’re actually doing something very important. In fact, this waiting—this attending to God—may be the most important spiritual work you could possibly do. While you are waiting faithfully on God, you are also allowing your hope to grow up. And if you can’t be still and wait and hope—even when you have no reason to hope—you can’t become the person God created when He thought you into existence.

Spiritual transformation doesn’t take place when we get what we want. It takes place while we’re waiting. It is forged in us while we’re waiting, hoping, and trusting, even though we have yet to receive what we long for. Spiritual transformation happens in the waiting room.

Waiting also helps us learn the vital lesson that just because a dream is delayed doesn’t mean it is denied. When we continue to hope patiently and place our trust in God and in His schedule—not ours—we begin to gain the type of long-range perspective that allows us to have peaceful souls, even when the storms of life are raging about us. With God, we can wait out the storm and see the sun breaking through the clouds. When we trust in Him, we will eventually see the rainbow and the rebirth of our hopes and dreams….

Waiting and Life

So life isn’t turning out exactly the way you thought, and you have laid it before God in prayer, over and over again. You’ve taken the steps you know to take and prepared yourself to the best of your ability—and it still isn’t happening.

Is it time to move on? Is failure inevitable? And if it is, how much longer should you keep prolonging the obvious?

My bias is that, most of the time, we give up too soon. I prefer to help people see all the possibilities God may be placing before them. I am always hesitant to place time limits on God. The important thing is to continue trusting the end result to God, even when the outcomes you want are not immediately apparent.

Remember that faithful waiting—attending—involves much more than passively sticking your hands up in the air until God rains blessings down into your palms. Faithful waiting involves actively seeking contentment, even amid less-than-optimal circumstances.

Can you listen for God’s guidance, even when things aren’t going your way? Can you proactively trust Him, even when you aren’t seeing the evidence of the victory you long for?

I encourage you to keep doing the next right thing, taking the steps you know to take, without getting frustrated because you aren’t yet where you want to be. Act on the belief that God has a plan and that He is bringing it to completion in your life. Commit to being ready for that completion to occur, even if you can’t see it coming. (Quote source and entire article available at this link.)

Waiting isn’t easy but as we’ve read above, that should never be the focus of our attention as much is gained in the waiting if we don’t lose patience. I’ll end this post with Isaiah 40:31 which states: But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles . . .

They shall run and not be weary . . .

They shall walk . . .

And not faint . . . .

YouTube Video: “Wait on the Lord” by Donnie McClurkin and Karen Clark Sheard:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

The Road to Eternity

“Remember always your end, and that lost time does not return.”Thomas à Kempis, CRSA (1380 – 1471), German-Dutch clergyman and author of “The Imitation of Christ,” one of the most popular and best known Christian devotional books.A daily devotion I received in my email today quoted Ecclesiastes 3:11 which states: “He [God] has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”

Eternity is not something we often think about yet it is the final destination of every human being who has ever lived and who will ever live on this planet of ours. God has not remained hidden from any of us whether we acknowledge him or not. As the apostle Paul stated in Romans 1: 16-20 (MSG):

It’s news I’m most proud to proclaim, this extraordinary Message of God’s powerful plan to rescue everyone who trusts him, starting with Jews and then right on to everyone else! God’s way of putting people right shows up in the acts of faith, confirming what Scripture has said all along: “The person in right standing before God by trusting him really lives.”

But God’s angry displeasure erupts as acts of human mistrust and wrongdoing and lying accumulate, as people try to put a shroud over truth. But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So nobody has a good excuse. What happened was this: People knew God perfectly well, but when they didn’t treat him like God, refusing to worship him, they trivialized themselves into silliness and confusion so that there was neither sense nor direction left in their lives. They pretended to know it all, but were illiterate regarding life. They traded the glory of God who holds the whole world in his hands for cheap figurines you can buy at any roadside stand.

We live in an age that tells us repeatedly and in every way and form possible that truth is relative, and that it’s anything you want it to be. But that’s not true regardless of how many people might believe it (see an article titled Is Truth Relative?” at this link). For example, 2+2 always equals 4, even if we would prefer it to equal 6.

An article titled, Three Lies We Believe About Eternity,” published on the website of New Spring Church, states the following:

Science can’t locate it. Books try to explain it. Movies try to show it. Everybody wants to know about the afterlife — Is grandma in heaven? Am I going to hell? What if nothing happens when we die?

Everybody wrestles with questions about the afterlife. Sooner or later, it touches our own lives or someone we know.

Since there is so much confusion, it can be easy to believe what’s popular or feels good. But what’s convenient should never become more important than what’s true.

Here are three common misconceptions about life after death and the truth that God wants us to understand about it:

Lie #1: There’s no heaven or hell.

This view says that after our physical bodies die, that’s it. Nothing else. Humans don’t have souls that live on after we die. Or if we do have souls, they will be destroyed rather than existing in eternity.

Truth #1: Heaven and hell exist.

Everyone spends eternity in one of these places. Jesus spoke about heaven, hell and eternity many times (John 3:13-16). The Bible describes hell as a place where those who reject Jesus will endure eternal suffering and separation from God. Heaven is a place where Jesus followers live forever with God. In heaven, everything that’s wrong with this world is set right. There are no tears, pain or death. Following Jesus is the only way to experience heaven (John 14:6).

Lie #2: Good people go to heaven, bad people go to hell.

This view says people get what they deserve. Where you spend eternity depends on how good of a person you are in life. This leaves people hopeless if they’ve lived a messy life, and it leaves well-behaved people prideful about their accomplishments.

Truth #2: Bad people go to heaven, bad people go to hell.

If where we spent eternity depended on the actions in our lives, none of us would go to heaven and all of us would go to hell. Our eternal status does not depend on anything other than our relationship with Jesus.

God’s grace is big enough for everyone. Everyone’s guilty of rebelling against what God says (Psalm 14:1-3). Because we all sin, we’re all headed toward hell. But it’s only because of Jesus that anyone’s life is changed and saved.

Lie #3: There’s a heaven but no hell.

This view, sometimes called universalism, teaches that everyone goes to heaven regardless of what they decide about Jesus. It takes God out of the picture and replaces Him with a general sense of happiness.

Truth #3: Hell exists, and God doesn’t want anyone to go there.

God’s love is far bigger than a sense of happiness. His love is so big He wants all people to be saved from their sins and know Him (1 Timothy 2:3-4).

Sin hurts us and others. God would not be good if He allowed us to hurt ourselves by sinning without consequences. It would be like a young child who kept touching the hot stove while the parent did nothing to protect the child from her self-destructive behavior. God is not OK with us hurting ourselves or others. Because God is a good father, He made a way to stop the cycle of sin once and for all.

Touching a hot pot leads to burned fingers. The consequence of sin is death. When Jesus died on the cross, he took the penalty for all of our sin — past, present, and future. Because Jesus paid for our sins, we have the opportunity to enjoy a relationship with God now and for eternity. Romans 10:9 says we just have to believe.  

Don’t let the afterlife become an afterthought. Saying “yes” to Jesus means spending both now and eternity with Him. (Quote source here.)

Many of us grew up in churches where we heard the message of Jesus Christ, but we might have later rejected it as adults. And many in today’s younger generations (Gen X, Millennials, Gen Z) were not raised in a religious environment since many of the Baby Boomers (e.g., their parents and grandparents) cast off their religious upbringing for a carefree life of “do whatever feels good or right to you” and raised their kids under the same influence. Of course, there was back then as there are today cultural messages galore that heavily influence all of us to shun the shackles of religiosity.

However, it’s not about religion per se… it’s about faith in God and in Jesus Christ that transcends many notions we have about what “religion” should look, feel, or act like. The Pharisees in Jesus’ day had “religion” down pat, but Jesus made it clear to them that they were completely missing the mark. However, few of them ever “got it” in the way that Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish ruling council, got it (see John 3).

The gospel of Jesus Christ is not complicated. In fact, it is so simple anyone can understand it–“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). And Paul states in Romans 10:8-9, “’The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,’ that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

In today’s world, words like being “saved” can bring about laughter, mocking looks, rolling eyes, or remarks like “saved from what?” And there are people who might have unpleasant memories of growing up in a church or dealing with some church folks that have caused them to shun what we call “organized religion” altogether. I have some of those same memories, too, but not enough to, as the expression goes, throw the baby out with the bath water.” After all, the church is filled with regular, everyday people. However, there is a big difference between acting “religious” and having the faith to genuinely believe.

In an article titled, The Gospel Message is Pure and Simple, by Dan Rhodes, pastor at Christian Community Church, he writes:

When the Apostle John was writing there were certain false doctrines being introduced into the church. Since then, there have been many more false teachers, each attempting to add some “new revealed truth from God” that only they have been given. Most often the result is that the purity and simplicity of the Gospel message is compromised. In other words, they try to add to the requirements of salvation.

But, the Gospel is profoundly simple. It can be summed up easily, and understood by children. One of the best summaries of the Gospel is found in 1 John 3:23: “This is [God’s] command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another.” This verse is a salvation sermon with just two points: believe on Christ, and love others.

The first pointbelieving on Christ–describes the proper response to the Gospel message. Simple, child-like belief in Christ saves us from the penalty of our sin. Nothing else is required. God’s will for his Son was to become our Savior. God’s will for us is to believe in him as Savior. The Gospel message is expressed as a command because Jesus deserves to be exalted and obeyed by all mankind. He fulfilled his Father’s will perfectly, and on the cross paid the penalty for sin. He then proved his power over death by his resurrection. For his obedience and work of salvation, God the Father has exalted Jesus Christ and given him a Name which is above all names.(Philippians 2:5-11)

The second pointloving others–is not a requirement for salvation, but rather the result of salvation. God’s love is in our hearts, and we extend it to others. God loves us so much that he gave his Son, Jesus Christ, as our Savior (John 3:16). It was not nails that kept Christ on the cross, it was love. This kind of overwhelming love is within every child of God. Love for others is part of the new nature the Holy Spirit puts within us when we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 5:22). Jesus himself taught that love for others is the identifying mark of a believer (John 13:35).

Don’t believe anything that adds to God’s plan of salvation. The Gospel message is to believe in Christ, and to love others. Response and result–its as simple as that. (Quote source here.)

As I was trying to decide how to continue at this point, a “ding” on my smartphone let me know a new email had arrived, and when I looked to see what it was regarding, it had to do with what I wanted to comment on. There are always folks out there who think that believing in Jesus Christ shows some kind of “mental instability” on the part of anyone who truly believes. However, Christianity has withstood the test of time as it has been around for over two thousand years, and it will continue to last long after the naysayers are gone–for example, Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) comes to mind. Hitchens wrote many books including, The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever (2007). Naysayers have been and always will be out there.

The road to eternity leads in two directions. I’ll end this post with the words from John 3:16: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son [Jesus Christ]…

That whoever believes in him . . .

Shall not perish . . .

But have eternal life . . . .

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

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here