The Top 4 of 2015

2015 Puzzle Piece Shows New Year's Festivities And Celebrations

When WordPress sent me an email yesterday, I was surprised by the content of the message:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people.  This blog was viewed about 58,000 times in 2015.  If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 21 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

There were 272 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 51 MB. That’s about 5 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was October 24th with 400 views. The most popular post that day was The Book of Ralph.

According to WordPress, of the 266 articles that were posted, the top 4 were:

This will be my last post for 2015, and I want to thank each of you who have read this blog.  If you have the time, read the Top 4 again and share your thoughts with me.

I hope you experience the blessing of God’s presence in 2016, and I wish you a Happy New Year!

 

happy-new-year-2016-animated-gif

 

Depression: An Emotional Hole

A-5-Minute-by-Craig-SunterLife would be boringly bland if it were not for our emotions.  I’m thankful that I can scan the horizon of humanity and see faces of innocence framed in smiles that run from ear to ear.  What would a party be if a child never had the gift of joy when he unwrapped a toy?

Emotions are God’s gift to His creation, and I believe He intended for you to have a life filled with gigglicious moments—those times that are delicious with laughter.

When I think of emotions, I wonder about Adam and Eve.  They never had a second of sadness, and they were never disappointed; not, until they sinned and disobeyed God.  Their lives of delight were immediately overcome by fright and despair as they tried to hide from God.

The negative and debilitating emotions that Adam and Eve experienced in the Garden are the same feelings that still afflict thousands of people today.  Some research by the National Institute of Mental Health confirms this:

  • 60% of our fears are over things that will never happen.
  • 30% of our fears are focused on things that happened in the past
  • 90 % of our fears are somewhat insignificant
  • 88% of our fears are health-related (hypochondriacs)

The Anxiety and Depression Society of America has stated that anxiety disorders are the most common forms of mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older (18% of U.S. population). Uncontrolled worry can have a debilitating effect on a person’s appetite, relationships, job performance, and sleep–all of which can be precursors to depression.

While your situation may be different from those of another person, the circumstances of life should not circumvent your emotional health.  Circumstances are external events that trigger an internal and emotional response.  Even though you cannot control all of the externals, you can learn to manage the internals.

The simple truth is that you either control your thoughts or they control you. A key means of controlling your thoughts is to be introspective with a proper perspective. This is a technique that is at least as old as the Apostle Paul, who said: “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things.”

It takes discipline and practice to make this a habit. This is because many people are born with a negative bias in the way they see life. Research indicates that the brain is more likely to focus on negative feelings instead of positive feelings. This has been referred to as the FUD Factor (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt). When our thoughts are left unattended they wander into the wilderness of negativity and stumble into the cesspool of distress.

This is one reason Paul said that we need to bring “every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).” Some thoughts can be wonderfully captivating; however, others are so powerful in their negativity a person becomes a prisoner of his own mind.

When you give some thought to your pattern of thinking, you become aware of your self-talk; and, you can begin to identify it as wholesome conversation that builds your self-esteem and glorifies God or an attack on who you are in Christ.  When you begin to recognize the pattern of your thoughts, you’ve taken the first step into transformative thinking that will renew your mind (Romans 12:2).

The Pope, Jiminy Cricket and Pinocchio.

Pope-FrancisIf the Independent, London’s daily newspaper, is correct Pope Francis may inspire a new version of the Bible:  The Bible According to Jiminy Cricket and Pinocchio.

If you’ve forgotten the story line of this mesmerizing fairytale for children, it focuses on a craftsman named Geppetto, the puppet he made and named Pinocchio, and his desire that his creation would be a real boy.millennial-pinocchio

When the Blue Fairy hears the wish of Geppetto, she works her magic and in a mystical moment, she infuses the wooden puppet with the gift of life.  To help him know right from wrong, the Blue Fairy appoints Jiminy Cricket as his conscience: “I dub you Pinocchio’s conscience, lord high keeper of the knowledge of right and wrong, counselor in moments of high temptation, and guide along the straight and narrow path. Arise, Sir Jiminy Cricket.”

In an interview referenced by the Independent, Pope Francis is reported to have said: “Sin, even for those who have no faith, exists when people disobey their conscience.” While I have no way of asking the Pope to clarify his statement, it sounds like he’s been dazzled by Disney and wished upon one too many stars.

Are we to believe that as long as a pedophile does not disobey his conscience he is not sinning.  What about a sociopath and his conscience?  With apologies to Jiminy Cricket and the Blue Fairy, when the conscience goes stag a person is left in rags and unconscious of his spiritual failings.

I know it may sound a little old school and politically incorrect, but Jesus didn’t say, “Let your conscience be your guide.”  He said, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish (Luke 13:3).” 

 

Goodbye Christmas and Hello 2016

hope-at-christmasWhat remains of Christmas?  Is the shredded paper in the curbside container all that’s left?  Is it the December delights that have been boxed-up with your dazzling array of decorations and stored neatly away until the arrival of Holiday Season 2016?

Since people quickly become bored with nativities and Christmas trees, how is the story to be told these next 12 months?  After hearing Silent Night sung for the thousandth time, how do we keep its message fresh and lively?

Christmas is more than the ashen remains of empty platitudes, it’s the colors and hues that imbues the message of Emmanuel:  God is with us!  Not just Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but every day:  His daily presence is His eternal present.

As you count down the final days of 2015, I hope your thoughts will be more than the fantasy of Star Wars, the NFL, and college football.  I encourage you think about the message of Christmas.  May it live in you and remain as the joyful refrain of hope, and a message that refines you and defines you throughout the coming year.

The New Miss Universe… Oops!

CWzg_NMUAAENSNoThis past Sunday, Miss Colombia, Ariadna Gutierrez-Arévalo, went from ecstasy to agony in the space of a couple of seconds.  When she heard Steve Harvey announce to the world that she was the new Miss Universe, the radiant smile on her face dazzled the crowd and lit up the stage.

Then the funny man shared the sadness news, Harvey said: “I have to apologize, the first runner up is Colombia.”  Her crown was removed, and it placed on the head of Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach, Miss Philippines.

While Harvey took the blame for the epic blunder, FOX News has reported that there is a seven-second behind-the-scenes video of Harvey saying: “The teleprompter said Miss Universe – Colombia.”  The technology failed:  The cue card had the correct information, and the teleprompter was wrong.

To add insult to injury, when Harvey posted his first TWEET to apologize to Miss Colombia and all Colombians, he spelled Colombia with a “U” and not an “O”—Columbia.

While this crown meant the world to Miss Colombia, there are other crowns that are of greater importance, and they are found in the New Testament:

  • The incorruptible crown (I Corinthians 9:24,25): It’s also called the imperishable crown, and it will be given to believers who have lived a life of dedication and faith.
  • The crown of rejoicing (I Thessalonians 2:19, 20; Daniel 12:3) will be given to those who share their faith and encourage others to accept Jesus as their Savior.
  • The crown of life or martyr’s crown (James 1:12; Revelation 2:8-11) is the crown that will be worn by Christians who have endured trials, tribulations, and even death for the cause of Christ.
  • The crown of righteousness (2 Timothy 4:8) is mentioned by Paul, and it is for those who live in expectation of the return of Christ.
  • The crown of glory (1 Peter 5:1-4) has been called the “pastor’s crown” by some and it appears to be reserved for ministers who have been faithful shepherds of the flock of God.

In the 4th chapter of Revelation, there are 24 elders dressed in white robes and wearing golden crowns, and they kneel before Jesus “who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,

Worthy are you, our Lord and God,

to receive glory and honor and power,

for you created all things,

and by your will they existed and were created.

The crowns of heaven are not given because of a beautiful complexion or a pretty smile; they are given for a life well-lived—a life lived in honor of the King of kings and Lord of lords. 

May He one day say to each of us:  “Well done my faithful servant.”

 

Christmas in Black and White

santaSeveral years ago Phillip Bump wrote an article for The Atlantic that examined the Christmas Eve workload of the jolly old elf.  Using data from the CIA, Bump focused his article on Santa’s deliveries to the world’s 526,000,000 Christian kids 14 years of age and younger.

To get a present to all of these kids, Bump determined that Santa would need to deliver presents at a rate of 22 million kids an hour for the 24 hours of Christmas Eve. If you run the figures on your calculator, you’ll find that equates to 365,000 kids a minute or about 6,100 a second.  Not to worry though, we are talking about Santa.

Do you remember your perceptions of Christmas and Santa when you were a child?  Did your eager anticipation of Christmas consume you?

I remember how quickly I would hurry home after school, so I could watch Santa’s Workshop in black and white on an old TV.  The days from Thanksgiving to Christmas would pass by with the agonizing speed of a turtle.

As a child, I thought Christmas would never come; and, truthfully, I gave very little thought to its significance.  The desire that I had for the brightly wrapped gifts carefully placed beneath the bright lights and icicles hanging on the Christmas tree, had little to do with the Christ of Christmas.

So, what is Christmas?  It certainly isn’t big box stores opening on Thanksgiving Day, or the pushing, shoving, and elbowing of frenzied shopping.  Christmas is the birth of Hope.  It is a time to step away from the hustle and bustle of the mobs and the malls to find a moment of solitude to reflect on the miracle of the manger.

Christmas is that day long ago when Jesus stepped down from the glories of heaven to be born in a lowly manger; to live a sinless life; to die the death of the cross; to rise again on the third day; and to return to heaven to intercede on our behalf.

The essence of that babe from Bethlehem is summarized by Paul in the colorful language of I Timothy 3:16:

Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:  Jesus appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.

May you have a Merry Christmas is my wish for you.

What Did Mary Know?

maryHave you ever taken a moment to consider the momentous thoughts of Mary? I have, and I do, whenever I read  Luke 2: “Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

When Mary pondered the magnitude of the angelic message, and the adoring words of the shepherds,  did she fully comprehend the magnificent meaning of that first Christmas?

When she gazed into the eyes of her innocent son, could she mentally grasp what she would emotionally gasp 30 years later when he took on the sin of the world?

How could she know that the son nurtured in her womb would have such a significant future and manifest awesome and miraculous power over creation?  Did Mary have an aha moment when Jesus changed the water into wine at the marriage supper at Cana?

Was she pleasingly puzzled when her son had a leg up on the religious charlatans of the day and healed the legs of a crippled man?

When Mary saw a crowd of hungry faces suddenly satisfied by a sack lunch that was multiplied 5,000 times, did she realize that her son could also satisfy the spiritual hunger of the world?

When her son of a carpenter was dying an excruciating death on a wooden cross, did her anguish confound her comprehension of God’s ultimate plan?

How fast did her heart beat when she heard that her three-days-dead son had removed his grave clothes, rolled away a massive stone, run off a squad of soldiers, and became the resurrection and life to all who would believe?

There are some things that I ponder in my heart:
• How could Jesus understand everything, but be misunderstood by most everyone?
• Who was his best childhood friend? Could it have been a boy named Judas?
• What did he and his cousin John (later called the Baptist) talk about?
• Did his brothers and sisters see him as unique or annoyingly odd?

I wonder, Mary Did You Know?

 

 

 

 

Big Daddy Bad Day

02There’s no failsafe vaccine for it, and everyone who has ever lived has felt the crushing power of the vice-like grip of Big Daddy Bad Day.  The physical symptoms are nothing like the chills, sweats, and fever that typify malaria, nor the feigned symptoms of malingering. When Big Daddy slaps you down, you feel a nauseating surge of melancholy with its brooding sadness and boiling madness.

The moment you hear Big Daddy whisper in your ear, you need to tune him out, and shake him off before he shakes you down.  If you listen to these mendacious musings, you will succumb to feelings of worthlessness, and you’ll hear him as a voice within that accuses you of being dirty, a failure, a quitter, and unlovable.

These fits of unjustified self-accusing are akin to a-cussing that’s detrimental to your mental well-being.  If you let Big Daddy beat you up and get you on the ropes, he’ll chuckle as you buckle under the weight of his lies.

To beat him, you need to learn to bob and weave, and to counter punch.  When Big Daddy throws a jab that says you are unlovable, give him a stiff uppercut to the jaw with Jeremiah 31:3: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have drawn you with lovingkindness.”

If he tells you that you’re a worthless failure and quitter, hit with a heavy cross.  Your worth, value, and victory is found in Jesus, who is, “the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).”

By now Big Daddy is weak-kneed, so you can finish him off with a massive 4-1-3 hook found in the book of Philippians:  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (4:13).

The next time you hear the whispers of Big Daddy, stop him in his tracks by demolishing his arguments and false ideas, and his worrisome philosophy by taking every thought captive in obedience to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Christmas: God With Us

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Last night I was contemplating the significance of Immanuel and the powerful promise hidden within these 8 letters that form His name.

Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”

Matthew 1:23

His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6-7

Because He is God with us:

We are in awe and wonder of His wonderful ways.

We are consoled by the counsel of His Word.

We bow in reverence of His majestic might.

We are children to the everlasting Father,

And joint-heirs with the Prince of Peace.

Because He is God with us:

The sins of the world are forgiven.

The gift of salvation is offered.

Names are written in heaven.

The Christ Child has come.

. . . Immanuel—God is with us . . .

A Soothing Touch

holiday-stress-680x380With Christmas in the air and the holiday preparations underfoot, how are you doing?  Are you feeling overwhelmed by your commitments and underwhelmed by your resources?

According to a survey done by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, you’re not the only one who feels this way.  Here are the Top 10 things that people say they dislike at Christmas:

  • Crowds and long lines
  • Gaining weight
  • Going into debt
  • Gift shopping
  • Traveling
  • Seeing certain relatives
  • Seasonal music
  • Disappointing gifts
  • Having to attend holiday parties or events
  • Holiday tipping

Even the Psalmist admitted to feeling overwhelmed: If I say, “My foot is slipping,” your loyal love, O Lord, supports me. When worries threaten to overwhelm me, your soothing touch makes me happy (Psalm 94:18-19).

If you’re needing a little soothing, the Psalms reassure you that God will hear the sound of your pleading, and He is your strength and shield (Psalm 28:6-9); and He has promised to be present in the thick of danger, and to preserve your life from the anger of your enemies (Psalm 138:7).