When doing some research for this article I can across this devotional written by Marilyn Ehle and thought she summed it beautifully how we can step out in faith at Christmas or any season:
“As the crow flies, it was a journey of approximately 100 kilometers but traveling over hills, through villages and around rivers would likely have made the trip even longer. Christmas pictures always show Mary riding a donkey but we really have no idea of their mode of travel. In any case, whether on foot or on the back of a swaying brown animal, it wasn’t an easy journey, especially for a women nearing the end of her pregnancy.
“Why did she go? True, government officialdom decreed a census and that everyone must go to one’s “own city,” the place their families called home, for this official registration and counting. Perhaps Mary was also quite ready to leave the village of Nazareth where tongues were wagging about her pregnancy and unmarried status.
“But Mary and Joseph knew they were going far from family and into a city whose streets would be clogged with traveling strangers. They were assured of no warm welcome, no cozy place to birth the expected child. Perhaps they hoped for a small house or a distant relative or a way for Joseph to earn money for their keep, but in almost every way, they were traveling into the unknown. The journey was long and hard, the destination uncertain.
“Nearly nine months before their arrival in Bethlehem, Mary spoke life-changing words to God, words that were to comfort her in the many uncertain years ahead. “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” With those simple words of faith, she could endure the long journey on the back of a donkey, the cold streets of Bethlehem, the staring faces of strangers, and even the crude stable with its straw-lined manger.”
"Where is your Bethlehem?" she asks. "Has the path been long, the people uncaring, the circumstances burdensome? When we submit ourselves as servants to a loving God, we can—in quietness and confidence—add 'May it be to me as you have said' no matter the place or position in which we find ourselves."
It Seems Like Science is Crying Out to God
Bernie Hobbs, with ABC Science reports:
Antimatter isn't just a great plot device for sci-fi stories. It's at the heart of one of the great mysteries in modern physics — why our universe has stuff in it. Every particle that makes up matter — the electron, proton, neutron and their more-obscure cousins — has an almost-identical twin: its antiparticle.
They were both made together from cooling energy in really high-energy environments like the big bang.
Antiparticles are exactly the same as their particle "siblings", except they have the opposite charge.
So here's where it gets interesting ...
whenever matching matter and antimatter particles get together — they annihilate each other, converting back to the energy they came from.
Which brings us to a fundamental problem with our understanding of the universe: we shouldn't be here.
The Standard Model of particle physics — which accurately describes all the particles and interactions that make up our universe — says our universe shouldn't exist. Or at least, the matter that makes up all the stuff in existence shouldn't be here. It should have been wiped out by the matching antimatter that was created with it in the first second after the Big Bang.
There are fundamental questions about the origin of our universe that science has failed to answer. Questions like How could order come from chaos? Or, How could life come from death? Add to these an even greater mystery: How does anything exist at all?
According to the rules that govern our universe, nothing should exist. Yet, here we are! When an impossibility overcomes the impossible to becomes a reality, it is, by definition, a miracle.
This seems like the logical place to inject the idea of a supreme force, a divine being with the power to explain the otherwise unexplainable, operating beyond observable laws. Science, however, is steadfastly committed to the idea of a universe that is self-sufficient and self-explanatory. But what we actually find is a universe filled with wonders that can’t be explained by any of the current observable laws.
The bottom line is we live in a universe with too few operating principles to explain its mysteries. Which is exactly what one would expect to find, If divine power, and not the existing laws, were responsible for creating our universe. Science hasn’t killed God, it cries out for God.
“I tell you," he replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out” (Luke 19:40).
The Homeland of the Bribe
The Global Post reports:
In East Africa’s most prosperous economy, the average city resident pays up to 16 bribes per month, according to Transparency International. Locals have dubbed Kenya “ya kitu kidogo” — the land of the “little something” — a kind of homeland of the bribe. And on the streets of Eastleigh, Nairobi, the victims of those bribes point their finger at one perpetrator. “If you look at the police who are meant to protect them,” says local activist Abdullahi Mohamed, “they just arrest them to extort cash.”
... officers described extortion rings as police policy. Superiors expect a certain cut of illicitly obtained cash at the end of each shift. “It’s right from the junior officer to the higher-most,” the officers said.
But the police are not the only ones to benefit from this arrangement. According to one police officer,
“A criminal can come, do anything that they want, they go free,” one officer said. “You’ll pay and you go free."
But the problem isn't limited to the police and the criminals. The general population of Eastleigh, when surveyed, actually prefers paying bribes, so they don't have to worry about getting stuck in jail.
“They did a survey ... and the majority are saying, if they had got a chance to be corrupt, they’d be corrupt. In a country of shortcuts, where there are no national values, then everyone wants to become a thief,” says Boniface Mwangi, an anti-corruption activists.
It's hard to imagine a life were everyone is either paying or receiving bribes, and they all like it that way! This happens in Eastleigh because everybody gets something out of it. The extortionist gets paid and the extorted gets exoneration.
If that’s sad, what are we to think of Christians who seek the same thing in their relationship with God? These are believers who rely on fear to motivate them in their service to God, and who expect something in return. Legalistic Christians gladly yield to this form of extortion, believing it to be the means of getting what they want from God.
The problem is God isn’t interested in extorting us. He demonstrated this by establishing grace. Grace is the free gift of God’s unconditional love. It’s intended to free us to serve God just because we want to love Him back.
Despite this, many cling to the familiarity of their chains. Though grace promises freedom, they find it lacking as a motivation because it doesn’t promise them the control they desperately desire.
To grow in grace, we must lean to prefer the freedom of love over the bondage of legalism.
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).
Toby Meyjes, writing for Metro, reports on a wedding guest who revealed she was contacted by newlyweds to say her gift wasn’t generous enough.
The unnamed guest posted to a forum on Mumsnet asking for advice after she was told the £100 check she provided wasn’t enough.
She revealed how the couple, who had asked for cash gifts, had emailed to say they were ‘surprised’ by her contribution and suggested an ‘adjustment’.
She went on to say that the bride and groom declared ‘we were surprised that your contribution didn’t seem to match the warmth of your good wishes on our big day.
They added: ‘In view of your own position, if you wanted to send any adjustment it would be thankfully received.’
The wedding guest assumed that the reference to her position was in regard to a recent inheritance. She then asked …
Should ‘I reply, ring them, ignore it or what?’
The suggestions ranged from ‘cancelling’ the check, to telling mutual friends about the incident, to sending a glitter bomb.
Instead, she chose to respond with the following:
‘I assume this was some sort of mistake?’
Many of us struggle with being as generous as our faith calls us to be. But perhaps the real lesson of this story lies at the other end: Learning to be content with what we receive. Judging others for their lack of generosity comes easy. What’s much harder is to keep one’s own sense of entitlement in check. The world doesn’t owe us as much as we tend to think. When we have to resort to shaming others to get what we want out of them, it might be time to let it go. It’s just not worth forfeiting our contentment, not to mention the likely of losing a relationship.
“Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
A Whale of a Find
Amy Graff with SEATTLE PI reports:
Gary and Angela Williams of Northwest England were on a leisurely beach stroll when a pungent rotting-fish smell drew them to a lump of ambergris about the size of an American football.
The couple had read about the waxy excretion formed in the digestion system of sperm whales and often referred to as whale vomit. They knew the substance often used in perfume-making is rare and valuable, and wrapped it in a scarf and took it home.
Whale vomit Is rock hard, waxy, sticky and according to Gary Williams, has a "a very distinctive smell, like a cross between squid and farmyard manure." Nevertheless, The Williams' are hoping it will sell for around $70,000.
Most of us would have cut a wide path around a smelly, sticky chunk of whale vomit. Fortunately for the Williams, they had acquired a knowledge of what they were looking at, and of it’s true value.
How about you? Do you really know what you’re looking at as you travel your way down the beach of life? Struggles, pain and sorrow are the kind of things you might naturally cut a wide path around, but that’s only because you fail to understand their true value. As with whale vomit, God has hidden many other treasures in the most unsuspecting places. Educate yourself in the pages of Scripture and you’ll discover many things in life that, surprisingly enough, hold great value in the Kingdom of God.
“These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold--though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world” (1 Peter 1:7, NLT).
Be the 2.7 Percent
According to the Oregonian: Only 2.7 percent of adults nationwide have all four basic healthy characteristics, a new study found. The report, completed by researchers at Oregon State University and other universities, examined if adults were successful in four areas that fit typical advice for a "healthy lifestyle"-- moderate exercise, a good diet, not smoking and having a recommended body fat percentage. Fulfilling those characteristics reflects a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and other health problems, according to a news release from Oregon State. While only 2.7 percent of the study group had all four characteristics ... About 16 percent had three, 37 percent had two, 34 percent had one and 11 percent had none. "The behavior standards we were measuring for were pretty reasonable," Ellen Smit, study senior author and an associate professor in the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences, said in a statement. "We weren't looking for marathon runners. This is pretty low, to have so few people maintaining what we would consider a healthy lifestyle. This is sort of mind boggling." The lesson here is that good health requires a balance of good habits. Doing well in just one area isn’t nearly enough. We need balance. Of course, the same can be said about our spiritual health. Just as there are four areas to balance so far as our physical health is concerned, there are also four keys to a spiritually healthy lifestyle. They are Bible study, fellowship, Christian service and an active personal devotional life. How balanced are you? Be the 2.7 percent! "In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God's promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone. The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:5-8, NLT).
In a scene from C. S. Lewis’ spiritual allegory, The Chronicles of Narnia, a young girl named Lucy is sent on a great mission by the Christ figure, Aslan, the lion. As she travels by night, she notices the great beast sitting on a hill, illumined by a full moon. Excitedly, Lucy runs to him and throws herself into his soft, silky mane. Aslan rolls over, and Lucy finds herself laying between his paws, looking up into his large face.
“Aslan, you’re bigger,” says Lucy.
The majestic creature answers, “That is because you are older, little one.”
Lucy, confused by this remark, asks, “Not because you are?”
Aslan assures her, “I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”
With intentional irony, Lewis was suggesting that as we mature in our faith, the object of our devotion appears to grow along with us. This happens not because Christ has changed, but because our consciousness of Him has expanded. As R. Kent Hughes suggests, “Expanding souls encounter an expanding Christ.” Thus, Aslan only appeared to be bigger to Lucy. The real change had taken place within her.
So it is with every devoted follower of Christ. Just like Lucy, we all live with a disparity between the way we see God and the way He really is. This gap begins to narrow over time as we practice the appropriate devotion. The more we learn of God on this journey, the bigger He becomes to us.
"Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. All glory to him, both now and forever! Amen" (2 Peter 3:18).
What Is Your Trajectory?
The New Oxford Online Dictionary defines trajectory as “the path followed by a projectile flying or an object moving under the action of given forces” (n/p). The term is used of everything from ammunition to astronomy, but in its figurative sense can be used to speak of the law of sowing and reaping or cause and effect. There appears to be three elements to this definition: the path, the object, and the action of given forces. Apply this to a person’s life and the discussion takes on eternal significance.
The path: Jesus teaches that there are really only two paths to take, “the broad way” and “the narrow way” (Mat. 7:13-14). Some have given no thought as to which road they are taking. Others convince themselves they are on the narrow way when an honest, objective look reveals it to be the other way. Some change roads, for good or bad. However, we cannot successfully argue that we are not on a path leading somewhere, whether the destination is “destruction” or “life.”
The object: The object (projectile) in this path of trajectory is the individual. It is you and me. We are moving closer to our eternal destination every day. God created a never-dying soul within us (Mat. 25:46; Ec. 12:7). As it was with the rich man and Lazarus (Lk. 16:19-31), we will lift up our eyes in either Abraham’s bosom or in torment. That soul was precious enough to God to pay the highest price to ransom it (John 3:16), but we may choose to give it away by allowing the trajectory of our life to miss the intended target (cf. Mat. 16:26).
The action of given forces: We are not helpless regarding this, but force implies pressure, resistance, and influence. The decisions we make, the people we allow to have influence on us, our choices, what we prioritize, and what values we establish become the forces moving us to the destination. It is seen in our attitudes, words, and actions.
The earlier we figure this out, the sooner we will make it our aim to do everything we can to head in the right direction. We can change paths, but the longer we are aimed at the wrong target, the harder we make it on ourselves to change course. This is true with our finances, our physical health, our occupation, our marriage and family, but nowhere are the stakes as high than as concerns our eternal destiny. Let’s give thought to the trajectory of our lives and be sure that where we are heading is where we really want to go.
A story is widely circulated on the internet about a memorable track event at the Seattle, WA, Special Olympics some years ago.
As the story is told, nine special needs youth all gathered at the starting line, anxiously awaiting the flag to begin their 100 yard dash. A few yards in, one young man stumbled to the ground. Face down and defeated, he lay on the track sobbing. It is reported that the other eight, hearing his sobs, all stopped in their tracks and returned to help him up. Upon raising him from the ground and wiping his tears, it’s further reported that all nine then linked arms and jogged to the finish line together.
It’s a beautiful story, isn’t it? Only thing is, it’s not true. At least not “all together” true.
Spectators at the 1976 Seattle Special Olympics recall that the race started as described, and one young man did indeed fall to the ground. At that point though, they recall, a “couple” of the other kids stopped, helped him to his feet, and joined him, crossing the finish line together.
It’s a subtle difference, but a significant one. We like to liken our experience in the Christian life to events such as these. But the similarities are true only to a point. Many Christian authors, bloggers, and commentators (including myself) have referenced this event, likening it to the responsibility of the fellowship of believers to “be there” for each other, to see the hardships each one of us faces, and to help each other to finish line, in tact and mutually victorious.
Just as it is unrealistic to believe that every one of those special needs athletes were utterly selfless— much less even aware that the young man behind them had fallen— it is likewise unrealistic to expect that everyone in our church is ready to be utterly selfless, putting the needs and encouragement of others above their own. Neither is it realistic to think that everyone in our church is even aware of our downfall or need.
When we stumble and fall, the entire church may not see our dilemma or hear our cries for help. But if we’ve been faithful in fellowship, transparent in our relationships, and accountable in our actions, there will be those to whom we’ve drawn close who will see our trouble or hear our cries for help.
We are indeed called to bear one another’s burdens. At the very least, as a church, we should function as this race really played out—with those of us who see or hear of another’s struggles stopping to lift our brother or sister up and help carry them over the finish line. In this way, we share in each other’s victorious, and indeed more fully share in the victory of Christ Himself.
“Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3-4).
The past PowerBall lottery sent many people out to buy tickets in droves in the hopes of winning the $1.5 billion lottery jackpot, not only the largest ever jackpot in the United States, but in the world.
Camila Domonoske with NPR writes:
$70 billion — [is] the total amount Americans spent on the lottery in 2014, the most recent year for which data is available, according to the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries.
CNN Money calculates that's more than Americans spend on sports tickets, books, video games, movie theaters and recorded music, combined.
NASA's annual budget, for comparison, is around $17 billion. Total U.S. foreign aid for next year: just shy of $38 billion.
It’s clear that Americans are chasing a dream, and they are willing to spend a lot of money to catch it. But there’s a problem, and it’s not just the 1 in 292 million odds of ending up with the winning ticket. Recent history has taught us that just because someone becomes instantly rich doesn’t mean they'll end up with any greater sense of happiness.
Zero. That's the impact of a lottery win on net happiness, at least at first.
A famous 1978 study found that major lottery winners were no happier than ordinary folks, and actually got less joy from daily activities. A 2008 Dutch study found winning the lottery doesn't make a household happier.
Now, a caveat: Two studies out of England suggest that it is possible to win the lottery and be content — but only eventually.
"No researcher has ever found that people are happier in the first year after winning the lottery," one of the researchers told The New York Times And the Times' social science reporter suggests that it might take longer and longer to find contentment the larger your win is.
Despite the high expectations, winning the lottery doesn’t solve our interpersonal problems, but will probably make things worse as friends and relatives clamor for their piece of the prize. Neither will it result in a greater sense of happiness as we suddenly have so much more wealth to worry about protecting, investing, etc.
Most will never have the chance to find out how they'd do with untold wealth, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lesson here for the rest of us. The reality is we all live with the same false hope as the lottery winner—the expectation that the next big promotion, the next good turn of fortune, will finally bring us the contentment and happiness that has eluded us so far.
Let the lesson of past lottery winners be a lesson to you. That transcendent, immune-to-life’s-assault happiness we all search for can’t be purchased or won, but is the byproduct of faith—the result of possessing spiritual riches.
“The blessing of the LORD brings wealth, without painful toil for it.” (Proverbs 10:22).
Joe Robinson, author of the book, DON’T MISS YOUR LIFE, makes a case that one of life’s most dogging of emotions, regret, may just have a beneficial purpose: to prod us to step out and take action. According to Mr. Robinson, "researchers have found that the biggest regrets come not from what you do but from what you didn't do." It's the course untaken, known as the "inaction effect" in one study, which produces more regret than actions that don't work out.
Other research shows there's more intensity to the regret that comes from lost opportunities and that it stays with you longer. Since we “seem to be wired to not leave possibilities on the table,” why then do so many of us fall prey to the "inaction effect?" Robinson explains that it is “because we're wired with some other tendencies, too -- fear, procrastination, cynicism, prior disappointments." These negative psychological agents work hard to hold us back from experiencing life to the fullest. “Life is short,” he concludes, “regrets are forever.”
If the regrets for lost “earthly” opportunities are haunting, how much more the regrets that come from lost “spiritual” opportunities. One of my favorite quotes has always helped me to put things into perspective. It comes from the business world but if you apply it spiritually it takes on a whole new meaning. The quote is: “There is never a missed opportunity, if you fumble it your competitor will get it.”
So don’t allow “fear, procrastination, cynicism, or prior disappointments” to lull you into the “inaction effect” and rob you of eternal possibilities and the ability to make an eternal difference in someone’s life. As Robinson himself concludes, “Life is short; regrets are forever.”
Resolve to make each new day of this new year a day of possibilities.
“So, as the Holy Spirit says: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts’" (Hebrews 3:7).