Loving The World

Scripture Reading: 1 John 2:15-17: Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

The day set aside for Thanksgiving has passed and I am seeing many folks who have quickly forgotten how to be thankful. I notice every year how the attitudes of shoppers change immediately on the day after Thanksgiving. People suddenly become hurried and they have very little patience for their fellow human beings. Kind and warm smiles give way to faces with scowls and frowns. Folks that were in thankful and cheerful moods, just a few days earlier, transform into mean and hateful shoppers that have forgotten to remain thankful.

I am afraid that with more stores opening earlier on Thanksgiving night that we will begin to see our traditional day of Thanksgiving become reduced. In a country fueled by consumerism we can expect to see stores continue to open even earlier so that people can shop longer and thus have less quality time for family and friends. And less time for a day of thanksgiving in which most of us stop and thank God for our many blessings.

As I get older, I am just beginning to understand what is important and what is not. In my not so distant past, I felt that I had to spend a certain amount of money at Christmas in order to ensure that my children would have a great and memorable Christmas. Now I realize that it is not the material things that will make them happy, but it is the quality time and memories that we create as a family that they will remember for the rest of their lives.

This Thanksgiving, my mother was not at home for the first time in my forty seven years. It was a somewhat sad but also a very joyous day, because my family was together for that one day. We said grace, shared a meal, and then spent time with my mom at the rehab facility. I was thankful that all of us were able to have another year together.

Our culture and our world, tries to persuade us that we are a failure, if we don’t lavish the people we love with expensive gifts. We become so focused on “stuff” that we forget where our true treasure lies – with God and with family. From now until Thanksgiving 2012, I am reminding myself daily,  to be a thankful person for what God has so richly blessed me with.

Our scripture reading today reminds us to not fall in love with the things of this world, because they are temporary, they will pass away. As believers, we are to put our complete faith and trust in our creator God, who will grant eternal life to those of us who are obedient to our Father’s will.

 

 

 

 

 

Giving Thanks

The following is an article from onlineathens.com that I read this morning. It is important to remember and give thanks for all of the blessings and good moments in our lives.

Giving thanks helps your psychological outlook

By Seth Borenstein – Associated Press

Published Thursday, November 24, 2011

WASHINGTON — Count your blessings this Thanksgiving. It’s good for you.

While it seems pretty obvious that gratitude is a positive emotion, for decades psychologists rarely delved into the science of giving thanks.

But in the last several years they have, learning in many experiments that it is one of humanity’s most powerful emotions. It makes you happier and can change your attitude about life, like an emotional reset button.

Especially in hard times, like these.

Beyond proving that being grateful helps you, psychologists also are trying to figure out the brain chemistry behind gratitude and the best ways of showing it.

“Oprah was right,” said University of Miami psychology professor Michael McCullough, who has studied people who are asked to be regularly thankful. “When you are stopping and counting your blessings, you are sort of hijacking your emotional system.”

And he means hijacking it from out of a funk into a good place. A very good place. Research by McCullough and others finds that giving thanks is a potent emotion that feeds on itself, almost the equivalent of being victorious. It could be called a vicious circle, but it’s anything but vicious.

He said psychologists used to underestimate the strength of simple gratitude: “It does make people happier … It’s that incredible feeling.”

One of the reasons why gratitude works so well is that it connects us with others, McCullough said. That’s why when you give thanks it should be more heartfelt and personal instead of a terse thank you note for a gift or a hastily run-through grace before dinner, psychologists say.

Chicago area psychologist and self-help book author Maryann Troiani said she starts getting clients on gratitude gradually, sometimes just by limiting their complaints to two whines a session. Then she eventually gets them to log good things that happened to them in gratitude journals: “Gratitude really changes your attitude and your outlook on life.”

Gratitude journals or diaries, in which people list weekly or nightly what they are thankful for, are becoming regular therapy tools.

And in those journals, it is important to focus more on the people you are grateful for, said Robert Emmons, a psychology professor at the University of California, Davis. Concentrate on what life would be without the good things — especially people such as spouses — in your life and how you are grateful they are there, he said.

Grateful people “feel more alert, alive, interested, enthusiastic. They also feel more connected to others,” said Emmons, who has written two books on the science of gratitude and often studies the effects of those gratitude diaries.

“Gratitude also serves as a stress buffer,” Emmons said in an e-mail interview. “Grateful people are less likely to experience envy, anger, resentment, regret and other unpleasant states that produce stress.”

Scientists are not just looking at the emotions behind gratitude but the nuts-and-bolts physiology as well.

Preliminary theories look at the brain chemistry and hormones in the blood and neurotransmitters in the brain that are connected to feelings of gratitude, Emmons said. And the left prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is also associated with positive emotions like love and compassion, seems to be a key spot, especially in Buddhist monks, Emmons said.

However it works in the brain, Emmons said there is little doubt that it works.

Emmons, who has conducted several studies on people from ages 12 to 80, including those with neuromuscular disease, asked volunteers to keep daily or weekly gratitude diaries. Another group listed hassles, and others just recorded random events. He noticed a significant and consistent difference. About three-quarters of the people studied who regularly counted their blessings scored higher in happiness tests and some even showed improvements in amounts of sleep and exercise.

Christopher Peterson of the University of Michigan studied different gratitude methods and found the biggest immediate improvement in happiness scores was among people who were given one week to write and deliver in person a letter of gratitude to someone who had been especially kind to them, but was never thanked. That emotional health boost was large, but it didn’t last over the weeks and months to come.

Peterson also asked people to write down nightly three things that went well that day and why that went well. That took longer to show any difference in happiness scores over control groups, but after one month the results were significantly better and they stayed better through six months.

Peterson said it worked so well that he is adopted it in his daily life, writing from-the-heart thank you notes, logging his feelings of gratitude: “It was very beneficial for me. I was much more cheerful.”

At the University of North Carolina, Sara Algoe studied the interaction between cancer patients and their support group, especially when acts of gratitude were made. Like Peterson, she saw the effects last well over a month and she saw the feedback cycle that McCullough described.

“It must be really powerful,” Algoe said.

It has to be potent to combat gloom many may be feeling in such uncertain times.

There have been many Thanksgivings throughout history that might challenge society’s ability to be grateful.

The first Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims came after about half of the Plymouth colony died in the first year. Thanksgiving became a national holiday in the United States when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed it in 1863 during the Civil War, the deadliest war the country has ever known. And the holiday moved to the fourth Thursday in November during the tail end of the Great Depression.

Emmons actually encourages people to “think of your worst moments, your sorrows, your losses, your sadness and then remember that here you are, able to remember them. You got through the worst day of your life … remember the bad things, then look to see where you are.”

That grace amid difficulty motif may make this Thanksgiving especially meaningful, McCullough said.

“In order to be grateful for something, we have to remember that something good happened,” Peterson said. “It’s important to remind ourselves that the world doesn’t always suck.”

 

Rest for the Weary

Scripture Readings: Psalm 55:22: Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.

Matthew 11:28: Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

1 Peter 5:7: Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

I know a lot of people today who are carrying heavy loads of burden. Some of those burdens are so heavy and overwhelming that many are about to collapse under their crushing weight.  I encounter people every day that are worried about their employment or lack of employment, parents who are worried about their children and their well-being and safety, and children who are struggling to care for their aging parents. Many times, the seemingly overwhelming burden of responsibility is enough to cause many of us to want to run away from our problems and just disappear.

I must confess that I have been experiencing this feeling of being overwhelmed with life recently. It seems that just when circumstances begin to improve, more obstacles block my path and cause me to stumble. Feelings of despair and hopelessness have crept into my mind lately causing me to reexamine my relationship with God. I have found myself asking God if I am doing something wrong or not doing enough things right.

I have talked to several people recently who have misunderstood this call from Jesus to those who are weary and heavy burdened. Jesus promises rest for those who are toiling under the burdens of life, whatever those burdens may be. Some people that I have discussed this passage with recently believe it to mean that those of us who are believers live a life free of problems and burdens. They are surprised to learn that their assumptions couldn’t be farther from the truth. I am also afraid that sometimes my explanation of why that is, just confuses them even more.

Jesus did not promise us a life free from pain and suffering and troubles. He did promise however, that He would be there beside us as we traveled that long and difficult road filled with trials and burdens.  The life of a Christian is not always easy, but we believe that we are traveling on a path that will make our faith and ourselves stronger. We are being refined and purified through the many trials and burdens of life.

Several days ago, I was at a breaking point and I just felt like the weight of the world was about to come crashing down upon me. As is often the case when we are at our lowest point, we desperately turn to God in prayer. I told God that I was unsure of what I was praying for and I couldn’t even put into words my needs at that moment. I acknowledged to God that He knew what my needs were and I asked God to grant me the strength and mercy to deal with the burdens in my life. I did not experience a miraculous sign or hear God’s voice, or even have a feeling of peace suddenly rush over me.

What I did experience in the next few days, was a gradual feeling of peace, and each day my burdens seemed to get a little lighter. I continue to have moments throughout my day when I began to feel overwhelmed and burdened. When I feel those moments coming on I remind myself to cast all of my anxieties upon the Lord, because He cares for me and He cares for you. God will not take away all of our burdens but He will be there for us, alongside us, as we navigate our way through those difficult moments in our lives.

There is a verse of scripture that I often repeat to myself that helps me to remember that Jesus Christ is my refuge from the troubles and trials of this world. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fatherhood

Scripture Reading: Matthew 1:18-25: This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until after she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

We don’t reflect on the story of Joseph and his dreams from God very often in church or Sunday school, it seems. Mary gets most of the attention, and rightly so, because she was an extraordinary young woman in her walk of faith with God. Joseph was also righteous and faithful in his own journey and he expressed his faith in action throughout the first few chapters of Matthew.

The book of Matthew gives us five dreams in the first two chapters. Four of these dreams, are dreams of divine revelation, to Joseph. Joseph had a dream where the Angel of the Lord told him to not be afraid to take Mary home as his wife. Joseph was also warned in a dream to take the baby Jesus and Mary to Egypt and after the death of Herod to go back to Israel. The Angel of the Lord also warned Joseph to settle in the district of Galilee, in a town called Nazareth.

Throughout Matthew’s story of the birth of Christ, Joseph is the parent to whom the divine will of God is being revealed. Joseph is following God’s direction to protect his family and it seems that he was able to fulfill his duties as a husband and a father.

Will Willimon wrote an article in Christian Century that helps us to come to terms with the confusion and pain of Joseph’s situation. “Mary may have been blessed among women, but righteous Joseph was embarrassed among men. Few painters tried their hands at Matthew’s annunciation: Joseph bolting upright in bed, in a cold sweat after the nightmare of being told that his fiancée is pregnant, and not by him, and that he should marry her anyway.”

The book of Matthew gives us details concerning the birth of Christ that are different from the birth story in Luke. For Matthew, Joseph is the parent who is the key figure in the birth narrative. After Jesus’ birth, the gospel writer immediately takes us to Jesus’ baptism and the beginning of his ministry as an adult. Joseph vanishes from the scene, it seems.

We know nothing of Jesus’ childhood in Nazareth, and also nothing about Joseph, who is not mentioned again until the hometown people of Nazareth call Jesus the “son of the carpenter” (Mt 13:54-55). Mary is mentioned by name and the names of our Lord’s brothers are listed in this same passage. Matthew quotes the people referring to Joseph as the “carpenter”; they don’t even call him by name. So why did Joseph disappear from the picture?

The passage from Matthew 13, when Jesus preached in his hometown, may provide us with some insight as to why Joseph had to “fade away”. The people of Nazareth, who were very aware of his normal human childhood, kept referring to Jesus as “the carpenter’s son”. Remember that when Jesus was baptized, the voice of God from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). It is possible that having the earthly father Joseph around would only lead to doubt and confusion for people to envision Jesus as the Son of God. So for whatever reason, Joseph had to fade away, much like John the Baptist did when Jesus began his public ministry.

I don’t think that Joseph gets enough credit for behaving with courage and integrity. God spoke to Joseph through his dreams and I believe that Joseph woke up immediately from his dreams and knew with certainty that this was God’s will for his life. Joseph may or may not have known how much time he would spend with Jesus as a father but I believe that he made every moment count. Joseph obeyed God’s instructions and heeded the warnings sent from God. And I believe that Joseph was a good father to our Lord. Joseph, who interestingly never spoke throughout the text, sets an example for all of us fathers. He protected his family and he believed in and followed the will of God in his own life. May God grant us fathers today the mercy,  grace and courage to do the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Invisible God?

Scripture Reading: John 14:1-4: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

I must admit that I just can’t help but read the comments that people post, on each news story, in the Athens online newspaper. Many of the comments are better than the actual news story. Often though, the comments are mean and hateful because people tend to say whatever comes to mind when their comments remain anonymous.

Last week as I was reading a news story that contained religious aspects, I read something that really troubled me. A person commented on this particular story by saying that Christians are “wasting their time praying to the invisible man in the sky.” I’m still not certain on what level this comment bothered me. I realize that people often make comments like this just to get other people stirred up and angry. Then what follows is a back and forth between those attacking the faith and those trying to defend it.

I wondered if this person had an agenda of trying to put doubts in the minds of believers or those struggling to come to terms with their belief in God. It could be that this person had been praying to God for a long time and his/her prayer was never answered and now this person is angry at God and everybody else. It was also possible, I thought, that this person had visited a local church recently and had not had a good experience. Whatever the background of this person was, I guess that what really disappointed me was that I know how much God means in my life and I would hope that this man or woman could experience that same feeling.

Jesus encourages us in our scripture reading today to “not let our hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” It’s fairly easy for me to say that I trust in God and also in Jesus. My life had been filled with many challenges and many ups and downs. However, I have always felt the presence of God’s Holy Spirit in my life and I know that there is a visible God in heaven who watches over us and who loves each and every one of us. Looking back over my forty-seven years I can see and begin to understand how God has shaped my life and how He continues to do so.

Even though I have not physically seen God, I can tell you with certainty that He exists. I feel His presence in my life on a daily basis. I trust in God and in God’s word and I believe Jesus when He tells us that He is preparing a place for all who believe in Him as their personal savior.

I pray that each of us as believers can begin to impact the lives of non-believers in a positive way. We must be loving and compassionate to others that God places in our path. When we open up our hearts and our lives to those around us that are struggling with faith in God, we begin to help them visualize God here on this earth. By caring for and helping those around us that are less fortunate, we are becoming the hands and feet of Christ in this fallen and broken world. And with God’s help we can turn disbelief into belief and help those who do not believe to begin to encounter a visible God among obedient and faithful believers here on this earth.

It doesn’t take much to allow our heart or our mind to be troubled in this world that we live in. Jesus is encouraging us to fix our eyes and our hearts upon heaven, where there will be no more suffering and no more pain. We will live in eternal happiness with God, our creator, redeemer and sustainer and we will finally be complete. Knowing what awaits me in heaven gets me through many difficult and trying days. Trusting in God gives me the strength to continue on with the promise that I will one day reside with Christ in heaven.

 

 

 

Suffering and Glory

Scripture Reading: Genesis 37:5-8; 25-28; Genesis 41: 14-16; 33,41

5 Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. 6 He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: 7We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.”

 8 His brothers said to him, “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said.

 25 As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt.

 26 Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? 27 Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed.

 28 So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.

 Chapter 41:14 So Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was quickly brought from the dungeon. When he had shaved and changed his clothes, he came before Pharaoh.

 15 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.”

 16 “I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.”

33 “And now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt.

41 So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.”

The story of Joseph is told in the last thirteen chapters of Genesis. Looking back on the life of Joseph, we can realize that Joseph’s rise to the palace of Pharaoh was not the result of some unusually good luck. In the pages of Genesis, we see that Joseph endured a series of painful events in his life, which were all a part of God’s divine purpose.

The story of Joseph reminds me of the words of Paul from Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”.

Many of us wait for that one big break that will lead us to a life of prosperity and fame and power. We desire to be successful in this world and we want other people to know that we have made it, that we have arrived. There are those who leave behind family and friends to pursue that “big break” in Hollywood, Nashville, or New York. Most of us tend to think of finding success in some dramatic life-changing event.

It would be easy to read the story of Joseph and think that his “big break” occurred when the cupbearer mentioned his name to Pharaoh. After all, this seemed to break that long and agonizing chain of events which had followed Joseph since his brothers sold him into slavery.

However, we must be cautious about holding up the story of Joseph as a example of suffering and glory. While it is true that Joseph did indeed suffer and was able to experience some “glory” while still on this earth, it is the exception, not the norm.We must be careful to not look at the events of Joseph’s life as a promise that all who are faithful in suffering will experience glory in this life.

There are many who suffer on a daily basis and their suffering remains until they take departure from this earth. I believe that our “present sufferings,” does serve to prepare us for the future glory that we as believers will experience.

During our present suffering we must cling to our faith, to our belief that our Father who resides in heaven, is watching over us and is preparing us for a glorious, eternal future in heaven, free from suffering.