Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal

Centum Triginta Tres Souvenir Edition

Volume 4 No. 250 December 3, 2014

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Centum Triginta Tress (250th) Issue of Malankara World Journal
Issue CCL - Centum Triginta Tres Souvenir Edition
TABLE OF CONTENTS
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1. Foreword

Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of the Lord. How do we prepare ourselves? Our church teaches us that this is through daily prayer, fasting, by receiving Holy Sacraments prescribed by the church, by being faithful to our commitments in life, by carrying our cross daily, by kindness towards others (charity and volunteerism), by avoiding all sarcasm and unjust criticism of others...

I. Advent and Christmas Reflections

2. Rejoice, The Lord is Nigh

As Christmas draws near, the Church emphasizes the joy which should be in our hearts over all that the birth of our Savior means for us. ...

3. What Is Advent?

Advent symbolizes the present situation of the church in these "last days" (Acts 2:17, Hebrews 1:2), as God's people wait for the return of Christ in glory to consummate his eternal kingdom. The church is in a similar situation to Israel at the end of the Old Testament: in exile, waiting and hoping in prayerful expectation for the coming of the Messiah. ...

4. Messiah - Isaiah 61:1-4,8-11

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor ...

5. The Messiah's Job Description

Christmas is only a few weeks away. Why is the celebration of Christmas an occasion of such great joy? The reason is because of what the coming of the Christ means for us. It all hinges on what he comes to do. And here in this chapter, he tells us.

The text begins with words that come from the Messiah himself: "The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me." This is the Christ speaking here. ...

6. Veni Redemptor Gentium (Come, Thou Redeemer of the Earth) - The Best Advent Hymn

For my money the best Advent hymn ever written is Veni Redemptor Gentium (Come Redeemer of the Nations) written by St. Ambrose in the 4th Century. ..

So here we are beginning Advent and Jesus is coming, get ready! Well yes, but he is not just coming, he is redeeming, dying, rising, ascending and reigning at the Father's Right Hand! But how can we get all that into an Advent Hymn? Well, just below you can read the text and see how. ...

7. The King Who Comes in the Name of the Lord

Why do we need a king who comes to us like this? Because he comes in the name of the Lord. God has sent this king to us. He comes from heaven to establish the kingdom of heaven here on earth. That is what Jesus' ministry was all about, to bring the kingdom and the blessings of heaven among us, God's gracious reign and rule. ...

8. Awake until the Coming of Our Lord

Advent is a wake-up call, my friends. This is a time to be alert. Our Master is coming back--we don't know when, but he is coming back--and we want to be ready: clear-eyed and active and looking forward in faith and hope to the salvation that Christ is bringing with him on the day when he returns. ...

9. Advent - The Courage to Wait

The season of Advent that precedes Christmas is a season of hope-filled, lament-filled, expectant waiting. Advent looks forward in anticipation of Christ's return, but also remembers all those who awaited his arrival into our world more than 2,000 years ago. Advent is a season of stillness and reflection, and honest longing in the dark, and as such, it is the antithesis of all the busyness and chaos and boxed happiness of the Christmas shopping season. ...

10. Waiting for the Coming of Our Lord

It is a call to patience, as we wait on the Lord's timing. It is a call for the church to spread the gospel, because God is wanting to use this time to bring more sinners to repentance and faith and salvation. And it is a call to holiness, as we who are saved look forward to new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness will be at home. ...

11. Blameless at the Coming of Our Lord

"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." Look at that healthy, wholesome trio: Rejoice, pray, give thanks. This is a good, enlivening, practical pattern for us to live by, every single day. This is God's good and gracious will, is it not? This is how God would have us Christians live in communion with him. ...

12. Advent Preparation: Embracing the Story behind Christmas

One important thing to remember is that it's not really Christmas season - it's Advent season, a time set aside by the church to help believers prepare to receive the fullness of Jesus' coming.

And it's not just in remembrance of His incarnation, coming to Bethlehem as a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, but also in anticipation of His return as the "Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory," who will "send his angels to gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens" (Mark 13:26-27). ...

13. Advent: Reaffirming Faith in an Often Cynical World

"Reaffirming faith in a modern, often-cynical world" is what our business is all about as believers - not a faith in St. Nicholas or Father Christmas - but in the truth of the enchantment and wonder of the Almighty God of the universe who came to mankind as a Babe in a manger. So many today don't buy it - or at least they seemed unmoved by the reality of Christmas in the way they live their lives...

14. Immanuel: God Is with Us

Immanuel: God is with us - God came to us. What a staggering thought. It is really the essence of the Christian faith and the Christian life. All other religious ideologies essentially tell you that you must do something: Do this, and you will find inner peace. . . . Do this, and you will reach nirvana. . . . Do this, and maybe you will make it to heaven. But Christianity says it is done - done for you at the Cross, paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ. ...

15. The Humility of Being Human

Jesus' demonstrated humility is just one of the reasons the Incarnation should inspire such awe in us. Yes, the Incarnation dignified a downtrodden humanity. But the Incarnation also required sacrifice we can't begin to describe. All this before the ultimate shame of the cross. ...

16. Jesus Brings Light to the World

In 1646 the Dutch artist Rembrandt created a painting called "The Adoration of the Shepherds." It depicts his vision of what it was like for the shepherds to see the baby Jesus. The painting is dark because it is a night scene inside a barn. ...

The most significant feature of the painting is the light. All is dark in the painting except for the baby in the manger. The light isn't shining on the baby; it's shining out from him. This was Rembrandt's way of saying that all hope and light shines from the manger - lighting up a darkened world...

II. Self Improvement

17. How to Succeed in Any Circumstance

Success isn't just for the good times in your life. You can be a successful person no matter what changes you experience – even in the middle of the worst circumstances life may throw at you.

That's because true success isn't dependent on circumstances. Success is rooted in biblical principles that will help you maximize the upsides of life, mitigate the downsides, and succeed as much as you can all the time. Here how you can succeed in any type of circumstances. ...

18. The Best Way to Succeed Faster

You're never going to master something unless you understand this: We learn much better when we are emotionally engaged, when we want to learn, when we are motivated, when we feel the need to learn.

A lot of people go wrong because they choose a career for money. ...

19. Climb Every Mountain

The film 'Sound of Music' truly captured our attention and hearts by mirroring emotions that we have felt ourselves. In reaching for the stars, the song "Climb Every Mountain" teaches us that with personal initiative and persistence we will accomplish our dream.

Napoleon Hill stated: "Definiteness of purpose provides you with success consciousness and protects you against the influence of failure consciousness." When this happens, a person becomes convinced that he or she can succeed and refuses to accept the possibility of failing. ...

20. Improving Your Performance at Work and at Home

'The Michael Jordan of Lung Surgery' Lists Principles that Reliably Yield Success

As we enter the year's final month, Dr. Robert J. Cerfolio, a world-renowned cardiothoracic surgeon, says it's never too early to think about self-improvement for the New Year … and this year. ...

III. Family

21. Strengthening Marriages and Families

No less than three of the Ten Commandments - the fifth, seventh, and tenth - directly involve strengthening marriages and families and preserving their unity and sacredness. Of course, all of God's commands, if followed, will work to strengthen man's relationship with God and fellow man, but these three are aimed directly at securing these sacred bonds. When considering any of God's commands, we find that they are broad in scope and ordained, not just to regulate our physical relationships, but also our spiritual one with Christ. ...

22. What Your Grandparents Can Teach You

Your grandparents may still be living or they may be deceased, like mine. In any case the opportunity to learn from your parents' parents is one you should not let pass.

Grandparents, are a wealth of knowledge and can provide you with lots of insight. With the holiday season fast approaching, there's no better time to get together to swap stories with family, and think back to what you enjoyed and learned over the years. ...

23. Why Should I Reconcile When It's So Painful?

The one thing I can be sure about, is that estranged relationships marred by sin, betrayal, abuse, abandonment, and lack of forgiveness will not only keep us in the past, but will also affect all future relationships. It can lead to anger, hurt, resentment and separation. ...

24. Enjoy Life Now! It Has An Expiration Date

This is a wonderful article on aging written by Michael Gartner, editor of newspapers large and small and former president of NBC News. Gartner talks about his parents and his early family life. In 1997 he won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. This is well worth reading. A few good chuckles are guaranteed. ..

IV. Health

25. Health: Mindfully Mitigating Holiday Stress

Helping us sustain life during a time of crisis was the only intended purpose of negative emotions. Such misanthropic moods, like anxiety and depression; alert our brain to danger, narrowing the mind and limiting our options to only those that will help us survive, while focusing our attention on making it happen. They block out all other possibilities and courses of action. ...

When experiencing negative emotions such as anxiety or depression, one way to reset the brain from Survival Mode (stress response) back to Safe Mode (relaxation response) is to do some vigorous exercise for 3-5 minutes (e.g. running on a trampoline), and then focus on one of these 25 curative considerations. ...

V. Food/ Recipes

26. Recipe: Dresden Stollen Recipe - German Christmas Fruitcake

A traditional German Christmas bread topped with powdered sugar. This is German alternative to fruitcakes used in Kerala. ...

27. Kerala Christmas Fruit Cake Recipe - Kerala Plum Cake

Fruit cake is an absolute must in Kerala at Christmas time. This recipe is from Omana Paul, a popular caterer in Kottayam. They make thousands of plum cakes at Christmas time. ...

VI. Miscellaneous

28. Developing a Good Appetite for God - Lessons From Beatitudes

Jesus' point in the overall list called, "The Beatitudes," was to expose and correct a fallacy in prevailing Jewish thought at the time, at least among their religious leaders. The people who were thought to be in God's favor – the supposed "righteous" – were actually far from God, while those thought to be hopelessly on the outside of God's favor – the lowly sinners who recognized their spiritual poverty. ...

29. Life Is Beautiful and Brief

At the end of the day, even if our lives never make sense (even in reverse!), we are called to bend the knee and praise the one who has "brought forth the earth and the world."

Because of God's "unfailing love," life indeed is beautiful. And though it may be brief and sometimes confusing, because of his son our eternity is secure ... causing us to "sing for joy and be glad all our days." ...

30. Happiness is Found in God, Not in Material Things

This is actually the danger of the temporary realm: It does have a lot of great stuff. And it's really easy to love stuff - to love stuff more than the One who made it. (That's like telling God, "I like You, but what I really love is Your stuff, as long as You give it to me.") ...

31. Ten Tips For Doing Business With Indians

We Indians have a lot of quirks. No doubt, people from other cultures have their quirks too, but arguably, we Indians have more of them. Maybe it's because we've had thousands of years of civilization to acquire these idiosyncrasies, or simply because we're relatively isolated from the rest of the world. Or maybe it's something to do with the pollution of our holy rivers?

Here are a few tips for the uninitiated. ...

32. About Malankara World

Foreword

by Dr. Jacob Mathew, Malankara World

Issue 250 - Issue CCL - Centum Triginta Tres Issue

With this issue, Malankara World Journal has published 250 issues. This is in addition to the mammoth web Library that was developed as part of this mission, that went into operation in 2009. WOW!!

Anyway you look at it, it is awesome.

With an average of 15 articles, we have published at least 3750 articles through this medium.

If we had just published every week, it would have taken 4.8 years to attain 250 issues. The Journal officially started publication on April 15, 2011. There were 175 weeks during this period. So, in addition to the regular weekly editions we also published 75 special editions. Some of these are noteworthy - Our Centum One and Centum Two Souvenir Editions, Women's special, Patriarch Specials, Specials on Christian Persecution, Suffering, etc. etc.

Thank you for your support for this mission. Hope that all the hard work we have poured into this mission is helping you.

This being the Advent Season, this issue's main theme is Advent Reflections. There also articles covering Self-Improvement (Personal/Career), Family, Health, Food/Recipes and Miscellaneous.

The word "Advent," means "coming" or "veni" in Latin. During the advent season, we recall/celebrate the various comings of Jesus on earth. We celebrate three "comings" of Jesus:

1. We commemorate His coming at Bethlehem about two thousand years ago on Christmas Day - We look back to that event. That is Christmas.

2. We also look "forward" to His Second Coming at the end of the world - something Jesus promised.

3. The third event is something personal to each of us. We commemorate His 'coming' within us - in our hearts. The Holy Spirit resides in us since our Holy Baptism. The Spirit comes into us when we receive the sacraments such as Qurbana (Eucharist).

The Church urges us to open our hearts to receive Him with faith, hope and love. The bible urges us to "stay awake" and to "be prepared" because we do not know the day or hour the Lord is coming (Second Coming of Jesus) to get us. In a very true sense we can say, "the Lord has come (on Christmas Day), the Lord is coming (when we accept our sacraments), and Lord will come again (at the second-coming)." We should be ready for Him always. In other words, we should be in advent preparation throughout the year - not just in December. We need to thankfully welcome him (when He knocks at the door of our hearts) and to wait for him.

Thus, advent is a time of preparation for the coming of the Lord. How do we prepare ourselves? Our church teaches us that this is through daily prayer, fasting, by receiving Holy Sacraments prescribed by the church, by being faithful to our commitments in life, by carrying our cross daily, by kindness towards others (charity and volunteerism), by avoiding all sarcasm and unjust criticism of others. To this list I will add two more: to abstain from comparing ourselves to others and to refrain from that Kerala disease, "para vekkal," an infectious disease more lethal than Ebola.

In the west, Christmas is synonymous with buying and giving gifts. There is nothing wrong in giving thoughtful gifts. However, we buy material things (stuff) without a second thought and give it with often an expectation of receiving something back. It completely destroys any benefit of "giving." Jesus told us that when we give, the left hand should not know what the right hand is doing. In other words, it should be unconditional and without expecting any return. The greatest benefit is when we do something for the suffering people, who have no way to repay us. That is the "gift that keeps on giving."

Instead of material things we can volunteer to help, visit elderly and sick and do some urgently needed errands for them. There are many lonely people who appreciate a visit from you. It will be appreciated more than any material things you give.

Giving in such context is also good for us. According to a 2014 study published in the journal of Psychology and Aging, volunteering can lower the risk of high blood pressure (hypertension) in older adults by up to 40 percent. Researchers looked at 1,164 adults between the ages of 51 and 91 over the course of four years. The individuals who volunteered at least 200 hours yearly lowered their hypertension risk by up to 40 percent.

Youth also benefit from volunteering.

A 2013 study published in the JAMA-Pediatrics examined how volunteering might affect the physical health of adolescents. Researchers divided 106 tenth graders into two groups - one group regularly volunteered one hour a week for 10 weeks, and the other group didn't volunteer at all. After 10 weeks, the students in the volunteer group had lower levels of cholesterol and inflammation, and lower BMIs (Body Mass Index) than the other group.

Charitable giving is highly prized. What matters most are not the gifts you brought, but the love you showed, the experiences you have enhanced, and the memories that you have created through your generosity to the recipients of your charity endeavors.

Experiences are worth much more than money, time matters more than physical gifts, and love is greater than all. That's what matters at Christmas, and throughout the year. God showed us that love trumps all by sending his only begotten son to save us. There is no higher love than when you give your life.

We wish you all a blessed advent season, a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Advent and Christmas Reflections

Rejoice, The Lord is Nigh
"Rejoice: the Lord is nigh." As Christmas draws near, the Church emphasizes the joy which should be in our hearts over all that the birth of our Savior means for us. The great joy of Christians is to see the day drawing nigh when the Lord will come again in His glory to lead them into His kingdom. The oft-repeated Veni (Latin for "Come") of Advent is an echo not only of the prophets but also of the conclusion of the Apocalypse of St. John: "Come, Lord Jesus," the last words of the New Testament.
What Is Advent?

by Justin Holcomb

[Editor's Note - Differences in Advent Traditions in East and West:

In this article and in the following ones, the description of Advent as practiced in Western Churches is given. It is different in the Eastern Churches, especially in the Syriac Orthodox Church. In SOC, for example, the Liturgical year of the church begins in early November with Koodosh E'to. The Advent begins after the Hoodosh E'to. On the Sundays after Hoodosh E'to, we look at the significant events that led to the incarnation of God on Christmas Day, viz., Annunciation to Zechariah and Mary, Mary's Visit to Elizabeth, Birth of John the Baptist, Revelation to Joseph and finally, the Genealogy of Jesus. The looking forward to the Second Coming of Jesus is done after the Soonoyo Feast and before Koodosh E'to; in other words, at the end of the Church Liturgical Calendar. So, in a broad perspective, both Eastern and Western Churches look forward to the Second Coming as well as look back at the Incarnation. The Western tradition does this in a month, whereas, the Eastern Churches look at it in about 3 months. Plese keep this mind while reading the Advent articles in this issue of Malankara World Journal.]

What Is Advent?

For many Christians unfamiliar with the liturgical year, there may be some confusion surrounding the meaning of the Advent season. Some people may know that the Advent season focuses on expectation and think that it serves as an anticipation of Christ's birth in the season leading up to Christmas. This is part of the story, but there's more to Advent.

The History of Advent

The word "Advent" is derived from the Latin word adventus, meaning "coming," which is a translation of the Greek word parousia. Scholars believe that during the 4th and 5th centuries in Spain and Gaul, Advent was a season of preparation for the baptism of new Christians at the January feast of Epiphany, the celebration of God's incarnation represented by the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus (Matthew 2:1), his baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist (John 1:29), and his first miracle at Cana (John 2:1). During this season of preparation, Christians would spend 40 days in penance, prayer, and fasting to prepare for this celebration. Originally, there was little connection between Advent and Christmas.

By the 6th century, however, Roman Christians had tied Advent to the coming of Christ. But the "coming" they had in mind was not Christ's first coming in the manger in Bethlehem, but his second coming in the clouds as the judge of the world. It was not until the Middle Ages that the Advent season was explicitly linked to Christ's first coming at Christmas.

Advent Today

Today, the Advent season lasts for four Sundays leading up to Christmas. At that time, the new Christian year begins with the twelve-day celebration of Christmastide, which lasts from Christmas Eve until Epiphany on January 6. (Advent begins on the Sunday that falls between November 27th and December 3rd each year.)

Advent symbolizes the present situation of the church in these "last days" (Acts 2:17, Hebrews 1:2), as God's people wait for the return of Christ in glory to consummate his eternal kingdom. The church is in a similar situation to Israel at the end of the Old Testament: in exile, waiting and hoping in prayerful expectation for the coming of the Messiah. Israel looked back to God's past gracious actions on their behalf in leading them out of Egypt in the Exodus, and on this basis they called for God once again to act for them. In the same way, the church, during Advent, looks back upon Christ's coming in celebration while at the same time looking forward in eager anticipation to the coming of Christ's kingdom when he returns for his people. In this light, the Advent hymn "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" perfectly represents the church's cry during the Advent season:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appears.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

While Israel would have sung the song in expectation of Christ's first coming, the church now sings the song in commemoration of that first coming and in expectation of the second coming in the future.

Advent Liturgy and Practice

To balance the two elements of remembrance and anticipation, the first two Sundays in Advent (through December 16th) look forward to Christ's second coming, and the last two Sundays (December 17th – 24th) look backward to remember Christ's first coming. Over the course of the four weeks, Scripture readings move from passages about Christ's return in judgment, to Old Testament passages about the expectation of the coming Messiah, to New Testament passages about the announcements of Christ's arrival by John the Baptist and the Angels.

While it is difficult to keep in mind in the midst of holiday celebrations, shopping, lights and decorations, and joyful carols, Advent is intended to be a season of fasting, much like Lent, and there are a variety of ways that this time of mourning works itself out in the season. Reflection on the violence and evil in the world cause us to cry out to God to make things right - to put death's dark shadows to flight. Our exile in the present makes us look forward to our future Exodus. And our own sinfulness and need for grace leads us to pray for the Holy Spirit to renew his work in conforming us into the image of Christ.

One catechism describes Advent spirituality beautifully:

"When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior's first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming. By celebrating the precursor's birth and martyrdom, the Church unites herself to his desire: 'He must increase, but I must decrease.'"

Advent and the Christian Life

While Advent is certainly a time of celebration and anticipation of Christ's birth, it is more than that. It is only in the shadow of Advent that the miracle of Christmas can be fully understood and appreciated; and it is only in the light of Christmas that the Christian life makes any sense. It is between the fulfilled promise of Christ's first coming and the yet-to-be-fulfilled promise of his second coming that Karl Barth penned these words: "Unfulfilled and fulfilled promise are related to each other, as are dawn and sunrise. Both are promise and in fact the same promise. If anywhere at all, then it is precisely in the light of the coming of Christ that faith has become Advent faith, the expectation of future revelation. But faith knows for whom and for what it is waiting. It is fulfilled faith because it lays hold on the fulfilled promise." The promise for Israel and the promise for the church is Jesus Christ; he has come, and he will come again. This is the essence of Advent.

About The Author:

Justin Holcomb is an Episcopal priest and teaches theology at Reformed Theological Seminary and Knox Theological Seminary. Justin wrote 'On the Grace of God' and co-authored with his wife Lindsey 'Rid of My Disgrace' and 'Save Me from Violence'. He is also the editor of 'Christian Theologies of Scripture'.

Source: Christianity.com Daily Update

Messiah - Isaiah 61:1-4,8-11
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion--
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.
They shall build up the ancient ruins;
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.

For I the LORD love justice;
I hate robbery and wrong;
I will faithfully give them their recompense,
and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their offspring shall be known among the nations,
and their descendants in the midst of the peoples;
all who see them shall acknowledge them,
that they are an offspring the LORD has blessed.

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD;
my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,
so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise
to sprout up before all the nations.

- Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 (ESV)

The Messiah's Job Description

by The Rev. Charles Henrickson

Scripture: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

We read in the Gospel that St. John the Baptist came, proclaiming the arrival of the Savior and preparing the way before him. In doing this, John fulfilled the job description set forth for him in the prophet Isaiah, chapter 40, as John himself says, "I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord,' as the prophet Isaiah said." John came to proclaim the coming of the one coming after him.

But what about that one coming after him? What was his job description? The Christ--what will he come to do? Well, that too we find in the prophet Isaiah, only this time in chapter 61, the Old Testament reading for today. There we find "The Messiah's Job Description."

Christmas is only a few weeks away. Why is the celebration of Christmas an occasion of such great joy? The reason is because of what the coming of the Christ means for us. It all hinges on what he comes to do. And here in this chapter, he tells us.

The text begins with words that come from the Messiah himself: "The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me." This is the Christ speaking here. The Messiah. "Christ" is the Greek term; "Messiah" is the Hebrew. They both mean the same thing: the "Anointed One." As kings and priests and prophets were anointed in the Old Testament--they literally had oil poured over their heads, designating them as God's chosen servants, having his power and blessing and Spirit resting upon them--in an even greater way would the great King, the Messiah, be anointed with the Holy Spirit, empowering the Christ for his office, showing that this man in God's choice. Of course, this is what would happen to Jesus at his baptism, when the Spirit came to rest upon him in the form of a dove, and the Father's voice came from heaven, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."

And this anointing, this empowerment, is for a purpose: to enable the Christ to carry out his office. What follows, then, is the job description of what the Messiah is called to do. As we look at the list now of those various items, I think we can group them into two sections. The Messiah is coming to proclaim good news and to provide new garments. Let's look at each.

First, to proclaim good news. That would cover what's said here in the first couple of verses: "The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God."

This is the Messiah's work of proclamation. Look how many of these things have to do with proclaiming, announcing, preaching. Jesus Christ is the Word of God come from heaven. He is the Word made flesh. He comes to make God known to us. His preaching, his whole ministry, his very self--Christ himself in his coming is the proclamation of the good news. He comes announcing the arrival of the kingdom of God, the kingdom of eternal blessing, now here, in and through God's Son.

Look at the things he proclaims: good news to the poor; binding up of the brokenhearted; liberty to the captives; and the opening of the prison to those who are bound. See how the good news proclaimed fits the situation of the persons in need.

How about you? Do any of those situations describe you? Poor, brokenhearted, captive, prison-bound? Are any of those true of you, either literally or figuratively? Are you economically poor? The Messiah has good news for you. God is for you, and he will take care of you. Do you realize your spiritual poverty? Good news for you, too. God bestows the riches of his grace precisely on the empty-handed.

How about brokenhearted? Is that you? So many disappointments in your life, a sense of loss, not the least of which may be how you've let yourself down. Good news: The Lord God is sending the Messiah to bind up your wounds. God heals broken hearts. He restores our wholeness as persons, beginning now, and fully when Messiah comes again.

"To proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound." We put ourselves in prisons of our own making. The devil too tries to trap us with his tricks, and sometimes he succeeds. Christ comes to burst those bars. "If the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed."

There's more: "To proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God." Two sides of the same coin. Favor for us, vengeance on the enemies of our souls. "The year of the Lord's favor" means the time of his grace, "God's Riches At Christ's Expense." It means the canceling of all our debts, the great Jubilee. "The day of vengeance of our God" means that God defeats for us our biggest enemies, sin, death, and the devil.

Good-newsing the poor, binding the brokenhearted, liberating the captives, releasing the prisoners, favoring us and defeating our enemies--these all are the things that the Messiah comes to proclaim. But he comes not only to proclaim them, he comes to perform them! He not only announces these things, he achieves them. He doesn't just speak about these wonderful works, he does them.

How? The Christ performs what he proclaims by coming among us poor and brokenhearted ones, entering our hall of death, sharing our sorrows, and suffering and dying to put an end to them. Jesus himself was led captive to the cross, where, ironically enough, he defeated our enemies--sin, death, and devil--by taking all our sins upon himself and taking the death that we all deserve. As a result, this now is the year of God's favor toward us. We benefit by receiving the riches of God's grace, in the forgiveness of sins and eternal life and salvation. Good news, proclaimed and performed!

So that's the first part of the Messiah's job description: to proclaim good news. The second part then follows: to provide new garments. Here's what I mean. When the Messiah says what the Lord has anointed him to do, he continues by saying: "to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion--to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit." There's a clothing exchange here. There's a taking off of grief garments going on, and a putting on of joyful, lively clothes. New clothing, a whole new wardrobe.

Death, disease, sickness, sorrow, the loss of loved ones, the aging process, our bodies wearing down, just an overall sense of loss and regret--the travails of this life can wear us down, cause us sadness, even mourning. We've got our grief garments on, and that can certainly be understandable, living as we do in this vale of tears.

But then here comes this big surprise. The Messiah is coming, and he's got a whole new line of clothing for us to try on. If you've been wearing ashes, to symbolize your "burnout," if you will, and the humble acknowledgement of how rotten of a sinner you've been, then the Messiah has something different for you to wear: a beautiful headdress, something that a priest or a king would wear. Noble stuff, that. In place of the emblems of mourning and sadness, the Messiah puts on your head the oil of gladness. You too get to be anointed and feel the refreshment of God's Spirit! Have you been fainthearted, despairing, lacking confidence in God? Here comes the Christ, and he places on your shoulders the garment of praise. It's a brand-new, beautiful choir robe, as you join the chorus of praise to our God.

To provide new garments to replace the old, worn-out clothes that God's people have been wearing--this is in the Messiah's job description. And that then becomes our song of joy before God, as our text says. This is now us speaking: "I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels."

Dear friends, in Holy Baptism, the Lord God clothed you with the robe of Christ's perfect righteousness. This is your new garment, which you wear daily. This is the white robe you will wear for eternity, our robes washed white in the blood of the Lamb. What a wardrobe the Messiah has provided for you! Your sins washed away, Christ's righteousness covering you--I tell you, this new garment is you! Actually, it's Christ, and his robe fits you perfectly.

To proclaim good news and to provide new garments--this is the Messiah's job description, as found in Isaiah 61. Jesus Christ is that Anointed One. John the Baptist announces his arrival. If you could use some good news, if you would like to wear those new garments, the Messiah is on his way, and he will do the job.

Veni Redemptor Gentium
(Come, Thou Redeemer of the Earth) - The Best Advent Hymn

by Msgr. Charles Pope, Archdiocese of Washington

For my money the best Advent hymn ever written is Veni Redemptor Gentium (Come Redeemer of the Nations) written by St. Ambrose in the 4th Century.

One of the beautiful things about the ancient Latin Hymns is how richly theological they are. Not content to merely describe the event in question, they give sweeping theological vision and delve into the more hidden mysteries of each event.

So here we are beginning Advent and Jesus is coming, get ready! Well yes, but he is not just coming, he is redeeming, dying, rising, ascending and reigning at the Father's Right Hand! But how can we get all that into an Advent Hymn? Well, just below you can read the text and see how.

Full vision – But for now ponder the theological point that hymns like this make. And it is this: that no act of God can merely be reduced to the thing in itself. Everything God does is part of a sweeping master plan to restore all things in Christ, to take back what the devil stole from us! Too often we see the events of our redemption in a disconnected sort of way, but it is all really one thing, and the best theology connects the dots. It is not wrong for us to focus on one thing or another, but we must not forget it is all one thing in the end.

Without this reminder, we can develop a kind of myopia (a limited vision) that over-emphasizes some aspect of redemption and thus harms the rest by a lack of balance. In the 1970s and 80s we had all resurrection all the time, but no passion or death.

Christmas too has its hazards as we get rather sentimental about the "baby Jesus" but miss other important aspects of his incarnation. The passion and death are present in his birth in homeless poverty, the swaddling clothes, the flight into Egypt and so forth. The Eucharist is evident in his birth at Bethlehem (House of Bread) and his being laid in a manger (feed box for animals). His glory as God and his ultimate triumph are manifest in the Star overhead and the Angels declaration of glory! You see it is all tied together and the best theology connects the dots.

Among the theological truths treated in this brief hymn are these: His title as Redeemer, his virgin birth, his inclusion of the Gentiles, his sinlessness, his two natures but one person, his incarnation at conception, His passion, death, descent into hell, ascension, his seat at the Father's right hand, his divinity and equality with the Father, his healing and sanctification of our humanity so wounded by sin, his granting us freedom and eternal life, his renewing of our minds through the light of faith, his opening of heaven to us.

Not bad for seven verses! And now the hymn:

Veni Redemptor Gentium

by St. Ambrose (4th Century)

Come, thou Redeemer of the earth,
Come testify thy virgin birth:
All lands admire, all times applaud:
Such is the birth that fits our God.

Forth from his chamber goeth he,
That royal home of purity,
A giant in twofold substance one,
Rejoicing now his course to run.

The Virgin's womb that glory gained,
Its virgin honor is still unstained.
The banners there of virtue glow;
God in his temple dwells below.

From God the Father he proceeds,
To God the Father back he speeds;
Runs out his course to death and hell,
Returns on God's high throne to dwell.

O Equal to thy Father, thou!
Gird on thy fleshly mantle now;
The weakness of our mortal state
With deathless might invigorate.

Thy cradle here shall glitter bright,
And darkness breathe a newer light,
Where endless faith shall shine serene,
And twilight never intervene.

All laud, eternal Son, to thee
Whose advent sets thy people free,
Whom with the Father we adore,
And Holy Ghost, for evermore.

Video of Veni Redemptor Gentium

This video gives you an idea of what the hymn tune for Veni Redemptor Gentium sounds like. The words in this version are slightly different but the hymn tune is perfect. Try not to dance as it is sung. You can find the melody for this hymn tune in the hymn tune index of most hymnals. This hymn tune is called "Puer Natus." The words to this hymn however can be sung to any Long Meter (LM) hymn tune.

You Tube Link

Vocal - Tough to follow

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RlMVzsELjK8&feature=player_embedded

Veni Redemptor Gentium - From the Album 'State of Grace'
Instrumental - very captivating music.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6iMG_cq9L9s

The King Who Comes in the Name of the Lord

by The Rev. Charles Henrickson

Gospel: Luke 19:28-40

When [Jesus] had said these things, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, saying, "Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' you shall say this: 'The Lord has need of it.'"

So those who were sent went away and found it just as he had told them. And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, "Why are you untying the colt?" And they said, "The Lord has need of it." And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it.

And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road. As he was drawing near--already on the way down the Mount of Olives--the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!" And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples." He answered, "I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out."
- Luke 19:28-40 (ESV)

The month of December prior to Christmas is called Advent. (For Syriac Orthodox faithful advent begins on the Sunday after Hoodosh E'to in November.) Advent is a special season unto its own, worthy of our due attention. Most people forget what advent is. They are busy caught up in the "busy-ness" of the season.

The word "Advent" means "coming." Advent is the season in which we anticipate Christ's coming and prepare for it. Advent is the season when we see Christ coming to us and among us, and we praise him for it--which is exactly what happens in the Palm Sunday reading (given above), isn't it?

Jesus is coming to Jerusalem, as the King, as the Messiah sent from God, and the people praise him as he draws near: "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!" And this is the same Jesus who comes to us and among us now, on this Sunday, in this Advent season, and really, throughout the entire church year. And finally, he will come for us on the last day. That is why this reading about the riding--Jesus riding into Jerusalem--works as the Gospel for the First Sunday in Advent and the first day in the whole church year (western lectionary). Because it presents Jesus to us as "The King Who Comes in the Name of the Lord."

Why do we need a king who comes to us like this? Because he comes in the name of the Lord. God has sent this king to us. He comes from heaven to establish the kingdom of heaven here on earth. That is what Jesus' ministry was all about, to bring the kingdom and the blessings of heaven among us, God's gracious reign and rule. In his preaching, Jesus announces the arrival of this kingdom. "Repent," he says, "for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Jesus calls us to recognize our sinfulness, to see how we've blown it, how we have not lived according to God's good design. In his teaching, Jesus describes the surpassing worth of the kingdom of heaven, how wonderful it is. He expounds the true meaning of God's law, our Creator's design for his human creatures to live. Jesus calls disciples to come and follow him, to learn from him in a personal relationship. We see the kingdom of heaven in Jesus' mighty works, as he brings the blessings of God's end-time kingdom in ahead of time: restoring creation, healing sick bodies and minds, repelling and casting out the works of Satan, the enemy who tempts and afflicts us. This is the kind of king Jesus is. This is what he comes to do. And this is why we, like the crowds at Jerusalem, hail him as our king.

And so this is who is entering Jerusalem on that donkey's colt. The king. "The King who comes in the name of the Lord." In fact, this Jesus is God's own Son, come from his Father in heaven. And he is riding into Jerusalem to do the biggest, most kingly job of them all. And in the most surprising way. This king rides into Jerusalem to suffer and die. But this is how the kingdom comes--the end-time-blessing kingdom, the kingdom of God and of heaven, the kingdom of grace now and future glory--this is how the kingdom comes, namely, through Jesus Christ coming into Jerusalem to suffer and die. For you. Yes, for you. "Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation."

We need this king, don't we? We don't have a righteousness of our own that will work before God. Our sins preclude and prevent that. As we prayed in the Collect, we need to be "rescued from the threatening perils of our sins and saved by the Lord's mighty deliverance." And this is precisely the salvation that King Jesus brings when he rides into town.

Your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation. "Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you." Christ is the only one who lives the righteous life that God requires. And yet he dies the death of sinners, in our place. His righteousness gets applied to our account. God's justice is satisfied by Christ's death on the cross, for this is the very Son of God who sheds his blood for us. Only this king, Jesus Christ, can do the righteousness-and-justice job that is sufficient to save us.

And it does. Christ's resurrection proves it. Your baptism into Christ connects you to him. And so you too will rise, with Christ. Trust in him for everlasting life.

"Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!" Sounds a lot like what we sing in the Communion liturgy, doesn't it? "Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord." And it's no accident. We sing these words at that point in the service because Christ himself is about to come to us--with his salvation, for the forgiveness of our sins--as he gives us his very Body and Blood in the Sacrament. Yes, there is an Advent going on here today. Christ our King comes to us here in the Divine Service, righteous and having salvation.

And so how do we respond? Like the multitude at Jerusalem, we praise him. We praise our king who comes to us. "Blessed"--yes, blessed--"is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!" Worship is the natural response when you see this wonderful king coming in our midst. We praise him with our hymns. We praise him with our voices. The praise comes from our heart, where the Holy Spirit is working through the Word to stir us up to faith and praise. Heartfelt praise and worship is the rightful response for such a great king.

We praise our king for his coming at Christmas. We praise him for his coming into Jerusalem to suffer and die and rise again on our behalf. We praise him for his coming among us here, bestowing his blessings in Word and Sacrament. And we praise him, knowing that he will come again, at the end, to raise us up to eternal life.

It's Advent. This is the season of Christ's coming. We anticipate it with expectation and hope. We prepare for his coming with a repentance that will change how we live. We see Christ coming to us and among us with the eyes of faith. And therefore we praise him. "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!"

Dear friends, this is what is happening here this Advent: Preparation. Hope. Repentance. Praise. Let this Advent be a proper Advent for you. Don't let the hustle and bustle of Christmas cause you to miss out on the special blessings of the Advent season. This year take some time to let Advent do its work in you.

Awake until the Coming of Our Lord

by The Rev. Charles Henrickson

Gospel: Mark 13:24-37

[Jesus said:] "But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

"From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

"But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake--for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning--lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake."
Mark 13:24-37 (ESV)

Our message today is based on Mark 13:24-37. Mark 13 is the chapter in Mark's gospel that has what is often called Jesus' "Eschatological Discourse."

"Eschatological Discourse": That's a big fancy term that means the section where Jesus is talking about the end times, the last things. The last things that Jesus covers include the judgment that's coming on Jerusalem, which happened in A.D. 70, as well as the judgment that's coming on this whole unbelieving world, which will happen on the day when Christ returns.

Judgment on Jerusalem, judgment on the world: Jesus deals with them both in this chapter, and sometimes it's difficult to tell which one he's talking about at any given point. That's because the judgment that would come on unbelieving Jerusalem serves as a miniature, a microcosm, of the judgment that will come at the end of world. The destruction of Jerusalem serves as a perpetual warning throughout history of the judgment to come on the Last Day--judgment on the whole sinful, unbelieving world that has rebelled against her Creator and rejected God's appointed Savior, Jesus Christ.

But it's not just judgment that we find in Jesus' words in Mark 13, there is also plenty of salvation, enough for you and me. It's all there, both judgment and salvation, judgment and salvation at the coming of our Lord. For example, Jesus speaks of the coming judgment when he says: "But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken." In other words, there will be cosmic, cataclysmic chaos, the likes of which we have not seen yet, immediately before the return of Christ. The natural order of the universe will become unraveled. The world as we know it will be coming to an end.

What will happen next? Jesus tells us: "And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory." This will be the visible return of Christ when he comes to judge the living and the dead. Every eye shall see him. For those who have rejected and dismissed Christ, thinking they don't need a Savior, this will be a sight of dread and terror.

But for us who do know our need, who do believe in the Savior God has given us, the visible return of Christ will be the most beautiful sight we could see. Our Lord is coming to deliver us from the chaos and destruction! He's coming to take us home! That's what will happen for us. Don't miss the note of hope here in our text when Jesus says: "And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven." This will be the gathering of God's people from all around the globe, the giant homecoming of all the believers, the church of all ages and in all places. What a gathering that will be! So you see, it is not just judgment that is coming at the Last Day, it is also salvation, salvation for all who trust in Christ.

Are you ready for that day? What will make you ready? In a word, faith. Not just "faith" in any old thing. Not faith in yourself, certainly. You won't find anything meriting salvation in you. No, there you will find only sin and shame and things worthy of God's judgment: shameful thoughts, hurtful words, deeds that fall short of how God would have his human creatures live. If your faith is in your own goodness, you will have a shocking jolt when you have to face the Day of Judgment. You will not pass.

How will you be ready for that day? Will it be by having faith in some sort of a generic "God," a higher power of your own imagination? No, that won't cut it either. The god you suppose, the creation of your own opinions--this is not the true God, the one and only God who reveals himself in Scripture and who has made himself known in the person of his Son Jesus Christ. If it is not this God you are trusting in, you do not have God, you do not know God, and you will not be ready.

For it is only in knowing Jesus Christ by faith that you have forgiveness for your sins. Only the death of Christ on the cross is enough to wipe away the unfavorable record that you have in the courtroom of heaven. Jesus took all of your sins and died for them, the very Son of God in the flesh shedding his holy blood on your behalf, taking the judgment you deserve upon himself and wiping the record clean. More than that, his righteousness, his right standing with the Father, gets applied to you. God therefore pronounces you not guilty. Charges dismissed. You are free.

Free and forgiven for Christ's sake, now you await Christ's return, not with fear or dread, but rather with hope and expectation. We Christians look forward to what is to come as a result of what Christ has done for us. This is the faith that God has created in our hearts, to trust in Christ Jesus our Lord. This is what it is to be ready.

And so the key thought that Jesus delivers to his disciples here in Mark 13 is always to be ready, whenever he may return. We don't know when that will be, the day of Christ's return. It could come at any time. Contrary to the date-setters, we cannot predict that day. "Concerning that day or that hour," Jesus says in our text, "no one knows." "Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come."

To emphasize the point, Jesus tells a little story: "It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake--for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning--lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake."

"Stay awake": That's the bottom line.

Keep the lamp of faith burning bright. Keep ever watchful, as you wait for your Master's return. Awake and alert and active. Awake with the watchful eye of faith. And active, doing the work our Master has given us to do while we await his return.

Awake with faith.

What will keep you awake, what will keep your faith going with eyes wide open? Well, what is it that creates and nurtures Christian faith? Answer: Only the gospel, the good news of our Savior that comes to us in Word and Sacrament. These are the means that the Holy Spirit uses to keep us awake and watchful and ready. Dear Christian, you need to be receiving the Word and Sacrament constantly, regularly, week in and week out, in order to be and to remain ever watchful, spiritually awake and clear-eyed. Otherwise, cut off from these gospel means, you will become spiritually drowsy, and, God forbid, you might even get hypnotized by the world's spell and fall asleep, which is to be spiritually dead, to lose your faith. You don't want that. So stay awake. Stay with the means that God uses to keep you awake and alert, responding in repentance and faith to the Word of God as it is preached and sacramented to you.

And as we stay awake, we will have work to do.

The servants who are waiting for their Master's return are not just standing around with nothing to do. No, we have lots to do! There is the work God has entrusted to his church, to spread the gospel in the places where we live and to take that good news to the ends of the earth. We do this both individually and collectively. Individually, we share our hope in Christ with our friends and family and neighbors here in our community. We invite them to come and join us in God's house, where they can hear more of the good news God has for them. And we do this work collectively as well, as we support the ministry of our congregation with our time, talents, and treasures, and as we extend our outreach around the globe through the work of our church body. Awake and waiting means that we have work to do, important, meaningful work that the Master has entrusted to his servants. So let's do it.

"Awake until the Coming of Our Lord."

Advent is a wake-up call, my friends. This is a time to be alert. Our Master is coming back--we don't know when, but he is coming back--and we want to be ready: clear-eyed and active and looking forward in faith and hope to the salvation that Christ is bringing with him on the day when he returns.

Advent - The Courage to Wait

by Margaret Manning Shull

In the world of quirky factoids and interesting anecdotes, I have often heard that if one lives to be seventy years old, one will have spent three years of life just waiting. Waiting in line at the grocery store; waiting in the doctor's office; waiting in traffic; waiting for lunch to be ready; waiting for recess time at school; waiting. In his book, Oh, the Places You'll Go, children's author Theodor Geisel, or "Dr. Seuss," describes a place called "the waiting place." It sounds like the place most of us inhabit. He describes it as a useless place where people are just waiting.

Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.

Sometimes waiting feels useless and futile. We are waiting around for what, exactly? Waiting is an in-between space difficult to inhabit. Patience is tried; restlessness is a constant companion, or a listlessness that comes from the tedium of waiting. Of course, the ability to wait patiently is something we admire in others, but find difficult for ourselves. Patience is something I can admire in the driver behind me, for example, but not in the one ahead of me!

Waiting is counterintuitive in our busy, fast-paced world. When our daily lives are made up of high speed Internet, instant messaging, and fast food, waiting for anything seems like an eternity. Moreover, in a world where so much beckons to us, waiting asks us to be still and this can feel meaningless. The English poet John Milton once wrote that those who serve, stand and wait. Indeed, waiting asks us to be disciplined, self-controlled, and emotionally mature as the world speeds by us. Waiting requires an unshakeable faith, hope, and love that will trump all the action done for the sake of expediency. Waiting is often a good, hard work.

Waiting also comprises a large part of the Christian worldview. But it is not the useless waiting of "the waiting place" that Dr. Seuss writes about, nor is it simply waiting for certain things or events, a trip or a raise, or even fulfillment. Christians await the return of Jesus in glory.

The season of Advent that precedes Christmas is a season of hope-filled, lament-filled, expectant waiting. Advent looks forward in anticipation of Christ's return, but also remembers all those who awaited his arrival into our world more than 2,000 years ago. Advent is a season of stillness and reflection, and honest longing in the dark, and as such, it is the antithesis of all the busyness and chaos and boxed happiness of the Christmas shopping season.

The consumer mentality overwhelms and demands a fever pitch of activity. Sadly, any waiting one might do is more likely waiting for Christmas to be over. And rather than being filled with hope and joy, we wait in a state of anxiety, or cynicism, or harried indifference toward the miracle that is upon us. In all of our busyness, we miss the gift of waiting with expectation and longing.

Yet, the Advent season extends an invitation to do just this: to watch and wait for the coming of the King, to wait for the Christ who comes in new ways into the very messy stuff of our lives—not just one season a year. But we cannot hope to catch a glimpse of him without the hard waiting for him to show up.

Of course, there are those who feel they have been waiting far too long for God to show up in the messy details of their lives. Giving up on waiting seems to hold the promise of rest, as the work of waiting for God to act is wearisome. Just as there were those in the early days of the Christian movement who began to ask with lament "Where is the promise of his coming?" and those who mocked the divine silence as inactivity, it is not difficult to understand how those who wait for answers—for an end to suffering, for reconciliation, for transformation - are tempted towards cynical despair.

Is there hope in remembering that Advent invites us to wait for the God who does show up? Can encouragement be found in the celebration of Christmas, a celebration proclaiming that God has come and that God will come again in the waiting of today? Is there reason to watch and wait for a God who arrives in ways we could not expect? As a helpless baby born in the dregs of a stable?

Advent invites the world to wait, and that waiting requires great courage. The very act of waiting opens eyes, hands, and hearts to receive this most precious gift.

About The Author:

Margaret Manning Shull is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Bellingham, Washington.

Source: A Slice of Infinity
Copyright © 2014 Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, All rights reserved.

Waiting for the Coming of Our Lord

by The Rev. Charles Henrickson

Scripture: 2 Peter 3:8-14

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.
2 Peter 3:8-14 (ESV)

Our focus today is on "Waiting for the Coming of Our Lord," based on the text from 2 Peter 3.

In this section of his epistle, Peter is talking about the Second Coming of Christ. At the time that Peter is writing this, it's been several decades since Christ ascended into heaven, and Peter himself had heard the promise that Jesus would return in like manner. But, as I say, that was several decades ago. So where is he? Where is Jesus? Why hasn't he returned yet? What's taking him so long? Some people were even using what seemed to be the failure of Christ to return--they were using that to ridicule the Christian faith. So this is the situation that Peter is addressing here in this section of the letter.

In the verses just preceding our text, Peter reminds his readers that it should come as no surprise that scoffers would arise in the last days. These scoffers were saying things like, "Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation."

Scoffers in the last days. Now if it was the last days back then, back in the first century, then we are in the even "laster" days now in the twenty-first. And the supposed "delay" in the return of Christ has now been going on for an additional close-to 2,000 years. This just gives ammunition to the mockers and the scoffers: "Oh, you Christians! Falling for a bunch of old wives' tales! You and your Jesus, the made-up Messiah! You're waiting for this Jesus to come back? Good luck with that! It ain't happening. Get wise and give up on your old myths. Forget your stupid religion, and do like we do: Live for the moment, satisfy your desires--oh, be a nice person, sure--but you don't need any old religion to spoil your fun. There ain't no pie in the sky. This is it. Make the most of it. You are your own god."

That is the attitude of the world around us. This is the sea we swim in. So it's a little hard to go against the flow. The world's mocking of the Christian religion, including one of our main tenets, which is the return of Christ on the Last Day--this scoffing of Christianity could even raise doubts in our mind. Why hasn't Jesus returned yet? Have we fallen for some big hoax? Is this whole Jesus-coming-back thing just a bunch of made-up hooey?

Peter addresses this. He says that those scoffers have a rude surprise in store for them when Judgment Day arrives. He says, "The heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly." Yes, there is a Judgment Day coming. The world, the cosmos, as we know it, will be destroyed. And the ungodly, that is, those who reject God and mock his word--they will be damned.

Then follow the words of our text, which begin: "But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness." You see, God operates by a different calendar than we do. There is no hurrying God. His timing is just right, even though it may not agree with ours. Whether it's a thirty-year "delay" or a "delay" of 2,000 years, it's really no delay at all. We're just a couple of days into the time between Christ's ascension and his return, if you look at it from the Lord's perspective. So we need to adjust our clocks to God's clock. Does anybody really know what time it is? God does, and that's what counts. He'll do what he has in mind at just the right time.

So why this seeming delay? Why hasn't Jesus come back yet? Peter tells us: "The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance."

Well, there's the reason. It's not that the Lord has forgotten his promise to return. It's that he is fulfilling his promise to bring sinners to repentance. It's out of his mercy that the Lord has not come back yet. He's giving more time for more people to be saved.

Yes, the Lord is "patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." You know, if God wanted to, he could have just zapped the world with fire a long time ago. It's not like there weren't enough sinners around to deserve it. The world is ripe for judgment, and has been for a long time. The defiance of us sinners, our rebellion against our Creator, the mockery of God and his ways, the violence and discord and havoc we have wreaked on the world--well, the fire could have fallen a long time ago. And God would be perfectly just in putting an end to it all any day now.

But then again, he might wait another couple thousand years. We don't know. What we do know is that God is busy saving sinners in the interim. The Lord is "not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." So this is the time for the preaching of Law and Gospel. The Law, to show sinners their sin, to show them their guilt and condemnation, that they are lost apart from God's mercy and headed to hell. The purpose is to bring us to repentance--to change our mind about ourselves and God, to dispel ourselves of the stupid notion that we're good enough on our own and that there is no judgment to come. Get rid of those thoughts, realize your sinfulness, and fear the judgment to come. That's what repentance involves. And God would do that necessary work in you and me. We are no less liable to the judgment.

But then comes the preaching of the Gospel, and it is sweet music to our ears. It tells us of a Savior sent from heaven, Jesus Christ our Lord. He it is who took the judgment we deserve. By his suffering and death on the cross, Jesus was our stand-in, paying for all of our sins with his holy precious blood. This is the ultimate demonstration of God's mercy and love for us, his sending of his own Son to die for the sins of the world. With him there is forgiveness, forgiveness paid for with the blood of Christ.

So now the whole purpose of what seems to be a delay in Christ's coming again--the purpose is that the Word of God should be preached to all nations, bringing sinners to repentance and faith in Jesus' name. That's why we're still waiting. God is busy doing this evangelizing of the world.

But the day of the Lord is still coming, make no mistake about that. And that is what we are waiting for. Now on the one hand, it will be a day of dread and calamity, a day of wrath and ire--indeed, a day of wrath and fire. As Peter tells us: "But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed." And then Peter adds: "The heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn."

The first time God destroyed the world, back in the days of Noah, it was by water, in the great flood. This time, when God destroys the world for the second and last time, it will be by fire. The whole heavens and earth will be destroyed in a cataclysmic conflagration. This will be the divine do-over to end all do-overs. This whole corrupted creation, ruined by sin and futility and consigned to death and decay--it will all be wiped away.

But there's a new day coming, and this is what we Christians are looking forward to. Peter writes: "But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells." New heavens! A new earth! Oh, there will still be sky and earth and so on, but it will be wonderfully restored. Made new. This will be like the Garden of Eden and then some! God is a God of physical creation. Material stuff is his idea, it is not inherently evil. No, that there is a created world, that there will be trees and water and daylight and so on--this is a good thing. That you and I will have physical bodies--this too is a good thing. Jesus, you know, at his resurrection, was not some ghost, but had physical flesh and bone. And so will we.

Only, our bodies, and the new heavens and the new earth--these physical creations currently subjected to futility and decay--our bodies and the new creation will be perfectly restored, made new, according to God's design, glorious and no longer subject to the damaging effects of sin. This is something to look forward to! It will indeed be glorious, beyond our wildest imagination.

And one of the biggest things is that we will all think and do and live in the way that God intends for us to live, which is, righteously. You and I will do the will of our loving God, and we will do it gladly. Friends, "we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells." And we will be among those dwelling there.

And so--and here's the upshot of all of this--if the ungodly world with its sinful desires is going to be destroyed, and if there is coming a new creation in which righteousness dwells . . . if that is the case, then why don't we get started living that way--that is, righteously--right now? This is the point that Peter is making: "What sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God." And again: "Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace."

Wherever the Bible talks about the coming of the day of the Lord, there is always with it a call to holiness on the part of the people of God. We are waiting for, longing for, looking forward to, the return of our Lord and life in his kingdom forever. In the age to come, we will all be worshiping and serving the Lord with joy and gladness, without spot or stain or blemish to interfere. So let us now, even now, begin to live that way. That is the Bible's message to us as we consider the return of Christ. A holy life, as we wait for the return of our Lord. And the Holy Spirit will help us to live those lives of righteousness, dying to sin and rising to newness of life each new day.

"Waiting for the Coming of Our Lord." It is a call to patience, as we wait on the Lord's timing. It is a call for the church to spread the gospel, because God is wanting to use this time to bring more sinners to repentance and faith and salvation. And it is a call to holiness, as we who are saved look forward to new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness will be at home. Because, by God's grace, that will be our home, too.

Blameless at the Coming of Our Lord

by The Rev. Charles Henrickson

Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 (ESV)

In this three-part Advent series, we have been looking at, and looking forward to, the coming of our Lord. And by that, I mean his Second Coming, the Last Day, the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns on clouds of glory to render judgment on the earth. Accordingly, we have been speaking of the need to be "Awake until, Waiting for, and Blameless at the Coming of our Lord." This has been our series theme.

We began by hearing Jesus' parable from Mark 13, about the servants whose master went away but who could return at any time and how they need to be "awake until" his coming. Then we went to 2 Peter 3, and we talked more about what it is we are "waiting for," what will happen on the Last Day, both the terrifying judgment upon unbelievers and the wonderful salvation waiting for us who believe--the new heavens and the new earth, where righteousness dwells.

"Awake until," "Waiting for"--and now today our message is--"Blameless at the Coming of Our Lord." Will that be you? Will you be ready? Will you be found blameless? After all, that's the only way you can get in, is by being blameless. As we read a few minutes ago in Psalm 24: "Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully." Likewise, Psalm 15 states: "O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly and does what is right." Dear friend, if you want to dwell in God's presence, you need to be blameless.

Now if I look at my life in the light of God's commandments, I don't fare too well. My hands are not all that clean. My heart, not all that pure. Sad to say, my outward acts are soiled with sin. My inner thoughts and desires, polluted with impurity. I must confess, I have lifted up my soul to what is false--false gods, the idols I have worshiped with my time and attention, the values of this world, which do not line up right with God's ways: lust, pride, selfishness, disobedience to rightful authority, hatred toward my brother or sister. And I have sworn deceitfully. With my mouth I have said many times that I would walk in God's ways, but then I go out and do otherwise. My walk does not match my talk. And I have used my tongue to do other things that likewise betray my Lord, when I have used my tongue to tear down my brother or sister, to hurt and wound them, to harm their reputation, out of my own desire to look good and feel superior. No, I do not have a blameless record, far from it. And I suspect that is you, too. Not so blameless, when judged by God's just and holy law.

So what do we do? Where do we go? How can we ever hope to be found blameless at the coming of our Lord? Here we must flee for refuge to the infinite mercy of our God, for there is no hope in ourselves. Yes, God must do it, if we are to be found blameless.

And he does! This is the good news in our text today from 1 Thessalonians 5. Listen again to the blessing and the promise that the apostle Paul gives us there: "Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it."

"He will surely do it!" We can't. He will. Keep us blameless, I mean. God has washed away our uncleanness and our impurity, cleansed us in the blood of Christ. The law was pointing its accusing finger at you and me, and yet Christ stepped in and took the blame. He took all of the blame, the whole lot of it, when he ascended the hill of Calvary and there was lifted up on the cross. His holy blood was shed for you and me, the Son of God dying for sinners, the purely innocent one sacrificing himself so that we would be saved. This is how we are reckoned blameless, because of what Christ Jesus did for us. He took the blame, and he gave us his righteousness in its place.

God's judgment now, his verdict, is "Blameless." The spotless Lamb of God satisfies God's justice, and we are declared righteous for Christ's sake. This gift is received by faith, faith in Christ worked by the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament. And the Holy Spirit will keep us in that faith. The devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh will be tugging at us, trying to tear us away from Christ, trying to convince us that we're better off returning to the old ways. But God will strengthen us, keep us in the faith, keep us blameless at Christ's coming. Now we can speak the words of Psalm 18, where we read: "For who is God but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God?--the God who equipped me with strength and made my way blameless." Likewise, earlier in 1 Thessalonians, in chapter 3, St. Paul prays that the Holy Spirit would establish our hearts "blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus."

That is how it happens. That is how God does it, keeps us blameless at Christ's coming. It is the Holy Spirit's work of sanctification, keeping us strong in the faith, close to our Lord, and walking in his ways. This is what Paul means when he says in our text, "Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely." God sanctifies us, that is, he makes us and keeps us holy. To be "holy" means to be set apart for God's purposes, set apart exclusively for his use. We are God's holy ones, his saints, set apart to belong to him alone.

Dear Christian, God would sanctify you completely, through and through, your whole spirit, soul, and body. We do not compartmentalize our lives. "Well, I'll give God an hour on Sunday, and maybe a little extra time during Advent and Lent, but the rest of the time, my life is mine, for how I want to live it." No. No compartmentalization. God has redeemed the whole you. No dividing up of your time or your person. The whole you he has saved. The whole you he will raise up and restore on the Last Day. The whole you, spirit, soul, and body, will live together with the Lord and with all his saints for eternity. And so the whole you is what God is sanctifying even now.

Friend, God is calling you to a blameless life. Oh, to be sure, you will still stumble and sin, and you will always live solely by God's mercy and grace and forgiveness. But at the same time, you are called to live a blameless life. It is the life described in our text: "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil."

This blameless life has both a negative side and a positive side. Let me explain. On the one hand, it is defined negatively, you might say, that is, by what we are to avoid: "Abstain from every form of evil." This means to resist temptation, to flee from it, to not do things that conflict with God's commandments. Where do you need help, the Spirit's help, to do this? Ask God for help to avoid those evil ways of thinking and speaking and doing. And perhaps God will provide you with a fellow Christian, a brother or sister in Christ, to help keep you accountable in those areas. However he helps you to do this, God would have you "abstain from every form of evil."

Then, on the other hand, the blameless life is defined also by what we do, positively: "Hold fast what is good," our text says. Find out what are the good things that God would have you do, and do them: Works of mercy toward your neighbor. Kind words. Loving deeds. Worship and praise to our God. More regular church attendance. Bible study. Home devotions. "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." Look at that healthy, wholesome trio: Rejoice, pray, give thanks. This is a good, enlivening, practical pattern for us to live by, every single day. "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." This is God's good and gracious will, is it not? This is how God would have us Christians live in communion with him.

"Blameless at the Coming of Our Lord." Will that be you? Yes, it will be. And the reason I can say this so confidently is this: "He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it."

"Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Advent Preparation: Embracing the Story behind Christmas

by John Stonestreet

The holiday season can seem every bit as chaotic, random and thrown together as the play-lists of those obnoxious 24/7 Christmas music stations. Going from Black Friday to church pageants to being frisked by the TSA as we travel to sometimes awkward family gatherings strangely resembles going from the materialism of "Santa Baby," to the light spirituality of "The Little Drummer Boy," to "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," concluding with "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer."

And we end up feeling like Charlie Brown screaming at Linus, "Can't anyone tell me what Christmas is all about?"

So what do we do? Well, one important thing is to remember what Eric Metaxas reminded us, that it's not really Christmas season - it's Advent season, a time set aside by the church to help believers prepare to receive the fullness of Jesus' coming.

And it's not just in remembrance of His incarnation, coming to Bethlehem as a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, but also in anticipation of His return as the "Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory," who will "send his angels to gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens" (Mark 13:26-27).

Over the past few years, walking through this season of Advent in prayer, scripture and devotional readings has been a huge blessing to my family, my church, and to me personally.

Another thing that has really helped me is studying just how big this Christmas story is. Behind all the gifts, the carols, nativity scenes, and dinner parties is a narrative that spans from the creation of the heavens and earth to the re-creation of the heavens and earth.

Here's what I mean: All those characters we remember in the Christmas story - Mary, the Wise Men, Shepherds, Angels, Joseph, Zachariah, Elizabeth, Simeon - they all have something in common. They identified what was happening to them as being firmly rooted in the promises of God - promises to His people detailed in the Old Testament. Thinking like they did - that behind all of the noise and chaos of this time of year is a story being unfolded - has changed almost everything about how I approach Advent and Christmas.

And this Advent, let's look beyond all the glitzy schmaltziness of our culture's celebration of the holidays, and see the grand story behind Christmas, and prepare ourselves to celebrate the bedrock truth of our faith and the reason for our hope: Christ has come, and He shall come again.

About The Author:

John Stonestreet, the host of The Point, a daily national radio program, provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.

Source: Breakpoint.org

Advent: Reaffirming Faith in an Often Cynical World

by Dr. Michael Milton, President, Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC

Have you ever seen Miracle on 34th Street? It's a Christmas classic. The 1947 novel became a movie the same year, earning the author an Academy Award for the Best Original Story. The film itself was nominated for the top picture. Edmund Gwenn, who played Kris Kringle, won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. But who could ever forget the child actor, Natalie Wood, who won the hearts of viewers as Susan Walker, the little girl whose doubt in the existence of Santa Claus is transformed by her association with Edmund Gwenn's Kris Kringle.

"Miracle on 34th Street stands beside It's a Wonderful Life as one of the two most enduring of America's holiday movies," says Frank Beaver, professor of film and video studies at the University of Michigan. "As with Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street draws its continuing appeal by reaffirming ideas of faith in a modern, often-cynical world." (1)

"Reaffirming faith in a modern, often-cynical world" is what our business is all about as believers - not a faith in St. Nicholas or Father Christmas - but in the truth of the enchantment and wonder of the Almighty God of the universe who came to mankind as a Babe in a manger. So many today don't buy it - or at least they seemed unmoved by the reality of Christmas in the way they live their lives. The net effect of a lack of faith in Christ is to turn off the color to life; to become like little Susan Walker in Miracle on 34th Street, whose childhood was dour, expressionless, unromantic, and hopeless.

Unbelief turns off the color and turns down the sound of life as it was meant to be lived. But, faith in Christ, and faith in the God who changes things, who interrupts our lives with the glorious news of salvation by repentance and faith in Jesus, turns on the sound, lights up the soul, and causes mute men to shout for joy!

Just ask Zechariah.

In Luke 1:67 we have what is often called the Benedictus, from the first words of the prophecy: Benedictus esto Dominus Deus Israelis, meaning, "Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel." And in this Song of Zechariah, which is really a Holy Spirit inspired praise and prophecy, there is enough Gospel to turn the lights on in our lives.

Let's look at Zechariah's Song. As we examine this Song in light of the Singer's life, we might remark that this Song is:

The Song of a Heart Set Free (vv. Luke 1:59)

The father of John the Baptist, the holy prophet of God who preached repentance and faith and announced the arrival of Messiah, was a "righteous" man, "walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless" (Luke 1:6). The old priest and his wife, Elizabeth, had no children and had been praying for a child. But, time and age seem to conspire together to close the door on that. He was a good man. But his faith was suspect. In a dramatic scene, while Zechariah was ministering in the Temple, an Angel of the Lord told him that his barren wife, Elizabeth, would have a child - not just any child, but a child named John whose birth would signal a new day of rejoicing for many.

What did Zechariah do? He had an answer that sounded like Natalie Wood's character before she believed: "How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years?"

The Angel said, in effect, "I just came from God! That is how you know!" So, as a result of his unbelief, which is named as such by the Angel, Zechariah is made mute until the Word of the Lord is accomplished.

Mute. The sound turned off in his life. The judgment of God for his sin of unbelief matched the character of the sin: emotionless, expressionless, stilled, and lifeless.

Freedom Came Through Scribbling out a Name in Faith

Every aspect of the Word of the Lord was being brought about. Elizabeth was with child. She was filled, we are told, with the Holy Spirit as was the child within her. Unbelieving Dad is in quiet judgment, but by this time quite aware that God's Word is coming true.

In a dramatic scene, the last part of the prophecy of the Angel is unveiled. At the circumcision of the child, where the "Naming Ceremony" occurs, the priest asked, like I have at infant baptisms:

"What name is given this child?" Zechariah couldn't speak, so Elizabeth did. Everyone expected that his name would be Zach, Jr. (v.Luke 1:59), but Elizabeth surprised everybody and said, "No, he shall be called John."

Names were important to the Hebrew people. There was no name in their family like that. They questioned her about it. While the debate was going on, old Zechariah interrupted, with some scribbling on a tablet: "His name is John."

I love that! The scribbling was an act of faith by a man under judgment. From there, we see in verse 67 that the Holy Spirit came upon him and he preached like he had never preached before.

"Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people."

Some of you have seen what God has been doing in your lives. Faith for you today may be a little scribbling as you name what God has done for you. You're not ready yet to give a great testimony, but you can scribble out, "Jesus Saves Sinners!" You're not ready to preach any sermons, but you ought to be able to scribble out and name what happened to you, "God was in it! God did this! God is on my side! Praise His Name!"

The Song of a Heart Set Free

Socrates taught for 40 years, but his life and teaching have made no songs. Plato taught for 50 years, but he did nothing to cause the human soul to blossom with life. Yet, Jesus came and lived for only 33 years on this earth and taught only three years. His teachings, as well as His Person, His Promises, and His Power have inspired the souls of Raphael, Michelangelo and Leonardo de Vinci to paint glorious scenes; the hearts of Dante and Milton and Donne to erupt in poetic verse; and the Songs - O the greatest music and Songs of the Ages came from those whose lives were touched by Christ: Haydn, Handel, Bach, and Mendelssohn. All of these men composed to the praise of Jesus Christ. Indeed, it is said that Jesus Christ changed Mendelssohn's music from a minor key to a major key.

This is the picture of what happened to Zechariah. The music of the Lord invaded his soul. It is the music of wonder and joy and freedom when the Word of the God comes in power to announce that salvation is at hand.

I tell you that there is nothing I desire more than to preach the Word to you and turn on the lights, to turn on the color of living and see unbelieving souls burst forth with a song of a heart set free. O dear friend, let this Advent Song be yours today.

Now, let's get to the Song itself. As I said earlier, this Song is a praise and a prophecy. The first part of the Song is a praise and it is filled with worship for the Covenant God of Israel. The praise of the Lord is seen as Zechariah proclaims, "He has looked after His people and brought about redemption."

Now for any who think that old Zechariah was interested in political redemption for a nation, please look at Luke 1:74 and see that this Redeemer will bring freedom unto holiness and righteousness. In Luke 1:77 he preached about knowledge of salvation and remission of sins and a light to escape from the shadow of death. This Song praises God for deliverance from sin and the reign of the devil in the world. This is the announcement of a giant movement on the divine eschatological clock. A new era is upon mankind with the coming of Christ.

Now all of this together shows us a new way of thinking. Zechariah was a double-minded man and too fleshly to see what God was up to. But, now, he burst forth with a new Song.

The Song of a Mind Made Clear (vv. Luke 1:69)

In Luke 1:69, in this praise portion, Zechariah affirmed what Mary understood: The covenant of grace. Zechariah wove together the promises to David (v. 69), the promises to the prophets (v. 70), and the extent of the promises (since the world began v.70).

This reveals a mind made clear. Now Zechariah believed. His mind, previously clouded by religion by a hermeneutical approach that underestimated the love and grace of God, finally understood. His boy, John, would announce the arrival of the Redeemer. God's Promises were here!

The minds of men without Christ are clouded. But, more germane perhaps, is the fact that the minds of so many religious folk are clouded.

• By a failure to grasp the theme of Scripture

• By a dependence on religion, ceremony, where the reality becomes buried beneath the symbol

• By a deep-seated unbelief in the supernatural power of God and inability to see past their own experience, born out of a lack of faith in the God of Scripture.

Revival historically has been an act of God that destroys this sort of thing and transforms religion into a living relationship with the living God. People began to "think thoughts after God" because their minds are made clear. God is calling us to a vibrant Father, to an expectation of the power of God in our lives. He is calling us to clear our minds of bad, wrong, erroneous thoughts that lead to dull living if not downright sinful living.

Christ came. He was born. He died. He rose again. And nothing can be the same again.

The Song of a Soul Revived (vv. Luke 1:74)

Zechariah's songs, if you will, speak of the practical and metaphysical (transcendental) effects of the birth of Christ to the nation of Israel. Practically he says the key to victory over enemies is the coming of Christ. Transcendentally he says that this releases signals (v.74) the ability to worship God without fear, in holiness and righteousness.

What is Zechariah singing about?

The coming of Christ releases the true believer from the tyranny of others to live before the face of the Lord. This is what Paul was writing of in Romans 8:15:

For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, "Abba Father." The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs - heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.

And in Galatians 4:4:

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift.

A Christian who is happy and joyful is a true Zechariah who has had the renewal of the soul. This is a free man who is singing about his new found relationship with His God because of Christ.

Conclusion

Zechariah concludes his song with a prophesy over his son, John. John will be a prophet (v. Luke 1:76); lead the way (v. 76); and preach on how to be saved (vv. Luke 1:77). John, Zechariah's son, will lift up Christ as the Light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

In the end, this is "A Joyous Song for Sad People." It's not "the blues," which is a Sad Song for Sad People, but a joyful and triumphant invitation to people living in darkness to embrace the Light of Jesus and be released from the shadow of death. It is an invitation to have the lights switched on in life; to have the color turned up in living.

Jesus is Life, and without Him is death. Turn to Him today and live. Meditate upon Him and enjoy life rather than be crushed under it.

It's a joyous Song for sad people who have no peace. In Christ there is perfect peace.

The old Dutch scholar, William Hendriksen, listened to the music of Zechariah's song and remarked that his exuberant song has objective and subjective tones to it:

Objectively it amounts to reconciliation with God through David's horn, the Rising Sun, the Messiah. Subjectively it is the quiet and comforting assurance of forgiveness and adoption. It is the smile of God reflected in the reconciled sinner's heart, the shelter from the storm, the hiding-place in the shadow of His wings, the stream that issues from the fountain of grace. To that peace the Rising Sun directs our feet. (2)

Do you enjoy that peace today?

This Song arises from a heart set free, a mind made clear, and a soul renewed. Across the ages and through the presence of the Lord today, this is your invitation to end the stillness of your soul and muteness of your life without the Spirit of God in you.

About The Author:

Dr. Michael Milton (Ph.D., University of Wales, Lampeter) is an ordained minister. He serves as the fourth chancellor and chief executive officer of Reformed Theological Seminary, and is a regular contributor to christianity.com.

References:

1. Quoted from the University of Michigan Information Services home page.
2. From The New Testament Commentaries: The Gospel of Luke (Baker Books, 1978), 129.

Immanuel: God Is with Us

by Greg Laurie

"Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people."
- Luke 1:68

Immanuel: God is with us - God came to us. What a staggering thought. It is really the essence of the Christian faith and the Christian life. All other religious ideologies essentially tell you that you must do something: Do this, and you will find inner peace. . . . Do this, and you will reach nirvana. . . . Do this, and maybe you will make it to heaven. But Christianity says it is done - done for you at the Cross, paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ.

Being a Christian is not merely following a creed; it is having Christ himself live in you and through you, giving you the strength to be the man or woman He has called you to be. Jesus said, "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20) and "I will never leave you nor forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5).

The message of Christmas is God with us. That is important to know, especially during those times when we are going through great difficulty. The psalmist said, "If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me" (Psalm 139:9-10). It is great to know that God is with you wherever you go.

The Bible never teaches that we will have problem-free lives as followers of Christ. But the Bible does teach that we never will be alone. And because of that, we don't have to be afraid. As Ray Stedman said, "The chief mark of the Christian ought to be the absence of fear and the presence of joy."

That is the message that this sin-sick world needs to hear: Immanuel - God is with us.

Copyright ©2012 by Harvest Ministries. All Rights Reserved.

The Humility of Being Human

by Katherine Britton

"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness." - Philippians 2:5-7

I'm a Christmas carol snob, I guess, as I scorn most songs written in the past 30 years. I do have notable exceptions, however, when the lyrics go beyond the kitsch of "All I Want for Christmas Is You" and other such piffle. We have more than enough American Christmas songs, but there's always room for a thoughtful reflection in the canon of carols. So yes, I make an exception for the CCM favorite "Welcome to Our World." Here are some of the lyrics:

Welcome to Our World

Hope that you don't mind our manger
How I wish we would have known
But long awaited Holy Stranger
Make yourself at home
Please make yourself at home

Fragile finger sent to heal us
Tender brow prepared for thorn
Tiny heart whose blood will save us
Unto us is born
Unto us is born

So wrap our injured flesh around You
Breathe our air and walk our sod
Rob our sin and make us holy
Perfect Son of God
Perfect Son of God
Welcome to our world

So many Christmas songs focus on the joy of the season, and rightfully so. It's a joyous time, both culturally and spiritually. But occasionally I need to view the holiday from a different perspective - that is, from the viewpoint of heaven. From God the Son's perspective, becoming human was - to put it mildly - a huge demotion. Christmas began with an act of submission and humility on the part of the Son. The Creator consented to become one of the creation, with all of our blood, sweat, and tears. From the heavenly perspective, the Incarnation arrived with sorrow, as part of the Godhead separated himself physically from the Father. Christmas signals an arrival into our world, but a departure, however brief, from a greater world.

Jesus' demonstrated humility is just one of the reasons the Incarnation should inspire such awe in us. Yes, the Incarnation dignified a downtrodden humanity. But the Incarnation also required sacrifice we can't begin to describe. All this before the ultimate shame of the cross.

The Puritan Thomas Watson meditated on Christ's humility with these words:

"He came not in the majesty of a king, attended with [a bodyguard], but he came poor; not like the heir of heaven, but like one of an inferior descent. The place he was born in was poor; not the royal city Jerusalem, but Bethlehem, a poor obscure place. He was born in an inn, and a manger was his cradle, the cobwebs his curtains, the beasts his companions; he descended of poor parents.... He was poor, that he might make us rich.... He lay in the manger that we might lie in paradise. He came down from heaven, that he might bring us to heaven."

Intersecting Faith & Life:

As you consider the joy of this holiday season - whether you're anticipating the unwrapped smiles, lighting the Advent wreath, singing carols, making cookies, or whatever - take time to consider the counterpoint. Our joy is Christ's first sacrifice.

Further Reading:

The Grace and Greatness of True Humility
Hebrews 2:6-11

Source: Crosswalk the Devotional

Jesus Brings Light to the World

By Dr. Ray Pritchard

Rembrandt, Adoration of the Shepherds, 1646
Rembrandt, Adoration of the Shepherds, 1646

"Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'" (John 8:12).

In 1646 the Dutch artist Rembrandt created a painting called "The Adoration of the Shepherds." It depicts his vision of what it was like for the shepherds to see the baby Jesus. The painting is dark because it is a night scene inside a barn. The dark tones force the viewer to study the images carefully. In the center is the Babe in the feeding trough. Mary is by his side, Joseph not far away. The shepherds are gathered around, intently studying the baby whose birth was announced by the angelic choir. If you look into the gloom, you can see outlines of the sheep. The shepherds couldn't leave their sheep outside so they brought them into the barn with them. To the right a rickety ladder leans on a crossbeam. Next to the ladder is a rooster.

Soon it hits you that the ladder and crossbeam make the dim outline of a cross. The rooster is a symbol of betrayal in the distant future. Even in this joyous moment, the cross looms over the baby Jesus. But the most significant feature is the light. Unlike other Renaissance artists, Rembrandt didn't paint Jesus as an angel with a halo. He is a very normal, very human baby. All is dark in the painting except for the baby in the manger. The light isn't shining on the baby; it's shining out from him. This was Rembrandt's way of saying that all hope and light shines from the manger - lighting up a darkened world. This beloved Christmas carol says it well:

Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love's pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.

Is there hope in the world? Yes! Hope invaded the world 2000 years ago at Bethlehem. If we want that hope to invade our lives, we must do what the shepherds did so long ago. We must come to Bethlehem and bow before the newborn King. Hope is available but only to those who will humble themselves and bow in faith before the Lord Jesus Christ.

Will you bow before him and crown him as your King?

Lord Jesus, there will always be room in my heart for you! Amen.

Source: Keep Believing Ministries

Self Improvement

How to Succeed in Any Circumstance

by Whitney Hopler

Success isn't just for the good times in your life. You can be a successful person no matter what changes you experience – even in the middle of the worst circumstances life may throw at you.

That's because true success isn't dependent on circumstances. Success is rooted in biblical principles that will help you maximize the upsides of life, mitigate the downsides, and succeed as much as you can all the time.

Here how you can succeed in any type of circumstances:

Learn how to interact successfully with forces that are larger than you.

You don't have any control over most of the circumstances that you'll encounter in life, but you do have the power to choose how to respond to those circumstances. So instead of worrying about what life may throw your way, choose to trust God and follow His guidance come what may. During any type of circumstance, interact with waves of change to do everything possible to create the outcomes you desire.

Act on what you know.

You're constantly absorbing information, but how are you applying it to your life? It's crucial to act on information that's truly important, in order to live a successful life. Ask the Holy Spirit to renew your mind regularly and help you think about information critically so you can recognize what's most important. Determine what factors may be preventing you from putting the knowledge you gain to use in your life. Do you have some bad habits, such as procrastinating or making excuses when God is calling you to act on what you know? If so, pray for God's help to overcome them, and work to replace bad habits with good ones.

Change your success scoring system.

How do you keep score of your life to determine whether or not you're successful? Keep in mind that God's perspective on success is the only one that really matters. So base your ideas about success on biblical principles. Be clear about what's important to you, as well as why it's important. Honestly count the costs (financially, relationally, and ethically) of pursuing your goals, and carefully consider how much time, energy, and money you'll need to spend to achieve your goals. Then you can work toward a clear vision of success in which you truly believe, and evaluate your progress along the way.

Be an optimist.

The difference between obstacles and opportunities is your outlook, and the best outlook to have to purse success is optimism. Be skeptical (but not cynical), asking questions to constantly learn. Choose reality over fantasy, not denying what's happening in your life but instead choosing how you interact with your circumstances. Be fully informed, yet choose to focus on the good instead of the bad. Invite God to inspire you through whatever experiences you go through by giving you a fresh perspective on them. Look for the humor in every situation. Learn from your failures and keep pursuing opportunities to succeed.

Never stop learning.

The more you take advantage of the constant stream of learning opportunities that God brings your way, the more success you'll enjoy. So evaluate the information that you encounter each day (considering its source, what evidence supports it, how relevant it is to you, and how well it fits into your life), make investigation and inquiry a way of life, think critically and form your own opinions, adapt to the changing world around you, design your own ongoing education program, and schedule time often for disciplines that help you learn, such as praying, reading, participating in training, talking with others, and reflecting on what God has been teaching you lately.

Keep producing value.

At work, your success depends on your ability to consistently create value in what you produce. Figure out what needs you can help meet while drawing on your unique, God-given blend of talents. Keep adapting to the changes around you so your work can stay relevant and valuable to people. Update your technical skills regularly so they stay current and valuable. Serve and encourage people whenever you can, because people will always value those qualities.

Take care of the relationships that matter.

Invest your time and energy regularly into nurturing relationships that matter most in your life: relationships between you and God, and between you and the people who value you. Take advantage of all opportunities to express love for the people you're close to, and also to serve them. Get to know what they really need, and put their needs ahead of your own.

Keep innovating.

Never settle for maintaining the status quo in your life. In order to be successful in a competitive world where others are always trying to get better, you must do so, too. The best way to keep improving the value of what you produce is to constantly be innovative, trying new things and coming up with creative ways to help meet people's needs and solve their problems. Make the value that you create distinctive in some way, aiming to stand out above the competition by offering something for more benefit, something better, something faster, something different, something for less cost, or something that's more fun.

Build reserves.

Prepare yourself to succeed during crises and other challenging circumstances by building financial, physical, psychological, and spiritual reserves into your life so you can draw on them when necessary. Financially, pay off debt and save money. Physically, eat a nutritious diet and get enough sleep and exercise. Psychologically, release stress when you can, and build networks of close relationships for mutual support and encouragement. Spiritually, draw close to Jesus through disciplines like prayer and Bible reading, so you can experience the peace He gives.

Practice gratitude.

Be intentional about noticing your blessings every day, and thanking God for them. That habit will cast negative thinking out of your mind.

Embrace discipline.

Make time to consistently act on your intentions. Figure out what your priorities should be, and base your schedule on them so you can get high-priority items done first. Modify your activities so that you're focusing on what matters most. Eliminate bad habits that waste your time and energy.

Surround yourself with the right people at the right times.

During good times, you need humility and perspective to succeed, so surround yourself with people who keep you grounded. During okay times, you need a boost to succeed, so surround yourself with people who challenge you to keep moving in the right direction. During bad times, you need hope to succeed, so surround yourself with people who lift your spirits.

Adapted from 'Up, Down, or Sideways: How to Succeed When Times are Good, Bad, or In-Between', copyright 2011 by Mark Sanborn. Published by Tyndale House Publishers, Carol Stream, Ill., www.tyndale.com.

Mark Sanborn is the president of Sanborn & Associates, Inc., an idea lab for leadership development. In addition to his experience leading at a local and national level, he has written or coauthored eight books and is the author of more than two dozen videos and audio training programs on leadership, change, teamwork, and customer service. He has presented more than 2,400 speeches and seminars in every state and a dozen countries...

Source: Live It Devotional

The Best Way to Succeed Faster

By Robert Greene

"You get one shot at life and you have to do what you love and what you care about. We all know rich people who are miserable so ask yourself, 'What would I be doing if I didn't get paid for it?' and do that. If you're good enough at it, eventually you'll get paid for it." - Neil Strauss

Let's say you have to learn French. If it's something you have to study in university, you're not going to learn very much in one year. But if you're in France and your girlfriend is French and you need to get a job where you need to speak French, you're going to learn much, much faster because you're motivated. That's just how the brain works.

You're never going to master something unless you understand this: We learn much better when we are emotionally engaged, when we want to learn, when we are motivated, when we feel the need to learn.

A lot of people go wrong because they choose a career for money. I have nothing against money. We all have to make a living.

If you go into law because your parents pushed you into it, or because it seems lucrative, but you aren't personally excited by it, you're going to start tuning out. You aren't going to learn very fast. You're going to burn out. You'll never become a master. You'll never be able to put in the 10 years or more of studying something unless you really are excited about it. There must be a personal commitment to it.

It doesn't mean you have to know exactly what you want to be when you're 21 years old. It's going to be a process that might take you five or ten years to figure out exactly what that is.

For me, it took 15 years to find out I should be writing books like the kind that I write. It's going to take time. But if you don't make that first step – if you go into the wrong field – you're never going to become a master. You're never going to last long enough.

The Process to Find Your Subject of Mastery

Everybody has a different process, a different journey. Some people knew clearly what it was when they were young. I met a woman who interviewed me. She knew that she wanted to be a writer when she was a young girl and then she got into law and it was a dead end and she hated it. She finally figured it out, at the age of 31, that she had to go back to what she really loved.

Some people will be like that. Others who come to me and say, "I have no idea what my passion is. I have no idea what I really love." In my work as a consultant, I have dealt with people, many people, who say that to me. They say, "I am 35. I'm 40. I don't know what it is that I was meant to do. I really have no idea."

That's troubling because that means you're not listening to yourself. You're not aware of your own likes and dislikes. You have been paying too much attention to what other people are saying. You have to go through a process now of looking at yourself.

  • Go back and look at your childhood.
  • Look at the things that excited you.
  • Look at maybe where you went wrong.
  • Look at the things you hate.
  • Look at the subjects that really excite you when you open the newspaper or go online.

It could take a couple months, it could take a year. It depends on the person. You're reconnecting to what I call a voice inside of you that you had when you were a kid, that drew you to certain activities that you have lost touch with.

I could go on for hours about the process that I use in consulting. But it's basically not going to be an overnight revelation. You're not going to wake up and go, "I should have been a doctor." It isn't like that. It takes time, but it's so worth it.

The Next Step

If you're 22 and about to enter the career world, it's usually a matter of "I like this field, the sciences" or "I like sports" or whatever. A general category of things that you're going to pursue. For me, it was writing.

When I was 21, I decided I would go into journalism as a way to make a living and train myself as a writer. You're going to make a choice of something to start with that is in some way related to that field that you love.

It can be general. It can just be the tech world. Or it could be a business. It doesn't have to be specific. But you've got to make the right choice. You want to think of your 20s as your apprenticeship. We don't use that word anymore, and it's a shame that we don't. We usually all go through the school system, the education system where we are all guided and there are teachers there to help us. Now there is nobody there to guide you in this new part of your life, so you're creating your own apprenticeship. An apprenticeship means you're going to have to learn new skills.

It's not about making money. If you're 22 and you're obsessed with making money, you're never going to really make a lot of money. It's a perverse law of human nature that I'm going to discuss. The people who end up making the most amount of money are usually motivated by something else.

The classic example is Steve Jobs, somebody who from very early on was clearly not very interested in money. And look where he ended up.

For your apprenticeship years, you're choosing something that appeals to you and now you're open. I call it a journey. You're going to discover you like what you're doing but there's something better for you. It's not exactly right.

After three years, I knew that journalism wasn't really right for me. I moved into a different kind of writing.

You'll figure, "Alright, I'll go into a different line of work, a different business. Still related." As you do this, you're going to be accumulating skills and experiences. You're going to be observing people. You're going to get political social skills. By the time you're 31, you're going to own the world. You're going to have a lot of experience. Then you will be able to figure out how to combine everything you've learned into something great that really appeals to you.

I give examples in my book, Mastery, where I interviewed contemporary masters. One of those, Paul Graham, started a company called Y Combinator, which is an entrepreneur system for tech people in Silicon Valley. It's worth billions of dollars, and he went through the same journey. He didn't realize until he was 30 what it was that he was meant to do. But in his 20s, he had all of these amazing experiences that served as a foundation for what ended up being this great tech business that he created for Netscape back in the '90s.

Be prepared not to necessarily strike gold when you're 25 or 26. It's going to take some time. But if you think of it as your own education that you, yourself are in charge of, you're going to be a lot better off than people who just wander around and just choose any career.

But What If You Are Older?

My father worked at the same company for 40 years. They were loyal to him, and he was loyal to them. It's not that long ago that a world existed where people would work at one place and things were sort of taken care of.

But that's been obliterated. You cannot rely on the company you're working for now. It will downsize you the first chance it can. Or as soon as you reach a certain age, it'll replace you with somebody who is cheaper. I wish it wasn't that way, but my book is about being realistic, and that's the nature of it. You've got to take control of your own life and craft and apprenticeship.

Your 10,000 hours can come from different things you have done in your life. For instance, this woman that I mentioned who spent her 20s in law and realized it was the wrong thing, she decided when it was finished, she would become a writer about legal issues, which was a brilliant move on her part. All that legal experience added up to 3,000 or 4,000 hours already of writing about legal matters. Then she started getting into journalism, and now the hours are piling up.

You can take the time you think you wasted doing something else and apply it to something that really appeals to you. Suddenly, all that experience enters into practice. I did a lot of really bad jobs myself because as a writer, I wanted a lot of experience. I did construction work, etc. All those jobs taught me about people and about weird power situations, about the games bosses play and all different kinds of careers. That helped me write my books.

If you are 35, you don't have to go, "Oh, darn it, I can't do 10,000 hours, my life is screwed." No, you have already probably done 5,000 hours. Now you have to find a way to apply those 5000 hours in a way that's appropriate and personal.

The worst feeling in life comes from the sense as you get older that you didn't somehow tap your potential, that you're not expressing what you think you could have expressed and it makes a lot of people very, very unhappy.

I don't think a lot of these people who we see as driven are necessarily unhappy. They do spend a lot of time with their work, and they are maybe obsessive. But that kind of attention to detail – to doing what you love – brings a sense of satisfaction that maybe isn't the same satisfaction that you might get from an immediate rush of going to a party. It's a different kind of happiness. It's something a little more like fulfillment. I believe that mastery is the path towards that.

I have a quote in there from da Vinci, which I love.

"A day when you have worked hard brings a blessed sleep. A life in which you fulfilled what you're doing brings a blessed death."

The idea is if you feel like you realized your potential, you almost feel like you can die a happy person.

[Ed. Note: What you've just read comes from the #1 New York Times Bestseller, 'Mastery' by Robert Greene. In it, Robert Greene studies the lives of current and historical masters--from Napoleon to entrepreneur Paul Graham, Temple Grandin to Charles Darwin--and reveals their secrets to success.]

Copyright © 2014 Early to Rise, LLC. 

Climb Every Mountain

from The Sound of Music

[Editor's Note:

It was 1966. "Sound of Music" came to Kerala. Since it was a 70 mm film, only theaters capable of showing the widescreen film could show it- no theaters in Kottayam qualified. I still remember that the closest theater it was aired was in Cochin. I saw it there on the way of returning to IIT Kharagpur after the Pooja break. What an experience it was! The movie came on screen with Julie Andrews singing, "The Hills are alive... with the Sound of Music" with the Austrian Hills highlighted. WOW! Since then I may have seen it at least 50-60 times; but the awe does not go away.

The film was also very educational. Remember the song,

"... For somewhere in my miserable life,
I must have done something good.

For nothing comes from nothing
Nothing ever could. .."

This film truly captured our attention and hearts by mirroring emotions that we have felt ourselves. In reaching for the stars, the song "Climb Every Mountain" teaches us that with personal initiative and persistence we will accomplish our dream.

Napoleon Hill stated: "Definiteness of purpose provides you with success consciousness and protects you against the influence of failure consciousness." When this happens, a person becomes convinced that he or she can succeed and refuses to accept the possibility of failing.

Read the lyrics below; listen to the song and meditate. You will grasp the idea of saturating your mind with all the potential you can muster. As you climb every mountain, remember to never relinquish your right to succeed at anything you desire as long as your desire does not harm another living human being.

In Winston Churchill's words: "Never, never, never give up!"]

Climb every mountain,
Search high and low,
Follow every byway,
Every path you know.

Climb every mountain,
Ford every stream,
Follow every rainbow,
'Till you find your dream.

A dream that will need
All the love you can give,
Every day of your life
For as long as you live.

Climb every mountain,
Ford every stream,
Follow every rainbow,
Till you find your dream

A dream that will need
All the love you can give,
Every day of your life,
For as long as you live.

Climb every mountain,
Ford every stream,
Follow every rainbow,
Till you find your dream.

Improving Your Performance at Work and at Home

6 Tips for Improving Your 'Lines of Gratification'

'The Michael Jordan of Lung Surgery' Lists Principles that Reliably Yield Success

As we enter the year's final month, Dr. Robert J. Cerfolio, a world-renowned cardiothoracic surgeon, says it's never too early to think about self-improvement for the New Year … and this year.

"Habitual procrastination can really hurt you in the long run because waiting to take care of something that's obviously important to you – health, money, family matters – weighs on your subconscious," says Dr. Cerfolio, known as "the Michael Jordan of lung surgery."

Understanding one's personal "line of gratification" is the foundation for sticking to self-improvement goals, he says.

"There are many kinds of lines of gratification," he says. "For some, they're the number of zeroes in their bank statement; for others, the curves of their muscles after they leave the gym. It's good and healthy to look back on your hard work and admire what you have accomplished before moving on to the next task."

Dr. Cerfolio, author of "Super Performing at Work and at Home: The Athleticism of Surgery and Life," shares tips on how to make those lines of gratification more impressive.

Be an early riser.

The main reason operating rooms hum into action at 7 a.m. is tied to human physiology; the bodies of patients are better able to handle the stress of surgery at that time.

"People are generally better off getting work done early in the day when we're better prepared for stress and performance," he says. "And getting a job done early frees you up later in the day."

Love what you do.

Why wouldn't you want to take ownership, responsibility and pride in what you do for a living? When you treat a job as only a means to a paycheck, you are missing the point. If your job isn't the one you'd really love to have, don't make it worse with a negative attitude. Instead, make it your own. Make it a point of personal integrity and principle to challenge yourself to achieve something every day. After all, 40 hours a week is a long time to stay anywhere.

Ask yourself: Did I really try my best?

"I tried my best" is a common refrain from those who haven't reached their goals. An honest response you can ask yourself is, "Am I sure?" This question is not about being overly critical. It's simply about realizing that, if you had practiced or studied an extra 10 minutes each day, you would've been that much closer to your goals.

Set specific, measurable goals.

Results define goals. Every individual should have clear goals that are objective and measurable. Goals such as "to be happy," "to do well at work" or "to get along" are too nebulous. To be successful, you have to be able to define your goals by measurable results.

Find the high ground.

In anything you do, aspire to live up to the noblest, highest aspect of your job. Certain jobs – such as police work, firefighting, teaching or working in health care – are service oriented, so it's easier to feel good about your contributions. Look for the contributions you're making in your job and take pride in what you're doing to make the world a little better.

Be the go-to guy or girl.

This takes time, practice and the confidence necessary to want the ball in a critical situation. Being the go-to guy or girl means being willing to take responsibility and risk failing. A go-to person is also willing to speak up about problems or changes necessary in a business or organization, and suggest solutions.

About Robert J. Cerfolio, MD, MBA

Robert J. Cerfolio, MD, MBA, is the James H. Estes Family Endowed Chair of Lung Cancer Research and Full Professor Chief of Thoracic Surgery at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. He received his medical degree from the University of Rochester School of Medicine, surgical training at the Mayo Clinic and at Cornell-Sloan Kettering hospital, and has been in practice for more than 26 years. The author of "Super Performing at Work and at Home," Cerfolio, who was a First Team Academic All-American baseball player in college, is a world-renowned chest surgeon and recognized as one of the busiest and best thoracic surgeons in the world. 

Family

Strengthening Marriages and Families

By James Beaubelle

Exodus 20:12 (NKJV)
"Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you.

Exodus 20:14 (NKJV)
"You shall not commit adultery.

Exodus 20:17 (NKJV)
"You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor's."

No less than three of the Ten Commandments - the fifth, seventh, and tenth - directly involve strengthening marriages and families and preserving their unity and sacredness. Of course, all of God's commands, if followed, will work to strengthen man's relationship with God and fellow man, but these three are aimed directly at securing these sacred bonds. When considering any of God's commands, we find that they are broad in scope and ordained, not just to regulate our physical relationships, but also our spiritual one with Christ.

The fifth commandment speaks directly to parents and children, laying the foundation of responsibility that each has to the other. When children submit to their parents, and parents provide a loving environment to nurture their children in lawful living, the children and society directly benefit from this command. Home government is the cornerstone of national government, and when the home is right, the social structure follows. When marriage and family unity are held in high esteem and a fear of violating God's standards is instilled, sin can be held in check. Hebrews 12:11 declares, "Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it."

The seventh commandment - forbidding adultery, unfaithfulness by either spouse - stands against anyone who would defile the sanctity of the marriage covenant through sexual sins. Adultery is probably the most dishonest act against the binding contract of the marriage relationship; it is a betrayal of a most sacred trust. Not only is it a sin against one's companion, but as Paul teaches in I Corinthians 6:18, it is a sin against one's own flesh. It has destroyed many marriages and families. A marriage can stand against many adversities from without, but this sin destroys it from within, and few, if any, marriages can truly recover from such infidelity.

Jesus says in Matthew 5:28 that adultery begins in the heart. It is more than an outward action, but a lust that comes from within. Christ teaches us how broad the law is, and sexual acts outside of the marriage covenant - even just the desire for them - breaks this command. In other words, if the desire is there, yet only lack of opportunity has kept a person from this sin, the law has still been broken.

The tenth commandment - "You shall not covet your neighbor's wife" (Deuteronomy 5:21) - is likely a precursor for warnings against many other sins. It defends against anyone who would come between a man and his wife, and like the seventh, its breaking also begins in the heart. Unlike the seventh commandment, which looks to protect the marriage from within, in the tenth commandment God protects it from without.

Strong marriages can stand up to outside pressures of this sort, but weak marriages that are battling other issues may not. How many marriages have been defiled or destroyed by the coveting of another cannot be known, but since God included it in the Ten Commandments, its potential harm against the sacred bond of marriage must be high.

When he coveted Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, King David assaulted the marriage covenant, and disaster soon followed. Breaking this commandment led to adultery and then to murder. In our society today, similar lusts are leaving destroyed families in their wake.

What Your Grandparents Can Teach You

By Marcus Brotherton

"Experience is not what happens to you; it's what you do with what happens to you." - Aldous Huxley

Your grandparents may still be living or they may be deceased, like mine. In any case the opportunity to learn from your parents' parents is one you should not let pass.

Grandparents, are a wealth of knowledge and can provide you with lots of insight. With the holiday season fast approaching, there's no better time to get together to swap stories with family, and think back to what you enjoyed and learned over the years.

Even if your grandparents have passed on, you'll still be able to learn from them. If you're not sure where to start? Here are a few categories to help prime the pump.

Learn from their work

When my grandfather Bob Lynes (1914-2002) was a young man, he worked as a dry land wheat farmer.

Water cost money, which he didn't have. So he depended on no other irrigation than the little that fell from the persistently hot and cloudless Montana sky.

Some years, particularly when he first started farming by renting land from other folks, crops were bad, and food for his young family was tight.

Then he risked everything, put a down payment on his own acreage, worked hard, and held his breath. In 1948, his first year on his own land, the soil yielded a bumper crop.

He paid off the mortgage and settled their bills, and one day after all the necessities had been paid for, Bob Lynes drove home in a brand new 1949 Ford sedan.

That happened before I knew him, but I can only imagine how he felt - a father of a young family - after so many years of hard work and disappointment and struggle and eating rabbits he'd shot himself because there was no other food for his kids…

And then one year was finally his year.

What did your grandparents do for a living? How did they navigate the ups and downs of changing economic times?

Learn from their idiosyncrasies

Montana farmers are known to be a breed unto themselves. Grandpa would rather plow a field than play baseball. And he was curious about everything.

If you were driving somewhere with him and he was behind the wheel, he'd be looking off to the side at a field wondering aloud how many bushels they got to the acre.

One time, when I was 5, he and Grandma were visiting us when we lived in Tsawwassen, British Columbia. It's a different climate in BC's lower mainland, all rain and dampness and green growth.

Grandpa spotted a piece of moss growing on a piece of driftwood by the sea and wondered what it tasted like. He popped it in his mouth, just for the experience, and chewed.

We kidded him about that for years. Hey Grandpa, remember that time you ate moss?

What unconventional things did your grandparents do? How was that part of the fun of being around them?

Learn from their gifts to you

My grandmother Hazel Lynes (1915-2003) could cook and can and butcher chickens and sew and quilt and knit and crochet and raise children and grow a garden and ride a horse and manage a laundry mat. Yes, she managed their retirement business but never really liked it. She was a farm girl at heart.

She was a petite woman, maybe 5 foot 2 if she stretched, but Greatest-Generation strong.

One day in her early 70s, she was out working in her garden and noticed a rattlesnake nearby. It wasn't coiled yet to strike her, but she couldn't let it go to threaten the neighbor's kids. Calmly, she chopped it in two with her hoe. Then she went inside and took her heart medication.

Right before I headed off to college Grandma made me a quilt. In my youthful self-importance I didn't appreciate the gift then as much as I should have, but I do now, nearly three decades later.

We still have that quilt, my wife and I. Its edges are frayed, and swatches of cloth have worn thin, but we use it for picnics. We sit our own kids down on that quilt on the front lawn in the summertime and eat burgers and fries, ice cream and shakes.

Did your grandparents give you material possessions? Or did they give you examples of strong character? How did their gifts impact you, and what was your reaction to the gifts?

Learn from their activities with you

A wildness exists in the hearts of Montana folks, a rebellion of necessity perhaps, and when kids grow up on a farm they need to be able to do useful things earlier than most.
Like drive.

Years before my older brother and I had our licenses, Grandpa let us drive his truck.

He'd take us out to the old ranch, where miles upon miles of gravel roads laced together, and he set us free. To a 12-year-old boy, there was nothing better than going 55 with one of your arms out the window, the other arm cool on the wheel.

What activities did your grandparents do with you that you appreciated most?

Learn from their strengths

Grandma was all love with the family. But she had her snake-chopping side too. Once when Grandpa Bob pulled out in traffic without looking, she called him a "blockhead." Immediately remorseful at the idea of slighting her husband, whom she loved dearly, she apologized to him - and to all of us in the backseat - for the next five miles.

When Grandpa was older, in his 70s, he sang solos at their tiny little church in Fort Shaw. The Old Rugged Cross was one of his favorites. In his younger days he was a moral man, but a Christian only in name. In his later years he got serious with God.

Grandma got sick and went into the hospital and nearly died, but she rallied. His wife's brush with death shook Grandpa's world, and he turned to his faith in new and deeper ways. His faith always seemed one of action, not of word. After he retired he volunteered down at the skid row mission, helping roughhewn men get back on their feet.

How did your grandparents' example of living match their belief systems, and how did you see their integrity demonstrated in real life?

Learn from their aging

Over time, they both grew old. Really old.

Grandma went blind in one eye, yet she seemed to accept the brutality of aging more naturally than Grandpa did. Grandpa always hated being old.

They moved from their house to an assisted living place. Then to a different one where they got more care. Then they moved across country to Roseburg, Oregon, to be near my aunt Wendy so she could look in on them. They hated leaving Montana, but the move was a practical need.

Grandpa had a series of mini-strokes and it was hard for him to talk after that. Most days, all he enjoyed doing was sitting in his chair watching old re-runs of M*A*S*H.

One day toward the end, while sitting at the table in their care home surrounded by elderly people in similar conditions, he and my mother were looking out the window at a field outside. She asked him, "Do you ever wish you could just jump on a tractor and go plow that field?"

Grandpa got a really bright look in his eyes, one that hadn't been seen in months. He turned to look at her and slowly said one word:
"Yeah."

How have your grandparents handled the aging process? Did they fight it or accept it? What did they enjoy doing most when they were young that they can't do anymore?

Learn from their legacies

Grandpa passed away first. To honor his earlier request, family members took his body back to Montana to bury him in the earth he loved so much. The land he worked with his hands for so many years.

Grandma died just eight months later. Care workers found her peacefully kneeling by her bed. Her last act on earth was prayer.

Family members took her body back to Montana and buried her next to Grandpa, in a small windswept cemetery, on a hill in Big Sky Country.

[Ed Note: Marcus Brotherton is a journalist and professional writer known internationally for his books and literary collaborations with high-profile public figures, humanitarians, inspirational leaders, and military personnel. He has authored or coauthored more than 25 books. Including New York Times bestseller, We Who Are Alive and Remain. Follow Marcus on his blog Men Who Lead Well.]
Source: ETR

Why Should I Reconcile When It's So Painful?

by Kris Swiatocho

It was a very cold night this past November when the phone rang. It was one of my brothers calling. This had become routine, as he was going through some life changes. He would call my mom almost nightly to talk, to share, and to ask for prayer. Then the one night came when he said he was coming home.

Home? It had been four years since my one brother had been home - really, since my dad died. Whether he stayed away to deal with the emotional pain of our dad's death, or because he was tied up with many responsibilities of work and family, or even something else, it didn't matter. He was coming home, and my mom was so excited. We worked especially hard cleaning and getting the house perfectly decorated. He would be spending four days with us before the rest of the family came. He needed this personal time.

After we walked the classic trip down memory lane (laughing, eating and shopping) my brother told us the main reason he had come home. He needed reconciliation. Not only with God, but also with each of his family members. Over the last several months, he had reconnected with the Lord in a way that broke the yoke of pain, desire for personal control, the inability to forgive, and anger. He didn't know why he had not come home in so long, and he was sorry.

He was ready to start over and to be healed. He wanted the future to be different.

Reconciling The Past

The one thing I can be sure about, is that estranged relationships marred by sin, betrayal, abuse, abandonment, and lack of forgiveness will not only keep us in the past, but will also affect all future relationships. It can lead to anger, hurt, resentment and separation.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10).

So why don't people seek reconciliation, considering how much it can help us?

Ignorance.

We didn't know there was truly a problem. We didn't know we had hurt someone. We didn't know that unresolved abuse or pain needs to be dwelt with.

Pride.

We have a tendency to think the other person is always at fault. As a result, no one wants to make the first step. No one seeks to reconcile, so no one heals.

Fear.

We think, what if they don't forgive me? What if I can't forgive them? What if they reject or laugh at me? What if they don't even remember what happened?

Laziness.

Reconciliation takes effort: If the relationship is worth having, it's work fixing, even if the reconciliation is for closure only.

Avoidance.

We want to avoid digging up all the pain again. But sometimes we need a wound cleaned out so it can properly heal.

Death.

If the person has died, we can still acknowledge the relationship by asking God for his help, and his forgiveness as needed. We can also go the family of the dead person to seek reconciliation.

There are so many reasons to seek reconciliation with others.

One is a need for closure.

So many of us dwell in past pain inflicted by someone else (or in some cases, for pain we caused, and the guilt with which we now live). Making an effort to reconcile will bring the pain to the light where healing can begin. Sometimes we need to tell someone something like "I forgive you" or "I'm sorry" so we can move on.

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times (Matthew 18:21-22).

Another need is that of rebuilding relationship.

We have no idea why God puts certain people in our lives. Taking the time to reconcile for rebuilding could change your life forever.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, "Come close to me." When they had done so, he said, "I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you" (Genesis 45:4-5).

Remember, before you can truly reconcile your past, you must first reconcile with Christ. Then as you seek God, he will give you what you need to reconcile your relationships. He will give you his power, his Spirit to help you. And remember, it takes time.

For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (Romans 5:10)

It was a great week with my brother. As he was packing up to go he saw a digital picture frame I had in the den. The pictures were of my dad and his last year on earth. Pictures of his anniversary, his birthday, and his last days with family. My brother turned to me and said, "I never saw those pictures before. I missed out somehow because I wasn't here."

That is why I made pictures, I said. And you know what, you are here now, and that's what matters.

About The Author:

Kris Swiatocho is the President and Director of TheSinglesNetwork.org Ministries and FromHisHands.com Ministries. An accomplished trainer and mentor, Kris has a heart to reach and grow leaders so they will in turn reach and grow others. She is the author of three books: "Singles and Relationships: A 31-Day Experiment" (co-authored with Dick Purnell of Single Life Resources); "From the Manger to the Cross: The Women in Jesus' Life"; and the most recent, "Jesus, Single Like Me with Study Questions".

Source: Christianity.com Daily Update

Enjoy Life Now! It Has An Expiration Date

by Michael Gartner

[Editor's Note: This is a wonderful article on aging written by Michael Gartner, editor of newspapers large and small and former president of NBC News. Gartner talks about his parents and his early family life. In 1997 he won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. This is well worth reading. A few good chuckles are guaranteed.]

My father never drove a car. Well, that's not quite right. I should say I never saw him drive a car.

He quit driving in 1927, when he was 25 years old, and the last car he drove was a 1926 Whippet.

"In those days," he told me when he was in his 90s, "to drive a car you had to do things with your hands, and do things with your feet, and look every which way, and I decided you could walk through life and enjoy it, or, drive through life and miss it."

At which point my mother, a sometimes salty Irishwoman, chimed in: "Oh, baloney!" she said. "He hit a horse."

"Well," my father said, "there was that, too."

So my brother and I grew up in a household without a car. The neighbors all had cars -- the Kollingses next door had a green 1941 Dodge, the VanLaninghams across the street a gray 1936 Plymouth, the Hopsons two doors down a black 1941 Ford -- but we had none.

My father, a newspaperman in Des Moines, would take the streetcar to work and, often as not, walk the 3 miles home. If he took the streetcar home, my mother and brother and I would walk the three blocks to the streetcar stop, meet him and walk home together.

My brother, David, was born in 1935, and I was born in 1938, and sometimes, at dinner, we'd ask how come all the neighbors had cars but we had none. "No one in the family drives," my mother would explain, and that was that.

But, sometimes, my father would say, "But as soon as one of you boys turns 16, we'll get one." It was as if he wasn't sure which one of us would turn 16 first.

But, sure enough, my brother turned 16 before I did, so in 1951 my parents bought a used 1950 Chevrolet from a friend who ran the parts department at a Chevy dealership downtown...

It was a four-door, white model, stick shift, fender skirts, loaded with everything, and, since my parents didn't drive, it more or less became my brother's car.

Having a car but not being able to drive didn't bother my father, but it didn't make sense to my mother...

So in 1952, when she was 43 years old, she asked a friend to teach her to drive. She learned in a nearby cemetery, the place where I learned to drive the following year and where, a generation later, I took my two sons to practice driving. The cemetery probably was my father's idea. "Who can your mother hurt in the cemetery?" I remember him saying more than once.

For the next 45 years or so, until she was 90, my mother was the driver in the family. Neither she nor my father had any sense of direction, but he loaded up on maps -- though they seldom left the city limits -- and appointed himself navigator. It seemed to work.

Still, they both continued to walk a lot. My mother was a devout Catholic, and my father an equally devout agnostic, an arrangement that didn't seem to bother either of them through their 75 years of marriage.
(Yes, 75 years, and they were deeply in love the entire time.)

He retired when he was 70, and nearly every morning for the next 20 years or so, he would walk with her the mile to St. Augustin's Church. She would walk down and sit in the front pew, and he would wait in the back until he saw which of the parish's two priests was on duty that morning. If it was the pastor, my father then would go out and take a 2-mile walk, meeting my mother at the end of the service and walking her home.

If it was the assistant pastor, he'd take just a 1-mile walk and then head back to the church. He called the priests "Father Fast" and "Father Slow."

After he retired, my father almost always accompanied my mother whenever she drove anywhere, even if he had no reason to go along. If she were going to the beauty parlor, he'd sit in the car and read, or go take a stroll or, if it was summer, have her keep the engine running so he could listen to the Cubs game on the radio. In the evening, then, when I'd stop by, he'd explain: "The Cubs lost again. The millionaire on second base made a bad throw to the millionaire on first base, so the multimillionaire on third base scored."

If she were going to the grocery store, he would go along to carry the bags out -- and to make sure she loaded up on ice cream. As I said, he was always the navigator, and once, when he was 95 and she was 88 and still driving, he said to me, "Do you want to know the secret of a long life?"

"I guess so," I said, knowing it probably would be something bizarre.

"No left turns," he said.

"What?" I asked.

"No left turns," he repeated. "Several years ago, your mother and I read an article that said most accidents that old people are in happen when they turn left in front of oncoming traffic.

As you get older, your eyesight worsens, and you can lose your depth perception, it said. So your mother and I decided never again to make a left turn."

"What?" I said again.

"No left turns," he said. "Think about it... Three rights are the same as a left, and that's a lot safer. So we always make three rights."

"You're kidding!" I said, and I turned to my mother for support.
"No," she said, "your father is right. We make three rights. It works."
But then she added: "Except when your father loses count."

I was driving at the time, and I almost drove off the road as I started laughing. "Loses count?" I asked.

"Yes," my father admitted, "that sometimes happens. But it's not a problem. You just make seven rights, and you're okay again."

I couldn't resist. "Do you ever go for 11?" I asked.

"No," he said " If we miss it at seven, we just come home and call it a bad day. Besides, nothing in life is so important it can't be put off another day or another week."

My mother was never in an accident, but one evening she handed me her car keys and said she had decided to quit driving. That was in 1999, when she was 90.

She lived four more years, until 2003. My father died the next year, at 102.

They both died in the bungalow they had moved into in 1937 and bought a few years later for $3,000. (Sixty years later, my brother and I paid $8,000 to have a shower put in the tiny bathroom -- the house had never had one. My father would have died then and there if he knew the shower cost nearly three times what he paid for the house.)

He continued to walk daily -- he had me get him a treadmill when he was 101 because he was afraid he'd fall on the icy sidewalks but wanted to keep exercising -- and he was of sound mind and sound body until the moment he died.

One September afternoon in 2004, he and my son went with me when I had to give a talk in a neighboring town, and it was clear to all three of us that he was wearing out, though we had the usual wide-ranging conversation about politics and newspapers and things in the news.

A few weeks earlier, he had told my son, "You know, Mike, the first hundred years are a lot easier than the second hundred." At one point in our drive that Saturday, he said, "You know, I'm probably not going to live much longer."

"You're probably right," I said.

"Why would you say that?" He countered, somewhat irritated.

"Because you're 102 years old," I said.

"Yes," he said, "you're right." He stayed in bed all the next day.

That night, I suggested to my son and daughter that we sit up with him through the night.

He appreciated it, he said, though at one point, apparently seeing us look gloomy, he said:
"I would like to make an announcement. No one in this room is dead yet"

An hour or so later, he spoke his last words:
"I want you to know," he said, clearly and lucidly, "that I am in no pain. I am very comfortable. And I have had as happy a life as anyone on this earth could ever have."

A short time later, he died.

I miss him a lot, and I think about him a lot. I've wondered now and then how it was that my family and I were so lucky that he lived so long.

I can't figure out if it was because he walked through life,
Or because he quit taking left turns. "

Life is too short to wake up with regrets.

So love the people who treat you right.

Forget about the one's who don't.

Believe everything happens for a reason.

If you get a chance, take it and if it changes your life, let it.

Nobody said life would be easy, they just promised it would most likely be worth it."

ENJOY LIFE NOW - IT HAS AN EXPIRATION DATE!

Health

Health Tip: Mindfully Mitigating Holiday Stress

by Kai Swigart, Ph.D.

Staging the Red Brick Playhouse Photo by Jeanne

Scintillating ballets of ardently choreographed magic, crackling, popping, and flickering into her edgy preoccupation; sooty specters wafting fragrantly toward the harvest moos prenatal party, celebrating the fluffy, flaky ice queens' eminent deliveries; radiating warmth caressing, and then fervently entering her growing awareness; from its iron-grated stage and red brick playhouse; gently eased the pulsating rhythms of her hamster wheeling mind out of its disquieting dolor and dollar signs. "WOW!!! What an amazing fire!" she exclaimed ecstatically, glancing up from her MacBook at the blaze she had kindled nearly an hour before. She then began noticing Sarah McLachlan's soothing rendition of White Christmas, the festive fragrances of her flickering spruce and cinnamon bell jars, the firelight dancing across her half-filled goblet of pinot, and the peace that was emerging all around her. She marveled at the beauty, and how lost she had become.

Mysterious Visitors

While the holidays, those mysteriously familiar visitors whose fluorescent footprints already trail across our mindscapes, calendars, and department stores; draw nearer, so do the conditioned expectations, emotions, and routines burdening their baggage. . As we welcome, or brace ourselves, for whatever they may bring us; there are things that we can do to boost our happiness, hope, and peace.

Our Choice of Greetings

Whatever our usual routines, the holidays add to their time, tasks, temptations, tab, and tensity. Whether we greet these yearly observances with peaceful acceptance, practical preparation, and joyful enthusiasm; or rancorous resistance, unrealistic expectations, and pressurized perturbations; is up to us.

Advanced Seasonal Training

Our material world experiences can be understood as life lessons in the curriculum for the soul. Its primary subject areas include self awareness, self acceptance, self control, inner healing, finding happiness, and attaining higher consciousness (like math, science, reading, writing, literature, and the arts of pedagogic academia). Its core courses include family, school, friendships, intimate partner relationships, loss, injuries, disabilities, conflict, suffering, careers, hobbies, causes, commitments, spirituality, and self care. Some life lessons offer advanced or in vivo learning opportunities. As with canine obedience training, within which we continuously increase the difficulty level by introducing more distractions, challenges, and temptations; our seasonal celebrations may similarly provide precocious potentials for personal growth. If we can maintain our mindful awareness, acceptance, and balance when faced with intrusive others, haunting memories, and frequent triggers; then we will be one step closer to the transcendence of our egoic stagecraft. "it happens when you develop the ego-strength to withstand exposure to other people without letting that exposure affect the core of your decision-making process."

Mele Kalikimaka: Taking a Time Out

When Uncle Koa screams explosively at the quarterback, startling Grandma and making baby Malu cry; when Auntie Lani shrieks at Koa's bellows, f-ing this and f-ing that, oh my oh my; when Mom gets drunk, and Dad gets drunk, then Cousin Giggles, says your a slut, your pink hair sucks, your fat ass jiggles; like Santa's belly, so plump and pretty, you want to kill her; reach for a drink, begin to think, walk out and spill your; guts to your sis, you moan and piss, she understands you; get in your car, drive to the bar, at home with Laulau; the family dog, check out your blog, and take a time out; back on your Mac, black sand out back, no doubt about it.

Stress and the Brain

Helping us sustain life during a time of crisis was the only intended purpose of negative emotions. Such misanthropic moods, like anxiety and depression; alert our brain to danger, narrowing the mind and limiting our options to only those that will help us survive, while focusing our attention on making it happen. They block out all other possibilities and courses of action. How often are we actually faced with life threatening situations, and yet how often do we experience negative emotions such as the anger, fear, sadness, or stress that can accompany anxiety and depression?

Imagine that you get into a doozy of an argument with your partner, that you are blinded by rage, and all you can think about is what you can do to hurt them back. Or imagine that you are in dire financial straits, on the verge of another bankruptcy, and the only thing on your mind is running away. Or that your job stress is so great you dread going to work, avoid it whenever possible, and feel so paralyzed by fear when you are there that you are unable to function.

Negative emotions trigger the instinctual responses of fight, flight, or freeze, creating the illusion that a life-threatening situation is occurring. Although clearly unpleasant - and although they could lead to, or result from, anxiety or depression - do any of these examples truly represent a threat to your life? The negative emotions generated by such situations limit our options and focus our thoughts on survival in the absence of a real threat - by doing so they may create an actual crisis.

Negative emotions typically last 3-5 minutes unless kept alive by repetitive thought. Usually, when fighting for our lives, we have either pummeled our attacker or raced to safety within this brief period. Again, such emotions were only intended to occur when we are under threat, and then resolve when the threat is gone. Therefore, when experiencing negative emotions such as anxiety or depression, one way to reset the brain from Survival Mode (stress response) back to Safe Mode (relaxation response) is to do some vigorous exercise for 3-5 minutes (e.g. running on a trampoline), and then focus on one of these 25 curative considerations. The exercise will mimic fighting or running away from the illusory threat (fight or flight), and then a focus on one of these positive activities will show the brain that we are safe and well; restoring balance, health, and happiness.

Odd Hints and Even Humor

In addition to the above prescriptions, here are some fun and practical ways to mitigate holiday stress:


1. Mindfulness:

Pay attention to what is happening around you right now. From these things, choose to focus on those that make you feel good. Make happiness your universe; make the universe your happiness; make both you and the universe happier.

2. Amusement:

It was Christmas Eve. A woman came home to her husband after a day of busy shopping. Later on that night when she was getting undressed for bed, he noticed a mark on the inside of her leg. "What is that?" he asked. She said, "I visited the tattoo parlor today. On the inside of one leg I had them tattoo ‘Merry Christmas,' and on the inside of the other one they tattooed ‘Happy New Year.'" Perplexed, he asked, "Why did you do that?" "Well," she replied, "now you can't complain that there's never anything to eat between Christmas and New Years!"

3. Giving:

Responsible giving generates physical, emotional, and spiritual well being. If you are low on cash, then don't spend it. This would only create additional stress. Consider crafts, cookies, or gifts of service as creative alternatives. Offer to provide child care for your stressed out friend and his wife so they can enjoy a special date night. Replace those tank-to-bowl seals on Grandma's hall toilet so she does not have to pay a plumber..

4. Banter:

A guy bought his wife a beautiful diamond ring for Christmas After hearing about this extravagant gift, a friend of his said, "I thought she wanted one of those sporty four-wheel-drive vehicles."
"She did," he replied. "But where was I going to find a fake Jeep?"

5. Adjusting Expectations:

Set your expectations to the truth of your life. Make the holidays managable, attainable, and meaningful. They will never be perfect, but they can be beautiful. Focus on what you do have, rather than what you do not have. Acceptance is the reason for the season.

6. Buffoonery:

Two young boys were spending the night at their grandparents. At bedtime, the two boys knelt beside their beds to say their prayers when the youngest one began praying at the top of his lungs.
"I PRAY FOR A NEW BICYCLE… I PRAY FOR A NEW XBox… I PRAY FOR A NEW iPhone…"
His older brother leaned over and nudged the younger brother and said, "Why are you shouting your prayers? God isn't deaf." To which the little brother replied, "No, but Gramma is!"

7. Forgiveness:

Forgive yourself, and those you are holding grudges against. This will improve your mood, broaden your perspective, and brighten your experience. It also makes a memorable holiday gift.

8. Clowning:

Q: What happened to the man who stole an Advent Calendar?
A: He got 25 days!

9. Balance Priorities:

Remember what is truly important, and invest your time accordingly. For instance, focus on your immediate family, forget about trying to impress extended family, friends, or your boss. Keep first things first in your life.

10. Comedy:

Q: What did the snowflake say to the fallen leaf?
A: You are so last season.

11. Stress Triggers:

Increase your awareness of those people, places, or things that bring on stress during the holidays, and seek to minimize or remove them. If the maddening crowds, long lines, and parking nightmares overwhelm you, then consider doing all your shopping on line. If joining your extended family for another fateful festivity (as in the Time Out example above) creates dread or panic, then don't go. Give yourself permission to start a new tradition.

12. Comicality:

Q: What kind of motorbike does Santa ride?
A: A Holly Davidson!

13. Saying No:

When you need to, just say no. Unresolved core personality issues may make us vulnerable to thoughts, words, and actions that are in conflict with our beliefs, priorities, and responsibilities. Such moldy baggage might include fears of failure, rejection, or abandonment; feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, or worthlessness; sensitivities to unfairness, victimization, or loss of control. Like prismatic ghosts, these remnants of unfinished business float around in our minds; coloring our perceptions, haunting our happiness, and terrorizing our lives. For example, if a parent left you as a child; through adoption, divorce, or dying; you may have grown up with sensitivities to abandonment, inadequacy, victimization, and loss of control. These sensitivities are your unresolved core personality issues. This set of issues could predispose you to feeling responsible for the feelings of others when you are not, never wanting to disappoint or hurt anyone else no matter how it affects you or your family, always saying "yes" when you want to say "no," trying to prove yourself, being a know-it-all, being hyper-sensitive to perceived unfairness, and feeling like you are being controlled if you are not completely in control. Give yourself the gift of saying no during the holidays.

14. Drollery:

Q: Who is Santa's favorite singer?
A: Elf-is Presley!

15. Creating New Traditions:

Whatever your spiritual affiliation, cultural heritage, or holiday rituals; give yourself permission to create new traditions that fit you and your immediate family. This is your right and responsibility. It is nothing to feel guilty about. It is something to celebrate.

16. Facetiousness:

Q: Did Rudolph go to school?
A: No. He was Elf-taught!

17. Family and Friends:

This is a complicated, tricky, and individually specific consideration; because our relationships with others are frequently the cause of our pain. Everyone is uniquely different, has varying needs, and is exclusively impacted by contact with specific others. If being a hermit during the holidays makes you happy, then enjoy your solitude. There is no right or wrong answer here. Some are too sensitive for this world, and find contact with people far too harsh, scary, and disappointing. This, for them, is totally okay; and should be accepted. Others crave social contact. Research has shown that, for some, staying connected with others during the holidays makes them happier. From my personal and clinical experiences, I must add that involvement with people can also destroy our lives. It is important to increase our awareness of how people affect us, and assertively adjust our boundaries in support of our needs. The sensitivity of our evolving awareness, or the uniqueness of our neurology may make some people, places, and things intolerable to us. It is important to learn these things about ourselves, and to give ourselves permission to say no, let go, and let life flow.

18. Farce:

Q: What carol is heard in the desert?
A: O camel ye faithful!

19. Self Care:

As with your car or truck, which needs more frequent care and maintenance when you drive it more or take it off-roading; your body, mind, and spirit need more when you put them through more. Rather than caring for yourself less because of your to-do lists, chaotic schedule, and unrealistic expectations; take the time to care for yourself more because you are doing more.

20. Flippancy:

Q: Why did the turkey join the band?
A: Because it had the drumsticks!

21. Financial Responsibility:

Remain mindful of your finances, budget accordingly, and spend within the limits of your resources.

22. Fun:

Q: What is the best Christmas present in the world?
A: A broken drum, you just can't beat it!

23. Helping Others:

Helping others is a proven way to help ourselves feel better.

24. Gag:

Q: What do a Christmas tree and a priest have in common?

25. Treats and Spirits:

Try not to increase your food and alcohol intake during the holidays. Overeating causes depression, hormonal imbalances, and electrolyte disturbances. Alcohol is a depressant, and can intensify the shade of your seasonal blues.

26. Gaiety:

Q: What do you call an elf who sings?
A: a wrapper!

27. Rest and Recovery:

During the holidays, take the time you need to rest and recover. As mentioned in the Self Care section above, because you are doing more, you need more care and maintenance. Take naps, get a massage, say no, and remove some things from your list. Don't wait until after the holidays to do it. Do it now.

28. Happiness:

Q: Why is Christmas just like your job?
A: You do all the work and the fat guy with the suit gets all the credit.

29. Simplify:

Consider your To Do list a brainstorming exercise. Now go down it and eliminate 50-75% of its items. Ask yourself "Will I die tomorrow if these things cannot be done?" Get rid of the ones you can live without.

30. High Spirits:

Q: Why is Santa so jolly?
A: Because he knows where all the naughty girls live.

31. Flexibility:

Remain open to the unexpected, the unusual, the different, the changing.

32. Jest:

Q: Why doesn't Santa have any kids?
A: He only comes once a year.

33. Refocus:

Turn your attention away from those unrealistic expectations, hundreds you want to buy gifts for, and ego issues haunting your dreams; toward your family, your health, and good things.

34. Jesting:

Q: What's the difference between the Christmas alphabet and the ordinary alphabet?
A: The Christmas alphabet has Noel.

35. Delegate:

Like Santa, enlist the aid of your elves. Don't be afraid to ask for help.

36. Jocosity:

Q: What do you call people who are afraid of Santa Claus?
A: Claustrophobic.

37. Persistence:

After establishing realistic expectations, just keep swimming.

38. Jocularity:

Q: Why the Christmas tree can't stand up?
A: It doesn't have legs.

39. Pace Yourself:

Don't try to do too much at once. Break it all down into managable chunks.

40. Joke:

What do you call an obnoxious reindeer? RUDEolph..

41. Protect Yourself:

Insulate yourself and your immediate family from unnecessary intrusion, disruption, and stress. Use this as a time to clarify boundaries, set limits, and practice saying no.

42. Joking:

Q: Why was Santa's little helper depressed?
A: Because he had low elf esteem.

43. Writing:

Whatever its focus, research has demonstrated that writing decreases stress and improves our mood. Journaling, blogging, and crafting poetry will make us happier.

44. Joyfulness:

What do you call a can wearing a Christmas hat?
A Merry Can (American)

45. Elevate:

Broaden your perspective through gratitude, giving, helping others, and meditation. This will make you a healthier, happier you.

46. Kidding:

Q: What's the difference between snowmen and snowladies?
A: Snowballs.

47. Remain Peaceful:

Calmness makes it easier to deal with challenging situations. Try not to engage emotionally, conversationally, or physically with stress-producing people, places, or things. Breathe deeply, hold on to the truth of your life, and let the potential stressors pass over you like a wave. Keep on smiling.

48. Levity:

Q: What nationality is Santa Claus?
A: North Polish.

49. Love and Laugh:

Remember to shower the people you cherish with love, light, and laughter. It helps us keep things in perspective and makes us happy.

50. Wit:

Last year, I asked Santa for the sexiest person ever for Christmas. I woke up in a box.

Source: Motivational Medicine Blog by Dr. Kai

Food/ Recipes

Recipe: Dresden Stollen Recipe - German Christmas Fruitcake

by Dr. Shila Mathew, MD., Food and Living Editor, Malankara World

This recipe and photos are courtesy of Cathy Farley and her blog, "Wives with Knives." Cathy says, "This is the Dresden Stollen that is served in my home at Christmas time. This recipe was used by my mother, grandmother, and generations before them. I hope it will become a part of your holiday tradition too."

Dresden Stollen Recipe - German Christmas Fruitcake

by Cathy Farley

Dresden Stollen Photo by Cathy Farley

Ingredients:

1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (110 degrees F.)
1 cup milk, scalded*
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
4 to 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour or bread flour, divided
1 egg, slightly beaten
3/4 cup white raisins
1/2 cup candied fruit (Cathy uses pineapple and cherries)
2 teaspoons chopped orange zest (peel)
1 teaspoon chopped lemon zest (peel)
1/2 cup chopped nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, etc.)
Powdered Sugar Icing (see recipe below)

* Scalding milk - In a heavy saucepan over low heat, heat the milk just until you start seeing bubbles forming around the inside edges of the pot - do not let the milk come to a full boil. Immediately remove from the heat as it is now scalded. You can scald the milk either on your stovetop or in the microwave oven.

Dresden Stollen Photo by Cathy Farley

Directions:

In a medium-size bowl, soften yeast in 1/4 cup warm water Cover with plastic wrap and ferment approximately 20 minutes until the sponge is very foamy.

In a large bowl, combine the warm scaled milk, butter, sugar, salt and cardamom; let cool to lukewarm. When cool, mix in 2 cups flour and beat well. Add yeast (sponge) mixture and egg, beating well. Stir in raisins, candied fruit of your choice, orange zest, lemon zest, and nuts. Add enough additional flour to make a soft but not sticky dough. On a floured surface, knead the dough until smooth, approximately 8 to 10 minutes.

Lightly oil a large bowl. Add dough, turning to coat entire surface. Let rise until doubled, approximately 1 to 2 hours (depending on how warm your room is).

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a large heavy baking sheet. Prepare Powdered Sugar Icing.

After the dough has risen, punch down the dough and place onto a lightly-floured surface. Divide the dough into 2 or 3 parts depending on how large you want your stollens. NOTE: I cut it into thirds if I'm giving them as gifts. Cover the let rest for 10 minutes.

Roll each dough piece into a 10- x 6-inch rectangle and fold in 1/2 lengthwise to within one (1) inch of the opposite side. Place dough on prepared baking sheet, cover, and let rise until almost doubled in volume, approximately 1 hour.

After dough has risen, bake approximately 20 to 30 minutes or until golden brown. A good check is to use an instant digital thermometer to test your bread. The internal temperature should be between 200 and 210 degrees.

Remove from oven and transfer to wire rack and cool slightly.

While still warm, spread the Powdered Sugar Icing over the top of the stollen. Decorate with candied fruit and chopped nuts. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Stollen can be prepared up to 1 day ahead. Cool completely. Wrap stollen in plastic and store at room temperature.

Yield: Makes 2 stollen loaves.

Powdered Sugar Icing:

Ingredients:

1 cup powdered (confectioners') sugar
2 teaspoons hot water
2 teaspoons butter, room temperature

Directions:

In a small bowl, combine powdered sugar, hot water, and butter until smooth.

Prep time: 2 hr
Cook time: 30 min

Kerala Christmas Fruit Cake Recipe - Kerala Plum Cake
Fruitcakes are not very popular in the United States. (I don't know why?) I recently heard that the fruit cake made for Princes Charles/Princess Diana is being auctioned off in New York. Not sure how it will taste after all these years. Technically, fruit cakes taste better with ageing (like wine.)

If you are in Kerala, fruit cake is an absolute must at Christmas time. In our homes, they start making the cakes several weeks prior to Christmas.

This recipe is from Omana Paul, a popular caterer in Kottayam. Her plum cake is very popular and they make thousands at this time of the year. My aunt, Dr. Mary George MD, is a big fan of Omana Paul Christmas Cake.

This recipe doesn't need you to soak the dry fruits in advance. It is also alcohol-free so you can make it instantly before just before you need it. (This, however, will not store long.)

Yield: Makes one 6" cake

Ingredients:

1 cup plain flour
1/2 cup chopped cashew nuts
1/4 cup black raisins
1/2 cup mixed dry fruits (dates, cherries, orange peels)
1 + .5 cups white sugar
2/3 cup butter, at room temperature
3 eggs
1 clove + 1 cardamom pod + small piece of cinnamon + a pinch nutmeg (pound together to powder)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
A pinch of salt

Directions:

1. First step is to caramelize sugar. In a pan on medium heat, melt 1/2 cup sugar slowly. It will first melt and then turn into a dark brown goop. Keep stirring and let it turn a deep dark caramel color. Don't let it burn. Turn off heat and add about 1/4 cup water. The sugar will harden. Turn the heat back on and slowly heat the mixture until the sugar crystals dissolve. This will take about 10 mins. Let it cool and set aside.

Pre-heat oven to 350F / 180C.

2. Add 3 tbsp flour to the dry fruits and nuts and dredge completely to coat it. This is so that they don't sink to the bottom of the batter while baking. Set aside.

3. Mix the remaining flour and baking powder, spices, and salt until well combined.

4. Beat the butter and 1 cup sugar until fluffy - about 10 mins by hand, 3-4 mins with an electric beater. Add vanilla and mix until combined.

Add 1 egg and beat.
Now add a bit of the flour mixture and fold.

Repeat this process alternating between the eggs and flour mixture until they are all used up.

5. Add the cooled caramel and dredged fruits and gently fold in. Pour batter into a greased cake pan and smooth the top.

6. Bake for 50-55 mins until the top turns a dark brown and when a skewer inserted into the cake comes out with dry crumbs. You can start checking from 45 mins. The top will look like it's overdone but make sure the inside is also completely cooked.

7. Dust with icing sugar when the cake is completely cooled.

Notes:

1. The amount of fruits and types of fruits used is entirely up to you. Use orange peels also if you can; it enhances the flavor of the cake.

2. You can adjust the amount of rains used to your taste.

3. If you plan to ice the cake, reduce sugar by 1/3 cup. This cake is sweet enough on it's own.  

Miscellaneous

Developing a Good Appetite for God - Lessons From Beatitudes

by Rev. Charles A. Butcher

Scripture: Matthew 5:3-12

"You're Blessed When You've Worked a Good Appetite for God"

The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) opens with the famous list of qualities and rewards known as, "The Beatitudes" (Matthew 5:3-12). Now, according to Jesus, rewards like the kingdom of heaven, the inheritance of earth, comfort, mercy, satisfaction, identification as God's children and the joy of enjoying God's presence belong to the "blessed" people who manifest the attributes listed here. The context of first-century Israel, Jesus' list served more of a purpose than to merely say whom God would accept. It also served to expose those who would not be. For example, "blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs – not the boastful, proud and arrogant religious leaders – is the kingdom of heaven.

Then there is fourth of the Beatitudes, which catches my eyes today. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied" (Matthew 5:6).

I find it interesting that Jesus did not say, "Blessed are the righteous." Had Jesus said that, the Jewish leaders and scholars of his day (along with many self-righteous moralists today) would have quickly applied this designation to themselves, assuming that they being "righteous" according to the law would inherit the reward rather than the lowly masses who made no such claim. Instead Jesus used the illustration of needing and lacking righteousness of – those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – and identity less eagerly embraced by such pharisaical types.

Beloved, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness shall be satisfied, Jesus said, rather than those who were already "righteous." There is something critical here about recognizing – feeling – one's lack of righteousness. The often-painful experience of hunger and thirst, something we all feel at times, illustrates this experience well. Those who feel this need, Jesus said, are blessed.

It seems that Jesus' point in Matthew 5:6, and in the overall list called, "The Beatitudes," was to expose and correct a fallacy in prevailing Jewish thought at the time, at least among their religious leaders. The people who were thought to be in God's favor – the supposed "righteous" – were actually far from God, while those thought to be hopelessly on the outside of God's favor – the lowly sinners who recognized their spiritual poverty.

This message was not unique just to Matthew 5. Jesus said elsewhere, "I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance." The person who has been converted or is close to conversion, is not the one who always sees himself/herself as a "good person," but rather the one who comes to understand, what the Apostle Paul taught, "None is righteous, no, not one" (Romans 3:10).

The spiritual discipline of, "hungering and thirsting" illustrates the ongoing desire for increasing our Christ-like righteousness in our daily lives. Jesus' illustration continues to have significance for those who have come to him by faith. I say "hungering and thirsting" is a spiritual discipline because it is a quality of faith that continues after conversion.

The same attitude that led us to our conversion to recognize our absolute lack of righteousness, now describes our hungering and thirsting for even more increasing righteousness. This is to drive the Christian to diligently seek holiness just as genuinely as a hungry and thirsty person is driven to obtain food and water. On one level, at our conversion our "hungering and thirsting" for Christ's holiness has been satisfied, the Christian's hunger and thirst for righteousness will not be fully satisfied until Christ's return. Then we will be filled to the fullest through the experience of everlasting life, living in the "new heaven and the new earth in which righteousness dwells" (2 Peter 3:13). Then beloved, we will hunger and thirst no more.

Blessings for the Journey

Rev. Charles A. Butcher
North Eaton Christian Church, Ohio

Source: Thoughts For the Journey Newsletter, Sept. 2014

Life Is Beautiful and Brief

by Laura MacCorkle, Crosswalk.com Senior Editor

Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
- Psalm 90:12, NIV

Beneath my fun-loving exterior is a very analytical person. I love my life, I love spontaneity and I also happen to love trying to figure things out!

But like all good things taken to the extreme, my analyzing can turn obsessive and my focus fixed on that which cannot be explained anyway. It's like the quote I ran across recently from prolific author Philip Yancey: "Faith is believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse."

How true is that! Even so, I am always trying to make sense of a given situation going forward. Always.

But in light of today's verse, how sad is that that I am consumed with trying to know what I think I need to know when I think I need to know it. Surely I'm missing out on opportunities to serve the Lord and the rest that is only found in him.

In a recent situation when I was trying to "make sense" of what was going on, I also listened to a great sermon from Pastor Ray Pritchard of Keep Believing Ministries. And the best take-away nugget was this: "When you need to know, you'll know."

How simple! And yet how hard.

Here I am trying to find wisdom in what I can see and what I can figure out, when my life could be freed up by this reminder that God is sovereign and has all things under his control - no matter the circumstance.

Whatever I am trying to figure out today may not matter tomorrow. So why am I not looking to God first and seeking his direction in what matters most in this very moment?

"Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom," the psalmist requests of God. And how do we gain a heart of wisdom?

By knowing the mind of Christ. By acknowledging our frailty and our humanity. And by remembering that God is God and we are not.

Earlier in Psalm 90 we read this:

You turn men back to dust ... For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.

And toward the end of the passage, it says:

May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands.

The psalmist reminds us that God determines our life span, and he has his own timing and plans for each of our lives. Will we serve him and seek to fear and obey him before we once again turn to dust? Or will we fix our minds on ourselves, on our current circumstances and on trying to live our lives without regard to God's perfect purposes?

At the end of the day, even if our lives never make sense (even in reverse!), we are called to bend the knee and praise the one who has "brought forth the earth and the world."

Because of God's "unfailing love," life indeed is beautiful. And though it may be brief and sometimes confusing, because of his son our eternity is secure ... causing us to "sing for joy and be glad all our days."

Intersecting Faith & Life:

Knowing that your life is beautiful and brief, have you made yourself available to God for him to work in and through you as you walk by faith? List one reason that causes you to "be glad" today, because of the new life the Father has prepared in advance for you (Eph. 2:1-10).

Further Reading:

Psa. 103:13-18
Psa. 119:133

"Take My Life and Let It Be"
Words & Music: Frances R. Havergal, 1874

Take my life, and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee;
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise.

Source: Crosswalk.com - The Devotional

Happiness is Found in God, Not in Material Things

by Pete Briscoe

"Happiness is neither without us nor within us. It is in God, both without us and within us." - Blaise Pascal

Kids and Christmas morning - that's the temporary world in the extreme. The holiday season now officially starts shortly after Valentine's Day, followed by months of hype that fuel the hopes and the dreams of children (and retailers) everywhere. When the big day arrives, it's over in approximately 47.29 seconds.

It's a rush, to be sure. And who doesn't like getting nice presents, even as an adult? But don't you also notice how fast it's all over and the kids just move to the next thing?

So it goes with everything in the temporary realm. It has a timeline, a beginning and an end. It's a realm of activity, of processes, and of physical needs. It's the realm where we see both good and evil. There is birth, growth, and death. With all our senses, we can experience God's gift of creation in mountain ranges and valleys full of wildflowers. With our hands and our minds we can joyfully receive all the great stuff He has given us in the temporary realm.

But this is actually the danger of the temporary realm: It does have a lot of great stuff. And it's really easy to love stuff - to love stuff more than the One who made it. (That's like telling God, "I like You, but what I really love is Your stuff, as long as You give it to me.")

Ouch.

What parent yearns for that reaction from their kids? When we lust after the temporary pleasures of this temporary realm, we trade the best for the stuff that's not even going to last a moment in eternity.

Father, I want more than just Your stuff. I want Your heart, not just Your hand. Thank You for the temporary realm that You have created and the joy that it brings, but I want to live for what is above it. I want my life to be a pursuit of the eternal. Transform my heart; enable the eyes of my heart to see the things above that will last forever. Give me the humble wisdom to allow You to live through me in a way that makes my temporary pursuits be a reflection of all that is eternal. Amen.

Source: Experiencing LIFE Today

Ten Tips For Doing Business With Indians
We Indians have a lot of quirks. No doubt, people from other cultures have their quirks too, but arguably, we Indians have more of them. Maybe it's because we've had thousands of years of civilization to acquire these idiosyncrasies, or simply because we're relatively isolated from the rest of the world. Or maybe it's something to do with the pollution of our holy rivers?

Whatever be the reasons, for an outsider trying to do business with us Indians, the journey can be both frustrating and entertaining (if you have a sense of humor). As India grows, the sheer weight of the economy will ensure that most of you (or your companies) will eventually do business in India or with Indians.

Here are a few tips for the uninitiated:

1. WE DON'T KNOW HOW TO SAY NO

This is true! We're taught from an early age not to contradict our elders. The definition of elders eventually gets extended to bosses, clients, business partners and so on. This can lead to a variety of problems at the workplace... not being able to refuse more work, promising what we eventually can't deliver, unrealistic deadlines.

This is a tricky one to handle, and you will learn to appreciate doing business with Indians who actually say No occasionally. Be doubly skeptical of people who promise the earth and moon and Mars.

2. WE DON'T LIKE ASKING QUESTIONS UP-FRONT

I don't know where this comes from, but it is generally true. Even in schools, active questioning is not encouraged. Could be our brain-deadening exam oriented education system that is to blame, or maybe it's the heat, or an innate belief in our ability to survive amidst ambiguity. I don't know why, except that you'll never know whether we've understood what you said – because we don't like to ask questions up-front.

We will sit quietly and wait for the appropriate moment (typically, when it's too late) – and then when you think everything is fine, we will come up with a zillion questions and objections.

One way to counter this is to ask us to recap the conversation, and follow it up with questions to test our comprehension/understanding.

3. INDIAN STRETCHABLE TIME (IST)

Yes, that's how we define Indian Standard Time – and this has been standard terminology since I was a kid. IST = Indian Stretchable Time. Possibly, the concept of timelessness and life after-life has something to do with it, or maybe it's just that we believe that clocks are merely decorative pieces. Like the famous Konark temple [2]! So a 10 am meeting will never begin before 10:15.

You could either get upset, or even more frustrated trying to enforce discipline. Or you could budget for this, go with the flow and preserve your sanity.

4. DEADLINES, WHAT DEADLINES?

Another dimension to the perception of time, or timelessness. What's the rush, dude? We're uncomfortable making deadline commitments, and the stock answer is, "we will let you know when". But we don't tell you when we will let you know!

Get written confirmation on all deadlines agreed. Write down and communicate schedules clearly. Don't leave it to us! If you're managing Indians, follow up and ask for updates regularly.

5. HIERARCHY

We love our little hierarchies. In a meeting, we don't like to contradict the boss, especially if he's wrong! Many Indians are fearful of authority, possibly a result of colonialism, or the caste system or the rotten, callous government we've had for decades. The flip side is that those in powerful positions expect deference, and consensus.

So you have to work to inculcate a culture of questioning. Once we get over our (often imaginary) fears, we're actually quite good at it!

6. DON'T SHOW US THE MIRROR

Ask an Indian what is wrong with the Indian economy, or the government or the cricket team or anything at all Indian – and you will hear a thousand complaints. But if you, an outsider, say the same things to us, we don't like it. Maybe it's a post-colonial mindset, or prickly skins from the heat – we hate to hear others tell us what's wrong with us – even if we secretly agree.

7. DOCUMENTATION, WHAT'S THAT?

If massive tomes like the Mahabharata and Ramayana could be remembered and transferred across generations in oral form, then what's the need to write anything? Either out of a mistaken belief in our own memory powers or sheer laziness, we don't document things adequately. If you're working with Indian colleagues, start insisting on documentation early on.

8. UNNECESSARILY FORMAL TITLES

Another habit we've learned from the British, even though it's dying out in that country. We love to use titles such as Sir, Ma'am, and so on. It starts in school and continues in college. All teachers are addressed such, and this behavior transfers to bosses, clients and even business associates.

Ignore this, unless you have to deal with a senior Indian and want to massage his/her ego. Then it's a good idea to throw in a couple of Sirs or Ma'ams. Else for the most part, encourage first names. Once we get used to it in the workplace, we tend to like the American first name system – especially the younger amongst us.

9. NOTHING IS PERSONAL

For Westerners, some topics are out of bounds in a business setting. But don't be surprised if an Indian starts asking about your kids, your parents, how many cars you have, your salary, and other such sundry items. We're naturally inquisitive and over-curious, and the Western concept of privacy is not so important. How could it be when 1.2 billion of us are crammed into the country?

It's fine if you don't want to share this "personal" info, instead of being offended try to see the funny side. If you do share, you may make some lifelong friends. And if someone you barely know starts confiding life tales that you would never think of sharing with a stranger, just take it your stride.

We'd rather invite guests home to dinner than take them to a restaurant. Apart from reasons of parsimony, we're quite hospitable, and every Indian believes that food in their house is better than in any restaurant. Enjoy the experience, and the food! Don't insist on hotels or restaurants.

10. THE ARGUMENTATIVE INDIAN

This is absolutely true, and not just the title of a book by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen! Given a chance, we will argue about everything, and get stuck on minor inconsequential issues. Just take a look at our political parties! Meetings can be disastrous in such situations – be sure to have someone moving things along and after you've allowed for as much debate as you can stand. Try to get decisions to a Yes/No on major points... otherwise the argumentative Indian will be more than happy to quibble endlessly on irrelevant issues.

We're more emotional than rational, so you will hear incongruous arguments because we often speak before we think. Try to get behind the emotions, let the person calm down – and then resume the discussion.

About Malankara World
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