Seeing is Only Part of the Equation

SEEING  +      +       =    UNDERSTANDING

Have you ever looked at a situation and thought you knew what was going on? As time developed and more facts were revealed, you then found out that the situation was nothing like you thought it was. This happens all the time to us. Whether it is in the personal realm, the social realm, the national or international realm, a situation happens and we see what is happening on the surface. We think we understand what is going on and then Boom! some sort of information is brought out, and what we thought was happening is entirely different than what was really happening.

To put this into perspective, think about the Kennedy assassination. That event was captured on film and we thought we knew what was going on. Our beloved president was killed and a man was arrested for the crime. The evidence pointed to him and we thought that was all there was to the situation. A few days later, that man was killed and all of a sudden we wondered, “What is going on in Dallas?” Time continued on, the Warren Report was released, and we were all supposed to put the matter to rest. The matter is still not at rest, and perhaps we will never really know what happened and what was happening behind the scenes because the real facts have never been released.

This continues to happen today. Think of the Kavanaugh hearings; some people saw a man who was unfit for office, other people saw a man who was being destroyed by people who had an agenda. Or take the Mueller investigation; some people see evidence of Russian collusion everywhere, others see a man on a witch hunt. Look at the Paris riots, are they really just about a gasoline tax? What is the truth? How do we recognize what is really going on?

Most of the time, it takes a while to recognize what is happening in these different situations. We have to sit back, wait and not jump to any conclusions or on any bandwagon. Eventually the real facts will come out and we will all gain some perspective. Seeing a situation on the surface or in the news is not enough to gain a real understanding of what is happening. Seeing is only part of the equation. If we want understanding, we will have to put our biases aside, do some research, and see if we can come up with the facts.  Then we may recognize what is happening and gain some understanding of the situation. 

SEEING + THE FACTS + RECOGNITION = UNDERSTANDING

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Men on a Mission

A few weeks ago, I was reading these verses in Matthew and I was struck by the sheer enormity of what these men did: 

“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him” Matthew 2: 1-2 NKJV

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Here were wise men, Magi they were called in the Greek, from the Persian word Magoi, meaning men who studied the stars, and they were from the East. The Bible does not tell us anything else about them. Tradition says they many have been from Iran, Iraq, Yemen, or India, but we do not know. 

This is what we do know: they studied the stars and saw something extraordinary in the heavens. It may have been a conjunction of planets or a comet. Whatever it was, they studied it and determined that a King was born to the Jews, and His birth announcement was in the night sky. This event was so immense that they decided they had to come find this King and worship Him. They were men on a mission.

We don’t know how far they came, but they were probably not from Israel. Once they made the decision to find this King, they were going to have to plan a trip, spend a lot of money and travel a long ways to find what they were looking for. They could have come from as far away as five hundred or a thousand miles. If they came by camel and rode every day, they may have made the trip in a few weeks or a month, but the trip could have taken a lot longer. This was not going to be a comfortable undertaking.

There are a few things that really strike me about what these men did. First, they recognized the fact that the universe was making an announcement. They saw the star and from their studies, whether it was from star charts or the Hebrew Scriptures, they figured out that a King was born in Israel. They knew this birth had immense significance. Second, they were willing to make an effort to go find this King and worship Him. These men were probably court advisors in whatever kingdom they lived in. They were men of status and probably lived in great comfort. In spite of this, they wanted to travel to Israel to worship this newborn King. 

During this Christmas season, I will think about the wise men and the lessons I can learn from them. First, I need to study and know what is going on around the world prophetically. If there are actual signs in the heavens of His Second Coming, I need to be aware of them and find out what they mean. Second, I need to be willing to get out of my comfort zone and go where I need to in order to serve and worship the King. 

Men on a mission, an example to us all.

Illumination vs. Comfort

A few weeks ago, it got really cold outside. I thought perhaps if I curtained off the door to the inner porch it would make the house warmer.  It did in fact add warmth to the house, but it also cut out a lot of light coming in. After a few days, I decided to remove the curtain. I preferred the light to the warmth.room-932321_640 (1)

That little incident got me to thinking, “So how does this apply to our lives?” Do we in fact, prefer illumination to comfort or is it usually the other way around? After pondering it a bit, I thought, “I bet we usually prefer comfort to illumination.” Do you think that is true?

Is it much easier to hang out with people who think like we do, watch newscasts that support our point of view, and read magazines and articles that confirm our pre-existing ideas? I think it is. It usually takes effort to spend time with those that think differently than we do, read books that challenge our thinking, or watch another news channel. Do we want to remain in the orbit of those that are similar to us or are we willing to move out of that orbit and seek to understand others that are different than ourselves?

I’ve been asking myself those questions and I don’t like the answers I am getting. I am going to have to be intentional if I want to expose myself to those who think differently than I do. If I do that, then perhaps, I will have a better understanding of others and also the world around me.light-bulb-3104355_640

Advent – Preparing for the Coming of Christ

Having been raised in a traditional church, I thought I was familiar with Advent. I thought it was all about Christ’s first coming as a baby in Bethlehem. During the Advent Season I would read the Christmas story and think about Jesus’ first coming in its historical context.

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Imagine my surprise,when a few years ago, I learned that is not all that Advent is about. I learned that the first two Sundays of Advent anticipate Christ’s Second Coming. That got me to thinking about the Season…what is the real history of Advent?

I would like to quote from an article entitled “What Is Advent?” by Justin Holcomb on Christianity.com.:

“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.

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.”

In summary, the early Church understood that we need to prepare our hearts for Christ’s coming. New believers would prepare for baptism and celebrate Christ’s coming into their hearts. By the 6th century, Christians would use the season to prepare their hearts for Christ’s Second Coming. From medieval times forward, Christians would prepare their hearts during Advent anticipating His Second Coming while also remembering his first coming as a babe in Bethlehem.

For me, the bottom line is, “Am I preparing my heart for Christ’s coming?” As the Advent season begins this Sunday, am I thinking about the possibility that Christ could return at any moment? Am I prepared to meet Him or am I distracted by the busyness of the season? Those are the real questions I need to ask myself. I hope you will take some time during this season of Advent to ask yourself those questions also. 

Have a Blessed Advent! 

 

Astroturfing – Giving You Everything But the Truth!

Have you ever been researching something and you click on a website that looks like it has some real information and public feedback in it? You begin reading and something doesn’t seem quite right. Even though the website is supposed to have public input and comments, it seems more like a public service announcement for the company or organization you are researching. Before you leave the site, you say to yourself, “What’s up with this site?” Have you ever thought that it could be a site set up by people who are Astroturfing? Unless you are familiar with the word, you probably won’t be thinking in those terms.

So what is Astroturfing? Wikipedia defines it like this: “Astroturfing is the practice of masking the sponsors of a message or organization (e.g., political, advertising, religious or public relations) to make it appear as though it originates from and is supported by grassroots participants.” In other words, it is an artificial site set up by the organization or company in order to promote their views. Think of it this way:  You are looking up the efficacy of a certain drug. You don’t want to go to the manufacture’s site and so you click on another site that talks about the drug. It has testimonials promoting the drug and its efficacy. Because of the statements of the people, you are inclined to try the drug because so many people are talking about the positive results they had when they took it.

What you don’t know is that the site was set up by the manufacturer of the drug and that the testimonials were not written by real users of the drug. They were written by people hired by the company in order to promote the drug and get you to buy it! Does it really happen that way? Astroturfing happens every day of the week. As the definition stated: political parties, religions, companies, and people promoting certain issues will create a site in order to skew people in favor of what they are promoting. Sounds unethical doesn’t it? But is it illegal?

On the face of it, Astroturfing is not illegal. However, once it has come to light that the site is, in fact a false front for the company or organization, it can possibly be fined for illegal business practices. Has someone suffered irreparable harm because of the information on the site? There may be a cause for action there also. 

Astroturfing, as disingenuous as it is, comes in other forms also. A company may send in their own people to a public hearing and take up all of the seats in the room so that there is no room for dissenters. It is used by organizations to stack the deck against the opposition and stifle dissent. If you look closely, you can find it in lots of arenas. 

As writers and researchers, we can be incensed about sites and information that has been Astroturfed.But when it comes to reviews, we also have to be careful that we are not Astroturfing. Reviewtracker.com defines Astroturfing this way: “Astroturfing is the practice of preparing or disseminating a false or deceptive review that a reasonable consumer would believe to be a neutral third-party testimonial…On the surface, this practice is simply unethical but not necessarily damaging for those reading the review, and certainly not illegal.” In other words, if most of our reviews are written by our friends and family and are not written by unbiased consumers, people will not get an objective opinion about our product. We are, in fact, Astroturfing!

In the end, whether seeking truth or disseminating it, one has to ask oneself, “Is it real or is it Astroturf?

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A Paradigm Shift

I grew up in a home where we had plenty materially. We shopped at the best stores, had a very nice home and we had a lot of financial freedom. If we wanted to do something, we could, money was not usually an issue. We didn’t hear much about being thankful when I was a child although we always said grace before meals and thanked God for our food.

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High school came along and my father and step-mother divorced so there were a few bumps along the way. We moved out of the beautiful house and lived in one that was not as nice as that one. Money still wasn’t an issue and life rolled along. I went to college where I was on a budget and money was tight. I didn’t think about it much and later married my husband.

Like most newlyweds we didn’t have a lot. I didn’t worry about it thinking that someday I would have the financial freedom I enjoyed when I was younger. Funny thing though, as an adult that day never actually came. Like everyone else, there were bills,medical expenses, taxes and lots of other things that demanded our attention. 

During those early years of marriage and for several years afterwards, I didn’t have a thankful spirit. I was one of those people that had a “glass is half-empty” kind of mentality. I didn’t really express that to anyone and I sure didn’t thank God for the things I had. I was grateful for my husband and children but that was about it.

As the Lord is prone to do, He began to put His finger on the issue. He showed me that I was unthankful and that I hadn’t bothered to thank Him for many of the things He had provided for me. I also had not been expressing thankfulness to my husband and appreciating him for the things he had provided for us.

Since that time, I have been learning thankfulness. For me, it has not come easily or naturally. I must be intentional if I want to thank God for the things He has provided. I must also make an effort to show appreciation to my husband for his efforts on our behalf. 

You see, when we are a “glass is half-empty” kind of person, we always see what we don’t have and what we are missing. The sad thing is that when we see life from that perspective, we are really missing everything. We miss the joy of living and the joy of being thankful for all the good things we do have. What we need is a paradigm shift. Our glass remains filled to the same level, we just need a new way of looking at it. My prayer is that we would go from seeing our “glasses as half-empty” to seeing them “half-full” this Thanksgiving and that we would share that thankfulness with God and with those around us.

God Bless each and every one of you this Thanksgiving. I am thankful for you and for the blessing you are in my life!

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The Mystery of Prayer

Those of us who have prayed over the years know that prayer is a mystery. Having read many books on the subject, done many Bible studies and spent literally hours praying, I should have a pretty good understanding of the subject. But the truth is, I don’t. I’ll share what I have learned and what I think I know about prayer.

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What I have found is that prayer seems to be answered in three ways: Yes, No, or Wait. Let’s take the first, when prayer is answered with a “Yes.” I have seen God work in miraculous ways. I have seen Him heal the sick, raise those who were practically dead from their sickbed, provide jobs, spouses, cars, you name it. It is always a glorious thing when God answers in the affirmative and it feels great to have participated in prayer when I see those kind of answers. 

Next, there are those times when God doesn’t answer in the affirmative. The person does not get healed, those who are terminally ill die, a person doesn’t get the job, car or whatever was prayed for. In other words, there is a resounding “No” to the prayer. That doesn’t feel good and I often wonder why. I know God is on his throne and He doesn’t owe me any explanation but still I wonder. Some people may tell me I didn’t have enough faith, but I know that isn’t true. I had the same amount of faith when I prayed for other things that were answered in the affirmative. Others may tell me that there must be some sin in my life, or else God would have answered my prayer. I know that is not true either. Yes, God will not hear my prayers “if I regard iniquity in my heart,” but in general there is always some element of sin in my life. Every thought I think is not one hundred percent pure and loving and every word I say is not either. That’s the way it is, and no matter how hard I try that is the way it will always be until I go to be with the Lord. The truth is, in prayer, I can ask God for things, but I am in no position to “tell” God what to do. He is still in charge of the universe and sees the big picture. I am not in charge and I do not see the big picture and I must submit myself to this truth. I know I can trust Him and that He is still on His throne when the answer is “No.”

Third, there are those times when God seems to be silent and no answer is forthcoming. A lot of times, I have the sense that I have been put on hold and the answer will come about when the time is right. But when will the time be right? When will I get the job, the promotion or whatever I have been asking for? Of course the answer is up to God, but usually the answer has something to do with me and my character. Many times, God is waiting on me for my character to develop so that He can put me in a position of greater authority and responsibility. If He allows me into that position too soon, I may fail because of a lack of character development. These are the hardest prayers to wait for, but they are the most necessary. I need to wait patiently during those times and participate with God when He is working on my character. Over the years, I have learned that I do not want to be put in a position of responsibility that is greater than my ability to handle it. When the answer turns to a “Yes,” I am thankful that He made me wait until the time was right.

Prayer is a mystery and there is no way that I understand all there is to know about it. I will continue to trust God and to pray for things knowing that I will get an answer, even if it is not the answer I am hoping for.

What about you? What have you found out about prayer? How has your understanding of the subject changed over the years? Let me know so that we can collectively learn together. 

The Hidden Cost of War

We have just celebrated Veterans Day where we honor those who have served their country in the military. We also honor those who given their lives in service for our country. We look at the cemeteries and we see the headstones and the flags and we remember the ultimate sacrifice they gave for us. It is a very sobering reality when we think about it.

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There is another cost of war, one we don’t really think about except for on days like Veterans Day.  That cost is usually hidden from the majority of us unless we know someone personally who has lost a loved one in the line of duty for our country. That is the cost that the families of those veterans pay. The mothers, fathers, wives, children, brothers and sisters of those fallen will pay that price for the rest of their lives. 

The person who is lost will not be around the family table for dinner and their place will be empty for all to see and feel. Every day the families of those who are gone must get up and continue about their lives. They will carry the memory of that loved one in their hearts and they will try to make up for the loss of that person to their children and grandchildren.

Not only do we owe a debt of gratitude to those who gave their lives in service for our country, we owe a debt of gratitude to their families who also will be enduring the cost of that sacrifice for the remainder of their days.

Let us remember them also and keep them in our thoughts and prayers.

“Greater love hath no man than this, than a man lay down his life for his friends.”  John 15:13 (KJV)

How Far Will Your Influence Go?

There are some specific things that I have heard over the years that stick in my mind. They make me think about them and ponder them for a long time. One of these is about influence. 

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I heard a pastor speaking about the final judgment. He said people will be judged not just by their works but by the influence they had on others. He spoke about how some people’s influence will last generations and affect thousands or millions of people. I have thought about that a lot.

We all have a level of influence in others’ lives. Maybe it is our family’s, the people we work around, the students we teach, our friends; we will influence them. There are times in our lives when we will have greater influence than at other times.

When we are given a public platform of one kind or another, our influence grows. Whether we are a speaker, writer, actor, or a pastor, we begin to influence a greater amount of people than before. We need to think about that, because with influence comes responsibility and ultimately accountability before God. We can influence people in a positive direction or in a negative one.

If we are a writer, think about Mein Kampf. How many people has it influenced over the decades, and what did people do with that influence? How many millions of lives were taken because people read that book and believed what it said? Conversely, what is the most positive book you have ever read? How did it influence you and change your thinking? Were you able to apply that positive influence into your own life?

As writers we will write thousands or millions of words that others will read. What kind of influence are we having over the people that read them? Are we leading them in a positive or negative direction? Are we writing things solely for our own ends or material enrichment? Do we really care about the people reading the things we write? We need to think about it and not just blow it off casually, it really does matter.

Influence…we all have it. The question is, “What are we going to do with it?”

Going A.W.O.L. from the UnCivil War

No matter who wins in the elections today, I just want my friends and family to know that I am going A.W.O.L. from the UnCivil War.

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There has always been an UnCivil War going on in politics, but I became acutely aware of it when Bill Clinton was elected. I had a girlfriend whose mother-in-law ran in high circles in society; she called and told me many spurious things about the Clintons. I then heard many of those things repeated on radio talk shows and later from other people who were only too happy to repeat what they had heard in the news media. The upshot of it all was that, in the end, the opposing political party was only too happy to impeach him for strictly political purposes.

George Bush was elected and the same thing happened. He was demonized for getting us into the  Iraq War. Funny thing was, he couldn’t have done it without the approval of the Senate. None of the Senators seemed inclined to take any responsibility for their own part in getting us into the War, so when we became entrenched in the quagmire of Iraq, he was continually demonized and made into a laughing stock.

Barak Obama was elected and it was the same thing. Terrible things were said about him and people kept hammering him from the moment he took office. Demonization and innuendo were the hallmarks of the War against him. His opponents would not or could not say anything positive about him.

Donald Trump was elected and the War has escalated into almost unbearable proportions. Both sides of the political spectrum have begun to demonize those that don’t agree with them. This lack of civility has reached epidemic proportions, dividing people at work, in their families, and affecting their relationships with other members of society.

This War has got to stop. If we want to get anything done to improve our society, we must work together with those of another political persuasion and become A.W.O.L. from the UnCivil War. This UnCivil War has damaged the fabric of our society. People on both sides of the political map view the other side as enemies, instead of brother citizens who disagree with them politically. I, for one, do not want to be part of this War, so I am officially going A.W.O.L.

Today is election day. We all get the opportunity to vote our beliefs and values at the polls. I will try to respect those elected to office and not malign them. I will believe good about them until proven otherwise. I will not send negative political emails around to my friends and family or post negative political remarks on my Facebook page. In other words, I am going to be an American who respects her fellow citizens regardless of their political beliefs, race, religion or ethnicity. 

“These are the things you shall do:

Speak each man the truth to his neighbor;

Give judgment in your gates for truth, justice and peace;

Let none of you think evil in your heart against your neighbor;

And do not love a false oath.

For all these are things that I hate;

Says the Lord.”

Zechariah 8: 16-17