In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn (Luke 2:1-7).
In the Roman Empire periodical censuses were taken with the dual goal of assessing taxation and of discovering those who were available for military service. The Jews were exempt from military service, and, therefore, in Palestine a census would be predominantly for taxation purposes. Regarding these censuses, we have historical information as to what happened in Egypt; and almost certainly what happened in Egypt happened in Syria, too, and Judea was part of the province of Syria. The information we have comes from actual census documents written on papyrus and then discovered in the rubble of Egyptian towns and villages and in the sands of the desert.
The journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem was about 80-90 miles. Accommodations for census travelers were extremely primitive. Many of these accommodations were like a series of open stalls which created a common courtyard-like space. Some historians believe it was in these common courtyard-like stalls that Mary's child was born.
The word manger means a place where animals feed; and therefore it can be either the stable or the manger which is meant. The irony of the most important event in history taking place in a manger should not be lost sight of—it reveals how God elevates the lowly and humble and rejects the proud and mighty of this world. Compare Philippians 2:6-7. For Luke this theme of reversal was of major importance.
That there was no room in the inn was symbolic of what was to happen to Jesus. The only place where there was room for him was on a cross. He sought an entry to the over-crowded hearts of men; he could not find it; and still his search—and his rejection—go on.
Hope is an inside job. In order to keep hope alive, it's extremely important that we monitor what we allow ourselves to see, hear and feel, especially in regards to the media. Because our subconscious minds accept as real not only our personal experiences but also those we watch or imagine vividly, it's up to us to choose mindfully and wisely what we watch and read.
Because images imprint deeply, the alarming pictures and commentary favored by the media can act as an emotional acid, etching the pain and suffering we witness into our own psyches. Such images can pull the plug on our reserves of hope. Limiting your exposure to sensationalism of all kinds is wise. Allow yourself to be as informed as you feel the need but do not allow yourself to become deformed by overexposure.
Hope is so important because it's the proverbial light at the end of any dark tunnel encountered. Hope is the ballast that keeps you moving forward and helps you to continue to believe in beauty, love, and survival, even when your personal waters are incredibly rough. With hope, it is easier to keep your head above water while navigating stormy seas. Hope has the power to make everyday life much brighter and more joyful.
But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint (Isaiah 40:31).
~ Sue Patton Thoele
"The words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you” (Matthew 15:18-2).
It may well be that from a Jewish perspective this was the most startling thing Jesus ever said. For in this saying he does not only condemn Scribal and Pharisaic ritual and ceremonial religion: Jesus actually wipes out large sections of the book of Leviticus. This saying of Jesus cancels all the food laws of the Old Testament.
Once and for all Jesus lays it down that what matters is not the state of a person's ritual observance, but the state of a person's heart.
No wonder the Scribes and Pharisees were shocked. The very ground of their religion was cut from beneath their feet. This statement was not simply alarming; it was revolutionary! If Jesus was right, their whole concept of religion was wrong.
They identified religion and pleasing God with the observing of rules and regulations which had to do with cleanness and with uncleanness, with what a person ate and with how they washed their hands before eating; Jesus identified religion with the state of a person's heart, and said bluntly that these Pharisaic and Scribal regulations had nothing to do with religion.
What matters to God is not so much how we act, but why we act; not so much what we ritually do, but what is in our heart of hearts. It is Jesus' teaching (and it is a teaching which confronts every one of us) that no person can call themselves good because they observe external rituals; only when a person's heart is pure can they entertain such a thought. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8).
The Lockless Door by Robert Frost
It went many years,
But at last came a knock,
And I though of the door
With no lock to lock.
I blew out the light,
I tip-toed the floor,
And raised both hands
In prayer to the door.
But the knock came again.
My window was wide;
I climbed on the sill
And descended outside.
Back over the sill
I bade a 'Come in'
To whatever the knock
At the door may have been.
So at a knock
I emptied my cage
To hide in the world
And alter with age.
Looking at his disciples, Jesus said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God..." (Luke 6:20)
To feel good about yourself in Jesus' time, you needed to be wise, rich, and pure in your detailed observance of the law. These were the paramount values of his society. To be such meant to enjoy the proper status deserved by a full Israelite. It demonstrated that you had been blessed by God and were pleasing to him.
Jesus, however, turned all these values upside down. Jesus took a little child and had him stand beside him to show that the greatest was the least (Luke 9:47-48). He rejoiced that God had hidden his truths from the wise and revealed them to little children (10:21). The first will be last and the last first (13:30). He who exalts himself will be humbled and the humble will be exalted (14:11). Purity of heart which was in the reach of everyone's wallet replaced ritual purity which only the rich could afford.
These are the values of the kingdom. They are not the values of the world. They are shown in Jesus—who welcomed children—who ate with sinners—who entered Jerusalem on a colt—who renounced class, power, and domination. And among these great reversals Jesus included the reversal 'Blessed are you who are poor'.
The New Testament scholar Donald Guthrie points out that this is the first statement in all literature that calls the poor blessed. Jesus contradicts the view that riches were a sign that one was blessed by God. He sees rather that riches were a very likely sign that one had ignored the needs of the poor (Luke 12:21; 16:19-26).
The poor are blessed not because poverty is a charmed state, but because the kingdom of God is for them too (the kingdom is for everyone, of course). But Jesus means that the changes that the kingdom of God brings will be of such special relevance and blessing to the poor that what it means for them will define its meaning for everyone. To truly feel good about yourself, we must die a death to the false teachings of the world, and instead devote ourselves to the teachings of the Lord.
~ J. E. Royle
It has been said, "We choose for marriage to be an expression of the grandest and highest love of which humans are capable." Then we proceed to construct a marriage institution and a marriage experience which produces exactly the opposite of that--virtually the lowest form of love of which humans are capable. A love that possesses rather than releases. A love that limits rather than expands. A love that owns rather than disowns. A love that makes virtually everything around it smaller rather than making everything around it larger.
We've created an experience of marriage that has nothing to do with love in far too many instances. We've created a holder, a shell, some kind of encasement. And that's what we want marriage to be. We want it to be an encasement that holds everything exactly where it was the moment we said, "I love you," and that holds us all exactly where we were in that first moment. But people and events move around. They change. Life is an evolution. And so marriage, as we have constructed it, works against the very process of life itself, because it provides very little breathing room in the way many societies and religions and family traditions have constructed it.
And so what we have to do is reconstruct marriage, if we're going to have marriage at all, in a way that says: "I do not limit you. A marriage that says, "I recognize ideas will change, tastes will change, desires will change."
~ Neale Donald Walsch
My Cherokee grandpa taught me this lesson when I was seven. He took me to a fishing hole and asked me to throw a rock into the pond. He asked me what I saw, and I replied that I saw a splash. He asked me what else I saw, and I said a circle of water and another circle and another circle. He then told me that every person was responsible for the kind of splash they made in the world and that the splash would touch many other circles, creating a ripple effect.
I sat there and watched the water until he asked me to notice the muddy bank where we were sitting. He pointed out that one of the circular waves made by my rock was lapping at my feet, having found its way back to me. Then he told me that we all need to be careful of the kinds of splashes we make in the world, because the waves we create will always come back to us. If those splashes were hurtful, we will not welcome them back, but if the splash and the waves were made from goodness, we will be happy to see them come home.
The teachings of all major religions on our planet show us these same truths. They ask us to be loving, to respect one another, and to become influences for good. Let us go forth in the world and make a good splash!
~ Jamie Sams
Then said a rich man, "Speak to us of Giving." And he answered: You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give. For what are your possessions but things you keep and guard for fear you may need them tomorrow? And tomorrow, what shall tomorrow bring to the over-prudent dog burying bones in the trackless sand as he follows the pilgrims to the holy city? And what is fear of need but need itself? Is not dread of thirst when your well is full, thirst that is unquenchable?
There are those who give little of the much which they have - and they give it for recognition and their hidden desire makes their gifts unwholesome. And there are those who have little and give it all. These are the believers in life and the bounty of life, and their coffer is never empty. There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward. And there are those who give with pain, and that pain is their baptism.
And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue; They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space. Though the hands of such as these God speaks, and from behind their eyes He smiles upon the earth. It is well to give when asked, but it is better to give unasked, through understanding.
~ Khalil Gibran
Choose the way of life. Choose the way of love. Choose the way of caring. Choose the way of hope. Choose the way of belief in tomorrow. Choose the way of trusting. Choose the way of goodness. It's up to you. It's your choice. You can also choose despair. You can also choose misery. You can also choose making life uncomfortable for other people. You can also choose bigotry.
But what for? It doesn't make sense. It's only self-flagellation. But I caution you that if you decide to move in the direction of taking responsibility for your life, it is not going to be easy, and you are going to have to risk again. Risk: the key to change.
Don't spend all of your precious time asking "Why isn't the world a better place?" It will only be time wasted. The question to ask is 'How can I make it better?' To that there is an answer.
~ Leo Buscaglia
Spend a day in slow motion. Plan ahead and really dedicate a whole day to moving in slow motion. When you're moving about your house, going to work, eating, and so on, slow. . . down. Whatever your speed, concentrate on cutting it in half.
Moving in slow motion helps us counter-balance all the times we hurried and pushed and strained and rushed. Some of us operate more or less in permanent fight-or-flight mode. We struggle with one after another urgency or deadline until everything becomes a race to beat the clock. Even a simple trip to a hair-styling appointment becomes a race. This is not living. This is not promoting our health, well-being, and connection to God. We've let ourselves be dominated by false urgency of circumstance, losing our center and natural tempo.
Many of us are lost in a whirlwind of activity, speeding along at full throttle, just skimming the surface of life. At this breakneck speed, it is easy to miss the signs and scenery along the way that are always straining outside ourselves on some distant destination. We are toddlers in this segment of spirituality. We must learn to take one step at a time in slow motion while maintaining attention on God.
~ Michael Goddart
Forgiveness is the most powerful thing that you can do for your physiology and your spirituality, and it remains one of the least attractive things to us, largely because our egos rule so unequivocally. To forgive is somehow associated with saying that it is all right, that we accept the evil deed. But this is not forgiveness.
Forgiveness means that you fill yourself with love and you radiate that love outward and refuse to hang onto the venom or hatred that was engendered by the behaviors that caused the wounds. Forgiveness is a spiritual act of love for conscious and it sends a message to everyone, including yourself, that you prefer love over bitterness.
Forgiveness means letting go of the language of blame and self-pity and no longer leading with one's wounds and injuries from the past. It means privately forgiving and not asking anyone else to understand. It means leaving behind the eye-for-an-eye attitude that only makes for more pain and the need for more revenge, and replacing it with an attitude of love and forgiveness.
"If we can forgive everyone, regardless of what he or she may have done, we nourish the soul and allow our whole being to feel good. To hold a grudge against anyone is like carrying the devil on your shoulders. It is our willingness to forgive and forget that casts away such a burden and brings light into our hearts, freeing us from many ill feelings against our fellow human beings," Sydney Banks.
Dr. Wayne W. Dyer
"But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law" (Galatians 2:14-16).
Christianity evolved from Judaism. With very few exceptions all Paul's letters were written to meet an immediate situation. The situation being addressed in the above text has to do with a decision made in Jerusalem that in effect purported that the Jews would go on living like Jews, observing circumcision and the law, but that the Gentiles were free from those observances. Clearly, things could not go on like that, because the inevitable result was to produce two grades of Christians and two quite distinct classes in the Church.
Paul's argument runs like this. He said to Peter (Aramaic 'Cephas'), "You shared the table with the Gentiles; you ate and lived as they ate; therefore approved in principle that there is one way for Jew and Gentile alike. How can you now reverse your whole decision? You were quite willing to live like a Gentile; and now you have swung round, and you want the Gentiles to be circumcised and take the law upon them and become Jews." This did not compute with Paul.
To help better understand the context we must understand the meaning of one word in particular: sinner. When a Jew used the word sinners of Gentiles they were not thinking of moral qualities at all; they were thinking of the observance of the law. For example, Leviticus chapter 11 lays down the Jewish food laws and details and classifies the animals which they may and may not use for food. A Jew who ate rabbit, or who ate pork, broke those laws and became a sinner in this sense of the term.
So Peter would answer Paul, "But, if I eat with the Gentiles and eat the things they eat, I become a sinner." And Paul's answer would be, "We have agreed long ago that no amount of observance of the law can make a person right with God. That is a matter of grace. A person cannot earn, they must accept, the generous offer of the love of God. There is, for every believer, the temptation to try to earn the favor of God. But it is utter trust in the love of God in Christ that properly aligns a person with God. Jesus did not tell you to try to earn salvation by eating this animal and not eating that one. He told you to fling yourself without reserve on the grace of God."
Christianity that focuses too much on the belief that its law-abiding achievements are superior to that of other Christians, and that in the eyes of God they alone shall find favor, is not true Christianity at all.
Beggarly Heart by Rabindranath Tagore
When the heart is hard and parched up,
come upon me with a shower of mercy.
When grace is lost from life,
come with a burst of song.
When tumultuous work raises its din
on all sides shutting me out from beyond,
come to me, my lord of silence,
with thy peace and rest.
When my beggarly heart sits crouched,
shut up in a corner, break open the door,
my king, and come with the ceremony of a king.
When desire blinds the mind with delusion
and dust, O thou holy one, thou wakeful,
come with thy light and thy thunder
A Prayer in Spring by Robert Frost
OH, give us pleasure in the flowers today;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.
Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.
And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.
For this is love and nothing else is love,
To which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends he will,
But which it only needs that we fulfill.
The impulse frequently arises in me to squeeze another this or another that into this moment. Just this phone call, just stopping off here on my way there. Never mind that it might be in the opposite direction. I've learned to identify this impulse and mistrust it. I work hard at saying no to it. I like to practice voluntary simplicity to counter such impulses and make sure nourishment comes at a deep level. It involves intentionally doing only one thing at a time and making sure I am here for it. Many occasions present themselves: taking a walk, for instance, or spending a few moments with the dog in which I am really with the dog. Voluntary simplicity means going fewer places in one day rather than more, seeing less so I can see more, doing less so I can do more, acquiring less so I can have more. It all ties in.
It's not a real option for me as a father of young children, a breadwinner, a husband, an oldest son to my parents, a person who cares deeply about his work to go off to one Walden Pond or another and sit under a tree for a few years, listening to the grass grow and the seasons change, much as the impulse beckons at times. But within the organized chaos and complexity of family life and work, with all their demands and responsibilities, frustrations and unsurpassed gifts, there is ample opportunity for choosing simplicity in small ways.
A commitment to simplicity in the midst of the world is a delicate balancing act. It is always in need of returning, further inquiry, attention. But I find the notion of voluntary simplicity keeps me mindful of what is important. You don't get to control it all. But choosing simplicity whenever possible adds to life an element of deepest freedom which so easily eludes us, and many opportunities to discover that less may actually be more.
~ Jon Kabat-Zinn
God Keeps Watch by Leona I. Miller
Each new day quickly fades away,
There's pleasure from the work God has done;
He gives to us over and over and over again,
From morning's dawn 'til the setting sun.
The Western sky is ablaze with colors,
We pause to watch God paint the sky;
The beauty seen is a glimpse of Heaven,
It's a beautiful moment money can't buy.
We view the stars and the moon above,
They sparkle and shine with their light;
The stars surely must represent Angels,
Keeping watch over us in the night.
God continues to keep watch over us too,
He knows if we stumble or go astray;
He is always willing to forgive if we ask,
There's power when we're on our knees to pray.
As we enjoy another evening's sunset,
Pause to think back for a moment on the day;
Forgive to be forgiven before the sun goes down,
Then there will be peace in the heart to stay.
Be thankful and give praise to God,
He has given blessings and favors again today;
As we come to the busy day's closure,
Don't forget—don't ever forget to pray.
We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
In 2 Corinthians 4:7, Paul contrasted the powerful with the powerless and the temporary with the permanent. The "jars of clay" is a symbol for the Christian. A jar of clay was a crack-able, fragile, and inexpensive vessel. In one sense, Christian are "crackpots." Inside of these fragile vessels is God's greatest treasure. Imagine it. God's diamonds stored inside cereal boxes!
Just what is it that is stored inside of us? It is just what Paul discussed in 2 Corinthians 4:6. The character of God with all of God's power, all of God's holiness, all of God's value has been put inside us through the presence of Christ. Why would God do that? Because God loves us...of course! But in addition, God does it to demonstrate that the power people see through Christians is not there because of who we are, but rather because of who is in us—Christ.
Paul picked up the theme of the temporary nature of a person's body and the permanent nature of Christ in 2 Corinthians 4:8-12. The only reason Paul did not cave in, quit, or become destroyed, was because the treasure that was in him was powerful, permanent, and victorious. After all, how can you continually hit a fragile clay pot without destroying the clay pot? The only answer is that the content of that clay pot has been in that clay pot so long that the pot has taken on the nature of the content.
Just what did the Apostle Paul mean when he said (in 2 Corinthians 4:10), "We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body"? Some scholars believe Paul was probably referring to the way Jesus always gave himself up for others. In part, that is what it means to die to self. Whenever we set our focused-on-self selves aside, then Christ can be revealed through us. The "death" that is at work in us is the death to selfishness and the "life" that is at work in us is the life of the unselfish presence of the Spirit of Christ. That touches people! That motivates people! That inspires people! That draws people to God. That changes people! And, that can save people.
~ J. E. Royle
Over the years I have come to believe that life is full of un-chosen circumstances, that being human has to do with the growth of our individual consciousness and with it, responsibilities for choice. Pain and joy both come with life. I believe that how we respond to what happens to us and around us shapes who we become and has to do with the psyche or the soul's growth.
Now that I am in my fifth decade, I can look back and say that the hardest and darkest times in my life led me deeper and farther along my spiritual path. At the same time I am not at all sure that, at least in this life, such is the case for everyone, especially the very young who are abused or who arrive in this world innately handicapped.
It has not been the difficult times, however, that most shaped my spiritual life, but the times that were "sacramental"—situations that were imbued with grace, sacred moments in which I felt the presence of God or felt connected to the universe. Or those times I was in nature or at a sacred site, and felt myself enter a sacred place, or have a sacred meeting, a soul-to-soul communion with another person. These are the experiences that have really mattered, the ones that changed me—the spiritual experiences that led me to what I am doing with my life. I directly felt the presence of divinity, and knew it.
~ Jean Shinoda Bolen
The mind of love brings peace, joy, and happiness to ourselves and others. Sound and light have the ability to penetrate everywhere, and love and compassion can do the same. But if our love is only a kind of imagination, then it is not likely to have any real effect. It is in the midst of our daily life and in our actual contact with others that we can know whether our mind of love is really present and how stable it is. If love is real, it will be evident in our daily life, in the way we relate with people and the world.
The source of love is deep in us, and we can help others realize a lot of happiness. One word, one action, or one thought can reduce another person's suffering and bring him or her joy. One word can give comfort and confidence, destroy doubt, help someone avoid a mistake, reconcile a conflict, or open the door to liberation. One action can save a person's life or help him or her take advantage of a rare opportunity. One thought can do the same, because thoughts always lead to words and actions.
If love is in our heart, every thought, word, and deed can bring about a miracle. Because understanding is the very foundation of love, words and actions that emerge from our love are always helpful.
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
"Day by Day" by Julia Harris May
I heard a voice at evening softly say:
Bear not thy yesterday into tomorrow,
Nor load this week with last week's sorrow;
Lift all thy burdens as they come, nor try
To weight the present with the by and by.
One step and then another, take thy way--
Live day by day.
Though autumn leaves change the season,
Walk in the sunshine. It is all for thee.
Push ahead as long as you can see.
Dread not the winter where mayst go;
But when it comes, be thankful for snow.
Onward and upward. Look and pray--
Live day by day.
The path before thee does not lead astray.
Do the next duty. It must surely be
The Christ is in the one closest to thee.
Onward, still onward, with a smile,
Till step by step shall end in mile by mile.
'I'll do my best,' unto my conscience say--
Live day by day.
Jason E. Royle
Welcome to my blog. I'm an open-minded theologian committed to Christ-like compassion & understanding.