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Well, I am about to break the one steadfast rule I’ve had on this blog since the beginning.  I don’t ask for money.  I fund this ministry/website out of my own pocket and try to avoid arguments that I am selling out or support tithing because tithes support me.  But I am in a quandary.  Not one that affects the site – yet – but one that affects me personally.

As my loyal readers know, I was in the middle of a messy divorce a little while back that cost me the rental property my ex and I operated because she refused to pay the mortgage or give me the rental income to do so.  Now the  final property-related nail is coming as a result of her bankruptcy and foolishness.  I am about to be foreclosed on by my bank for the house that I am currently living in.  Now, I did my best to pay the mortgage, but unfortunately, circumstances got the better of me.  Over the last 2 years, I’ve lost a number of my sources of income as the economy kept sliding and government and tourism-related industries kept cutting back.

Despite being willing to do just about anything and humbling myself, applying for literally hundreds of jobs, I am still jobless, my income is steadily decreasing and I am barely making ends meet.  Unfortunately, the mortgage was one of those things that just didn’t get taken care of in a timely basis and now the bank has called their note due.

When I was first served, I went through my affirmative defenses – one of which being that my ex-wife signed a quit claim deed, divesting herself of this house.  To date, the bank has still not recognized it and her name appears prominently on the foreclosure papers, myself, who continued to pay the mortgage long after she stopped, is relegated to a secondary defendant.  My biggest defense was that the bank had refused to accept and properly credit some of my payments, holding the money, as a bank employee explained to me, “in limbo.”  The banks lawyers have responded to that claim and offered me two options, after adjusting for the money that was never credited ($500+, not counting the interest and fees that they didn’t credit me for).

My two options are this: pay approx. $212,000 to pay off the loan, or approx. $40,000 to cover the missed payments, interest, lawyer’s fees, etc. etc.)  And I have until 5pm on April 1st to deliver that payment to their offices in Fort Lauderdale.  Considering that I have just enough to cover my electric bill this month and am eating courtesy of Food Stamps, that is far outside my reach.

Praying for a miracle, it came to me that I might ask if people would be willing to help me out.  $40K is not really that much, in the big picture and even small donations would help whittle this down.  I am not sure if this insight came from the Lord or not.  I was praying when it occurred to me, but my only experiences with hearing God were both forgiveness-oriented, so I can’t really tell.  Usually, I get insights from the Holy Spirit where I suddenly understand or realize some deeper truth or concept and I don’t want to misrepresent my Lord.

I have committed that any money I receive from this will be paid back to the donor/patron, unless they specifically state for me not to, in which case, I will pay to help out others needs on their behalf.

Also, I would prefer to do something rather than just take donations.  As I said, every little bit helps and I do have some skills that I can apply that are of value.

I sell books, CD’s, DVD’s and toys on Amazon – my site is Books From A Rose and I have between 2400 and 2500 items currently up for sale.  If you’re looking for something, please take a moment and see if I have it.  If I don’t, I would also recommend some friends of mine that helped me get started in this enterprise, Pursel Books.  They sell a quite a number of items on Amazon and eBay and may very well have what you need.

I am a writer.  I spent almost 20 years in the local TV business, writing news, commercials and promotional spots.  You can see some of my TV work at www.YouTube.com/user/lonerangerone. I also have written some plays over the years and am currently working on a couple of screenplays.  I have done reviews for Title Trakk, and I was the Senior Editor for Television for Infuze Magazine, before we were closed down, working with novelist Robin Parrish and music producer & novelist Matt Bronlewee.  I used to write songs back in the day – one was even performed as part of my church’s worship service.

I shoot, produce and edit video.  Okay, I am an okay video shooter… Great if I have a tripod.  I am a great editor, though.  Having learned from some of the best and learned how things were done, “back in the day…” I can find a way to make just about any video look the way you envision.  I have shot VHS and BETA, DV, HD-DV, and 8mm.  I have edited on everything from AVID Media Composer (my favorite) to Media 100, Pinnacle VideoCube, Apple Final Cut, Speed Razor, Boris FX, New Tek Video Toaster, Adobe After Effects and Adobe Premiere.  When I worked for the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, I also did Forensic Video Processing and was a member of Law Enforcement Video Association (LEVA).

I design, build and maintain websites.  While I am still exploring much of this field and I cannot do killer Flash opens and whatnot, I am pretty decent and very affordable.  I use Adobe Photoshop, Dreamweaver and Fireworks.  My work is available at www.StarlightstudioProductions.com, www.FASN.net, www.MartyWisher.com, www.UFTAFlorida.com, www.FamilyofGod.us, and this site, www.FinancialFreedomThroughFaith.org.  I am familiar with WordPress themes, editing them and promoting them.

I am a pretty good actor and I am a partner with the production company Starlight Productions, we do celebrity impersonations, character work and Murder Mysteries.  We just finished our first feature length film, “Light.”  I am also the sitting President of United Film & Television Artists (UFTA) a non-profit that helps filmmakers and actors with support and promoting our area as a film location.

My other company, 13/30 Productions, does media and business promotion.  We provide newsletters, websites, press releases, social media marketing, etc., all to help small businesses get the word out about their product or service to their potential customers.  I try to apply all of my skills as a designer, writer, promoter and video producer to help my clients get their message out at an affordable price.  If you need a little more Internet-based solution, my girlfriend runs Small Business Development Group, specializing in Affordable Internet Marketing Solutions and Search Engine Optimization.

I am a pretty good speaker.  I used to teach when I worked in Financial Services and I gave a few lectures/presentations on Financial Freedom for Christians.  I have written and given a few sermons that I thought were pretty good.  They are posted on this site: What Would Luther Say?, The Waiting is the Easy Part, and eternal sunshine for the Transformed mind.

I have not given up on my vision for a financial non-profit company that would help people in the same need I am in.  That will come to pass one day.  That was from God and it is often those he humbles that have the strongest commitments.

If there’s any way I can help you or work I can do for you, please let me know.  I am a hard worker and willing to do what it takes.  I serve God and when I can man, and I do my very best.

I will update everyone when I return from Fort Lauderdale on April 1st.

If you feel led to make me an interest free loan or invest in one of my talents, you can contact me at lonerangerone@gmail.com.  If you feel like helping out the old fashioned way, my mailing address appears below also.  If you do not feel led, that’s really okay, I just ask that you pray for me, regardless.    Thank you in advance, and may God bless you richly.

Paul A. Rose, Jr.


Mailing Address:

Paul A. Rose, Jr.

PO Box 151443

Cape Coral, FL 33915

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I was reading the other day and I came across this statement from some genetic researchers: “Our story-telling brains are what makes humans unique.”  So let’s start with a story.

There’s this movie that I really like.  It’s called Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  It was a very well-written film, but it didn’t do well in the theatres, probably because Jim Carrey wasn’t funny, Kate Winslet wasn’t sexy and Elijah Wood wasn’t a Hobbit.

It’s not written or produced by a Christian, but it has an interesting premise.  Jim Carrey’s character, Joel, receives a card in the mail, explaining that his girlfriend, Clementine, has undergone a process whereby she has had Joel erased from her memory.  Joel struggles with this for a little while and then decides that his life would be easier if he underwent this process as well to have her “unwritten” from his memory.  Of course, it wouldn’t be good drama without a conflict and that arises as, during the process, Joel realizes that he really doesn’t want to forget Clementine, because, even though the memories are shaded now by sorrow, they have helped form who he is today.

The title comes from a line in the poem by Alexander Pope, “Eloisa to Abelard:”

“How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!

The world forgetting, by the world forgot.

Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!

Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d.”

The thought of this stanza of the poem, as well as the film, is that by simply forgetting and/or being forgotten, we are healed and all is right with the world – all is sunshine and bright.

The text you will be reading for our Bible study over the next week is Romans 12 & 13 and it has a slightly different take on things.  If you would take out your Bibles – and turn with me to the 12th chapter of Romans.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Bible, Romans is in the New Testament, about 3/4ths of the way into the Bible, following the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts, Luke’s continuing saga of Christ’s followers.  Romans is teh sixth book, right after Acts.

Paul is writing to the Christians in Rome before he arrives and he spent the last chapters explaining to them that the Jewish people were not to be scorned, but rather prayed for, because they are the original benefactors of God’s mercy and favor.  In fact, he goes as far as to say that God has closed the door to sacrifice, imprisoning all men in sin, Jew and non-Jew alike, so that all may come to grace through Jesus Christ and be blessed by His mercy.

Continuing in Romans 12, starting with verse 1:

1Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 2Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…

Theologian Wesley Kort tells us that there are two ways we should embrace our study of the Bible.  First, we read it Centripetally.  Centripetal force is moving or directed toward a center or axis.  That is, we immerse ourselves in the reading and becoming transformed.  But, we also must read it, Centrifugally.  Centrifugal motion is directed outwards – in Kort’s writing, we return to our world after being immersed in the Bible. But when we return, we return as different people, and our world appears to us in a new way—“somehow invisibly infused with the kingdom of God.”

You see, too many Christians, I think, read the Bible and follow Christ Centripetally, spiraling deeper and deeper into the Scripture and isolate themselves more and more from the outside world.  We must, at some point, move back out, spinning away from the axis, into the world, in service, in mission, in relationships.

Our bodies are meant to be living sacrifices – but not on an altar in a church where no one can see us, but in the world, acting as servants, becoming Christ to a dying world.  True Christianity contains three elements: it is Missional, it is Relational, and it is Incarnational.  You see, we cannot just accept God’s mercy and keep it for ourselves.  We must take that mercy and extend it to our brothers and sisters.  Paul even hints earlier in Romans that one of the reasons the Jews were separated from God’s covenant – by their own act, not God’s – is because they hoarded His mercy.  Yet – yet, Paul writes in Romans 11, if their flaws led to the salvation of the entire world, how much more will the whole world benefit from Israel’s return to the mercy of God in Christ?

Leonard Sweet writes,

“I heard the story of a member of the church approaching their pastor and telling him that they had been called into full-time ministry. The pastor did not respond in the manner they were expecting when he said, ‘Oh, I thought you were a Christian.’

“This set the member back a bit. He answered that of course he was a Christian. Then the pastor said, ‘Then, too late…’ by which he meant that when we became disciples of Jesus, we accepted the call into full-time ministry.

“So much of the time we write a check and think we have done our part. Or, if we are really trying to be spiritual, we may go on a mission project for a few days a year. In reality Christ turns us into ‘Mission 365,’ as my friend Tom Ingram calls it. We are in mission in the car, in mission at the grocery store, in mission at Starbucks, in mission on Twitter.”

Being a Christian means we are living sacrifices – or in the words of the Blues Brothers – “We’re on a Mission from God”

Returning to Romans 12, verses 9-13:

9Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. 14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Live in harmony with one another, bless those who persecute you, rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.  It’s not an accident that this passage follows Paul’s exhortation to be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  This is what happens when your mind is renewed.  This is the proof in the pudding, as it were.

Did you know that every day, more text messages are sent than the entire population of the world?  We have FaceBook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube, Bebo – all sites dedicated to “social networking,” yet we’re more distant, father apart than we ever have been before.  Tell me, when was the last time you spoke to your neighbor – or even waved at him from your front yard?  We have e-mail, voice-mail, cell phones, Instant Messages, text messages, Voice-Over-Internet, but how often do we consciously choose to use technology over actual face-to-face interaction?  How often do we choose e-mail over even having a telephone conversation?

There is an African concept called ubuntu. The philosophy of ubuntu says: “I am related, therefore, we are.”

How often are you relating to people?  Christians shouldn’t be people who follow Christianity.  Christians have to be people who follow and fall in love with Christ.  But how much time do we waste trying to get people to follow our particular rules, regulations and traditions, rather then trying to help them fall in love with Jesus?

Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.  Christianity is meant to be lived in relationship.

There is an old Jewish proverb that the story is the highest form of truth.  Being an incarnational Christian is all about context.

Let me ask you a question.  Are you a mirror or a prism?

In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, there’s a scene where Clementine is trying to explain her philosophy of life to Joel:

“There’s all these emotions and ideas and they come quick and they change and they leave and they come back in a different form and I think we’re all taught to be consistent.  Y’know?  …You choose to do something with your life  — that’s it, that’s what you do… And my feeling is, that’s how you die, because you stop listening to what’s true and what is true is constantly changing.  You know?”  (written by Charlie Kaufman)

And if you think about it, Clementine is right.  Not that truth is not constantly changing, but that our perception of that truth is constantly being changed, developed, better understood.

There is a Jewish learning exercise called Hevruta is the practice of studying sacred texts with a partner.  Jewish scholarly life is built around people sitting around a text, reading it aloud, and then engaging in conversations and stories about that text.

The traditional study of Hebrew scriptures is with a partner, with whom head-to-head, nose-to-nose debate, dialogue, even shouting-at-the-top-of-your-lungs, is part of the learning process. They don’t ask, “What are you studying?” But, “What are you learning?”

Studying infers a solitary, sedentary ingestion of information. Learning is a social, active, exercise—a dialogue that must necessarily engage two or more persons in order for true learning to be accomplished. In the Jewish tradition, “learning” is a verb, a never-finished action.

Leonard Sweet writes, “Truth is best discovered in conversation; and truth needs multiple perspectives for it to be trusted.”

Sweet also writes,

“There are three alternatives for living a unique Christian way of life.  One is to imitate Jesus; two is to follow Jesus’ principles, whether found in His teachings or His stories; three is to be in such a relationship with Christ that you begin to share his life, his spirit and his presence.”

We are not called to be imitators of Christ, but rather implanters and interpreters of Jesus for the world we live in.  Jesus didn’t come to teach us how to be “like God,” he came to teach us how to be true humans, living in communion with the Father.  And just like Jesus used parables that took an agricultural approach – the sower, the vine and the branches, etc., because that related to his audience, so I can use an R rated film to make a point to an audience who relates to it.

We have gotten so caught up in being the church that we remember and like, the traditions and customs that sometimes we separate ourselves from the very people we are supposed to be trying to reach.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I like many of the traditions of the church, but that doesn’t make them Biblical doctrine.

A little while back, I interviewed Phil Cooke, a Christian TV producer and media guru, and I asked him if he had an opinion on why it seemed that most of the time, atheists create more realistic and believable Christian characters than Christian film and TV writers often do.  His response was at first surprising, but the more I considered it, the more sense it made.

He quoted a California Pastor named Erwin McManus.  McManus, speaking to an audience of Christian media creator-hopefuls, pointed out that he was more moved by the death of Mufasa in The Lion King on Broadway than by the death of Aslan in the film version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

The point he was making was that Christians often become lazy.  They forget that they are speaking to a world that is outside their circle – a world that doesn’t know the conventions and concepts of the church.  They create a Pastor and because they know how he is supposed to react, they assume everyone else will too.  I myself used to wonder, when reading the Left Behind novels, how these people who’d never darkened the door of a church prior to the Rapture, somehow learned how to speak like Southern Baptists.

Meanwhile, the atheists – at least the ones I counted off to him – were committed to excellence, so they took the time to research and develop three-dimensional characters, rather than take any shortcuts or make assumptions about the viewers knowledge.

Being incarnational as Christians is often the hardest thing to achieve, because it means going completely outside your comfort zone, meeting and learning where people are, whether they’re in the jungles of Africa or the concrete jungle of Los Angeles.  But we are called to be transformed, to renew our minds and become a living sacrifice – which involves being willing to live for your faith more often than being willing to die for it.

Back to our question – are you a mirror or a prism?  A mirror simply reflects the light – a single instance of the light – and only back to the person or image standing in front of it.  A prism takes the light in and refracts it into a rainbow of colors that spread much larger and much farther than a mirror image ever could.

As we learn to be more missional, relational, and transformational, we become better Christians – we become more loving, more giving, more Christ-like and more effective.

You see, in the movie, as Joel goes through the process of erasing Clementine from his life, he realizes that he can’t live in a world without her – even if he can’t be with her.  In many ways, it reflects the true human condition – as the mathematician Blaise Pascal stated, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person, and it can never be filled by any created thing.  It can only be filled by God, made known through Jesus Christ.”

We know inherently that we need Jesus, just as Joel realizes, in his sleep that he needs Clementine, even the broken, sorrow-filled remembrances of her.

Think for a moment about your memories. What you remember is not personal, but social. Your “memory bank” is full of relational moments, not isolated, individual personal recollections. We find out who we are only in connection with others.…

So I encourage you, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.

Take what you have learned and take it to the world who so desperately needs it.

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

Love all and serve all, be a friend to the friendless, love your enemies, bless them that persecute you.

And in loving Jesus, rather than imitating him, invite him to live in your heart and transform you from the inside out.

Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Amen.

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I wanted to repost this excellent review of a fantastic new book on Culture and how it shapes Christians and we shape it.  It comes from Trevin Wax at the new Discerning Reader.

culturemakingLet’s reclaim the culture for Christ!  We need to transform the culture!  Let’s redeem the culture!  We should resist the culture!

What do these phrases really mean?  What do we mean by “culture” when we talk about transforming it?  Is it our Christian calling to redeem “culture?”

Andy Crouch’s new book Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling is a landmark work that will create a new culture of its own within evangelicalism. Crouch points out the areas where evangelical thinking about culture-making has been counterproductive, and he charts a new path – one that would have evangelicals understand culture in more tangible ways.

Crouch points out the fallacious ways in which we conceive of “culture.” Christians too often think simplistically about “culture” – as if it were some nebulous, overarching thought system in our world. Crouch believes we are wrong to talk of “culture” in this way. Instead, we must start thinking of culture as specific cultural goods.

Culture is what human beings make of the world. And these things we make eventually affect the world we live in. We cannot withdraw or escape culture because it is what we were made to do.

Analyzing culture does not substitute for the creation of real cultural goods. “The only way to change culture is to create more of it,” Crouch says.

Crouch sees much of evangelicalism’s desire to “engage the culture” as well-intentioned but often misguided. We tend to take certain, appropriate gestures toward cultural artifacts and make them postures – our position towards all cultural artifacts. Crouch points out several ways that Christians relate to “culture:”

   1. Condemning
   2. Critiquing
   3. Copying
   4. Consuming.

Each of these may be appropriate positions to take toward certain cultural items. After all, there is nothing we can do with pornography except condemn it. There is also a place for strong critique of culture. Likewise, there are times when copying culture is appropriate. And of course, we can consume culture without any guilt at all when such action is glorifying to God.

But Crouch warns us against making these appropriate gestures into postures. When we turn gestures into postures, we assume a certain outlook regarding all culture. Crouch sets forth a different model. Instead of reacting to culture as it is, Christians should concentrate on creating and cultivating culture as we want it to be. We are to be artists and gardeners – creators and cultivators of cultural goods.

Crouch describes concrete ways that we can be creators of culture. He shows us how cultural artifacts change the culture. (There is a fascinating section on the difference between the river and the highway.)

Readers will discover that an emphasis on humility pervades the book. Crouch warns against thinking that we can change the world.

“Changing the world sounds grand, until you consider how poorly we do even at changing our own little lives… Indeed, I sometimes wonder if breathless rhetoric about changing the world is actually about changing the subject – from our own fitfully suppressed awareness that we did not ask to be brought into this world, have only vaguely succeeded at figuring it out, and will end our days in radical dependence on something or someone other than ourselves. Beware of world changers, they have not yet learned the true meaning of sin.”

Crouch bases his thoughts on culture-making within the creation narrative and the gospel story of redemption. He dodges the question of historicity of the creation accounts by talking about the importance of the story, not just the historical details. (I find this evasion most peculiar, because he treats the biblical text as fully accurate throughout his book.)

Crouch is right to show that heaven too will have a culture. “Culture is the furniture of heaven.” This leads us to the thought-provoking question about our cultural artifacts: Can we imagine this making it into the new Jerusalem?

Crouch critiques the emphasis that “worldview thinking” places upon analysis and thought. He believes we need less critics of cultural goods and more creators of cultural goods. But considering the fact that a great number of Christians simply consume culture without critically thinking about the messages of these goods convey, I believe we could use more creators and critics of cultural goods. It is true that too much analysis can keep us from purely “enjoying” art, but I’m not convinced that enjoyment and thinking critically are necessarily opposed to one another. I’m also concerned that some evangelicals might take these words from Culture Making as a free pass to watch or listen to whatever they want and to dismiss the idea of worldview-critique.

What I love most about Culture Making is the theme of hope. Crouch believes we can start creating culture in small spheres (our family, for example). He points out the importance of small groups. Culture is not always made by the large crowd. We can all get busy fulfilling the creation mandate to create and cultivate.

Culture Making is filled with grace. We recognize that our ability to create or cultivate culture is rooted in God’s grace. “Where are we called to create culture? At the intersection of grace and cross.”

Crouch’s conclusion?

“So do you want to make culture? Find a community, a small group who can lovingly fuel your dreams and puncture your illusions. Find friends and form a family who are willing to see grace at work in one another’s lives, who can discern together which gifts and which crosses each has been called to bear. Find people who have a holy respect for power and a holy willingness to spend their power alongside the powerless. Find some partners in the wild and wonderful world beyond church doors. And then, together, make something of the world.”

Amen. Now, let’s get busy!

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Reposting an insightful article from my friend Phil Cooke at The Change Revolution on how to be heard among the noise of life:

phil_039

Phil Cooke

Have you lost the ability to keep people’s attention?  Are you noticing that no one is paying much attention to what you have to say anymore?  Because of the barrage of media messages we’re subjected to each day, the pacing of normal conversations has increased.  Check it out – most of the people you speak to on a daily basis talk much faster than they did a few years ago, and it seems like the younger generation is talking faster than ever.  But along with that, comes the flood of “you know,” “like,” “and so,” plus other phrases that are used over an over – sometimes in every single sentence.  The problem is – if you’re one of those people, you need to understand that after the seventh “you know,” your listener starts tuning you out.  The repetition drives people crazy.  So how do you fix it?  How to you stop the racing conversation, and the repeated phrases, and become more articulate once again?

Here’s a few suggestions:

1)    Force yourself to speak more slowly.  In your haste to get your ideas across, your mouth is moving faster than your brain.  You feel like you need to be saying something, so you toss in meaningless phrases such as “you know” or “like” just to keep talking.  Slow it down.  Practice speaking more slowly so you have time to actually think about what you’re saying.

2)    When you finish the thought, stop talking.  I have a friend who just can’t seem to end a thought, so he inserts phrases like “…and so…” – letting the conversation drift off, rather than end.  When the thought is over, STOP.  Don’t keep engaging your mouth.  If there’s nothing left to say, then leave it.

3)    Learn to listen.  This is becoming a forgotten art.  Most people don’t actually listen, they’re just thinking of the next thing they want to say.  But if you force yourself to really listen, you’ll find yourself thinking of far better things to say, plus, it will give you time to organize that next thought.  You want to be more fascinating to people?  Then shut up and listen.  Trust me – for most people, letting them talk will make them think you’re the most interesting person in the world.

4)    Before you speak again, think about what you’re going to say.
  This will also help you slow down the conversation.  Actually consider the thought before you open your mouth.  Think it through before you engage your voice, and it will make a huge difference in how well you articulate the response.

5)    Stop interrupting.  Sure you have a great thought.  Sure you’re excited to share it.  But it’s the height of rudeness to interrupt someone.  Wait until they’ve finished before you jump in.  For serial interrupters, this will be tough – so be prepared to fight the impulse.

6)    Make notes.
  This will seem awkward unless you’re in a meeting with multiple people, but I use it even when talking to a single person.  When a thought comes to you, just jot down a word or two.  This will help keep you from interrupting, but keep you from forgetting the thought.  It will also force you to consider it, and help you articulate it better.  

While some of these suggestions may sound trivial – trust me – they really will help you stop these annoying habits, and get back on the road to articulating your thoughts – and once again, commanding people’s attention.

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Once again, I had the opportunity to offer the sermon for the Sunday after Christmas, since our regular pastor is visiting his family in West Virginia.  So what follows is the essential make-up of what I spoke on, Sunday, December 28th.

There’s an old church joke you may have heard before, I’d like to share with you:

There was an economist who was reading 2 Peter 3:8-9 and was quite amazed by it and decided to ask God about it.

He prayed, “Lord, is it true that a thousand years are just like one minute to you?”

The Lord replied, “Yes.”

The economist said, “Well then a million dollars to us must be like one penny to you.”

The Lord replied again, “Well, yes.”

Thinking he had the perfect plan, the economist then asked, “Lord, can I have a penny?”

To which the Lord replied, “Absolutely.  Just give Me a minute.”

How often do we find ourselves in this economist’s position, praying for what we think we need and struggling when God’s response appears to be, “Wait”

The Gospel passage for this week that churches across the country are teaching from is Luke 2:21-40, often known as Simeon’s Song.  If you could turn in your Bibles to that passage, and if you don’t have a Bible with you, there are some under most of the chairs.  Luke is the third Gospel, in the New Testament.  Just a few days ago, we covered most of the first two chapters during Christmas Eve services…

Luke writes, “On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.   When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

25Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

29″Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you now dismiss your servant in peace.
30For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31which you have prepared in the sight of all people,
32a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”

33The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

36There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

39When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.”

This entire reading is about waiting.  Jesus waits a week to be circumcised, Mary waits 33 days from the circumcision to be purified and reenter the temple, according to the Levitical law.  Anna had been worshipping at the Temple for probably more than 60 years, waiting for something.  Simeon had been waiting for many years, for he had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had seen the Christ.  Now, we don’t know how old he was at the time, although there is a traditional Eastern Orthodox story that would place his age at somewhere around 200+ years at the time he met the Holy Family at the Temple in Jerusalem.  Imagine waiting for almost two centuries for a promise to be fulfilled.  But not only that, it says that Simeon was waiting for the consolation of Israel.

It’s probably not news to you that we as Americans, hate to wait.  We buy microwave dinners, TiVo our favorite shows to watch them commercial-free and logon to the Internet to get our news, rather than waiting for the paper or even the 6 o’clock news.  Yet, we just finished a time of waiting – the season of Advent, a time of waiting and anticipation of the birth of Jesus.  It may surprise you to learn this, but Advent isn’t just a time that commemorates the waiting for Jesus’s birth – it is also the time for anticipating and the celebration of waiting for His eventual return.

So even here in Florida, we’ve been looking forward to Christmas for at least 4 weeks.  Of course, the stores, in a desperate quest for more of our dollars, have been waiting for Christmas since Halloween.  Which just proves that they don’t watch their own sales figures – which show that the last two weekends prior to Christmas are the busiest shopping days of the year.  In fact, Black Friday traditionally ranks as the 8th busiest shopping day of the year, despite all the ads in the Thanksgiving papers.

The season of Christmas, which for the church started on Wednesday night and continues through the next couple of weeks, is about celebrating that the Lord has fulfilled his promise.  It’s reminding us that the waiting is worth it – the promise will be fulfilled in His time, and we will be even better for having waited for it.  I have often thought that when Jesus said in John 14 that he was going to prepare a place for us, he also meant that he was going to prepare us for that place.

Waiting is hard, but it is essential to the Christian walk, which is why some find it so hard to follow Christ, and others preach shortcuts to God’s blessings and peace.  In his book, Waiting: Finding Hope When God Seems Silent, Ben Peterson writes, “What God does in us while we wait is as important as what it is we are waiting for.”

So if we find ourselves waiting, we have to ask, what is God trying to teach me in this place, at the same time realizing that we may not divine the answer or even realize it in hindsight when the waiting we are doing has past.

The second thing this passage teaches is about Reconciliation.  The act of Mary’s being cleansed by the sacrifice is the act of reconciling her body to once again be able to worship God in the Temple.  The consecration of Jesus as the first born is part of God’s reconciliation for the sins of Cain and Adam, both “first” born.

In verse 25, it mentions that Simeon was waiting for the consolation of Israel.  Seven hundred years prior to this instant, Isaiah had prophesied that one would come to reconcile not only the nation of Israel, but also the Gentiles – a portion of the prophecy many in the Temple at the time of Simeon discounted or disbelieved.  Yet Simeon proves he knows his Isaiah – part of his song directly references two passages in Isaiah,

“I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, (Isaiah 42:6)

“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6)

And now Simeon knows he can die in peace, dismissed from his service to God.  Even his death, when it comes, will be a sign of hope.

What’s more, the prophetess Anna also proclaims to all that were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem, that the child was to fulfill that prophecy.  Unfortunately, I’m sure many of them misunderstood what form the redemption of Israel would take, just as they would 33 years later.

In just a few days, we’ll be celebrating a new year.  2008, for good or bad, will be over and 2009 will begin.  The new year is often a time of change, a time when people have their hopes raised and the future seems somehow brighter, regardless of what may actually happen.  And this year, for many seems like an even bigger and brighter new beginning.

Just three weeks from now, we will be inaugurating a brand new president.  President-elect Barack Obama campaigned on a platform of change, that, whether you agree with him or not, resonated with a large portion of the American population.  A population tired of housing slumps, foreclosures, bankruptcies, economic bail-outs and rising unemployment rates.

Obama promises to eliminate all of those worries in a sweeping, expensive ‘New Deal’ style package that could be the most dramatic start to a presidency since Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first hundred days in office.  Barack Obama is promising a redemption of the United States, a return to its greatness.  Will Obama truly bring about a change like many hope?  I don’t know, although if history is any reflection, then the answer is probably no.

But regardless of the success of our new president, we have to ask ourselves, where does our hope lie?  Does it lie in politicians and presidents?  Does it lie in money or possessions?  Does it lie in relationships – families, friendships?

Humans have a tendency to look in the wrong places to find their answers – or to forget what sustained them when they had no answers.

When God led the people of Israel out of Egypt under Moses’ leadership, he set them free from a life of slavery, building temples to other people’s gods.  He brought them, eventually, to the Promised Land – or at least their descendants.  Yet, just a few generations later, in an eerie reflection of their slavery in Egypt, Solomon, the son of David, is using slave labor to build the Temple of the Lord, among other things.  After the dedication of the Temple, God comes again to Solomon to warn him what will happen if the Israelites forget their deliverer and turn to serve other gods.  Solomon promises to obey, but halfway through his reign, he has gotten comfortable, disobedient and forgets who gave him the power he wields, prompting God to punish his descendants and once again tear the Israelites from their home, this time culminating with the destruction of the temple, losing the Ark of the Covenant, and more.

In his latest book, Jesus Wants to Save Christians, Rob Bell points out,

“That’s always the danger, isn’t it?  That we’ll be broken, our empires will collapse, we’ll cry out for help, and when that help comes, when we get back on our feet, when there’s money in our account again, and things are back to how they were, the danger is, once we get it back – whatever ‘it’ is – we’ll forget what just happened.”

We’ll forget that Jesus is the one who saves us, who gives us hope, even in the darkest times, even in the deepest recessions.  I don’t have any figures to back this up, but it looks like church attendance is up across the nation over the past few months.  Not just Christmas Eve, but every Sunday, as people search for answers to the problems in their lives.  The question is, once they have some answers, once they are back on their feet, once their investments start performing again, will they continue to serve God, or will they forget where their hope came from in light of their new-found blessings?  And are we any better?

Our church body, small as it may seem, sponsored two families for Thanksgiving and two more families for Christmas.  In this time of struggling economy, we looked at our blessings, even the small ones, and chose to give, in some cases sacrificially, some of that back to members of our community that were struggling even more than we were.

The challenge is, when things turn around – when we do see better days – and we will see better days – history has taught us that – the United States still holds 90% of the world’s wealth, not to mention other benefits that the rest of the world can’t even imagine – when the waiting is over and the promise comes true, will we still be focused on the One who gives us hope?  Will we remember who He is and what He has called us to do?  Or will we be more like the Israelites, turning our back on the One who saved us and sustained us.

My prayer for you is that you patiently and prayerfully endure the waiting, while seeking to learn and grow, so that when the promise is fulfilled, you remember He who gave you all things, even the very ability to work and earn money.  Reconciliation that leads to hope.  Amen.

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