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Welcome to the first issue of the “CD” – Cyber Devotion Blog-cast!

The idea is we will post a weekly devotion and have conversation about the topic through written dialogue. At the end of each blog there will be questions for you to  reflect and answer – some or all of them, and also respond to other group member comments. Throughout the week each member of the group will post comments and/or questions to the blog site, so keep checking back.

Now…lets get started!- Please see the below introduction to the book of Romans…!!

ROMANS: A Conversational Study with Life Application

Welcome to the book of Romans. This “book” was originally a letter written by the apostle Paul to the growing Christian church in Rome in the year 58. It is most likely that he wrote this letter from the city of Corinth. This same Corinth received two similar letter from Paul, which like Romans, we now revere as Holy Scripture (1 and 2 Corinthians).

When studying the Bible, it is easy to get lost in the details. This is not to say that the details are in any way unimportant. Just the opposite: it is because the details run so deep that it is easy to “sink beneath the waves” of their importance without understanding the most essential facts regarding a Scriptural text. For us, the most basic facts to situate ourselves within concerning our study of the Romans are:

  • Date of writing: 58 AD
  • Author: Material was composed by the Apostle Paul, and written by Tertius of Iconium (a scribe, or professional writer)
  • Location of writing: The Grecian city of Corinth (a city with excellent shipping access and bustling with commerce)
  • Occasion for writing: To establish a doctrinal basis for the growing Christian faith. This document would serve as a precursor to Paul’s anticipated journey to Rome. Although, when he did finally arrive, it was in chains.

When studying an epistle, I always like to emphasize one fact first: “It’s a letter!” Aside from taking in the basics mentioned a moment ago, this awareness encourages the reader to receive what the writer is saying as consolidated whole. A letter is a personalized stream of thoughts: many thoughts flowing as diverse currents in a single stream—speaking personally to/of the recipient(s). In the case of Romans (as with his other letters), Paul knows some important details about his audience: who they are, the challenges they face, and what—both specifically and generally—they need to grow in their faith.

Our study will break this “whole” into manageable parts. But all the while it must be remembered that each topic Paul addresses is connected; i.e. what he addresses in chapter one carries forward; i.e. his statement “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness…” (1:18a) is still in effect at 3:23, when he states: “But now the righteousness of God apart from the Law is revealed.” And so forth.

This kind of personal / holistic thinking is particularly helpful when studying Paul’s letter to the Christ-confessing church in 1st century Rome. Romans is written like a legal treatise (a formal, systematic exposition in writing of the principles of a subject) on the Christian faith. This is not to say that Romans is in any way “legalistic.” But that each precept has been carefully identified, defined, sequenced and built into an overarching statement representing the essential truths of the Christian faith. On what foundation does our faith stand? How does the atonement work? What is the end of our faith? Each of these questions, along with many more, are addressed. Everything a person needs to come to faith (i.e. the preeminence of Christ in this process, the roles of the Father and Holy Spirit in the believer’s life) and continue to grow are here.

For all of these reasons, Romans is to us a perfect object of study and a worthy challenge. It is my prayer that this study:

  • Teach us to be more like Jesus
  • Impress on us the magnitude of God’s love
  • Make us aware of and help us tap into the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit
  • Put into eternal perspective the events or our temporal lives
  • Help us to understand and celebrate the bond of family we share as Christ-ians

Each unit of study will consider a number of verses (or “passage”) in the book of Romans. The amount of content will vary. Some concepts will take several of these installments to work through. For this reason, we must be careful to connect each new piece with the one that has come before.

Designated questions will accompany each passage. These questions are intended to prime & guide our discussions throughout the week. We will “digest” this book as a community. That being said, our path of study has a dedicated end: To understand the words Paul spoke by inspiration of the Holy Spirit and to explore practical ways to make these truths come alive in us.

Some of the best questions will come from you. A stirring in one’s heart regarding God’s word is often a precursor to spiritual enlightenment. For this reason, I encourage you to pray (like washing) before you “eat” your spiritual meal. Ask God to open the eyes of your heart so you may receive what He has for you. Confess any known sin. Forgive those who have trespassed against you. And…if you have questions regarding the place or operation of such suggestions: Congratulations, you are on the road to enlightenment!

I will address questions that regard supporting topics as we go along. For instance, Paul often refers to “the Law.” This speaks of the Law of Moses (also known as: the Mosaic Law, Torah, and Sinaitic Law). Our need for understanding this Law relates to its use in the book of Romans (which is extensive). But ours is not a study of the Mosaic Law, per se. I mention this because (as mentioned before) the depth of details—significant and likely in a book written by God through human authors—can easily cause us to lose our footing on the designated task at hand. Information, for us, is second to transformation.

For this week lets begin with these questions for reflection and conversation. Remember to post your thoughts so the “CD” group  can comment, reflect, encourage and share together in a community of acceptance….

1. What would you like to get from this study and discussion group?

2. What are some things you might be able to contribute?

3. Which statement best describes your involvement in a Bible Study?
A) Second nature
B) A new leaf
C) Faintly familiar
D) Out of left field

4. What is the most unique thing about you?

Have a great week!

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here's an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 780 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 13 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Advent is the anticipation and preparation for the arrival of a noble person. At Christmas it means the coming of Jesus. It is God interjecting himself on earth, taking on human form as a baby, born of a virgin, in a little town called Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago.

Why did He do it? Why did Jesus, the son God, leave his home in heaven to be with us? Why all the fuss, why all the carrying on? Why all the ruckus about a little baby, a manger, and a stable?

I wish I had an answer that would give you that “ah haw” moment when the light goes on and you say “oh, that makes perfect sense!” If I could do that for you I would, because you see, I believe in the Lord, with all my heart and in His purposes, however, my devotion to Him is not because I understand Him, it is because I don’t need to…I just need to accept Him and His love. Everything else falls into place after that.

Here is the best I can do…

The Bible says, and I believe it; that when God created men and women He did it so He could have someone to pour His love into. I want you to think about that for a moment… those of you who are parents know what it is like to have a child and pour your love into them. Well, that is precisely what God wanted.

Is it so hard for us to imagine a being like God, who can do and have all He wants, and yet would create something He wanted more than anything …someone to love…? And God’s love is unconditional. We, don’t have to do anything to get and keep it…it just is. As parents we love our children unconditionally too, don’t we…? Can you imagine anything they could ever do that would stop you from loving them?

God wants the same things with us as we do with our children.

So When God made men and women He gave them everything their hearts desired. That was in the Garden of Eden. But just as when our children get everything they want, they can become selfish with a bit of an entitlement attitude… so it was with man and woman.

What happens when our children get that way? Oh we tolerate it a moment, and then when they persist, we administer some type of punishment in order to restore them to their sweet selves. Well that is what happened with God. Men and women had everything they wanted and became a little spoiled. They acted out by taking the fruit from the tree that God, their father, had told them not to take. And just as when our children disobey, there were consequences.

Man and woman were removed from the garden.

As parents sometimes our children misbehave to the point that we too have to remove them from a situation so they can have an attitude adjustment. That is precisely what God did. He made man and woman leave the garden of their hearts desire to give them the right perspective.

Now God, because He is who He is, knows everything man and woman were going to do before He even created them. He knew there would be wonderful times of fun and joy; He also knew there would be difficult times. But, the joy of having man and woman to love was worth the pain of the difficult times.
Likewise, who of us as parents, when we had kids, thought they would be perfect? We knew there would be times when we would be disappointed and even have to punish our children, but the love and joy they bring would be worth the tradeoff.

After man and woman left the Garden of Eden, God continued to be with them and love them, but things were a little different. Instead of God providing everything for them, man and woman had to work to provide for their own needs and desires. This is very similar to our children when they are grown. They aren’t going to live in our house forever. At the age of 18 or shortly after they venture out on their own and establish their grown-up roots. We raise them to do this and to be able to provide for themselves. God has done the same with us.

(Now we know when our kids grow up and leave the nest that they are going to struggle, but we also realize this is for their good. They need the struggle in order to grow in character and strength. Within the confines of our home they can grow to a point, but at some juncture it is time they go out on their own. That doesn’t mean we aren’t still actively involved in their lives, but they are now making their own decisions. This is how God is with us. We are making our own decisions, we are leading, we are working, we are taking care of the world, and God is there like a parent helping us along the way.)

But God’s original plan for man and women, which was to care for their every need and desire – never changed. He still wanted to one day restore us to the beautiful state we were in, in the Garden of Eden.

But men and women didn’t change. Like a naughty child who continues in their rebellious attitude, so did man and woman continue to be self-absorbed. God knew the punishment required, due to the consequences of man and women’s actions, was more than man and women could take. Even though they were the ones who were on the naughty list, God knew He would one day take their punishment for them.

And that is what He did when 33 years after His birth, he died on the cross. God’s plan all along was to eventually take the punishment we deserve so we wouldn’t have to. He realized we could not endure it, nor did He want us to endure it. He didn’t want us to get what we had coming because He loves us. So Jesus was punished in our place.

God also knew that if He took the punishment, not only would He be able to endure it, but He would rise again, and not only that but He, unlike children, would not be tempted to do any of the bad things we do. And, when He refrained, no more punishment would be needed, because man and women would be covered with forgiveness – because…He had already paid the price, He took the punishment in our place.

And that is why Advent is so important, because you see for the last 24 days we have been getting ready for the Noble One’s birth who would take the sins of the world onto Himself.

Oh how wonderful the day when as a child I had done something wrong and was in big trouble, that I did not get what I deserved. My mom’s classic line was “Wait until your father comes home!” I knew what that meant… big punishment. But on occasion, when dad came home…instead of disciplining me, he acknowledged what I had done and then forgave me. No spanking? No time-out? WONDERFUL!! Do you think I received his “gift” of forgiveness? Or do you think I chose the alternative? Of course not…I chose to be forgiven. And then you know what happened? It made me want to go on and be better.

Today as we begin gathering with our families and friends to celebrate Christmas on the Eve of Christ’s birth, I want to remember that the advent of Jesus is all part in the divine plan of a God whose only desire is to love us. He has taken care of everything…all I need to do is accept His love… and take His gift of forgiveness. It is the reason for the season!

‘Hark the herald angels sing…glory to the new born king. Peace on earth and mercy mild…God and “sinners” reconciled.’

Ted and I can be miles apart when it comes to how we each think some things should be for Christmas, (and life in general). I must say that some of the most stressful times of the season can be those spent with my husband, working on compromises.

For instance, we have very different ideas regarding gifts for others. Ted thinks we should narrow it down to a few select people to include our kids, grandkids, and parents. I on the other hand want to buy for everyone on Ted’s list but also include close friends and family as well as the occasional hostess gift for parties we attend.
I typically end up getting my way and we buy for everyone.

And I can’t just buy one gift per person, I have to also include some little do-dad or accessory that goes with the main gift. This in Ted’s mind is not necessary. To me, not including the do-dad is like getting dressed without putting on my earrings…my outfit is just not complete. Ted on the other hand feels “getting dressed” is enough…people can get their own earrings.
I end up buying what I want and every present has an accent gift.

We also don’t agree on the dollar amount we should spend. This is no surprise given I have a lot more people on my Christmas gift list than he does. This has led to more than one fight while standing with the big shopping cart at Costco in the aisle way, blocking others way while we hash things out.
I typically end up getting my way… I spend a little more than he wants me to, but in the end he is happy when he sees how delighted everyone is with their gifts.

We also differ on the Christmas menu. I like to provide a nice variety of food and snack choices for our guests at various events. Ted on the other hand, thinks we should have meat and potatoes and apple pie, and lots of all 3.
Our menu end up being a variety, but I make sure Ted gets his meat, potatoes and apple pie, even though he is the only one that eats the pie.

Our Christmas tree is also an area we disagree on…Ted wants a flocked tree and I want a green tree.
We have been married for 33 years, and for 30 of those we have had a flocked tree.

When it comes to Christmas cookies I love a variety of delicious cookies. When I ask Ted what he’d like me to make, he always say the same thing “just chocolate chip.”
Chocolate chip? That is so boring. So I make my variety of cookies anyway and he eats them.

I want to send a small amount of Christmas cards because they are a lot of work. Ted wants me to send them to practically everyone we know. He also wants me to hand deliver as many as possible so we can save money on the stamps.
I appease him and send Christmas cards to almost everyone we know, however, I hand deliver very few.

These are just a few of the areas we have to work out during the season…and that’s just Christmas. Imagine all the other issues we have to work through the remaining 11 months of the year!

With all the differences between our preferences, wants, and desires, it’s amazing we get anything accomplished; however, everything seems to come together in the end – we make compromises, we give in to each other on things that are important to the other person and it all works out. I guess when it comes down to it, it really doesn’t matter if we agree on everything or not. The main thing is we complement one another, respecting each of our unique gifts and talents, pulling them together to make for one spectacular Christmas.

The Bible doesn’t say that when a man and women get married the two “are” one.
It says when a man and women get married they “become” one.
Ted and I are continually in the process of “becoming one”.

We may not agree on a lot of stuff, but one thing we do agree on is that when the other is happy, we are happy… The fact that Ted is from…”the North Pole” and I am from…The Marshmallow World, makes life interesting and lends to a wonderfully diverse Christmas and beautiful life…together.

‘It’s a marshmallow world in the winter…When the snow comes to cover the ground…It’s time for play, it’s a whipped cream day…I wait for it the whole year round…
It’s a yum-yummy world made for sweethearts…Take a walk with your favorite girl…It’s a sugar date, so what if spring is late…In winter it’s a marshmallow world!’

These past few days I have been thinking a lot about the concept of “paying it forward”. “Paying it forward” is a random act of kindness. It is acknowledging the big and small good things that have happened to me by way of someone’s generosity, charity, forgiveness, or grace. Then, when having opportunity, showing someone else the same kindness I’ve been shown… without any ulterior motive.

There was a true story on YouTube recently that brought this to mind. It was of a boy about 7 years old who was destitute. He stole something from a food stand in an open-air market. When he was caught, he said it was because his mom was sick and needed something to eat. The owner of the food stand, as his young daughter looked on, forgave the child and gave him even more food than he had attempted to steal. The boy looked at the owner, took the food and ran off. The next scene shows the owner of the food stand, now 30 years later, as he falls to the floor and passes out ending up in the hospital in a comma. The hospital bills pile up to the tune of $700,000 plus, and his daughter, now grown up, is in terrible duress wondering how she is going to pay for her dads medical bills. In the next scene she receives a notice in the mail that the balance owed for the medical bills is now zero. All debt had been wiped away. The doctor who was her dads attending physician ended up being the very same boy who 30 years earlier had been shown grace by her dad. The sick man did not recover so he never realized the magnitude of his kind act 30 years prior, but his daughter ended up being the recipient of an awesome and much needed act of “paying it forward.”

I had the privilege not to long ago to be part of a “paying it forward” act which when demonstrated effected not only the recipient, but those who were witness to it.

My youngest son, Jeremy and I were in Chicago on a business trip. We had just finished a very important meeting and were jazzed about the results. We left the business meeting and headed straight for the coffee shop downstairs. It was close to Christmas and the coffee shop was all decked out in festive décor. We got our coffee and sat down to reminisce about the meeting, when a homeless man entered. It was very busy, standing room only, but the homeless man managed to find a seat and proceeded to sit there and talk to himself. He was wearing tattered clothes, had matted hair and stuck out like a sore thumb in the midst of the posh coffee shop patrons. It was extremely cold that December in Chicago and he had come in to warm up. Jeremy and I continued to talk; meanwhile neither of us could take our eyes off of this man. People were ignoring him, trying to pretend he wasn’t there. Eventually a conversation between the barista and the coffee shop manager ensued, which I could see was about the homeless man and his need to leave the premises. Jeremy and I noted the situation silently when finally; neither of us could enjoy ourselves anymore watching the impending removal of this homeless man. Jeremy looked at me and said, “Ok, what do you want to do? I’ll do it”. Jeremy then proceeded to buy a large peppermint mocha and pastry and gave it to the man. It caught the attention of everyone in the coffee shop as they witnessed Jeremy’s act of kindness. I watched as a sense of relief and peace came upon everyone in that establishment, as the homeless man sat among us enjoying his treat in the warmth of the coffee shop. Jeremy and I had been the earlier recipient of a much coveted business deal and it was our turn to “pay it forward.”

As I think about this concept, I have also come to realize that not all “paying it forward” is a blessing. Case in point…I was driving home recently from a friend’s house and was in thoughtful reflection of our visit, when a car buzzed around me on the freeway doing about 70 MPH, while I was going the speed limit. As he zoomed by, he veered over into my lane enough to get my attention and flipped me off. I was surprised at this aggressive gesture, and wondered what had happened in his world that caused this act of hostility toward someone he didn’t even know. This was a negative act of “paying it forward” and one that I hope will not be repeated. When unkind things are done to us it is hard not to lash out and make everyone as miserable as we are, however, “paying it forward” needs to come from the goodness we have received, not from the badness. There is enough strife in people’s lives without us “paying that forward.”

This Christmas season and into the New Year I want to be committed to “paying it forward” in the best of ways! I want to bless others as I have been blessed, showing them grace, mercy, love and friendship whenever possible by simple acts of goodwill. I may not always see the results, but no matter the affects, I need to trust lives have been touched in some way by my random kindness. And…The positive effect it will have on me as the giver will be rewarding and bring contentment to my soul.

‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year… With the kids jingle belling… And everyone telling you “Be of good cheer” … It’s the most wonderful time of the year’

Children make Christmas magical! They embody the spirit of Christmas – in a child’s eyes, anything is possible. We are captivated by their innocence, honesty, and sense of imagination. For today’s blog I want to share with you an enchanted story from my granddaughters, Mirabel and Sloane, ages 3 and 4 respectively. They made up this story and told their mommy, who wrote it down and sent it to me.

I hope you enjoy their enchanted tale of – The Ice Witches’ First Christmas Party!

In a faraway kingdom there was a Snow Prince and Princess who loved Christmas time! They loved that it was Jesus’s birthday, and a time to give and receive presents. To show their love of Christmas they threw a big birthday celebration every year on Christmas Eve for Jesus.

High up in the mountains of the Kingdom lived an Ice Witch, who despised Christmas! She didn’t know Jesus; she wanted to get rid of Christmas all together. The Prince and Princess tried to visit the witch to inform her about the meaning of Christmas and why it was so important, but her heart was too frozen and she wouldn’t let them through the gate without harm. This kept her from receiving their message.

While the Prince and Princess were preparing for the celebration the Ice Witch cast a dark magic spell to steal their Christmas spirit. Soon as the spell was cast the Prince and Princess forgot the meaning of Christmas and started fighting over gifts, money, and their time. Before long decorations for the party were ruined! Word got out that Jesus’s Birthday was canceled, and the Prince and Princess were fighting. The Ice Witch was tickled to discover that her spell had worked! Now everyone would be as unhappy as she was.

A Fairy in the land was a good friend of the Prince and Princess. She had seen through her crystal ball on the top of her wand, that fighting had broken out in the castle. She was determined to help them, but how? The Fairy said a pray and asked God to reveal to her an answer to the problem. She heard back, “show them the real meaning of Christmas.” She knew just what to do, and flew off to the palace.

Meanwhile, the witch headed to the castle to observe firsthand the chaos she had created.

As the Fairy arrived, she gathered families from the village to sing a baby Jesus song in the castle. The Fairy used her magic wand to create music and the town folks began to sing. The divine singing brought tears to the Prince and Princesses’ eyes, as well as the witches, who was watching secretly in the rafters.

The beauty and love of Jesus’s birth broke the spell! Joy filled the room as new decorations were brought out. The birthday party was back on! The best part was the unexpected guest who attended this year, the Ice Witch! The message had finally gotten through to her; she was now too a recipient of the Christmas spirit.
The End!

My summary:
As you read their story you may have observed a few characteristics…

There is always a prince or princess in every (little girls) story.
They have a clear understanding of the true meaning of Christmas
They have a desire to change people’s hearts so they are happy
There is complete acceptance of others
Peace and harmony are important attributes in a “kingdom.”
It has a happy ending.

As we grow into adults, we encounter challenges, which can diminish many of the hopes and dreams of our childhood. With dreams in the rearview mirror, life’s struggles can change us and we lose hope. We can become bitter, defensive, self-absorbed and pre-occupied. But…wouldn’t our existence and the world at large be a much better place if we remembered the characteristics from the story of The Ice Witches’ First Christmas Party, and replicated them instead – in the “Story Of Our Lives”?

‘Toyland, Toyland…Little girl and boy land…While you dwell within it…You are ever happy there…’

I love to laugh and to hear laughter! It’s amazing how infectious and healing it is. I am convinced that we don’t laugh near enough, especially during stressful times. It would almost seem to be an oxymoron – laughing in the face of trials and challenges, but Readers Digest has a section in their magazine called “Laughter, The Best Medicine”, and I would have to agree.

One year for Christmas when I was a kid Santa brought my youngest sister a stuffed Disney character, Goofy. Goofy had a voice-box inside and when pressed it laughed hysterically for 5 minutes. That’s all it did… laugh… a great big belly-laugh. I remembered seeing Goofy at Toyland at the Bon Marche, and my dad finding it an absolute hoot, we all did. We were delighted when he was under the tree Christmas morning. When you pressed Goofy’s voice-box he would began his insatiable laughter, slowly at first, then picking up momentum. You couldn’t help but smile, our smiles then became giggles, and our giggles turned into uncontrolled laughter. Times were hard during the 60’s for my parents to make ends meet especially when they had 3 little girls – and they were just “kids” themselves. During the years we had Goofy we were actually comforted and uplifted from time to time by his endless laughter. Santa knew our family was going to need a good belly-laugh now and then.

I am also reminded of a road trip my husband and I took to the ocean several years ago where laughter was a welcome companion. The 2 hour drive turned into 4. Ten minutes into the trip we sat in bumper to bumper traffic. My husband became very frustrated at everyone on the road. He was huffing and puffing and telling me how he could drive better inebriated than 95% of everyone else on the road when they are sober, etc… Yikes! I feared our lovely weekend get-away was starting off on the wrong foot. So I thought I better come up with something to distract him. I Googled” jokes” on my iPhone, and for the next 3 1/2 hours I read my husband jokes and riddles, to his delight. We laughed the whole way to the ocean and when we finally arrived, we were both in great moods and the time had passed by quickly.

The Christmas season can be filled with a lot of stress and emotion. There is so much to do, so many functions, so much money to be spent. It can make a person grumpy. But I am challenging myself to not let the stress of the season get the best of me. And when something does go sideways, I am going to remember to try and find the humor in it. There is something about laughter that cleanses the soul and clears the mind.

Join with me in making laughter our motto as we wind up into full Christmas mode this next week.
Here are a few quips to get you started. Warning: they are corny, but corny is good… right?

How did Scrooge win the football game?
The Ghost of Christmas passed.

It was Christmas and the judge was in a merry mood as he asked the prisoner, “What are you charged with?”
“Doing my Christmas shopping early,” replied the defendant.
“That’s no offence,” said the judge.
“It is if you do it before the shops are open,” countered the prosecutor.

Do you know what would have happened if there had been Three Wise Women instead of Three Wise Men? The women would have: asked directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, and brought practical gifts (like diapers!)

‘Dashing through the snow, in a one-horse open sleigh, or the fields we go, laughing all the way, ha,ha,ha…’