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Thoughts on St. Patrick’s Day: Saints or Sinners?


Have you ever wondered what St. Patrick’s Day is all about? What are we celebrating? Who was St. Patrick anyway, and why was he made a “saint”? And what does his “sainthood” have to do with the way St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated: parties, costumes, parades, leprechauns, shamrocks, boozing it up, etc.?

What is “sainthood” all about? The term “saint” carries both admiration and stigmatization. We sometimes think of a “saint” as someone who is above reproach, but not quite human. Not someone you can tell a joke to, or pat on the back, or engage in conversation about fleshly struggles we are experiencing. A saint is thought of as someone who can’t be tempted to do something sinful, like you and I may be. But is that what being a saint really means?

The Catholic Church has granted “sainthood” to more than 10,000 former inhabitants of planet earth. Usually it happens after the person is dead, when he or she can’t be here to enjoy the honor accorded to them. Some of the saints have universal Catholic acclaim and others have only locally ascribed “sainthood”. One of those 10,000+ saints has been granted a memorial day celebrated all over the western world – St. Patrick of Ireland, who is perhaps the most well-known of all the officially recognized saints.

Though St. Patrick’s Day is usually associated with and celebrated by those of Irish descent,  St. Patrick, Apostle of Ireland was born in Scotland, at Kilpatrick, near Dumbarton, in the year 387; he died at Saul, Downpatrick, Ireland  March 17, 493 at age 106. His father, Calphurnius, was a member of a high ranking Roman family, and his mother, Conchessa, was a near-relative of St. Martin of Tours. So it appears that Patrick came from a family of saints and sinners, just like you and me.

At age 16 Patrick was kidnapped by Irish marauders and sold as a slave to a chieftain in Dalriada, a territory of the present county of Antrim, Ireland, where for six years he tended his slave-master’s flocks. In his “Confessio” (his confession of faith, written in his old age) Patrick relates how this captivity put him in a place where he had time to realize his own sinfulness and his need for a relationship with God. This time in slavery led to his spiritual re-birth. His testimony is well worth the time to read it.

After a series of visions, dreams, escape from his captors, deliverance from roughneck sailors, and finally a return to his family, Patrick received a call from God through a vision, to return to Ireland to minister to the Irish people. He was then in his mid-twenties. Response to this call was the beginning of the rest of his life. Even though other missionaries had sought to Christianize Ireland, Patrick is credited with converting Ireland from pagan Druid demon worship to Christianity, almost single-handedly.  He was known as a gentle, soft-spoken man whose life was marked by long periods of prayer and fasting; out of that committed lifestyle was born a powerful force against the kingdom of spiritual darkness in pre-Christian Ireland. His “Confessio” summarizes his life and his beliefs.

There is much myth surrounding St. Patrick that has grown up over the centuries, such as his driving the snakes out of Ireland. But if snakes and scorpions are symbols of demonic spirits, as in Luke 10:19, then he indeed drove the snakes out of Ireland.

“I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.”

The promise in this verse was evidenced in St. Patrick’s life: he was subjected to frequent trials at the hands of the Druids and other enemies of the Faith. No fewer than twelve times he and his companions were seized and carried off as captives; on one occasion in particular he was loaded with chains and sentenced to death. But from all these trials and sufferings he was liberated by God.

Saint Patrick’s day was made an official feast day in the Catholic tradition in the early seventeenth century, but has gradually become a celebration of Irish culture in general. That which started out as a commemoration of the life of a saint, has devolved into a cultural celebration of mere “sinners”.

Even if St. Patrick had not received the “sainthood nod” from the Catholic Church, he would have still been a saint in God’s eyes; as is every Spirit-born, regenerated believer in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross and His resurrection from the dead.

In all of his New Testament writings, the apostle Paul refers to followers of Christ as “saints”. There are at least 45 references in the NT to the “saints”: Luke’s book of Acts, John’s book of Revelation, and each of Paul’s letters – all refer to God’s people as “saints”. If you are a regenerated believer in Christ, God considers you a “saint”.

Does this mean that we as saints never sin, never do anything wrong? No. Even the 10,000 “saints” of the Catholic Church were not perfect people. St. Patrick referred to himself as “a sinner . . . the least of all believers”.

We are not yet perfect “saints”. However, the Biblical designation of believers in Christ as “saints” sets a standard for us to live up to. Even though we still may sin and still occasionally do sin, we should not refer to ourselves as “sinners”, nor intentionally engage in sin – for this degrades what Jesus accomplished on the cross by dying to set us free. “Sinner” is not how God views His blood-bought children.

As Gal. 4:6-7 says:

Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.”

Perhaps we should each view ourselves as St. Marcy, St. Mike, St. Roland, St. Bruce, St. Susan, St. whoever you are – members of God’s family, called to be “saints”, who re-present our Heavenly Father as we pass through life here on earth.

I hope this gives you something to think about today. And, oh, yes, Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

©2012, Marcy Alves

re-posted 2013

Related Post:

St. Patrick Was a Protestant!!

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Christmas Traditions That Teach Our Children pt. 4


Part 4 of 4

2014 calendar #2In my three earlier posts regarding Christmas traditions that teach our children leading up to this final installment, I dealt with the reality that our kids learn by our example and specific illustrations and activities; about how we first need to focus on Jesus, then focus on others instead of ourselves. But we also need to set the tone for Christmas all year. Following are some ways to do that:

Prepare for Christmas All Year

  • For your child’s own birthday, plan a special day with presents, activities, and individual time. This will set the stage for doing the same for Jesus on His birthday.
  • During the year, buy things your children are asking for in the way of clothes (both necessities and treats) as you can afford them and give them to the kids before Christmas. Each time you buy them something, explain that Christmas time will be time for giving to Jesus. Set them up for it – create excitement and expectation by the following:
  • Save money in a special bank all year for a Christmas gift to Jesus (have everyone in the family contribute toward this gift, or have each family member save in their own private bank) — and give the money or the gifts which you will buy with the money just before Christmas either to your church or to a particular mission or para-church organization, for use to bring Christmas joy and the message of Christ to a child or family. Think Christmas Child or Angel Tree or World Vision or the Salvation Army, for instance.
  • If you give to the general ministry of an organization, have your kids write an accompanying letter or card with the gift(s), explaining how they saved all year toward this gift for Jesus and His work.
  • Encourage your child to make gifts — have the whole family make their Christmas gifts for others. Plan time in September or October to decide what gifts the family will make and to whom they will be given. Have a gift-wrapping night for these homemade gifts when the whole family does wrapping together (except for those prepared for family members who are present at the time.)

Additional Suggestions

1. Set realistic prices on purchased gifts for family and others – refuse to go into debt to satisfy your child’s every whim or to buy “guilty conscience gifts”. Buy some things during the year and take advantage of some great sales during the “off season” of retail sales, but wrap them closer to your gift-giving day so you don’t forget what you already bought.

2. Keep individual gifts to family members at no more than 2 or 3 gifts each, if they are purchased ones.

3. Create a festive atmosphere during the two weeks before Christmas – in preparation for the big celebration. Plan time for fun things together– like a special musical, a play or movies with the Christmas theme, (i.e., A Christmas Carol, Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, etc.). Make a huge family bowl of popcorn to share together.

4. Help your children look forward to the season, without gifts to them being the focus of their attention.

  • Give special privileges during the holidays, such as taking turns with the lighting of the advent candles;
  • Plan all-nighters or late nights watching videos together as a family or doing a fun activity with special friends;
  • Get together with other families to attend special church Christmas events or Christmas exhibits;
  • Spend an evening driving around to see Christmas lights;
  • Go caroling to neighbors or shut-ins or patients at convalescence facilities.

Realize that if your children are already older, the re-education will take time and work. If you do this joyfully, they will soon enter into that joy. Both parents must be equally enthusiastic about it. Encourage your children to ask their friends to join your family for some of the special occasions.

Share these ideas with other families in your church, with your extended family and with your close circle of friends. It would be very encouraging and helpful to the cause of a Christ-filled Christmas if your kids can see others doing similar sacrificial, life-instructive things during the Advent season.

Ask God to help you to come up with creative ideas for your own family with it’s own special needs. Keep the themes of “joy” and “praise” in your thoughts, speech, actions and activities during the Christmas season. For God Himself inhabits the praises of His people.

Hope this four-part series has been helpful and encouraging.

Have a wonderful, Christ-filled, blessed Christmas season!!!

©2011, Marcy Alves (edited 2012)

Christmas Traditions That Teach Our Children pt. 3


Part 3 of 4

In two earlier blogs I began to share some ways to make your celebration of Christmas a joyful time, instead of a period of tiresome, meaningless rituals that have little to do with the birth of Jesus the Christ, and leave you an exhausted, bundle of raw nerves. You and your family need to first refocus on Jesus. Then you can properly . . .

Focus On Others

1. Emphasize to your kids that Christmas is a time for giving, not getting. Teach them how to be generous toward God by giving to others:

a. As a family, help to serve a meal in a soup kitchen on Christmas Day.

b. Let the kids help to make and serve a special Christmas meal in your own home to which you invite homeless people, or neighbors who have no place to go for the holiday, or people from your church who have no family in the area–single people, elderly adults, or foreigners and aliens residing in your town or neighborhood.

c. Visit someone in a nursing home or a children’s hospital on Christmas Day.

d. Bake cookies for neighbors, shut-ins, or service people (the postman, garbage collector, etc.), considering dietary limitations if you are aware of them, such as those of diabetics.

e. Send a money gift to a Christian organization that deals with world or national hunger, housing for the homeless, etc., in the name of someone on your list who is hard to buy for. Have your children write a card to the person in whose name you are making the gift, explaining what your family did in that person’s name.

2. While your child is still young, teach him/her about personal generosity that reflects God’s generosity to us. Let’s face it: none of us were born with natural generosity. We learn how to be generous by example and teaching from others.

David and I have some friends who encouraged their young son to select a few of his Christmas gifts, before opening them, to take to less fortunate children. He learned to give. Today, as an adult, he donates time and money to such enterprises as Habitat for Humanity. Several other families have their children give some of their toys that are in good condition to children who have none; or to spend some of their own money to purchase gifts to send to a less fortunate child somewhere in the world.

More to come . . . Part 4

©2011, Marcy Alves

edit and re-post 2012

Christmas Traditions That Teach Our Children Pt. 2


Part 2 of 4:

In spite of the commercialization of Christmas, there are ways to put Christ back into the center of the Christmas celebration. It may take a great deal of effort to correct old, ingrained habits, but the rewards will be great as you find your energy and enthusiasm increasing instead of dissipating during the holiday season.

Here are some valuable tips to aid you as you re-invest the Christmas season with awe for our wonderful Savior; as you teach your children how to celebrate the incarnation — the coming of God to earth in human flesh.

Focus on Jesus:
1. Read the Christmas story together as a family at dinnertime or as a part of other family “together” time. Perhaps combine the reading with the lighting of advent candles and read the Scriptures that relate to each candle. This would space out the Christmas story over a 5 week period. Have a different family member read each time from an age appropriate Bible – i.e., a young child could read from a children’s Bible. Talk about why God sent His Son into the world in a human body and follow it through to the cross and the empty tomb.

2. When entertaining guests during the holiday season, both Christians and unbelievers, emphasize the real reason for celebrating Christmas:

a. sing carols together, with someone accompanying on guitar or keyboard;

b. share testimonies or personal stories from other Christmas seasons;

c. suggest special prayer for others who may not be having a happy Christmas, such as: our troops overseas, the homeless, nursing home residents, those who have experienced recent personal losses, or those who do not know Christ’s love;

d. read aloud stories with a Christmas theme;

e. watch videos or DVD’s with Christmas related themes that teach Christian values. Talk about the story themes.

More to come . . . Part 3

©2011, Marcy Alves

Christmas Traditions that Teach Our Children Pt. 1


As we approach this Christmas season, we are “life-instructing” our kids about what this most holy day signifies. The old axiom may sound trite, but it’s painfully true that “A picture is worth a thousand words”. We are painting pictures everyday with our lives. How we act and react in front of children results in mental image reinforcing mental image, day after day, year after year. What we say often cannot be heard because of what we do and how we do it. What kind of permanent images are you impressing on your children? What kind of “stuff” for tomorrow is filtering into their minds today?

Children learn through a song on the radio that Santa Claus is omniscient: “He knows when you’ve been sleeping, he sees you when you wake, he knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!” But do they also know that God is omniscient? That what He sees in our lives is far more important than what a fictional character sees?

How do you handle yourselves during the Christmas season? Harried, rushed, short-tempered, neglectful of your family and your spiritual responsibilities? Do you withhold gifts all year but give more than you can afford at Christmas? Your children are watching and learning what Christmas is all about.

More to come . . . See Part 2


Thanksgiving: A State of Mind – An Expression of Faith


How do you celebrate Thanksgiving Day? Do you intentionally make the giving of thanks a part of your Thanksgiving observance? Or do you, as many other Americans, simply enjoy the meal with family or friends, oblivious to God’s many blessings in your life? If you are thankful, do you express your thanks outwardly?

Thanksgiving is not just something you do, it is also a state of mind, and an expression of faith that recognizes the benevolent unseen Being who is responsible for all good gifts that come our way.

As a child I felt there was something different between the Thanksgiving meal and other dinners, even though it was not the habit at our house to say a prayer of thanks to God on Thanksgiving Day;  in fact there were not many prayers said for any reason at our house. When I became a Christian as a young teenager, I asked if we could say a a prayer before the Thanksgiving meal, and my father permitted me to offer a prayer of thanks. My parents were not unthankful, but they didn’t express gratitude in prayer. We were not taught that what we had came from God’s hands, though He got credit for the rain when we needed it for our garden.

Now, as an adult, with my husband and family, and others with whom we celebrate Thanksgiving Day, we make it a point to share at least one thing we are thankful for as we sit at the dinner table.

In these days of economic downturn, compounded with a slow recovery from the loss of jobs over the past several years, and the ever-increasing government debt, an attitude of  gratitude does not come easy; it has to be cultivated.

Here are some “gratitude starters” to help you develop a thankful heart:

  • a roof over your head
  • food to eat
  • clothes on your back
  • friends (come on, you must have at least one)
  • family
  • your job (your present job or one that’s coming in the near future because you are trusting God for it)
  • freedom of speech (while we still have it),
  • a free country that, in spite of its shortcomings, is still a place where foreigners are clamoring to get into
  • a sunrise or sunset,
  • trees and flowers,
  • snow, rain and early morning dew
  • the ability to walk unassisted
  • the ability to read
  • the senses of smell, taste, touch, hearing and sight
  • art and music
  • hundreds of other things

A Christian’s faith in a loving God is best expressed in the ability to see beyond present circumstances, as bad as they might be, and find things for which to be thankful. There are many blessings that appear to the person with a thankful heart.

There are numerous examples in Scripture of the offering of thanks, beginning with our Lord Jesus, who gave thanks to the Father every time He broke bread with the disciples and the throngs of people whom He fed with a few loaves of bread and a few fish (Matt. 14:17-21).  In the Gospel of John, Jesus thanks the Father for hearing his prayers:

 “ . . .  Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” John 11:41-42

The apostle Paul frequently referred to giving thanks: he gave thanks for people (Phil. 1:3), for the faith of converts (Rom. 1:8), for obedience of believers (Rom. 6:17), for spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 14:18), for victory over sin (1 Cor. 15:57), for answered prayers (2 Cor. 1:11), for people who cared for others (2 Cor. 8:15), for the gift of grace provided through Christ (2 Cor. 9:15), for financial support of the ministry (2 Cor. 9:12), for believers (Eph. 1:16), for pleasant memories of people (Phil. 1:3), for joy (1 Thess. 3:9), for strength and being chosen for service for God (1 Tim. 1:12), for everything (Eph. 5:20).

When should we give thanks and for what?

Eph. 5:15-16,19-20 “ Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  . . .  Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Phil. 4:5b-7 “The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

It’s when we begin to express thanksgiving to God for everything and in the midst of everything, that our faith comes out and takes a bow and the peace of God settles around us like a warm blanket. Darkness is driven away and the glow of the Spirit shines in our inner being. This is true spiritual life – the life that Christ came to give us.

Col. 2:6-7  ”So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him,  rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”

What more examples do we need of thankful living in the midst of difficult circumstances, than the examples of the Apostle Paul and our Lord Jesus Christ?

The Apostle Paul received death threats and had to be sneaked out of a city for his safety; suffered shipwreck while being transported as a prisoner; was snake-bitten and beaten with a whip on several occasions; went hungry; was imprisoned and finally killed. But in the midst of it all, he gave thanks to God.

Jesus Christ, God’s own Son, suffered persecution, criticism, verbal and physical abuse, lies about his character, rejection, misunderstanding (even from his closest followers), beatings, chains, an unfair trial, and death on the cross. But His life was a continual picture of trust in and thanks to His Father.

Why were our Savior and His followers, like Paul, able to endure hardships and constant crisis in their lives and still be at peace and full of joy? I believe it was because of their thankful hearts that came from their constant communion with God, punctuated with prayers of thankfulness, based on what they knew of the heart of our heavenly Father. They lived within the sound of His heartbeat.

May you develop a life of daily thanks to God for His gift of life through Jesus, and His continual provisions for you out of His heart of love. May hearing His heartbeat cause your heart to resonate with gratitude for every blessing.

Happy Thanksgiving!!

©2013, Marcy Alves


Your Death on the Cross


Who was it that hung on the cross? It was a liar, an adulterer, a murderer, a thief, a fornicator, a greedy person, a hardened criminal, a selfish person, an abuser, an addict, and the list goes on and on. But how can I say this? Am I a blasphemer against our Lord Jesus?

Gal. 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” NRSV

Jesus hung on the cross for us, in our place. He died for all kinds of sin, for all kinds of sinners. Think you’re not a sinner? I once thought I wasn’t. Keep reading.

Gal. 5:19-22 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  NRSV

I was a young teenager when God spoke to me about my personal sins by leading a speaker at a youth meeting to use the Scripture quoted above. I had not done really bad things, but I saw myself in the list of sins in the verses above. We were very poor and I had jealousy and envy and sometimes anger about not being able to have things I wanted to have or live in the kind of house where I could comfortably invite friends over. I also had a lot of pride, which is probably why I was ashamed about our house and our poverty.

We were all in big trouble before the crucifixion of Jesus. But thank God:

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” 1 Peter 2: 24

I remember responding to an invitation the night of the youth meeting, to be cleansed from my sin. I told the Lord that I was wrong – I did have sin in my life – and that I was sorry. I asked for His forgiveness and He told me that because of Jesus death on the cross, I was already forgiven.  It felt like a warm blanket of love had been placed round my shoulders that night. I have never doubted from that night that God loves me and that I have access to the God of the universe now through Jesus. I was re-born that night.

According to the Scriptures, all who have been re-born by the Holy Spirit of God were “crucified with Christ” on that cross.

Gal. 2:19-20 I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

You and I spiritually hung on the cross with Jesus – He felt our sin, our shame, our guilt. He took our punishment, our pain, our wounds into himself.  We have been set free.

Rom. 6:5-6 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.

Because Jesus was raised from the dead, resurrected, we who are born again by His Spirit also participate in that resurrection, both now and in the future when Jesus returns. The power that was unleashed in the resurrection of Christ is available to us to live the life we have been called to live – one of victory over sin in this earthly life and over death itself when the physical body “dies”. All this is through the gift of eternal life that was revealed in the resurrection of Christ and promised to all those who put their faith in Christ.  Halleluiah!

Forget the Easter bunnies and  colored eggs and chocolate candy. Praise the Lord that Jesus conquered death!

Happy Resurrection Day!!

 

©2012, Marcy Alves (edited 4/19/2014)

Death of a Salesman


grave markerRobin Williams was a real salesman. As an actor he convinced us to feel what the characters he portrayed were feeling. As a comedian, his facial expressions, voices, dialects, accents and insanely funny interpretations of ordinary things were delivery genius. I checked on the word “salesman” in the online Free Dictionary by Farlex. One of the definitions was, “one who sells goods, services, etc.” As I said, Robin was a real salesman. He sold us laughter.

We laughed at him in the TV series Mork and Mindy (’78-’82), Mrs. Doub­­tfire, and Aladdin; agonized with him in such films as Awakenings, and perhaps felt his personal loneliness in Good Will Hunting. We’ll always remember his iconic radio sign-on as the disc jockey in Good Morning Viet Nam. These and other film roles, as well as public comedy appearances endeared him to the hearts of many Americans and many others around the globe.

Williams was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor three times, and won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Good Will Hunting. He also received two Emmy Awards, four Golden Globe Awards, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, and five Grammy Awards.

However, despite his versatility and success as an actor, and his amazing comedic wizardry, Williams suffered from depression throughout his life, and also struggled with drug and alcohol addictions. Though he was gifted to make others laugh and outwardly laughed with them, there was little laughter on the inside; little internal joy to offset the dark shadow which hung over him most of his life. On August 11, 2014, Williams was found dead, after committing suicide by hanging, at his home in Paradise Cay, near Tiburon, California.

People can surmise as to why a man, who by most reports was a kind and sensitive human being, who seemed so intent on bringing laughter to others, would make the selfish decision to end the struggles of his personal life in such a grotesque way? Why not just take sleeping pills or some other quick acting drug? Why leave this horrible picture for his family and friends to grapple with? Was it to shock the sensibilities of the world so that they would take notice of those who are in such chronic depression as his life record seems to indicate? Or was it something else? In an earlier interview with Diane Sawyer, Robin said that through his life there was a voice that would pop into his head telling him to “jump”, “kill youself”. This time he listened to the voice.

What kinds of things unchained the “black dog”, as Winston Churchill used to call his own bouts with depression? Was it the pains of the world that Williams took on, or his own personal pains, disappointments, rejections, discouragements; or was it the exhaustion of human energy in his fight to survive? We do know that he had a short time ago received a diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease.

Someone reported that Williams was a member of a Christian church. I wonder, had he heard in his church about the One who was called “man of sorrows”; the man who came to reveal to us the heart of God – to flesh-out our heavenly Father’s love for us?

This man, Jesus, also died a grotesque death – not at his own hands, but at the hands of those he came to save. He didn’t take his own life, but he did say, “I lay it down” (John 10:18). According to the Gospel of John, Jesus came to save us – the lost (Luke 19:10). To save us from what? From sin, from Satan, and from ourselves – our attitudes, our dilemmas, our perplexities, and concerns. He’s the one who said,

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matt. 11:28-30

I realize that there are Christians who suffer from depression; most often it is related to something specific: abuses, losses (the death of a loved one, loss of health or youth or a job) a divorce, other disappointments or discouragements. Some people get depressed out of discontentment with where life has dropped them with seemingly no way out. Others develop depression out of an unforgiving spirit and ensuing anger.

I’ve never heard of a baby being born with depression, though it can develop early on in life. From my personal observations of acquaintances who are currently or have been in depression, most have arrived there because of life trauma – sometimes a personal sin. I don’t believe that “mental illness” is an adequate explanation of depression, without tracking down the route the depressed person has traveled along the way to depression.  There are causes – often multiple causes. You can medicate the symptoms – but you can’t cure depression with medicine. However, I firmly believe it can be cured.

We are physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual beings – all in one. That’s why we are taught in Scripture (Deut. 6:4-5, Mark 12:29-30) to love the Lord our God with our heart (emotional), soul (spiritual), mind (mental) and strength (physical). As we surrender our whole being to Christ and take proper care of those four parts of our human self, it will affect our state of mind.

If anyone had reason to be depressed by life circumstances, it was Jesus. He was poor all of His life. His life purpose precluded marriage. He was often hungry and tired. He wept, he got angry – He had emotions. He was misunderstood and accused of having demons. The crowds that applauded Him later turned away. He was betrayed by a “friend”. His closest followers abandoned Him in His greatest time of need. He suffered an unjust death of humiliation on a public cross. Yet, while hanging on the cross He asked the Father to forgive His enemies – He didn’t hold grudges, didn’t pledge vengeance.

Don’t think it was easier for Jesus because He was God’s Son: Heb. 4:15 says

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Though Jesus experienced human suffering, He was a joyful man – little children loved being around Him.

What a salesman Jesus was! His life convinces us to live as He did. His death paid the price for healing in every area of our lives. And His resurrection guarantees delivery on the product. He offers us a gift greater than laughter – He has promised us joy.

These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. John 15:11

When we surrender to the presence of His Spirit within us, we find the ability to walk in that joy in spite of our life circumstances.

The Scriptures lay out a plan for a achieving and maintaining a healthy mind:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  Philippians 4:4-8

 

©2014, Marcy Alves

‘Tis the Season


Thanksgiving is over; Black Friday has come and gone – thankfully. Family and friends have  departed and quiet prevails in the house. Guest rooms are cleaned and back in order and the family dog has eaten his share of turkey.  Leftovers have been served until no one wants to face them again. No more gravies, stuffing, pies or eggnog until Christmas.

I’m glad we don’t eat this way every day.  But  the community effort in preparing the Thanksgiving meal, the family fellowship around the table, the camaraderie at the kitchen sink and dishwasher, and the shared football experience in the TV room, all add memories that are a part of the fabric of our lives. Shared experiences, shared memories are so important to remind us that we have lived – that our existence has been significant, if not to the world, than certainly to each other.

There is something special about the Thanksgiving through Christmas season. Year after year as we celebrate these two important events there is a nostalgia in the air that moves us to keep  in touch with each other – family with family, and friends with friends. We telephone to or receive calls from out-of-town family, thankful that the aging ones are still with us. Calls, cards, notes, or emails come from friends with whom we seldom communicate at other times of the year.

There seems to be a yearning to reconnect in a more tangible way during the holiday season. It’s different from Facebook communications, which is so general – a kind of put-it-out-there and see if anyone reads it.  Thanksgiving and Christmas communications are more like, “we think of you specifically, care about our relationship with you, and want to renew our personal connection”.

There is also a spiritual element to this season that is unlike other times of the year; the awareness of a God-connection. It’s a mystical sense of the “other world” that runs parallel with this physical one – the invisible, unseen dimension that came into our space-time zone some 2,000 years ago in the person of a little baby boy named Jesus.

Even though the spirit of this world has tried to get our attention off of that original gift from God, the light still shines brightly and the darkness has not been able to extinguish it. When we see the decorations in stores, on houses, and other buildings – and though their themes may be purely secular, they still remind us that something happened those many years ago that changed the course of the history of the world, and continues to change history as each new year is added to that history.

We are reminded in John 1:6-7, 9 of the entrance of this supernatural light:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. . . . The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.”

and in John 1:14 of God in a human body:

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

and in John 3:16 the reason that He who is light took on human flesh and brought a gift to us from His Father:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

There is a sense of joy and expectation in this season – and it’s not about material things – it’s about the God who loves His creation, who came to us to demonstrate that love.  The sense of the uniqueness of the this season goes beyond cultural, national and ethnic boundaries. Wherever there are those whose hearts have been entered by the Spirit of the Christ, Christmas will continue to be more than trees and lights and wrapped presents;  Christmas will be a time of embracing this God of love and His gift of life; a time of gratitude and generosity toward others. No Grinch can steal this memory from hearts that have been touched and transformed by this gift; which is in us light, love, and eternal life from our Creator God.

Welcome to the season of Christmas!

©2011, Marcy Alves

edited 2012

Credit Cards Not Accepted


Last weekend David and I drove to VT for an overnight.  I was slated to speak for a Christian women’s group and we decided to combine the ministry with a visit with some friends who live in Newport Center, VT.

On the drive to VT on Sunday afternoon, I got a blog idea and reached for my purse where I always carry a small notebook and pen – only to discover that my purse was not there. To say this was a bit disconcerting is putting it mildly. For a woman, forgetting her purse is like missing an essential piece of clothing. It’s kind of a “naked” feeling.

My husband said not-to-worry, I wouldn’t need my purse because he was there. I reminded him that he was not going to be driving when I went to speak at the women’s group the next night and my driver’s license was in my purse at home. He told me to just be careful and drive slowly (I guess he meant, not my usual how-fast-can-I-drive–without- it-being-fast-enough-to-get-a-speeding-ticket).

We arrived at our destination about two hours later, got settled in our guest room and prepared to leave for dinner with our friends. Remembering that we were treating our friends to dinner, David reached into his pocket for his wallet to make sure he had brought the proper credit card with him, only to discover his wallet was not there. He then recalled that earlier that day he had used one of his credit cards in my car and had laid his wallet on the console. And there it remained – back at home.

So, here we were with no money or credit cards between the two of us. Our very gracious friends offered to treat us to dinner, which was very embarrassing, but under the circumstances, and since we were all hungry, we had no other solution.

There have been many times in each of our lives when we have been short on funds, but never been so thoroughly without resources. No money and no way to buy anything. It struck both of us that this is what many people face on a daily basis – no job, no money, no way to pay bills or buy even the most necessary supplies. It must be discouraging at the least, and frightening at the extreme.

Two days later we began our 2 ½ hour drive back home with a half-tank of gas. Though our friends would have gladly filled our gas tank, we decided to exercise our faith muscle. We arrived home with the tank registering empty. After stopping off at the house to pick up David’s wallet, we had enough gas to get to a local station for a fill-up.

As I thought back on the unusual turn of circumstance with our missing wallets, I was grateful that we discovered our lack of resources before receiving the bill at the restaurant.  I can only imagine our extreme embarrassment at not being able to pay.

In regard to our spiritual debt to God, there will be a day when the bill comes due. On that day, we will all discover we have left our wallets behind, with absolutely no provision of our own to purchase what we need. Good works won’t do it, moral lives won’t do it, “spiritual” service won’t do it. No amount of praying, witnessing, or genuflecting, or self-denial will meet the need.

No one can boast,“ I have earned my way in; I did it on my own.” For the Scriptures are clear:

Eph. 2:8-9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

We have to humble ourselves to receive His provision, His gift to us, just as David and I had to humble ourselves before our friends and let them treat us to the restaurant meal.

It’s also important to realize that God does not grade on the curve.  We are not in competition for a few admission tickets into the kingdom of God. We cannot clean up our act and offer our best selves to God. We are totally impoverished – nothing to offer of self or personal substance. There is only one way to God’s heart; one door through which we enter into his kingdom of eternal life.

John 10:7-9 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. . .  I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.”

John 14:6 “Jesus said  . . .“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

No other way in, no layaway plan, and credit cards are not accepted on that day. But God the Father accepts us on the basis of the credit of His Son on our behalf, and on the humbling of ourselves to accept His provision.

1 John 4:10 “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

You can save yourself embarrassment later, by accepting His free offer now. Don’t wait until the bill comes due.

What’s in your wallet?

©2012, Marcy Alves

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