When Life is Futile, Choose God’s Alternative

Groundhog Day always brings to mind the movie by the same name. In the film, Bill Murray’s character, Phil, travels to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to report on the same boring groundhog.

Phil views the annual observance as a sign that there is really no “to­morrow.” So the film depicts him living out this deception.

He wakes up every morning and experiences the same Groundhog Day over and over again.

  • At first, he gets reckless, figuring there are no consequences.
  • Eventually, he tries to escape the futility—even going so far to as to commit suicide (with the groundhog!)—but he still wakes up to the same Sonny and Cher song every day at 6 AM.

Film critic Richard Corliss notes: “He is trapped in time . . . Yet he can’t die, he can’t escape, he can only change.”

What would you do if you were stuck in one place, and every day was exactly the same and nothing that you did mattered?

When Phil asks that question to his buddies, one of them confesses: “That sums it up for me.”

Does that sum it up for you?

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One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are

One Thousand Gifts [Book Review] (Zondervan, 2011)

At first, this book felt hard to read. Short sentences. Choppy phrases. At times, random-sounding thoughts strung together like Pascal’s Pensees. Profound but disjointed. Like reading poetry. Not an easy speed-read.

The book has more periods per square inch than most books I’ve read. As a person in a hurry, the many periods of punctuation came like speed bumps, forcing me to slow down. When I did, I found a gift.

Writers do their best thinking with a pen, and One Thousand Gifts reveals Ann Voskamp as a deep thinker. She writes her book around the theme gleaned from Greek verb, euchartiseo, a term that means “to give thanks.” She introduces the theme early and repeats it in every chapter—so much so that you can open the book anywhere and be blessed. The book could be half as long and still as profound.

Every breath’s a battle between grudgery and gratitude and we must keep thanks on the lips so we can sip from the holy grail of joy. —Ann Voskamp

One Thousand Gifts reminds us that contentment begins and continues by giving thanks for the blessings right in front of you. Ann did this by writing a list of 1000 “gifts” from daily life for which she is thankful.

Writing the list is a wonderful idea because it causes you to constantly look for new additions for the list. This daily assignment shapes a renewed mind, habitually searching life for reasons to thank God instead of for excuses to complain.

From the everyday context of mothering, Ann gives us the simple principle that the life we’re looking for is right in front of us—right where we are.

There are thousands of gifts from God if we will only insert many more periods in the sentences of each day.

Tell me what you think: Have you ever made a list of what you’re grateful for? To leave a comment, just click here.

Is Jesus the Messiah? My Open-Letter Answer

A few weeks ago I received an email from a Jewish man who had hard questions about what Christians believe. His questions were excellent. His inquiries about Christianity boiled down to three questions.

Is Jesus the Messiah? My Open-Letter Answer

(Photo: Jews touching the Torah at the Western Wall. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

I’ve listed his questions here without changing his wording:

What I can never fathom is how you can honor and accept the ‘teachings’ of one called Paul—an apostate and traitor to his people—to be the truth.

• Is this Paul who wrote 13/27 books of the Greek New Testament any more authoritative than the great Hebrew prophets such as Jeremiah or Amos?

• Are we to assume that G-d changed His Mind regarding His People and the Torah, and simply informed one solitary man about a new dispensation 100 years after the death of the man from Galilee?

• When Hashem [“The Name”] gave us the Torah, there were millions of witnesses to this earth-shaking event. It has become part of our collective spiritual DNA. How can a ‘new revelation’ be given with no witnesses to one individual who wrote in Greek things that are anathema and inimical to Jewish belief?

To me, these questions all boil down to one: Is Jesus the Messiah?

Here is my open-letter answer. Would you have answered differently?

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5 Must-See Christian Sites by the Sea of Galilee

To a Christian, the Sea of Galilee is synonymous with the ministry of Jesus. The hub of the Galilee region, the sea’s importance came from its fishing and its location along the great International Highway.

5 Must-See Christian Sites by the Sea of Galilee
(Photo: Sunset over the Sea of Galilee. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Jesus located His base of ministry in Capernaum. From that town He walked many miles with twelve disciples—most of whom hailed from the towns around the sea.

When Christian pilgrims come to Israel today, they almost all visit the Sea of Galilee. And for good reason. As in the days of Jesus, the large lake still has storms, beautiful sunrises, and sites that we will forever associate with the Lord’s ministry.

I’d like to show you five must-see Christian sites by the Sea of Galilee—and how each one may (or may not) connect to Jesus.

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How a Bag of Dog Food Exposed My Pride

Years ago I walked into a pet store with one of my daughters to buy dog food. The guy at the cash register saw us walk in, and immediately his face lit up: “Are you Wayne Stiles?” Completely surprised, I answered: “Yes.”

How a Bag of Dog Food Exposed My Pride

(Photo by Photodune)

I confess my mind immediately chased the reasons he might know who I was:

  • Maybe he heard me speak before.
  • Maybe he’s read something I’ve written.
  • Maybe he attends our church.
  • Maybe . . .

All this shot through my mind in an instant. Yet after I answered, “Yes,” he revealed how he new my name.

“You need to call home; your wife just called.”

It turns out, he recognized me because Cathy told him I’d have a five-year-old daughter with me! It had nothing to do with anything I said, wrote, or did.

You know what bothered me most about this event?

I innocently come to buy dog food . . . and God takes the opportunity to expose my pride.

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You are Unique to God—Like Everybody Else

The winter blast that blanketed America still managed to leave us Texans without much snow. Conditions rarely allow for it. A snowflake forms by a sudden freezing of water vapor in the air that turns from gas to solid so quickly it doesn’t have time to turn to liquid first.

The result is awesome!

You are Unique to God—Like Everybody Else

(Photo by Photodune)

A tiny six-rayed crystal displays the order, beauty, and uniqueness of God’s creative power. Even in a light snowfall (which is all that occurs in Texas), millions upon millions of delicate and unique snowflakes float down.

The snowflake illustrates how God created different things in the same way but still allows them to be completely unique.

That’s a lot like you, by the way.

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How to Search Your Bible Atlas Using Evernote

I use Evernote to help organize my piles of papers and files at work and home. From bills to blogs, from songbooks to sermons, from cards to conference notes, Evernote has helped me go virtually paperless.

How to Search Your Bible Atlas Using Evernote

(Maps courtesy of Satellite Bible Atlas)

Of course, the greatest benefit of this application is its ability to find what I stick in there. It has become my digital brain—with the added benefit that it never forgets.

Because of Evernote’s optical character recognition (OCR), I can find words I’m searching for in handwritten notes and even in photographs. Any word in any picture—I can find with a few clicks on my computer or iPhone.

This provides a nice benefit for Bible study.

I’d like to show you how to use Evernote to search your Bible Atlas.

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Humility: An Unlikely Biography of America's Greatest Virtue

Humility: An Unlikely Biography of America’s Greatest Virtue [Book Review] (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2013)

“America is not Rome—yet.”

The highly original book, Humility, elevates a quality of American character that few pursue and yet everyone admires. David Bobb introduces readers to what made America great by providing, as its subtitle states, An Unlikely Biography of America’s Greatest Virtue.

True to the wishes of America’s founding fathers, the young country prospered through understanding that greatness and humility weren’t mutually exclusive—something ancient Rome missed. Bobb traces the thread of humility in a select individuals:

  • George Washington—who twice declined the opportunity to have ultimate power
  • James Madison—who pushed for a realistic—not idealistic—view of human nature in politics
  • Abigail Adams—who chose devotion to home and husband rather than to socialites and helped shape America
  • Abraham Lincoln—who could have abandoned the constitution and become a dictator
  • Fredrick Douglas—who remained appropriately humble of his accomplishments

The book’s premise, of course, is outstanding and convincing.

However, the volume reads as simple history and philosophy—and honestly, pretty dry. With personalities as colorful as Fredrick Douglas and Abigail Adams in the mix, Humility would have been a more inspiring read if it included humility’s companion characteristics of joy or humor.

Tell me what you think: What do we admire humility so much? To leave a comment, just click here.