Christian Carnival CCLXXVIII

Welcome to the CLXXVIII edition of the Christian Carnival. Whoa, CLXXVIII. That’s a lot of Roman letters just to say it’s the 278th edition.

My apologies for the late edition. Real life, as always, got in the way. No excuses, I’m just late.

This week’s best Christian writing is presented for your intellectual perusement and enjoyment.

Yolanda Lehman presents I RECOMMEND JESUS posted at Ain’ta That Good News?!, saying, “Yolanda Lehman shares an evangelical tool that will help you share Jesus with those you love. In simple, plain language she explains the GOOD NEWS found in scripture! Only God can fill the hole in your heart friends–I recommend Jesus!”

Rosalind P. Denson presents Let It Go posted at A Fruitful Life, saying, “Dr. Denson encourages readers to remember that Jesus taught us to pray, “and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” She encourages people struggling with an unforgiving heart to simply “let it go” following the example of Christ.”

NtJS presents Book Review: 7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free posted at not the jet set, saying, “I recently received the book 7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free by Phil Lenahan from the Catholic Company. I was not sure what I would think about this book since I have read so many personal finance books. Could I really learn something new?”

Cecille Carmela presents How Does God Talk To You? posted at Rightful Living, saying, “How does God talk to you? Find out by searching through His deepest desires, through meditation, Bible scriptures and forgiveness.”

Jim DeSantis presents Christian Dating: Four Ways To Find Your Spiritual Match. posted at On Line Tribune | Spiritual Matters, saying, “The Christian faith, most faiths for that matter, teach that we are not to be unequally yoked. In lay terms this simply means we are to be wise when seeking a relationship to avoid future spiritual conflicts that can result in heart break. Here are four ways to find the mate matched to your beliefs.”

FMF presents Is It Ok for a Pastor to Earn $600k a Year? posted at Free Money Finance, saying, “Should there be a limit on how much a pastor makes?”

ChristianPF presents Extravagant Giving posted at Money in the Bible | Christian Personal Finance Blog, saying, “This is a story of some extravagant giving that I have recently been the recipient of…”

Rick Schiano presents Discipline Your Child a Biblical Perspective posted at Ricks Victory Blog.

Rani presents Prayer of the Week for Children- Allowance posted at Christ’s Bridge, saying, “This prayer is a part of my new series of children’s prayers.”

Keith Tusing presents How to Partner with Parents and Protect Kids in Our Culture posted at CM Buzz, saying, “CM Buzz is a site dedicated to encouraging, and providing resources for Children’s and Family Ministers.”

Dana presents Something to be proud of posted at Principled Discovery.

Dana presents A game of catch, a game of life posted at Simple Pleasures.

michelle presents Isaiah 55:8-11 posted at Thoughts and Confessions of a Girl Who Loves Jesus….

Tracy Dear presents Not Condemned posted at New Mercy, saying, “I try to give God glory while I stumble through a difficult marriage. I want to polish the monuments of the things He’s teaching me.”

Shannon Christman presents Why Don’t More Faith Communities Emphasize Simple Living? posted at The Minority Thinker.

Barry Wallace presents ?Angels and Demons? ? Fact, Fiction, Reviews, Questions posted at who am i?, saying, “I ask some questions about the new movie “Angels and Demons” and receive some thoughtful replies.”

Chris DeMarco presents Tears Over Lost Sheep posted at The “C” Branch.

Weekend Fisher presents The gospel: how central is Jesus’ death and resurrection? posted at Heart, Mind, Soul, and Strength, saying, “Weekend Fisher continues a series on what the gospel is and isn’t.”

Rey of The Bible Archive asks serious questions about the method of Christ’s atonement in Theological
Necessity for a Physical Resurrection.

Fiona Veitch Smith presents Christian Speculative Fiction – a ‘lost’ genre? posted at The Crafty Writer.

Chris DeMarco presents Tears Over Lost Sheep posted at The “C” Branch.

Barry Wallace presents ?Angels and Demons? ? Fact, Fiction, Reviews, Questions posted at who am i?.

Weekend Fisher presents The gospel: how central is Jesus’ death and resurrection? posted at Heart, Mind, Soul, and Strength.

Sue has several articles; technically, that’s against the rules, but I’m listing all three anyway –

Sue Roth presents “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives…” posted at IN HIM WE LIVE AND MOVE AND HAVE OUR BEING, saying, “A reflection on abandoning self to God.”

Sue Roth presents If he hadn’t risen from the dead, he’d be turning over in his grave. posted at IN HIM WE LIVE AND MOVE AND HAVE OUR BEING, saying, “On the need for Christian unity”

Sue Roth presents Gianna Jessen: she survived “choice” and lived to tell about it. posted at IN HIM WE LIVE AND MOVE AND HAVE OUR BEING, saying, “Read the amazing story of Gianna Jessen, a young woman who survived her abortion. She is an eloquent spokesman for life. And be sure to click the link for her home page. You’ll be able to hear her sing… with the voice of an angel.”

NC Sue presents The unforgivable sin? Or the unanswerable question? posted at IN HIM WE LIVE AND MOVE AND HAVE OUR BEING.

That concludes the CLXXVIII edition of the Christian Carnival. Want to participate? Submit your blog article to the next edition of christian carnival ii using our
carnival submission form.
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Act on Revealed Truth

An Antebellum era (pre-civil war) family Bible...
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Introduction

Last week, Michelle taught from Isaiah 6. This week, the lesson covers Isaiah 7-23. When I first started studying, I though, whoa, we’re supposed to cover 16 chapters?

I spoke to Fred about this last Saturday; he said there was no problem covering all 16 chapters, he would enjoy a thorough lesson. So I thought we’d cover chapters 7-10 first, then break for lunch. Come back and read chapters 11-20 and then break for dinner. That would leave us plenty of time to cover 21-23 this evening.

Actually, I’ve noticed that the bible is an amazing book in that the closer or further away you get, there are different lessons. Isaiah 7-23 has many, many lessons for us. Isaiah 7-12 is a warning to political leaders; chapter 7 talks about hope, chapter 8 is a warning of judgment, 9 is a promise of mercy, and so on. Chapters 13-23 are prophecy and fulfilled prophecy, showing that the Lord is in control. Yet we can also focus on a single sentence and get a life-changing lesson from it, the Word of God is that powerful.

We’re just going to focus on Chapter 7 this morning. In Chapter 7, Isaiah reminds us that we are to trust in God in times of stress. We are God’s people, and we are to do things God way. God’s will be done; we can participate, or God will do His will without us. Yet, stubborn as we are, we often choose to be controlled by our circumstances rather than listen to the Lord. And that’s the lesson from the Lord today – to have faith in Him and not things of the world.

It’s time to make a decision. You can go one way, or you can go another. You can ask for help, you can go it alone. You can help a friend, but it means breaking a confidence. You can accept a new job, but it means moving away from church. What are some difficult decisions we face today, as a nation, as a church, as a class, or as a family?

Here’s a story from Los Angeles City College. In a class teaching public speaking, students were given an open assignment in public speaking. Here’s an excerpt from the news article –

On Nov. 24, 2008, Los Angeles City College speech professor John Matteson reportedly interrupted and ended Jonathan Lopez’s presentation mid-speech and called the student a derogatory name in front of the class for speaking about his faith, which included reading the dictionary definition of marriage and reciting two Bible verses.
Instead of allowing Lopez to finish, Matteson reportedly told the other students they could leave if they were offended. When no one left, Matteson dismissed the class. Refusing to grade the assigned speech, Matteson wrote on Lopez’s evaluation, “Ask God what your grade is.”

One week later, after seeing Lopez talking to the college’s dean of academic affairs, Matteson told Lopez that he would make sure he’d be expelled from school.

What are Mr. Lopez’s options? How would you respond?

Obviously anti-Christian, the teacher inadvertently asked a very appropriate question. “Ask God what your grade is.”

In Isaiah 7, King Ahaz is faced with a similar dilemma. He’s faced with a threat and has to make a decision. David’s kingdom had long since split in two after the death of Solomon. Israel to the north had routinely strayed from the lord. Judah to the south, sometimes followed the Lord and sometimes they didn’t, depending on the king at the time. Northeast of Israel was the nation of Aram (also called Syria), and north of that was the rising Assyrian Empire.

Under King Uzziah, Judah flourished. Aram and Israel had wanted to form an alliance with Judah, but Uzziah had resisted. Isaiah preached that the Lord would save, and Judah should remain neutral. Uzziah was dealing with raids from the Philistines from the west and the Edomites to the south, and if Uzziah moved troops to face the Assyrians, the southern attacks would succeed. Uzziah stayed neutral, and under King Uzziah, Judah flourished.

Uzziah died, and his son Jotham took over. Jotham was also a strong leader and kept Judah neutral, but died young. And Ahaz, 20 years old, took over. It’s now about 735 B.C.

Isaiah also spoke to Ahaz about relying on the Lord to save, but Ahaz didn’t listen. Ahaz was not a righteous king; in 2 Kings 16:2-3 we’re told Ahaz offered sacrifices to Baal and pagan idols. As a weak king, Israel and Aram gave up on the alliance idea and decided to attack Judah. Their goal was turn Judah into a puppet kingdom and become large enough to defend themselves against the Assyrians. Isaiah brings Ahaz a message to depend on the Lord and remain neutral. Isaiah tells Ahaz that Israel and Aram are too weak to be a threat, and that the Lord will protect Judah. Instead, 2 Kings 16:8 says Ahaz gave away treasure from the temple of the Lord to the Assyrians as a bribe to protect him from Aram and Israel.

Instead of listening to Isaiah’s word from the Lord, Ahaz tried to appease evil. How well did this work out? Assyria used the treasure to finance the war to conquer Aram and Israel, and then in 2 Chronicles 28 we’re told the Assyrians continued their march and conquered Judah, too, with the help of the Edomites from the south.

Isaiah told Ahaz to trust in the Lord. As Christians, we’re also taught to trust in the Lord. Like Ahaz, though, we attempt to resolve problems using our own human strength. Ahaz made several mistakes we can learn from.

I. Misplaced Focus

Let’s look at Isaiah 7:1-2.

When Ahaz son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, was king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem, but they could not overpower it.

Now the house of David was told, “Aram has allied itself with Ephraim”; so the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.

Ephraim was the largest of the ten northern kingdom, and is used here to represent all of Israel being united. Ahaz gets word that Israel and Aram have become allies, and Ahaz is scared, shaken by the wind. Ahaz has been given the word of the Lord, but he fears men. He has misplaced focus.

Oswald Chamber wrote, “The remarkable thing about fearing God is that when you fear God you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God you fear everything else.” We face many fears in a world of sin and uncertainty. Finances, disease, natural disasters. We may face danger. We may face fear that someone we love will be hurt. Something may challenge our emotional or spiritual strength. We are tempted to give in to fear, to find a worldly solution.

Our focus should be on the Lord. What would the Lord have me do in this situation? How do I obey His commands in this time of trouble? When we turn to the Lord, fear of the world is replaced by faith in a faithful God. Our God is a powerful God. Why should we fear anything else? In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus teaches us to remember that the Lord knows our needs, that He will take care of us. Do not worry about what we eat or drink, or what we should wear. Put the Lord first, and He will provide what we need.

What was Ahaz’s fear? Was his fear justified? Have you ever been in a circumstance where you were afraid? Have you ever asked for someone’s advice and wish you hadn’t? At what point did you turn from your fears and turn toward the Lord for strength?

II. Misplaced Confidence

Isaiah 7:3-9 –

Then the LORD said to Isaiah, “Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub, to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Washerman’s Field. Say to him, ‘Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood — because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and of the son of Remaliah. Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah’s son have plotted your ruin, saying, “Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves, and make the son of Tabeel king over it.” Yet this is what the Sovereign LORD says:

“‘It will not take place,
it will not happen,

for the head of Aram is Damascus,
and the head of Damascus is only Rezin.
Within sixty-five years
Ephraim will be too shattered to be a people.

The head of Ephraim is Samaria,
and the head of Samaria is only Remaliah’s son.
If you do not stand firm in your faith,
you will not stand at all.'”

The Lord says to Ahaz that the attack from the north will be unsuccessful. The leaders of those countries are only men, and He is the Lord God. The Lord knows the plans of evil men, and the Lord tells Ahaz that He is in control. The Lord says that these two countries are like sticks that have burned up, and there’s nothing left of them. Their flame may have once been bright, but now they’re dying. Both kings would be dead within two years.

Isaiah’s specific prophecy was that within 65 years, Israel would be too shattered to be a people. In 722 BC, Assyria conquered Israel and deported the people. 2 Kings 17:24 says foreigners came into the land to replace them, and Ezra 4:10 says later even more foreigners arrived.

Ahaz had misplaced confidence. His confidence is in himself. Ahaz puts his trust in a political alliance with Assyria. God is with Judah, but only if Judah is with God. Ahaz is trusting in the strength of an enemy to save him from other enemies. Where is Ahaz’s faith in God?

If we do not place our faith in the Lord when times are tough, then we have no faith at all. That’s what the Lord says – if you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all. But God is infinitely stronger than any problem we face. He is aware of our needs, and He is aware of those that plot against us. And God will help, but we must place our faith in Him first. Our primary confidence must be in Him, not ourselves, not other people, not worldly wisdom. God allows us to be tested in order to increase our faith in Him, and we demonstrate that faith when we give Him control and do not worry.

I notice also that Isaiah the prophet is faithful to share God’s word. But I also note fulfillment of prophecy that Michelle taught last week in Isaiah 6. Isaiah’s message falls on deaf ears, and Isaiah’s vision is unintelligible to blind eyes.

III. Missing Integrity

Isaiah 7:10-12,

Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, “Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”

But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test.”

In Matthew 4, Satan tempts Jesus. Satan takes Jesus to the highest point of the temple of Jerusalem and tells Jesus to throw himself off. Satan says this will prove Jesus is the Son of God because scripture says angels will protect Jesus from any harm. And Jesus answers, “It is also written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

Why is Ahaz’s response wrong, but Jesus’ response was right? Ahaz was exhibiting false religiousity. Ahaz wasn’t testing the Lord; the Lord was testing Ahaz.

Both Ahaz and Jesus quote Deuteronomy 6:13. There’s a difference though – God wants to protect Judah, and all Ahaz has to do is place his faith in the Lord. Here is the kind of man Ahaz was, from 2 Chronicle 28:1-4 –

Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem sixteen years. Unlike David his father, he did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD. He walked in the ways of the kings of Israel and also made cast idols for worshiping the Baals. He burned sacrifices in the Valley of Ben Hinnom and sacrificed his sons in the fire, following the detestable ways of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites. He offered sacrifices and burned incense at the high places, on the hilltops and under every spreading tree.

The Lord commanded Ahaz to ask for a sign. Ahaz refused. Ironically, Ahaz probably had been asking for signs from Baal and other deities; the Lord God says, “ask for a sign from me.” When Ahaz said he wasn’t going to test the Lord, what he was really saying was that he wasn’t going to trust the Lord. Ahaz used scripture to keep from obeying the Lord; he had missing integrity. While calling for Isaiah’s counsel, Ahaz had no faith in the Lord. To ask for such a sign from God required a faith from Ahaz that he didn’t have. He gave the appearance of being a religious person, but he was willing to sacrifice to idols, sacrifice his sons, make political alliances with enemies, anything at all. He had no integrity.

Integrity is the opposite of hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is saying you believe or feel one thing, but then do something else. You are two different people; you do not practice what you preach. Integrity is being one person. You are the same person on the outside as you are on the inside. When we are a hypocrite, we are not being honest with God. We’re not even being honest with ourselves.

IV. Misplaced Faith

Isaiah 7:13-14,

Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Through Isaiah, God challenged Ahaz to ask for a sign, but Ahaz refused. Pious, fake religiosity; Ahaz refused to test God. In truth, Ahaz didn’t want a sign from God, because then Ahaz would have to be obedient to God or expose his own hypocrisy. Ahaz had already decided to place his faith in men; Ahaz had already requested help from Assyria.

God’s answer is to the entire house of David. Notice also that Isaiah refers to “my God,” perhaps recognizing that Isaiah’s God is not Ahaz’s god. God provided a sign anyway, even though Ahaz would not ask. God’s ultimate sign of His authority will be His Son, Jesus. The Hebrew word for virgin is complex; for Isaiah’s time, it probably means, “young woman of marriageable age.” In the next chapter, Isaiah chapter 8, Isaiah is talking about his own child, Maher Shalal Hash Baz, which meant “Quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil.” Partial fulfillment of this prophecy meant that Assyria would plunder the Aram and Israel before the child was old enough to know right from wrong.

We know there’s more to the prophecy, though. There is partial immediate fulfillment, but there is eventually ultimate fulfillment. Isaiah’s wife, the prophetess, was probably a real nice lady, but she wasn’t a virgin. She and Isaiah already had one child together. Also, Isaiah’s prophecy is not given to Ahaz, but the House of David, and he uses the plural “you”. The literal and ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy is in our Lord Jesus in Bethlehem. The apostle Matthew 1:22 says that “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call his name Immanuel, which means ‘God with us.”” The Greek word used here is not ambiguous; it means virgin, a woman who has never had sexual relations.

Our faith should be in the Lord, not in people, places or things. In 2 Samuel 7:16, the house of David was assured that David’s house and kingdom would endure forever, yet Ahaz placed no faith in that promise. God teaches us through trials to trust in Him and Him alone.

God will work out His plan, whether we participate in His plan or not. Ahaz certainly didn’t; Ahaz had faith in himself and in the world, and placed no faith in the Lord. As a result, Judah eventually fell and was plundered by the Assyrians. But look at Matthew 1:9 at the genealogy of our savior. The lineage of Jesus begins with Abraham through the line of David, then through Uzziah, Jotham, and Ahaz. God provided a savior; God fulfilled prophecy. God is faithful, even when we are not.

When a crisis comes, don’t misplace your faith; learn to place your faith in God. Don’t misplace your confidence; our God is bigger than any crisis that comes. Be honest with the Lord, ourselves, and other; when we respond in faith, it pleases the Lord and encourages others when they see how the Lord responds in our lives. If we do not stand firm in our faith, we will not stand at all.

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Christian Carnival CCLXV

Welcome to the CCLXV edition of the Christian Carnival, this week’s collection of the best Christian writing on the planet. Prolific writing this week, too! There are a huuuge number of submissions. Grab a cup of coffee and sit back and enjoy.

Richard H. Anderson presents Shalom for the shepherds posted at dokeo kago grapho soi kratistos Theophilos.

Fred Black presents You Can’t be a Beacon if Your Light Don’t Shine (Why You Don’t Want Eeyore as Your Marketing Guy!) posted at Fred Black: Internet Business Blog.

Ryan McCoskey presents Why We Don’t Disciple: The Destructive Dichotomy posted at Think, Laugh, Know Me.

Frank McEleny presents What fire, has the younger generation acquired? « Scottish Warriors For Christ posted at Scottish Warriors For Christ, saying, “Is there a whole generation, or generations, that know nothing of the genunine “presence of God?””

Bible SEO presents The Seven Conditions of Christian Discipleship posted at Bible Study Exposition Online, saying, “Bible Study on the Seven conditions of true Christian Discipleship: – What does it mean to be a Disciple? How can one become disciple of Jesus Christ? What is the discipleship NOT? This bible study presents the seven conditions of true Christian discipleship demonstrated by Jesus Christ himself.”

Yolanda Lehman presents “But, it’s TOO EASY…..” posted at Ain’ta That Good News?!.

FMF presents Free Money Finance: Should Christians Have Life Insurance? posted at Free Money Finance, saying, “A controversial topic for Christians. I like this article best, if for no other reason he liked the name “Chasing the Wind.” 🙂 – Michael

Eric Canaday presents The Truth About Tithing – Christianity Unplugged posted at Eric Canaday’s Posts – Christianity Unplugged, saying, “There is a lot of fear and condemnation in Christian circles around the subject of tithing. This post was written to unveil the biblical truth about tithing.”

ChristianPF presents The top 20 Christian Financial websites posted at Money in the Bible | Christian Personal Finance Blog, saying, “These are 20 of my favorite financial resources for Christians on the web.”

JLS presents The Devil Is In Everything? posted at Pastoral Musings, saying, “Is the devil truly in everything? Discernment ministries have a place, but there is a need for balance. Many seem to have gone over board and see the devil in almost everything.”

The Last Epoch presents Episode 1 – Act Two « The Last Epoch posted at M, saying, “Comments are welcomed.”

Paul Kuritz presents Gran Torino: The Making of a Modern Relic posted at Paul Kuritz: Opinions.

Bob MacDonald presents In my small corner posted at Sufficiency.

Minister Mamie L. Pack presents Going to the alter posted at The Life I Now Live.

Chris Brooks presents Review: Bible Study Magazine posted at Homeward Bound, saying, “A review of Logos Bible Software’s new magazine.”

Raffi Shahinian presents Faith and Theistic Evolution: A Top 10 List posted at parables of a prodigal world.

Lawrence of Arabia presents The Erosion of Identity posted at Revolt in the Desert.

andriel presents The Emergent Contemplative Prayer Model posted at ReturningKing.com.

Diane R presents Synthesis and More Synthesis posted at Crossroads: Where Faith and Inquiry Meet, saying, “Synthesis is the big postmodern philosophical thing to do today. But what is it doing to Christianity?”

James John Hollandsworth, M.D. presents How Is Your Faith Tested? posted at Light Along the Journey, saying, “Do you think of “the testing of your faith” as a monumentous event, or as a daily choice?”

Rodney Olsen presents The Building Blocks of a Good Marriage posted at The Journey – Life : Faith : Family, saying, “What are God’s plans for a long and lasting marriage?”

Ken Brown presents Replacement Theology and the Return of the King posted at C. Orthodoxy, saying, “Tolkien’s epic provides a brilliant analogy for the relationship between Jesus and his Jewish forebears.”

Annette presents Do YOU have a pickle Jar? posted at Fish and Cans, saying, “Received this in an email, thought it worth posting.”

Wickle presents I love my wife « A True Believer’s Blog posted at A True Believer’s Weblog, saying, “Wickle has heard some comments lately about marriage and wives, and decided to spell out his feelings about his wife.”

Weekend Fisher presents The practical realities of love posted at Heart, Mind, Soul, and Strength, saying, “Weekend Fisher picks up the conversation from C.S. Lewis’ comments The Four Loves and looks for how God’s love reflects itself in the different kinds of human relationships. Each ‘practical reality’ of love is based on the love of God for us. ”

Rani presents Prayer of the Week- THE LOVE YOU GIVE ME posted at Christ’s Bridge, saying, “I hope this prayer of the week brings you closer to God.”

michelle presents Matthew 5:4 posted at Thoughts and Confessions of a Girl Who Loves Jesus….

Mark Olson presents As Lent Nears posted at Pseudo-Polymath, saying, “An invitation extended.” Looking for some meditation and prayer time for Lent?

Jeremy presents http://parablemania.ektopos.com/archives/2009/02/psalm-headings.html posted at http://parablemania.ektopos.com, saying, “It’s a look at a popular view among scholars about the order in which psalm headings came to be added to psalms that seems at odds with a common view about the textual composition of I Samuel.”

That concludes this edition of the Christian Carnival. Submit your blog article to the next edition of Christian Carnival II using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

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How to Gain the Christmas Spirit

The best way to give wings to the Christmas Spirit is to give gifts to people who need them. My wife and I exchanged few gifts this year, opting instead to give to charities instead. Instead of giving somebody a trinket they didn’t need, we’d ask them what their favorite charity was. Then we’d give to that charity, to people in need. We hope many lives were brightened this year.

Giving a gift to those in need is precisely what God did for us 2000 years ago. We are, each one of us, people in need. We want mercy on us for the lies and cheats and naughty or evil thoughts we’ve had. Instead, we deserve justice. Instead, we received a gift of forgiveness. It all began when God came down out of heaven with a baby in His arms. Merry Christmas.

Here’s what happens when you give a gift to those who need it. Fair warning; you may need a tissue to wipe away a tear or two. Try cheering for those who need encouragement.

They played the oddest game in high school football history last month down in Grapevine, Texas.

It was Grapevine Faith vs. Gainesville State School and everything about it was upside down. For instance, when Gainesville came out to take the field, the Faith fans made a 40-yard spirit line for them to run through.

Did you hear that? The other team’s fans?

They even made a banner for players to crash through at the end. It said, “Go Tornadoes!” Which is also weird, because Faith is the Lions.

It was rivers running uphill and cats petting dogs. More than 200 Faith fans sat on the Gainesville side and kept cheering the Gainesville players on—by name.

“I never in my life thought I’d hear people cheering for us to hit their kids,” recalls Gainesville’s QB and middle linebacker, Isaiah. “I wouldn’t expect another parent to tell somebody to hit their kids. But they wanted us to!”

And even though Faith walloped them 33-14, the Gainesville kids were so happy that after the game they gave head coach Mark Williams a sideline squirt-bottle shower like he’d just won state. Gotta be the first Gatorade bath in history for an 0-9 coach.

But then you saw the 12 uniformed officers escorting the 14 Gainesville players off the field and two and two started to make four. They lined the players up in groups of five—handcuffs ready in their back pockets—and marched them to the team bus. That’s because Gainesville is a maximum-security correctional facility 75 miles north of Dallas. Every game it plays is on the road.

This all started when Faith’s head coach, Kris Hogan, wanted to do something kind for the Gainesville team. Faith had never played Gainesville, but he already knew the score. After all, Faith was 7-2 going into the game, Gainesville 0-8 with 2 TDs all year. Faith has 70 kids, 11 coaches, the latest equipment and involved parents. Gainesville has a lot of kids with convictions for drugs, assault and robbery—many of whose families had disowned them—wearing seven-year-old shoulder pads and ancient helmets.

So Hogan had this idea. What if half of our fans—for one night only—cheered for the other team? He sent out an email asking the Faithful to do just that. “Here’s the message I want you to send:” Hogan wrote. “You are just as valuable as any other person on planet Earth.”

Some people were naturally confused. One Faith player walked into Hogan’s office and asked, “Coach, why are we doing this?”

And Hogan said, “Imagine if you didn’t have a home life. Imagine if everybody had pretty much given up on you. Now imagine what it would mean for hundreds of people to suddenly believe in you.”

Next thing you know, the Gainesville Tornadoes were turning around on their bench to see something they never had before. Hundreds of fans. And actual cheerleaders!

“I thought maybe they were confused,” said Alex, a Gainesville lineman (only first names are released by the prison). “They started yelling ‘DEE-fense!’ when their team had the ball. I said, ‘What? Why they cheerin’ for us?'”

It was a strange experience for boys who most people cross the street to avoid. “We can tell people are a little afraid of us when we come to the games,” says Gerald, a lineman who will wind up doing more than three years. “You can see it in their eyes. They’re lookin’ at us like we’re criminals. But these people, they were yellin’ for us! By our names!”

Maybe it figures that Gainesville played better than it had all season, scoring the game’s last two touchdowns. Of course, this might be because Hogan put his third-string nose guard at safety and his third-string cornerback at defensive end. Still.

After the game, both teams gathered in the middle of the field to pray and that’s when Isaiah surprised everybody by asking to lead. “We had no idea what the kid was going to say,” remembers Coach Hogan. But Isaiah said this: “Lord, I don’t know how this happened, so I don’t know how to say thank You, but I never would’ve known there was so many people in the world that cared about us.”

And it was a good thing everybody’s heads were bowed because they might’ve seen Hogan wiping away tears.

As the Tornadoes walked back to their bus under guard, they each were handed a bag for the ride home—a burger, some fries, a soda, some candy, a Bible and an encouraging letter from a Faith player.

The Gainesville coach saw Hogan, grabbed him hard by the shoulders and said, “You’ll never know what your people did for these kids tonight. You’ll never, ever know.”

And as the bus pulled away, all the Gainesville players crammed to one side and pressed their hands to the window, staring at these people they’d never met before, watching their waves and smiles disappearing into the night.

Anyway, with the economy six feet under and Christmas running on about three and a half reindeer, it’s nice to know that one of the best presents you can give is still absolutely free.

Hope.

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How to Kill the Christmas Spirit

The message of Christmas is simple: God loved us, so He sent His son to us. We’re celebrating His birthday.

Ways to celebrate this gift to us are many, and bring peace and joy to us, knowing that God loves us. We can spend time with those we love. We can spend time with those that need love. We can give gifts to show our love.

And then there are horrible ways to honor this gift. Here’s a sample from today’s news:

Focus on the shopping. Shopping is war.

Shopping is war.

The battle is not just among the jostling crowds at the sale bins and cash registers in these pre-Christmas days; it is also between warring factions of our own brains, some economists and neuroscientists say.

Recent studies suggest that each buying decision plays out in the brain as a fight between a pleasure center seeking the bliss of acquisition and an aversion center seeking to avoid the pain of paying.

Waste money on consumerism. With so many needy people around the world, lining up a day before Christmas to overpay for a limited-edition set of sneakers is a complete waste of time and money. Before you spend $2000 trying to get something that moths and rust will destroy, try to imagine how many low-cost sneakers you could buy for the millions of people in this world that have no shoes.

Criticize Santa. Criticize parents for lying to their children instead of nurturing imagination in children.

Vandalize a nativity scene. It’s a sad commentary that churches have to outfit baby Jesus with a GPS to catch petty thieves trying to ruin Christmas for others.

It’s easy to kill the Christmas spirit, but in doing so, you miss the gift that was meant for you.

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I Believe Too

God bless Joellen Murphy for her ministry. Joellen Murphy is putting together a campaign to counter atheist messages at Christmastime.

Atheists in the nation’s capitol have been campaigning to get Americans to doubt God’s existence this Christmas, but one Christian woman is standing up against their efforts.

Joellen Murphy had been praying for a chance to evangelize when she received an email about atheist advertisements showing up on the sides of metro buses in Washington.

God loves you
God loves you

Visit her website at Ibelievetoo.org for complete details.

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