The Substance of Faith

The Substance of Faith

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About – The Substance of Faith

 sub·stance  [suhb’- stuhns] n. that of which a thing consists; the actual matter of a thing

 

The Substance of Faith.com hosts the reflections, insights, and study of  Joel Snider, Pastor of First Baptist Church, Rome Georgia.

Are you searching for information on the “the substance of faith?”  More searches for that phrase bring readers to this site than any other.  If that’s why you came, here is a simple summary:

The phrase comes from the King James Version’s translation of Hebrews 11:1 – “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”   J. B. Phillips translation clarifies the idea: “Now faith means putting our full confidence in the things we hope for…”

Clarence Jordan has a famous sermon using the phrase “the substance of faith.” .  When Jordan’s sermons were gathered and published, the editor took the title from that particular sermon.

Clarence always made this point: faith is a verb, not a noun.  He based this statement on the fact that the Greek New Testament contains both a noun and a verb form of “faith”  but, the verb is more common than the noun.  English has no verb that can be translated “to faith,” so in our Bibles, the verb is most often rendered “to believe.”  The poor English equivalent leaves us thinking that faith is a mental activity: believing facts about Jesus.

So here is the idea behind “the substance of faith”: If you hope for something, then you live for it even if you can’t see the outcome.  Living for what we hope for makes hope tangible; it gives hope substance.  Living the convictions  of our faith makes our hope concrete.  Hope is just an idea – it is simply a wish – until we give it genuine substance through our actions. Living for the convictions we cannot see is the substance of our faith.   As Clarence Jordan said, “Now faith is the turning of dreams into deeds; it is betting your life on the unseen realities.”

I wrote my dissertation on the preaching of Clarence Jordan and his theology still has a major impact on what I believe.  Thus, I took The Substance of Faith as the name for this website.  I hope that you will find concrete expressions of faith in my posts.  My goal is to apply real faith for the real lives we live.

The menu headings above are:

Bucket Books are the 50 books that have had a significant impact on my life.  They include literature, fiction, business, theology and more.  What books have been most influential in your life?

Other Reads are any other book I’ve been reading.

Observations are comments on life, culture, and faith.

Prayers –  I’ve written some of these prayers.  I’ve found the prayers written by others helpful.

Meditation Texts are printed in our order of worship every Sunday.  They are printed to encourage engagement beyond the worship service.

Quotes – I’ve collected thousands over the years.  Here is a place for some of the best ones to see the light of day.

Elsewhere contains anything I’ve found on the internet that I want to highlight.

Life is my place for travel, hobbies, or anything that doesn’t fit the rest of the categories.

To continue the conversation for any post, click on the title of the post and a comment section will appear.

joel

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Bucket Book – Tobacco Road

I first read Tobacco Road in the 1970’s.  Erskine Caldwell’s 1932 novel of the rural south taught me lessons about  poverty that have stayed with me for a lifetime.  These are valuable lessons for a pastor who deals with requests for help every week from people in need.

I’ve reread the book in order to comment on it here.  Additionally I’ve looked at  a dozen reviews on popular websites.  My conclusion? Many readers clearly don’t know enough poor people to analyze the book adequately.

In the past 25 years I performed marriage ceremonies for two couples who were borderline in competence for marriage.  The clerk in the local probate office nearly threw me out when I attempted to help one of these couples obtain a license.  Why did I perform those ceremonies?  Because Erskine Caldwell’s character, Sister Bessie, taught me that sometimes, in the underclasses of ingrained poverty, marriage is about desperation.  Certainly Sister Bessie is a sexually charged character and some her motives are as base as motives can get.  But she’s also desperate to sleep under a roof that doesn’t leak every time it rains.  The couples I married were desperate to join limited abilities and resources to escape homelessness or helplessness.  I still believe I helped those couples find the best chance to survive by marrying them.  If you dare, read Caldwell’s short story “The Masses of Men” for an even darker picture of poverty’s desperation.  I read it not long after reading Tobacco Road and I still don’t like thinking about it.

I also learned from Tobacco Road that handing out money may stem a crisis for some people in poverty’s cycle, but it rarely cures the long term problem for them.  A man once sat in my office and told me how he had mashed the accelerator to the floor in his car.  “I told that transmission,” he said, “you’re gonna shift or blow. Well, it blew.  Now I needs money to fix it so I can get to work.” I wanted to weep.  In his story I heard echoes of Dude Lester’s treatment of Sister Bessie’s new car, which was ruined in a day and practically destroyed in a week.  All the money in the world would not have lifted the Lester family or Sister Bessie out of poverty.

Let me pause for a moment, lest you think I am painting every poor person with the same brush.  The poor are no more all alike than are the wealthy.  There are people who work hard to escape poverty’s grasp (illustrated by Jeeter’s older children, who described but never seen).   They may not have new clothes, but they always have clean clothes.  I know poor individuals who save a small amount out a week’s paycheck that wouldn’t support many reviewers of this book for a day.  When crises come, they may ask for help, but they only need a bridge over their immediate problem. Deeply ingrained poverty, however, can normalize procrastination and lethargy.  The saddest moment in the book is when Dude becomes the bearer of his father’s unfulfilled dream of raising a crop of cotton.  Jester, Sister Bessie, and Dude could win the lottery and they would never have enough money.  Incentive would help them more.  The key for people in helping professions is to weigh the need to alleviate desperation versus creating dependency.  You will never know the struggle of that decision unless you actually know the people involved in the crisis.

Laziness and lust are never more than a page away.  Perhaps Caldwell wants us to know that only lust can compete with hunger as a dominating motive in the human heart. Death is careless and painfully callous.

Reviewers debate whether Tobacco Road in a tragedy or a comedy.  Certainly there are elements of both.  How readers makes that determination will be based on how well they know the South and how well acquainted they are with poverty.  I lean toward describing it as tragedy, but find no tragic hero.

Here are a few quotations, with page numbers from the 1995 edition, published by UGA Press:

Down there on the tobacco none ever laughed.  p. 31.

Prayer always did a man more goo, she said, if there was something he was ashamed of. p. 45

There were always well-developed plans in Jeeter’s mind for the things he intended doing; but somehow he never got around to doing them.  One day led to the next, and it was so much more easy to say he would wait until tomorrow…things had been going along that easy for almost a lifetime now….p. 60.

Good folks don’t want God to send them sermons by cussing preachers.  p. 158.

He (Jeeter) still could not understand why he had nothing, and would never have anything, and there was no one who knew and could tell him. It was the unsolved mystery of his life. p. 173.

How to be Outraged on the Internet

Everywhere we look, people are angry on the internet.  I found this article which uses tongue-in-cheek to point out how silly people can be.

How to be Outraged on the Internet

Book Review — Being Mortal

 

Being MOrtal

With the advent of the DVD, movie makers have offered viewers the option to watch alternate endings to their favorite movies.  “Director’s cuts’ lets us choose one ending over another, according to our preferences.

Atul Gawande’s book, Being Mortal,  allows individuals in declining health or with a terminal illness to consider alternate endings to their own lives.  For the aging, a typical ending includes a declines in mobility, mental function, and control over the most basic elements of life.  The most common questions along this path include, when shall we move mom to a nursing home?  Which one shall we use?”  Neither the surrounding family nor the new nursing home resident finds the path hopeful or healing.   Inevitably, the quality of life declines.

Gawande, a surgeon by training, explains why the traditional path rarely leads to a satisfying quality of life and then outlines simple steps that have proven to enhance life for aging people who need extended care.  He describes more attractive alternate endings.

After discussing possible solutions for elder care, Guwande turns to similar factors surrounding the care of the terminally ill. As a physician he admits that he and other doctors have a very difficult time admitting when a patient has reached a stage when science and medicine cannot cure them.  Not knowing any other way to treat the problem, physicians often keep pouring more and more medical treatment on a fire that will not be put out.   Chemo to the last minute, or debilitating surgeries with little hope of changing the outcome are not always the answer.

You can watch the PBS Frontline episode on Being Mortal here.

Gawande suggests that medical professional learn to recognize watershed moments and learn to have conversations with their patients.  He offers three questions to guide these discussions:

  • How do you understand your condition?
  • When we know the time is short, what are your goals?
  • What trade offs are you willing to make to reach those goals?

The first question provides a context for the patient and physician to be honest about the prognosis.  The second question helps the treatment team know what is important to the patient.  Does the grandparent want  to take grandchildren to Disney World one last time? Does the music teacher want to continue giving lessons as long as possible.  Does the sports fan want to watch one more season of football?  Knowing these goals allows  care givers to suggest the best ways to accomplish them.  And, finally, when the situation is terminal, there are always trade offs. Does the patient choose pain over lucidity or lucidity over pain?  What other trade offs are acceptable?  Each case is unique, so it is important to know.

Above all, Guwande encourages conversations that include care givers, patients, and family.  These honest discussions are critical to discovering the best endings – the ones with the highest quality of life and the deepest satisfaction for the patient.  We must get over our denial of death if we want to encourage the fullest life to the very end of mortality.

The fact that Guwande illustrates many of his points with examples from his own father’s decline and death gives him great credibility.

I’ve sought out people in the health care profession who have read this book, and I’ve encouraged others to read it, even giving away a few copies to people I think could carry this discussion forward on a local level.

Hospice workers are very pleased these conversations are going mainstream. Other ministers have commented on how helpful it is to have the rubric of Gawande’s questions in discussing these matters with church members who feel the pressure to make decisions in critical moments.

Ministers and caregivers who regularly encounter aging patients or those in terminal circumstances will find this book helpful and encouraging.   I believe it will be a watershed book that encourages healthy conversations about the quality of life.

Here are a few quotes from the book:

  • We put off the adaptations that we need to make as a society.  And we blind ourselves to the opportunities that exist to change the individual experience of aging for the better.  p. 35

 

  • They (nursing homes) were never created to help people facing dependency in old age.  They were created to clear out hospital beds- which is why they were called “nursing homes.” p. 71

 

  • This is the consequence of a society that faces the final pause of the human life cycle by trying not to think about it. p. 76f

 

  • At least two kinds of courage are required in aging and sickness, the first is the courage to confront the reality of mortality -the courage to seek out what is to be feared and what is to be hoped….But even more daunting is the courage to act on the truth we find.  p. 232

 

Quotes on Selfishness…..Not that we need any encouragement

From izquotes.com

 

  • Cancer cells are cells turned selfish.  They refuse to serve the rest of the body as normal cells do, but make the rest serve them so they can eat their own way to their death and cause the death of the organization upon which they feed.                                                                                               E. Stanley Jones in The Reconstruction of the Church, p. 183

 

  • Humility involves a Copernican revolution of the soul, the realization that the universe does not revolve around us.                                                                John Ortberg in The Life You’ve Always Wanted, p. 102

 

  • We are in love with ourselves at present.  We are in love with all the things that make us up. And we are not prepared to slay ourselves in order that some new person might be born.                                                                                Emmet Fox in Power Through Constructive Thinking, p. 148

 

  • Half of the world is on the wrong scent in the pursuit of happiness.  They think it is having and getting, and in being served by others.  It consists in giving and serving others.                                                                                                Henry Drummond

 

  • The pursuit of the self is the pursuit of sorrow.                                                             David Wesley Soper

 

  • Did Jesus say, “For this I came into the world that everyone might do whatever he or she likes?”                                                                                  George MacDonald in Proving the Unseen, p. 38

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A Forced Sabbath

Geography influences your reaction to snow.  I doubt that people living in northern regions or at higher elevations have the same reaction as many of us in the south.  We start with a milk and bread panic.  Everyone goes to the grocery store, even if the snow is only projected to last one day.  We stock up for a single snow fall like pioneers used to stock up for winter.

But once we arrive at home, the groceries are put away, and the snow starts to cover the ground, we shut down.    We have less snow removal equipment and more unpredictable roads than in other parts of the country, so we stay home for a while.  The initial snow is pure white and  muffles all sound.  Everyone else is also at home; there are no expectations to return phone calls or to respond to emails.   we can take a deep breath and rest for a moment in this weather-forced Sabbath.

In Deuteronomy 5, Moses repeats the commandments given at Sinai, including a refresher course on the Sabbath.  As he teaches the children of Israel, Moses recalls that they were once slaves.  He says to them, “Remember you were once slaves and remember that God has ordained the Sabbath Day as a day of rest.  He has given this day to you who had no choice when you worked or how long you worked.  No longer is your life all work, uninterrupted by rest.  God has given you the Sabbath as a gift.”   Their former taskmasters gave them forced labor; their new Master gives them rest.

Do you remember what Jesus said to the Pharisees who complained about the way he and his disciples observed the Sabbath?  Jesus said, “The Sabbath was not made just so you could observe and obey it, but the Sabbath was made for you.”  He is reinforcing the idea of Sabbath as a gift.

Let’s imagine that somebody gave you a very expensive piece of clothing as a gift —an expensive cashmere sweater.  Would you ruin the sweater by taking it out and washing the car with it?  Of course not.  What if somebody gave you a signed, first edition of To Kill A Mockingbird for Christmas?  Harper Lee’s signature is one of the most coveted among book collectors.  Would you tear out a few pages of the book to use to start a fire in the fireplace?  Would any of us you ruin a special gift? Of course not.  I wonder why we ignore the gift of rest God has worked into every single week of our lives.  What a shame that snow has to shut down our town for me to take a Sabbath.

 

The Anti-Beatitudes —- Cursed Are…..

A few years ago I was researching the Beatitudes for a sermon when I came across a quote by St. Francis de Sales who lived in the early 1600s.  After repeating the first beatitude (“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”), he adds this commentary:  “Cursed then, are the rich in spirit for the misery of hell is their portion.” By reversing the saying of Jesus, he shed new light on the original Beatitude.   Here’s the way I understand his statement.  People living in poverty always know what they need. They need to eat, they need a roof over their heads, they need clothing.  They simply need someone to help. In the same way, the poor in spirit recognize they need help.  They depend on God and the they find themselves in the Kingdom of Heaven.

The View from the Mount of the Beatitudes, looking down toward the Sea of Galilee

The View from the Mount of the Beatitudes, looking down toward the Sea of Galilee

The rich, however, are self sufficient.  Only the rich are described as “self-made.” They don’t have to ask for a thing and depend on no one.  Thus, the rich in spirit never ask for anything related to their spirits because they’re so sure they already have what they need.  They never depend on anyone else and, as a result, their portion is to be alone. While Scripture often refers to Hell as a place of burning it also refers to it as a place of loneliness and outer darkness where we are by ourselves (see Matthew 22:13 and Jude 13 for two references).  Following De Sales logic,  the poor in spirit ask God for help and get the kingdom of heaven.  Needing nothing for their souls, the rich in spirit ask for nothing of anyone and get to be by themselves.  Hell is their portion.  Only those who have never been lonely could miss what a curse loneliness is.

De Sales’ statement started me thinking about turning around all the Beatitudes.  Can we see the truth of what is blessed by seeing what is cursed?  If those who mourn are blessed by being comforted,  what about people who don’t care about their spiritual condition?  Cursed are those who don’t care what their heart is like because they get no relief.

Denying sinfulness is a bit like denying you have a physical disease. If you deny that you have an illness and never go get treated for it, that disease can damage, if not kill you.  Sin works the same way.  Left “untreated,” sin will kill you.  Those who mourn over their spiritual condition are blessed by God’s forgiveness and comfort.   Those who don’t care never mourn – never repent – thus, they don’t receive the blessing of peace and forgiveness.  What a curse.

Let’s take “Blessed are the meek.  Meek is a word that no one likes.  Who has meekness as a goal in life?  We think of  the meek as people who are afraid to stand up for themselves, afraid to demand their place at the head of the line.  In the land of assertiveness training, which personality test lists meekness as a strength?

Yet, meekness is, if we understand it correctly,  self-control.   It’s deeper than being well-mannered, but well-mannered might be a good image to convey its meaning.  Add a dose of chosen humility and we may have an accurate picture of meekness.  The meek do the appropriate thing at the appropriate time.  They can put others first because they have the self control to put themselves last.  The meek are blessed with inheriting the earth because they know how to be satisfied.  (See “Hobart and Manners” for a post on a meek man.)

So what is the opposite of meekness?  Is it the need to be in control constantly?  The anti-meek demand that their lane move the fastest, that their children’s “C” be changed to an “A,” and that life gives them more.  The people who try to control life instead of themselves find that life never pays off as they expect it to.  They can never control enough of life to get what they want; they come up empty-handed every time.  Cursed are the demanding because they never get enough.

Do you see how the anti-Beatitudes work? It is very easy to see how certain things are cursed.   If those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied then those who have no moral bearing whatsoever will never be satisfied. If the merciful shall obtain mercy, then the hardhearted will find that what goes around, comes around.  If the peacemakers are called children of God, what are the troublemakers called?  We can even turn around the beatitude on persecution: cursed are people who don’t have anything beyond their own lives to live for because that must be the most empty and barren of all lives. Cursed are those who never have to pay any price, because there isn’t anything they care enough about paying the price for.

When we stop and realize that the opposite of the Beatitudes are really places in life that we don’t want to be, we begin to understand better the blessings of Jesus’ original teaching.  Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who know that there’s poverty in their hearts that only Christ can answer because once they realize that poverty, the kingdom of heaven is available to them. Blessed are those who mourn over their sins because they shall be comforted with forgiveness. Blessed are the meek, for they will have all they ever need. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness because they will grow in the direction of their hunger.  Oh, they shall never be perfect, but they will become more Christ-like.  I would feel blessed if I became more like Christ today.

We find that Jesus did not simply utter beautiful words on the hillside beside the Sea of Galilee, but he gave a road map to all who seek God’s blessing. It is a map that any of us can follow.

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Hans Kung on the Kingdom of God – and a prayer

Google gives me information about the content which people read on The Substance of Faith.  The most commonly searched subject that brings people here is “the substance of faith.”  I edited the ABOUT page to provide additional information in order to be helpful to anyone looking for help on that search. Google hides other helpful information because they want me to pay for it.

For instance, I know that the second most read page is Quotes on the Lord’s Prayer – Thy Kingdom come, but I don’t know why.  Are you searching for quotes on the Lord’s Prayer, or are you searching for help with “the kingdom of God?”  No matter.  Below is my favorite quote about the kingdom.  I find it inspiring and it will serve either purpose.  And at the bottom is a prayer I wrote to go with a sermon I preached on the phrase “Thy Kingdom come.”  I hope both the quote and prayer are helpful.

What kind of kingdom will this be?

It will be a kingdom where, in accordance with Jesus’ prayer, God’s name is truly hallowed, his will is done on earth, men will have everything in abundance, all sin will be forgiven and all evil overcome.

It will be a kingdom where, in accordance with Jesus’ promises, the poor, the hungry, those who weep and those who are downtrodden will finally come into their own; where pain, suffering, and death will have an end.

It will be a kingdom that cannot be described, but only made known in metaphors: as the new covenant, the seed springing up, the ripe harvest, the great banquet, the royal feast.

It will, therefore, be a kingdom—wholly as the prophets foretold—of absolute righteousness, of unsurpassable freedom, of dauntless love, of universal reconciliation, of everlasting peace.  In this sense, therefore, it will be the time of salvation, of fulfillment, of consummation, of God’s presence: the absolute future. –From On Being A Christian by Hans Küng, p. 21

A Prayer for the Kingdom of God:

O God, we openly acknowledge  that we believe in your son’s miracles. We believe that the lame walked, that the blind were granted sight, and that hardened hearts were softened by his word.  We pray that you would work a miracle in our hearts, too. Work a miracle and change our will to desire nothing but your will. Change these cold hearts of ours into flaming torches of desire for you. If there is complacency within us, remove it as far as east is from west. Destroy the apathy that slows our hands from doing what our hearts know to be just. Move us by Your Spirit to participate in the work of your kingdom so that the lonely might be visited, that the fallen might be raised, that those who seek might find, and that the world might know that you are a good and great God. We pray these things for we know that if you will empower our living to do them, then our prayers would be answered and that your kingdom will come in us.  All we ask is to labor in the kingdom. And to know the blessing of your pleasure as we work. Remind us that you are indeed king and that we are your servants. May our obedience be perfect in this day. In the name of Christ we ask it. Amen.

Lenin on St. Francis

Most of us have in a passing knowledge of Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the Russian revolution.  We know Lenin was an atheist.  We know Lenin was a materialist and rejected the spiritual dimension of life.  Here, however, is an interesting quote from Lenin when he looked back on his life and the accomplishments of the revolution he led:   “I made a mistake. Without doubt, an oppressed multitude had to be liberated. But our method only provoked further oppression and atrocious massacres. My living nightmare is to find myself lost in an ocean of red with the blood of innumerable victims. It is too late now to alter the past, but what was needed to save Russia were ten Francis of Assissi’s.”

Statue of Lenin in Petrozavodsk, Russia.   (c) Joel Snider

Statue of Lenin in Petrozavodsk, Russia.
(c) Joel Snider

In his own assessment, Russia’s greatest need for the solution of its problems was ten examples of an extremely selfless and kind Christian.  Certainly ten St. Francis’s would have been a better solution than revolution.  Does anyone doubt that a change of heart would have a greater impact on the world than a body revolution?

I listen to the news over the last few weeks.  Putin is jockeys for power on the world stage. What happens to Ukraine?   The ruble is in free fall, but so is the Euro.  Greece calls previous German restructuring of their debt immoral.  No one can determine if falling oil prices is really good for the US economy; wall Street disagrees with the people who pay at the pump.  Since 2008, stock markets have improved, but the standard of living for the average person is stuck in neutral.

What are the solutions?  Everyone offers political and economic ideas. Make a buffer out of Ukraine, but give Russia a port on the sea.  Greece can leave the Euro community or reaffirm austerity.  Should the Federal Reserve fear deflations and keep interest rates low, or fear inflation and start raising rates?

Maybe the world’s  economic and political problems have a spiritual component.  At their roots, the problems are problems of heart:  Fear, Power, Greed,  If so, then the best solutions must include a change in us.  How can the world change if each of us  stays the same?

Therefore, maybe we need what Lenin admitted would have been a better solution: ten Francis of Assissi’s to spire us to better living.   Please don’t think of me as naïve; after all I am following the lead of  one of the most materially oriented individuals of the 20th century. If as a pragmatist, Lenin believed in the power of St. Francis, why can’t we?

My point is, today’s headlines are about war, currencies, governments, debt, interest rates, etc.  Look behind the headlines to see the spiritual factors involved.  What difference would it make if the followers of Christ truly sought the heart of Christ?  Who would say it would make NO difference?  That old atheist, Vladimir Lenin, thought otherwise.

 

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Christ and Our Thoughts

One of the ways I develop sermon ideas is to create a file folder where I collect notes to myself, items torn out of magazines, or quotations. Newer folders are digital and contain links.  Scraps of paper and index cards fill the oldest folders.

Years ago I wrote “Christ and Our Thoughts” on a folder that has never become a sermon.  This week the folder has finally proved useful, with Sunday’s sermon addressing how we love God with all our mind (Mark 12:30).  The quotes below have proven helpful for the sermon.  Not all of them will make it into the sermon, but they all show wisdom about cultivating the way we think about life and God.

  • What a wee little part of a person’s life are in his acts and his words! His real life is lead in his head and is none to none but himself.                                                                                                  Mark Twain

 

  • We fail in our thinking before we fail in our behavior.                     Douglas Rumsford in Soulshaping, p. 99

 

  • Life consists of what a man is thinking of all day.                           Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

  • The only fault lies in our accepting it  (temptation), cultivating it, and taking pleasure in it.  I quote Luther saying that we cannot prevent the birds from flying over our head, but we can prevent them from building their nests in our hair.                                      Paul Tournier in Guilt and Grace, p.44

 

  • The soul attracts that which it secretly harbors; that which it loves, and also that which it fears. It reaches the height of its cherished aspirations. It falls to the level of its unchastened desires – and circumstances are the means by which the soul receives its own.Every thought seed sown or allowed to fall into the mind, and to take root there, produces its own, blossoming sooner or later into act, and bearing its own fruitage of opportunity and circumstance. Good thoughts bear good fruit, bad thoughts bad fruit.                                                                                                      James Allen in As a Man Thinketh

 

  • Paul tells us that we are transformed by the renewing of the mind (Rom. 12:2).  The mind is renewed by applying it to those things that will transform it.  Remember, the mind will always take on an order conforming to the order on which it concentrates.                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Richard Foster in Celebration of Discipline, p. 62f

A Brief History of the Christmas Truce

Stainsbury’s, a British Departments Store made an ad commemorating the Christmas truce

Here’s the video. It captures the essence of the moment.   Go to YouTube to find more about the making of the commercial.