What do you think of when you hear the name of this flower, the Passion Flower? When my friend, Luanne, first introduced me to this flower in her garden, I was thinking of star-crossed lovers and clandestine rendezvous, but that is not what this flower's name is about at all. Centuries ago, this flower was named by some Jesuit priests who were exploring the rain forests of South America. They were struck by the magnificent and plentiful blooms of this flowering vine. They noticed that there were hundreds of variations in colors and size from plant to plant, yet every bloom had certain unchangeable characteristics. In these characteristics the priests found some interesting symbolism. For the Jesuits, the flower of the passion vine had all the symbols of the Passion of Christ, and so it was named after this passion, not any other romantic or sensual passion that people might think of.
The priests noticed that the flower has 5 sepals and 5 petals, which to them, represents the 10 faithful apostles (excluding Peter, the denier and Judas, the betrayer). The corona represents the crown of thorns with which Roman soldiers crowned him as the “King of the Jews”; the ovary, a chalice shaped structure, represents the cup of the Last Supper. The 3 stigmas represent the 3 nails used in Christ’s crucifixion and the 5 anthers, the 5 wounds (1 in each hand and foot and one in his side caused by the soldier's spear.) The reddish stains on the stigmas represent Christ's blood. In addition to the flower parts, the vine's leaves with pointed tips resemble the spearhead that confirmed Christ’s death and the vine tendrils represent the whips used during the flagellation. Certain predominant colors within the species have also been attributed a meaning. Blue and white colors represent heaven and purity, and purple represents the color of the royal robe that the Roman soldiers placed in mockery on Jesus's shoulders. The yellow, often seen in the stigma and anthers, represents the light of the world, Jesus.
But not only the floral structures and plant parts were considered to be the symbols of the Passion of Christ. The Jesuits found symbolism in the life of the plant as well. First, every variety releases its own special scent, and these scents represent the spices the women prepared to anoint the body of Christ. Second, the passionfruit on most varieties is round in shape reminding us of the world Christ came to save. Finally, every part of the plant is edible by herbivores. For protection, the plant has tiny nectaries on each petal that are attractive to and easily accessed by ants. In fact, the first flower Luanne cut for me had an ant busily working among the petals. The ants act like soldiers protecting the plant from harmful herbivores, but allowing true pollinators to drink of its nectar. Coincidentally (or is it?), the opening lines of the Jesuit's founding document declares that the Society was founded for "whoever desires to serve as a soldier of God to strive especially for the defense and propagation of the faith and for the progress of souls in Christian life and doctrine." Jesuits are thus sometimes referred to as "God's Soldiers". Do you see the symbolism?
Upon bringing my two blossoms home, I discovered one additional symbol. Luanne warned me before I left her home that the flower's life is just one day. At the end of the day, the flower closes and never reopens. The life span of this flower reminds me of what Jesus said in John 15:4, "Remain in Me, as I also remain in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it remains in the vine, neither can you, unless you remain in Me."
Seest thou a man diligent in his business?
Most questions about life can be answered in the Bible, but sometimes the answers can be hard to find. There are two problems that I encounter that keep me from finding the answers. First, the answer may be obvious; but it isn’t the answer I wanted, so I overlook it. Or, like the answer to this question, I have to think about life in Bible times to be able to locate the answer. For example, while looking for the answer to reaching my potential, I found that the Bible does not contain the modern words of potential, capacity, aptitude. It contains the word diligent. Sometimes we even have to look back at the original language to find how to properly translate a word. In this case, diligent means to be able, to be skillful, to be learned in a job, to have a high degree of competence, and to have much experience.
The words "shall stand” do not mean standing on a platform to receive an Olympic medal at the end of a job well done. Instead, it means presenting oneself for a job before the work is started. The king would want some work done, and capable men would present themselves as potential candidates for the job. It is like awarding a contract to a skilled worker. This term is also used in Genesis 41:46, when Joseph enters the service of Pharaoh. Joseph had already proved himself to be diligent in his service to Potiphar and by correctly interpreting the pharaoh’s dreams.
In this verse, mean men are contrasted with kings. In this context, mean can be translated obscure, unimportant, unknown, or ordinary. The verse is saying that highly skilled workers are selected for higher level jobs, while workers with little experience, knowledge, and skill work at lower level jobs.
Now a little about the background of the verse. Solomon is urging his son to keep a sharp eye out for a diligent man; Solomon wants his son to be like that person. He hopes that a diligent man will be a role model for his son. The purpose of the verse is to motivate the son to become competent and skillful in order to rise to his full potential.
The Expanded Bible provides a good translation of the verse:
Do you see people skilled [or diligent] in their work?
They will work for kings, not for ordinary [obscure] people. Proverbs 22:29
Putting it all together, when I work hard at my job, have a lot of experience under my belt, learn a lot about my business, and become highly skilled at what I am now doing, then I can apply and will be promoted to a higher position.
Acts 18:12-17 is a brief account of Paul’s one and a half year stay in Corinth, where many, including, Greeks and Jews, trusted in Jesus as a result of Paul’s preaching. At first, Paul met with much opposition from the Jews in Corinth. Feeling that the Jews were resistant to the Gospel, Paul moved to another section of town and began to focus his preaching to the Greeks. He moved into the house of Titius Justus, a Christian, whose house adjoined the Jewish synagogue. This move was providential because while Paul was there, the leader of the synagogue, Crispus, and his whole family believed in the Lord Jesus and were baptized.
However, this conversion was very upsetting to the Jewish leaders and worshippers at the synagogue. They had lost their leader to Christianity. Their anger toward Paul began to surface. One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision. He gave Paul two promises, if Paul would continue preaching:
While Paul was at Corinth, Gallio was appointed proconsul of Greece. He had the authority to make the preaching of Jesus Christ illegal throughout the area of Greece and to influence other Roman governors to do the same. Gallio was new to the post and had a reputation as a kind man, a man that the Jewish leaders thought they could influence. The Jews brought Paul to him and accused Paul of practicing religion against Roman and Jewish law. The Romans allowed conquered peoples to keep their own religion. The Jews with Sosthenes, the new chief rabbi, at the helm argued that the gospel Paul preached had nothing to do with Judaism and was not covered under Roman law since it was a new religion and one not practiced by Jews at the time of their subjugation.
When the Jewish leaders concluded their argument, Paul was ready to speak and defend himself. Again we see the hand of God at work as Gallio interrupts and delivers his decision. Gallio was an expert in Roman law, not religious law. The words that the Jews spoke were just names and words that he did not understand. He dismissed the case, effectively saying that it was a religious matter and needed to be handled among themselves. This was an important judicial decision for the spread of Christianity because Paul could use the decision in other areas where he preached. It also set a precedent for other Roman governors.
At the conclusion of the story, the mob at the court seized Sosthenes and beat him. Gallio witnessed the attack, but did nothing, again saying by his inaction that what happened between religious groups was unimportant to the Roman state. Throughout the story, we can see God at work behind the scenes. First, God placed Paul in the best location for the Christian faith to grow. We see that in the conversion of Greeks and Jews, including Crispus and possibly Sosthenes himself. (See 1 Cor. 1:1). Second, God caused Gallio to speak before Paul testified and to allow Christianity to be preached throughout the Roman empire. Third, God protected Paul from harm. The Lord kept his promise to be with Paul and to keep him from harm.
The take away for Christians today is that we are protected from God’s wrath and will receive eternal life, and no one can take that from us. Second, God is present through the Holy Spirit in each of us, who will lead us in our speech and works as we partner in His mission to bring all people to Him. Knowing that God himself dwells with us allows us to persevere through adversity. Third, we are encouraged in the knowledge that God has the power to influence and change every adverse circumstance when He wills.
Yesterday was a beautiful day where I am. The temperature was in the 70s, and there was not a cloud in the sky. As I strolled along a full and gently flowing river that had been almost dry only two years ago, I heard the birds proclaiming the awesomeness of this early March day. I had to agree for I saw the first spring bluebonnets and a blue iris rising up from what had been a parched land. In the pasture, I saw a calf kicking up its heels and running circles around its mama. In a distant meadow, I watched some antelope grazing. I thought about how everything I saw was once a spark in the imagination of a Creator God who placed everything in perfect order.
Isn't it wonderful that God gave each of us an imagination, too? You possess a powerful imagination that you can use for good and His glory. A little imagination is needed in every endeavor, especially when encouraging others. Let it flow out like that river which two years ago was only a trickle. You can do it!
Listening to the story of the Israelites traveling through the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land, it struck me how very much like them I am. Every day the Lord provided food for them, but He told them to take only what they would need for one day. He provided what they needed each and every day, but not trusting in His provision, they would try to store up food for the next day. So like me.
I thought about how stingy I can be with comfort, compassion, encouragement, love. But have you ever heard of anyone loving so much that they woke up the next day and had no love? No, neither have I. Every day I have all I need for every situation. There is no need to hold back. If I give it all, tomorrow I will wake up filled and overflowing. Same for you, so USE IT ALL UP.
Last year at this time, we talked about setting goals for the year. I plan to do that again in 2016. My main goal for the year is to encourage someone every day. By the end of the year, I hope to have encouraged 365 people. We all know that every kindness sends out ripples in every direction, so if everyone who reads this blog took the challenge to encourage one person each day, who knows what the result could be.
To help me with this goal, I wrote a list of encouraging actions that I could take. I will try to take every opportunity to encourage someone daily, but if no opportunity presents itself or if I am stuck about what to do to encourage someone, I will have the list to help me.
2016 Encourager CHALLENGE
Share your faith whenever possible.
Complement at least one co-worker per day.
Donate to a charity on a regular basis.
Clean out your closet twice a year and donate what you no longer wear.
Talk to someone waiting in line with you at least once per week.
Ask a stranger how his/her day is going at least once per week.
Remind your family how much you love them as often as you see them.
Make one new friend in 2016.
Get back in touch with one person you miss.
Bake cookies for your neighbors or co-workers.
Give someone a "just because" gift.
Buy coffee and be a listener for someone going through rough times.
Leave a nice tip for people who serve you.
At least once each year, help at a soup kitchen, homeless shelter, on a Habitat for Humanity Crew, or with disaster relief.
Bring in your neighbor's trash cans.
Rake leaves or shovel snow for a neighbor.
Talk to your neighbors when you are out at the same time.
Invite a single person or a lonely older couple to dinner with the family.
Donate blood at least once a year.
Host a block party or find another way to get involved in your community.
Drive friendly every day. Allow people to merge into traffic or change lanes.
Buy a lunch or give a rescue bag to a homeless person.
Visit a nursing home or do a service project for an elderly person.
Put down your cell phone and give your full attention to your dinner companions every day.
Leave positive feedback about excellent service you receive.
Make a newcomer feel welcome whenever possible.
Return someone else's grocery cart as needed.
Every day, hold the door open for the person coming in behind you.
Hold the elevator when you see someone approaching.
Take a special interest in and encourage at least one child who is not in your immediate family.
Write at least one thank you note per week.
Write a birthday message on your friend's Facebook wall.
Send a get well card to friends and family who are sick.
Every day, intercede for others in prayer and let them know that you are supporting them in prayer.
Make someone smile every day.
Do an act of service in secret.
Smile every day. There is always someone who is going through a hard time.
Do a chore for someone so he/she can get away.
Write an encouraging note to a church staff member.
Thank a military person for his/her service.
Write a letter to a soldier, college student, or anyone far from home.
Post a Bible verse on Facebook and tell what it means to you.
Send a random text of encouragement when someone is on your mind.
Give your boss a sincere compliment.
Make a care package for the homeless and keep it in your car to give away.
Praise a child in front of his/her parents.
Like or comment on a friend's post as often as possible.
Call a grandparent or elderly relative just because.
Write an encouraging letter to a child. It is so special for a child to get mail.
Let someone in a hurry go ahead of you at the checkout counter.
Pack a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child.
Use your talents to serve others.
Pay with whole dollars and save the change for a good cause.
Teach a skill to someone else.
Two or three times per year, participate in a canned food drive.
If you don't collect coupons, give them to someone who does.
Drive through a neighborhood as if your own child lived there and played outside.
Show your spirit by decorating your home's exterior for holidays.
Take a walk around the neighborhood and introduce yourself to the people you see.
Offer to pick up mail and newspapers for vacationing neighbors.
Take on at least one volunteer position at your church.
Become a prayer partner with a younger church member.
Pray for our country every day.
On Mother's Day, buy a dozen flowers and hand them out to the mothers you see.
Call your parents often, but certainly on Mother's Day, Father's Day, anniversary, birthdays, and holidays.
Donate inspirational books to your church library.
Declutter your home and donate all useable items to charity resale shops.
When you attend a memorial service, speak of a fond memory to surviving family members. You will not add to their grief, but instead you will be adding to their bank of sweet thoughts and memories.
Show up at a Little League game or a school concert to encourage a child in your neighborhood or church.
When you make a batch of anything that is too much for you to eat, share with a neighbor, coworker, etc.
Leave a pass along encouragement card with your tip. Cards are business card size and are available at your local Christian bookstore.
This Christmas our family is overjoyed to welcome a new child into our midst. I have heard some mention that Christmas is not the best time for a birthday, but I have discovered some real blessings from Christmas babies. First, the birth of this sweet innocent baby has made thoughts of the precious Christ child even more real to me. As I sat watching this baby's sweet expression, tiny yawns and stretches, and the comfort he receives in his mother's arms, I thought about the baby Jesus so meek and mild. Watching the protectiveness of both mother and father, I thought again about the very young Joseph and Mary who protected their son from King Herod. Listening to the hopes and dreams of the baby's parents, I thought about Mary and Joseph and how they only had an inkling of who their baby was and what He would give the world.
Second, all the nurses and doctors are in a Christmas mood. The hospital was decked out in splendor. The atmosphere added a specialness to the birth, and the doctors and nurses were especially kind and understanding.
Third, because school is out and many are on vacation, more family and friends were able to gather in support of this young family, and they needed it. While the baby is healthy, the mother had some serious complications. It was good for her to feel the love of so many. And thankfully, she will be okay.
Last, this mother and father discovered the wonderful gift that God gives us in a child. And by becoming parents, they will learn so much more about the selfless love of God the Father.
I am glad that there are Christmas babies and the special, thoughtful blessing they bring.
And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning the child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. Luke 2: 16-19 ESV
Last night, I watched an interview with a homeless woman on television. The woman spoke of having to move from "tent city," where she felt in danger, to a new location where she was not welcome. The camera shifted from her face to the tent behind her and her meager belongings stored in plastic shopping bags and thrown in a pile beside the tent.
Our winter so far has been mild, but it won't be long before freezing temperatures arrive. I thought about what it would be like to live outside 24/7 in the winter. A coat alone would not suffice. Gloves, a scarf, socks, and a cap would be essential. These small items could be folded into a zippered gallon size bag to make a winter survival kit for the homeless. The gift of warmth would be a wonderful thing to give a homeless person this Christmas.
Giving to charities is important to do during the Christmas season for several reasons. First, most charities receive a large part of their funding, as much as 33%, for the entire year during December. Second, winter time is hard on people living at or below the poverty level. It is a time when many of our nation's people are cold, hungry, or ill. The money you give can help supply food, shelter, and medical care for those in need. The fortunate part of giving to charities is that our government encourages charitable giving in the form of income tax deductions. Here are some guidelines for giving to charities:
1. Be careful about giving to organizations that continually solicit donations over the phone. Tell them you must receive some information about their organization in writing before you will donate. I have done this for years and most of the time I receive nothing in writing from groups that solicit funds in this way. Often questionable charities like these will choose a name that is very similar to another well known and legitimate organization. This can be confusing and is intended to be, so do your homework.
2. Make sure to donate to to an IRS-qualified charity. How do you know if yours qualifies? The IRS lets you search charities online. Also, find out how much of the money received is actually used for its intended purpose. The best ones will use at least $.75 or more of every dollar for the cause and only $.25 or less for overhead expenses. Do your homework before you donate on websites like Charity Navigator, CharityWatch, GuideStar, and Better Business Bureau.
3. Your money will have a greater impact if you concentrate your donations between one or two organizations. If you give money, make sure to keep a paper record of it. Whether it's a receipt from the charity or just a canceled check, you need to be able to prove what you gave.
4. Your giving is not limited to money. You can also help others through donations of items you own. For tax purposes, you need to make a list of all your items and then you have to estimate the fair market value. Fair market value is "What would somebody at a thrift store pay for this item?" and not what you paid for it. The Salvation Army and Goodwill have sections on their websites with lists to help determine the fair market value of goods.
Charitable giving is a wonderful way to serve those in need, and now you have some information to help you decide how best to do it.
Thousands of American soldiers will be spending Christmas on active duty, many in hostile situations. How can you help? There are many ways.
1. Although the time for sending Christmas cards may have already passed by the time you read this, you can still send an encouraging e-mail message to an active duty soldier. You can find the e-mail form here, http://action.uso.org/moments Sending a message takes less than 5 minutes.
2. If you will be doing any holiday sewing, Operation Care Package is trying to collect 10,000 home made Christmas stockings and other items like scarves and caps to send to our troops. You can find information and a pattern here. http://www.operationcarepackages.org/Christmas/OperationChristmasStocking.html
3. Operation Gratitude collects Paracord Survival bracelets for first responders and deployed troops throughout the year. If you would like to make some bracelets, more information and instructions can be found here. https://opgrat.wordpress.com/2012/07/03/how-to-make-a-paracord-survival-bracelet/
4. Your local Red Cross accepts cards for soldiers throughout the year. They accept cards for all holidays and for birthdays. Cards created by children are encouraged. For more information, contact your local Red Cross office.
5. You can even become a pen pal to a soldier! Read more here: http://www.adoptaussoldier.org/
6. You can post a Christmas Card, liked the one below, dedicated to our active duty military on your personal Facebook page, or tweet a Christmas message to our solders.
Hi! My name is Vickie Lutz. I am a retired teacher living in north Texas. Last year, I embarked on a new adventure and wrote 2 books about note taking methods that I learned as a teacher. The books explain how to use these note-taking methods to record what you learned about God and heard from God during sermons or Bible lessons. This year I am continuing my new adventure with a blog!