Saturday, January 11, 2014

New Testament Reading

If you noticed, we started with our New Testament Reading Plan early this week. Tap here to download and read the revised 2 page schedule.

Scroll to the right to see where we started early this week. For your convenience, tap on the links below:

Luke 1
John 1: 1- 14
Matthew 1
Luke 2:1-40
Matthew 2
Luke 2:41-52
Matthew 3
Mark 1

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Mark 1

Mark was an interpreter of Simon Peter and wrote down accurately all of which he remembered - both sayings and doings of Jesus. However, the things he wrote are not in order. Again, Mark was not a companion of Jesus and neither heard him. Essentially, the gospel of Mark is that of Simon Peter. Tradition favors that Mark's intended audience was gentile Christians in and around Rome. In his gospel, he explains Jewish customs, translates Aramaic expressions and even explains Greek expressions wild. He covers the the story of Jesus from his baptism until his death and resurrection.

He begins with the statement that Jesus is the son of God and his book contains "Good News." Next, he quotes Prophet Isaiah speaking about John the Baptist.
Mark 1:4 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
According to Mark, the message John convened was, “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Mark explains the baptism of Jesus by John, the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus, and the approving voice of Lord, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Immediately after the baptism, Jesus is led into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. Mark also documents the presence of wild animals in the wilderness.
Mark 1:12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness,
13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.
Jesus emerged successfully from the power of darkness, to fulfill God's plan. John's ministry came to and end when he was put in the prison. Jesus moved to Galilee, headed the ministry and announced, “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

The next goal Jesus worked towards was in creating a community. As a first step, he called for disciples. This was quite opposite to what took place at that time - typically, Jewish students would chose their rabbis. As a first step, four fishermen were called to follow, with a promise to "fish" for people. Brothers Simon & Andrew, and James & John were those first recruits.

Jesus went on to Capernaum and taught in the Temple with authority and a genuine power from God. Then on one Sabbath, while he was teaching, he met a man possessed with impure spirit cried out:
Mark 1:24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are - the Holy One of God!”
Jesus spoke sternly and asked the spirit to come out of him, which it did. People who witnessed this were amazed how the impure spirits obeyed him.

Another miracle Jesus performed was healing the mother-in-law of Simon Peter, who was bedridden with fever. Jesus healed her completely. The whole town gathered at the door. Note that this was the first recorded "healing" of Jesus. Later, once Sabbath ended at sunset, many who were sick and possessed with demons lined up to meet Jesus at this house.

While it was still dark, Jesus left the crowded house and went out to pray in solitude. He must have hardly slept on that day after healing all those who came to him.
Mark 1:35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.
Simon and his companions came looking for him. He suggested they move on to another town so that he could preach in other towns of Galilee too.

Jesus then encountered an untouchable leper, who begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”

According to Mosaic law (Leviticus 13 and 14), a leper should be quarantined from the rest of the community and only a priest could pronounce him clean. He could enter the society only after offering those prescribed sacrifices.

Jesus touched him and he was healed. However, Jesus asked him to follow the Mosaic law by going to a priest.
Mark 1:43 Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning:
44 “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”
45 Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.

The privacy of Jesus was compromised due to this incident - he could no longer enter a town openly and had to hide when he wanted to be alone. One way to look at is that Jesus became popular.

Additional Info
Forty days of Jesus in the wilderness is the symbolic representation of Israel in the wilderness. Israel failed when they were tested, but Jesus emerged victorious.

When the first set of disciples were called to follow Jesus, they already knew who Jesus was. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Matthew 3

Jesus arriving to be Baptized 

Fast forward several years - almost 18 years since that incident of Jesus being lost at the temple, or approximately 30 years since his birth.

John the Baptist was paving the way for Jesus, by preaching in the Judean wilderness. He was the "Elijah who was to come." His dressing style resembled that of Elijah and convened the same message. The compelling voice of John, carrying the message for the people was, "Repent." He drew large crowds out into the Judean wilderness. Those who repented their sins, were symbolically cleansed by 'washing' in water - a process called baptism.

When those religious leaders came to inspect John's ministry, he sarcastically compares them to a bunch of snakes slithering away from a grass fire. He tells them that rather than relying on their religious heritage, they should bear fruits that reveal a change of heart. These religious leaders always used to boast of their religious heritage saying, "We are children of Abraham," and this is what John criticizing. They were saying, we are the original sons of Abraham.

John prepared the way for Jesus, by baptizing people with water. He mentioned about the arrival of Jesus, who will baptize them with the Holy Spirit and fire. John was referring to the day of the Pentecost.

When Jesus arrived to get baptized, the two have a conversation. John encourages Jesus not to be baptized, as Jesus does not have any sins, and he does not need to repent. However, Jesus responds that this baptism is necessary.
Matthew 3:15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.
When Jesus got baptized by John, he did two things:
1. Jesus gave approval to John's ministry, and
2. Jesus identified himself along with sinners of the earth.

Note that there was no need for Jesus to repent, but instead, there was a need for the people of Israel to repent. At this point, Jesus started to take the sins of Israel upon him - to save them.
Matthew 3:16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.
17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
A rare moment where the Trinity was visible. Father voiced His approval, the Son submitted, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him to empower him.

My Thoughts:
Even to this day, we hear people boasting about those religious heritage. Only difference is that today, it is about being "Original Christians."

To me, Matthew 3:17 is the highest accolade one can ever receive on this earth. How musical it would be to our ears, to hear such a statement from the LORD Himself!!! As children of God, we should aim towards pleasing Him, and hearing this very statement.

Dove, in it's purity, is a beautiful symbol that represents the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Why some walk away

Have you ever wondered, and asked God, "Why is it that certain people move away from my life?"

Here is what God has to say: 

Does it apply to you, when you think about it? LORD had wonderful plans with you and it is only the LORD's plan that will succeed!!

In a broader sense, He loves all his creation and has a grandiose plan for everyone. Those who seek Him will find Him, and He is there for the needy and those who trust in the divine providence. In fact, He is the only one who will be there for us at times of need.

May He lift you up higher and higher in your life, and may that beacon of LORD's light within you shine brighter and brighter.

Luke 2:41-52

All four gospels maintain silence about the childhood of Jesus. The only snapshot of Jesus between his infancy and public ministry is recorded by Luke, when Jesus was twelve years of age.

At age twelve, he went to Jerusalem with his parents for the Passover feast. Jesus stayed back in the temple, discussing theology and Old Testament with Jewish teachers. Those teachers are amazed at his understanding of the Holy Scripture.

His parents discovered Jesus to be missing after a day's travel. They looked for him among their friends and relatives, but could not find him. They then decided to return to the temple and kept searching for three days.

Imagine the state of mind of Joseph and Mary when they lost the child, and they were in a state of shock for three days. Also picture the moment Mary discovered her son in the midst of those priests. She immediately rushed to him and said, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

Tween Jesus replied, “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

His parents did not understand what he was speaking. They were overjoyed for having found him. It must have been sort of a rebirth. On their trip back, Jesus was obedient to his parents, and Mary treasured all these things in her heart. 

Notice the next verse. This is the only verse that tells us what happened to Jesus between the age of 12 and 30: 
Luke 2:52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.
For the next 18 years, Jesus would grow in wisdom, and get ready for his public ministry.

Rabbis in the temple with boy Jesus- William Holman hunt 1848-60

My Thoughts
When my son was two years old, I took him to a mall in California, and lost him for about 10 minutes. It was a gruesome experience. 

I wonder how Joseph and Mary endured the feeling of a 'lost Jesus' for three long days.

Growing in Wisdom - I think I will start jotting down my thoughts about growing in wisdom and share with others. I will be lucky if someone critiques me and  corrects me.

Matthew 2

Herod the Great, King of Jews had enforced Roman legislature at a local level. The Magi, or the three wise men came to visit Jesus from the east.

Though they bring gifts, notice that the Bible does not say they were kings. They certainly knew how to read the stars and that is probably what made them 'wise'. Further, they had mastery over those Old Testament prophecies. When they spotted this special new star, they knew it was the birth of the promised king. With this knowledge, they were able to speak confidently in front of Herod.

Herod was suspicious that this new born child will snatch away his throne and hence wanted to go "worship" him.

The star directed them to the exact place where child was, and they were filled with joy.
Matthew 2:11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 
Notice that the wise men did not come to the "manger" where baby Jesus was born. They came and visited baby Jesus at the house where Joseph and Mary were now staying. This means, all those nativity scenes we set up during the Sunday school or church nativity shows (depicting 3 wise men with gifts at the manger) are incorrect.

God protected the little family when an angel told Joseph in a dream to escape to Egypt. Herod was outwit when the magi returned another way. Herod then ordered a massacre of infants under the age of two, in an attempt to kill Jesus.

After the death of Herod the Great, in another dream, Joseph is told to return to Israel. They avoid the cruel ruler Archelaus and returned to Galilee - specifically Nazareth. Since Jesus lived in Nazareth, he was called a "Nazarene."

Luke 2:39 does not mention the visit of the Magi, neither their plight to Egypt, but records their settlement in Nazareth, where Jesus was filled with wisdom and the grace of God was upon him.

Additional Info:
Herod the Great turns out to be the villain during our Christmas story. He rose to power after being friendly to the Roman Emperor, Augustus Caesar.

Here is his profile:
Herod was not Jewish, but was the grandson of an Arab Sheik,
Ruled over the Jews for 37 years,
Rose to power by receiving favors from Roman Emperor,
Was a cunning and able politician,
Killed several of his wives, two sons, two brother in laws, and father in law,
Ordered assassination of all children under the age of 2 years, in an attempt to kill Jesus,
Mascaraed his friends, nobles, priests, and all those who crossed him in some way,
Imposed heavy taxes to fund his building projects,
One of his sons - Heord Antipas, conspired during the trial and crucifixion of Jesus,

Mary Evans, and artist, made this picture showing Donati's comet seen 'standing over Paris, France' in 1858. The Star of Bethlehem must have bees somewhat similar or even glorifying. 

Journey through Atlanta airport

Atlanta Airport is a world in itself. After passing through it almost every week Mon - Thursday for several years, since 2002 has made it a part of my life.

Over the course of these years, there are numerous things I learned about this airport.

Tap here to see an interactive journey put together by CNN

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Luke 2:1-40

Caesar Augustus, the Roman emperor was considered a god at that time. He ordered a decree to take census, possible for the purpose of collecting taxes. Everyone went to their hometown to do so. Since Joseph belonged to the house of David, he had to go to Bethlehem to register for the census.

This was around 6 to 4 BC. Joseph, along with Mary, went to the town of Jerusalem, while Mary was almost due to deliver. The couple could not find any "inn" or guest room. Mary gave birth to baby Jesus in a "manger" or feeding trough (pay attention how the son of God humbled himself and chose to enter this world).

In the nearby fields, an angel appeared to shepherds and announced this good news to them.
Luke 2:10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.
11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.
12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
Notice how the heavens erupted in joy at the birth of Jesus - they knew the reason for Jesus' mission in this world. Birth of a baby is a fabulous occasion.

The shepherds decided among themselves to go visit this baby. They hurried to go find Joseph and Mary, and later spread the good news. The whole experience was overwhelming to Mary, that she chose to "treasure up all these things in her heart."

On day 8, the baby was circumcised according to Jewish custom, and was named Jesus (meaning LORD saves). He was then presented in the temple following the purification process prescribed in Leviticus 12:6-8. Leviticus 12 speaks about 'purification after childbirth'.

Notice Joseph and Mary offered two birds in the temple, instead of a one year old lamb and a pigeon. This indicates they were an extremely poor family.

While at the temple, they met two people - Simeon, a righteous man filled with Holy Spirit, and Anna, a pious elderly woman. Lord had revealed the identity of Jesus to both of them and made provision to meet him.

Simeon must have been reveled about the mission of Jesus - he made a comment that would pierce Mary's heart. He said, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Mary probably did not understand what Simeon said, but she must have made special note of that comment.

After fulfilling all those requirements after childbirth, Joseph and Mary returned to Nazareth.
Luke 2:40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.
Pay attention here - Jesus was filled with wisdom from this time onward. We do not know what Jesus did, from the time his parents presented him at the temple till age 12. All we know is that he grew and was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.

Additional Info

About Caesar Augustus
- adopted son of Julius Caesar
- first emperor in the ancient Roman Empire,
- one of the most successful Roman emperors,
- brought peace and prosperity to the Roman empire,
- gave Israel some local control,
- reign was marked with innovation and generosity,
- encouraged art, literature, and philosophy,
- launched a major building program, and paid from his own pocket,
- ordered a census taken of the entire Roman world, possibly for tax purposes.
- worshiped the pagan Roman gods,
- allowed himself to be worshiped as a living god.

Christmas Story
Christmas story depicted on all those Christmas cards portray Mary relaxed and calmly receiving all those visitors. Luke does not portray it such. He documented that Mary was troubled. She had all the reasons to be! The pregnancy was scandalous, and Mary endured the most humiliating circumstance while childbirth.

Coming to think about it, if today a teenage girl claimed to be pregnant by divine intervention and argued that she was still a virgin, her parents would drive her straight to the psychiatrist. Who in the world would believe Mary?

Credits about Caesar Augustus:
Image: William Anderson

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Matthew 1

Joseph's Dream', painting by Gaetano Gandolfi, c. 1790

Matthew narrates the dynasty of Jesus in the reverse order, describing the royal lineage of David. Note there are 14 (2 X 7) names from Abraham to David, 14 from David to Jechoniah, and 14 names from Jechoniah to Jesus. The number 7 signifies a perfect number.
Matthew 1:17 Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.
Matthew focuses on Joseph as a descendant of David. We then read about how Joseph was planning to divorce Mary.

Five old testament quotations about Jesus are given by Matthew, and the first is from Prophet Isaiah 7:14.
Matthew 1:23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
We then see how Joseph was planning to divorce Mary after hearing that she was pregnant. Even though he had taken just a pledge to marry her, in Jewish culture a pledge was considered binding, and a divorce was necessary to break the pledge.

An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Joseph followed the angel's direction and married Mary. He named the baby Jesus.

Additional Info: 
Matthew focuses on the Jewish genealogy, starting from Abraham. He traces a royal lineage of David's heir. In contrast, Luke focuses on the commonality of genealogy, starting from Adam.

Luke focuses on the genealogy of Mary, while Matthew focuses on Joseph.

Imagine the test of faith both Mary and Joseph had to endure. How difficult it would have been for Mary, a teenage girl, to believe that she was pregnant without knowing a man. Again, how difficult it would have been for Joseph to believe that Mary, his future wife, conceived a child by the Holy Spirit?

John 1:1-14

Unlike Matthew and Luke, John goes to the very beginning and gives a theological introduction to Jesus, sounding like Genesis 1:1.
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 He was with God in the beginning.
In Jewish history, the "Word" is associated with God's Wisdom, as in Proverbs 8 and 9.

Then, in verse 6, we read:
John 1:6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John.
7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.
8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
This John is John the Baptist, and not the author of this book.

Verse 14 speaks about Jesus Christ.
John 1:14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Speaking about the glory of Jesus Christ, John (the author), got an opportunity to witness it along with Peter and James, during Transfiguration.

Additional Info:
The accounts of Jesus Christ documented by Matthew, Mark, and Luke are very similar to one another in content and expression. As a result, Matthew, Mark, and Luke are referred to as the “Synoptic Gospels" which means, “to see together with a common view.”

This similarity in expression (style and vocabulary) is obvious to even the casual reader, and raises the question of why they are similar to one another in these respects. This is known as the "Synoptic Problem."

The book of John is regarded different from the remaining three gospels. About 90% of John's gospel is not found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. John, in his non-technical, plain language, documents numerous miracles of Jesus which others do not.

John states the purpose of his writings:
John 20:31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Almost all of Mark's content is found in Matthew, and much of Mark is similarly found in Luke. Additionally, Matthew and Luke have a large amount of material in common that is not found in Mark.

Image Credits: Wiki

Monday, January 6, 2014

Luke 1

We will go over the following chapters:
Luke 1; John 1:1-14
These are popular stories known to almost everyone.

Luke 1
This book is believed to be authored by Luke, who also wrote Acts of the Apostles, and was a companion of Paul - who calls him the "Beloved Physician." The contents of this book must have been written around A. D. 60, before the fall of Jerusalem, in A. D. 70.

Luke aims at a gentile audience while authoring this book, in an effort to document those stories and teachings of Jesus which were circulating by word of mouth. He wrote how the birth of John the Baptist was foretold. He narrated the story of a priest named Zachariah, and his wife, Elizabeth, who was barren. Zachariah, during his two week duty as a priest, was visited by an angel while he was in the temple, and told him that his wife will bear him a son, whom he was to name as John. The child was not supposed to drink alcohol, and was to be brought up as a Nazirite - similar to how Prophet Samuel was brought up. The child will act as a bridge between the old and the new, and be the new Elijah, heralding the long-awaited Messiah.

Zachariah did not believe what the angel said. He based his belief system on that of the nature and said he was old and his wife was past her age of child bearing. The angel, hearing this, did not allow him to utter any further words or speak until the day of his son, John’s birth.

About six months later, God sent angel Gabriel to appear before Mary, who was betrothed to Joseph, telling her that she will bear a son called Jesus, who will be called the Son of the Highest. Mary responded with acceptance, though the incident was bound to arise a scandal, a possible cancellation of her marriage, and even death penalty.
Luke 1:38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
Mary visited Elizabeth, and the yet unborn John leaped in his mother’s womb. Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit was excited to meet Mary.
Luke 1:42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!.."
In response, Mary sang a song:
Luke 1:46 And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49     for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.”
Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and later returned home.

Elizabeth later gave birth to a baby boy and they were about to name him after the father Zechariah. Elizabeth objected to this, and they then checked with Zechariah. He then asked for a writing tablet and conveyed his opinion as "John." At this time, he regained his ability to speak, and everyone was filled with awe.

Zachariah prophesied that his son will be called the prophet of the Highest, and will go before the Lord to prepare his ways.

John went on to live in the wilderness until he was ready for public ministry.

Additional Info:
If you are like me, you probably wondered what is the need for four gospels. Well, as we all know, people see things in different ways and therefore, they naturally tend to tell their stories differently - the one from their own perspective.

Here is an explanation from
Because the gospels serve more as Spirit-drawn narrative portraits, any "harmonizing" of the four accounts falls to the student of the Bible. Weaving the gospels together is possible, but the gospels should never be taken as an exhaustive biography in the modern sense. Instead, the accounts follow the common ancient method of highlighting key events and themes. Each telling presents a distinct perspective on the same life.

Matthew: Christ is the Son of David, rightful heir to the Messianic throne. Here we see Christ's royal genealogy, the visit by the magi from the East to announce His kingly birth, and the proclamation of His laws in the Sermon on the Mount.

Mark: Here we find Jesus as the Servant of God. Although Jesus came as God to earth, He completely submitted Himself to the will of the Father in heaven and took on the form of a servant. Anything extraneous to that theme is excluded, which is why the narrative contains no references to Jesus's birth or youth.

Luke: To Luke, Jesus is the Son of Man—fully human but unlike any other human being in His perfect submission to God's will. For this reason, Luke traces the genealogy back to Adam (the first human).

John: John presents Jesus as the Son of God—fully divine. Jesus is not only flesh and bones, but He is also the Creator of all things in the beginning (John 1). Jesus reveals His nature as "I am," a title God gave as His own.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Children learn what they live with

A poem by Dorothy Nolte

If a child lives with criticism,
he learns to condemn.

If a child lives with hostility,
he learns to fight.

If a child lives with fear,
he learns to be apprehensive.

If a child lives with pity,
he learns to feel sorry for himself.

If a child lives with ridicule,
he learns to be shy.

If a child lives with jealousy,
he learns what envy is.

If a child lives with shame,
he learns to feel guilty.

If a child lives with encouragement,
he learns to be confident.

If a child lives with tolerance,
he learns to be patient.

If a child lives with praise,
he learns to be appreciative.

If a child lives with acceptance,
he learns to love.

If a child lives with approval,
he learns to like himself.

If a child lives with recognition,
he learns that it is good to have a goal.

If a child lives with sharing,
he learns about generosity.

If a child lives with honesty and fairness,
he learns what truth and justice are.

If a child lives with security,
he learns to have faith in himself and in those about him.

If a child lives with friendliness,
he learns that the world is a nice place in which to live.

If you live with serenity,
your child will live with peace of mind.

With what is your child living?

Credits: 100 ways to enhance self-concept in the classroom: A handbook for teachers and patents.