The Dark Side of Prayer

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I’m sure we’ve all heard it. Pastors and ministers railing on about the benefits of prayer. And we can’t deny it. Prayer has the potential to change the world. But shouldn’t we also consider the dark side of prayer? Thankfully, I have personally considered it and you can now benefit from my consideration. (Don’t mean to brag but apparently I have a gift for considering the negative side of things.)

1. Prayer can be time consuming. 
For instance, more time spent in prayer means less time for other more important activities like watching TV, surfing the net, or cleaning the house. You can’t find out what somebody had for supper while kneeling in prayer. You need Facebook for that. You can’t watch a TV that isn’t covered in dust by making supplication before the Father. You need to clean the house in order for such a situation to occur. Which brings me to my next point.

2. Prayer is hard work.
To pray effectively you really need to concentrate and focus your attention on God alone. If you think this is easy then just try it sometime. It’s not easy. It can be hard. Almost like work, especially when it comes to intense intercessory prayer. And who really wants to work? Don’t we all want the easy way out of everything? Checking your Facebook feed is much easier. It can be hard on the fingers but other than that it doesn’t require a great deal of energy.

3. God may say no.
When you ask God for something in prayer there’s no guarantee that He’s going to say yes. He may actually say no and who wants to hear that awful word?

For instance, a young man was once overheard having a conversation with God:
Young Man: “Dear God, please let me marry that gorgeous lady who works at my office.”
God: “But son, she doesn’t believe in Me, she’s immoral, and at times she can be downright nasty.”
Young Man: “But she’s beautiful and I think I can change her.”
God: “No you can’t.”
Young Man: “Please……..”
God: “Sorry son, the answer is no. Besides, I have someone much better for you if you’re willing to wait just a little bit longer.”

Let’s take a moment and examine this mythical conversation (I know it’s mythical because I just made it up in my head). God utters two words here that are hard to bear. Firstly, he says “no”. Then he says “wait.” Which brings me to my next point.

4. God may say wait. 
We all hate waiting don’t we? Think long, slow, line-ups at a drive-thru window. Or Christmas shopping with your wife. Or shopping any time of year with your wife for that matter. It’s like ordering a camcorder on e-bay from a seller based in China. The reason I know this is because I have actually done it. Yes, I did eventually get the camera. It was cheap and it worked fine. But I had to wait several weeks to get it. You can only imagine how devastating it was for me to check the mail week in and week out only to find bills and charity pledge forms, but no camera. The fact I have the camera now and might possibly enjoy using it for years to come doesn’t change the fact I had to spend a few weeks without it.
​5. You could end up with sore knees. 
Tradition says that the apostle James earned the nickname “camel knees” because he spent so much time in prayer that his knees became swollen. Who wants swollen knees? Knees that resemble those of a camel can be an eyesore for others, especially during the summer. The best away to avoid camel-like knees is to spend less time on them. Of course, you could use a cushion. But then you run the risk of damaging or dirtying the cushion.

The only safe way to avoid both dirty cushions and swollen knees is to forsake prayer. Of course you don’t have to kneel to pray. Rumour has it some people have prayed while standing, sitting and even walking. But there’s no need for such radical spirituality. The safest route is not to pray at all. Now if you’ll excuse I have to go and fill the rest of my day with useless busyness.

 

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5 Benefits of Sexual Immorality

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If you feel constrained by the chains of moral purity, fear not. I’m here to help. Most people have already found freedom from the clutches of commitment based living. But not everybody. Apparently, the world still has a few prudes who think sex is about something other than unbridled passion. If you’re a prude (as in excessively proper or modest in speech, conduct or dress) I have good news. You can change. You can overcome your prudishness. You too can hop on the bandwagon of moral filth. To that end I’ve compiled a brief list of some of the benefits of living like a libertine.

​(For those of you who don’t spend a lot of time on dictionary.com, a libertine is “a person who is morally or sexually unrestrained”.) And now the list.

1. It feels good.
God created sex to be a pleasurable experience. His original intention was for the pleasure to be enjoyed within the bonds of matrimony. Humanity has since discovered, however, that the matrimony part is totally optional. You can still enjoy the pleasure of the act without the commitment and baggage of being hitched to the same person for life.

2. You may not get a sexually transmitted disease.
Studies prove that not everybody who is sexually immoral winds up with Venereal diseases like HIV/AIDS, Hepatitus, Herpes, or Gonorrhea. Some escape it. That said, there is a possibility you still may get one of these diseases but isn’t it worth the risk though? If you’re still worried about this just keep focussing on point 1 above.

3. The gospel could be a farce and you might not wind up in hell afterall.
Many “intelligent” people still believe the gospel is a myth. Even if they’re wrong and you wind up tormented in the lake of fire for all of eternity, at least you got to enjoy a few years of uninhibited pleasure. To be sure, eternity is an awfully long time but if you just block it out of your mind somewhow then it need not interfere with your current hedonistic lifestyle. Which really brings me to my next point.

4. You have an excuse to drink more and do more drugs.
Sexually immorality still carries an element of guilt and shame for many. No worries. This is precisely why we have drugs and alcohol. Both help numb the effects of guilt, at least temporarily. Admittedly, no long term solution outside the gospel has yet been found for the guilt problem but what of it? I mean, who really cares about long-term stuff. Remember point 1 above.

5. You can make money from it. 
If you really enjoy fornication then you might want to consider one of many exciting career options that pay really well: prostitute, stripper, porn star. You may very well destroy your soul in the process but at least you’re getting rich. But if you’re still not convinced, I refer you again to point 1 above.

So throw off the shackles. Chances are your peers are already doing it so what’s stopping you? And if you’re concerned that moral looseness might mess with your marriage let me further encourage you. Some psychiatrists teach that an adulterous affair or two is actually good for your marriage. But if the “professionals” are wrong they are wrong. Isn’t it worth the risk? I mean, what’s the worst that can happen? A broken marriage? Messed up kids? A lost eternity?

Please, if you’re not going to focus exclusively on point 1 above then I see no point in carrying on this discussion. Just because Moses choose to suffer affliction with the people of God rather than enjoying the passing pleasures of sin doesn’t mean we all have to follow his example? (see Hebrews 11:25 for more about that) Remember, Moses was an example of faith, not fun. Of course, having faith doesn’t mean you can’t have fun but we can’t discuss that now because it doesn’t really support my overall thesis. In fact, it has the potential to blow my entire argument to the moon and back. Speaking of the moon, have you ever tried worshipping it? Never mind, I’ll save that idea for another blog.

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5 Benefits of Social Drinking for Christians

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They say confession is good for the soul. Therefore, I have one to make right now. I do not drink alcohol. Neither socially nor anti-socially. Nor drunkenly. Nor in any other way. Nevertheless, I cannot deny the obvious benefits to social drinking. They are “plastered” all across the minds of thoughtful people like myself. For the present discussion I will list five of these benefits, though I admit there are possibly several others.

1. You get to be social.
The very phrase “social drinking” indicates that drinking socially means you’re being social. That’s why it’s called “social” drinking. The implication is that if you’re not drinking alcohol you’re some kind of anti-social weirdo. Everybody knows this, even if it’s not widely discussed.

Dictionary.com defines social as “seeking or enjoying the companionship of others; friendly; sociable; gregarious.” I mean, who doesn’t want to be gregarious? And how can you be gregarious while chugging spring water? Or even coca-cola? You cannot properly enjoy the company of others who drink unless you yourself are also drinking a similar type of alcoholic beverage.

2. You get to drink.
Beer commercials tell us that everybody really wants to drink alcohol, especially beer. More specifically they want to drink that particular brand of beer currently being advertised. Social drinking gives you that opportunity to partake of a questionable activity that the bible does not specifically forbid. As an added benefit you get to drink a beverage that tastes really horrible, even worse than coffee.

3. You may accidentally get drunk.
Let’s face it, the ultimate goal of drinking is to get drunk, or at least to get a “buzz on,” which means you’re not completely sloshed but at least you’re feeling the effects of the booze. You feel slightly relaxed. Perhaps a bit light-headed. More comfortable talking to strangers. The buzz might even help you flirt more effectively with members of the opposite sex. This is really helpful for Christians and pastors who might otherwise feel inhibited in their desire to push the boundaries of marital fidelity.

Let’s face it. Some people are still prudish when it comes to adultery. They’re not really sure if they should commit it. Alcohol helps remove some of these hang-ups, at least temporality, before the guilt comes rushing in like a flood.

4. You may inspire others to drink.
There could be someone you know who is hesitant to take that first sip. But if they see you doing it they will be encouraged to do it themselves. This is a great way to get your kids started on the sauce. I highly recommend that you drink at home, in front of the kids. It’s much more difficult to inspire your kids to drink if they don’t actually see you doing it. So no more closet drinking. It’s time to come out. Get it out in the open. Drink at the dinner table if you have too. Start with a little wine. Then some beer. Before you know it the entire family will be lining up for liquor and doing shots together at the basement bar.

5. You could lead someone to become an alcoholic.
Studies show that every alcoholic started with just one drink, namely their first one. That first one led to a second and then a third and so on. But nobody becomes an alcoholic overnight. They have to start somewhere. And just think, you can have the privilege of being the one to get them started down a road of self-destruction, where they could eventually lose their jobs, their families, their sanity, possibly their lives and eventually their very souls.

So don’t put if off any longer. Become a “sipping saint.” Start today. And stay tuned for my upcoming post on the benefits of sexual immorality.

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Evangelism in 3 Easy Steps!

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I just want to say up front that my thoughts on evangelism are not just random ones. They’ve been birthed in the crucible of my long and gruelling history of failure in the enterprise at hand. Having failed miserably on many occasions to achieve anything close to an evangelistic encounter I have certainly earned the right to speak on this subject.

Because the gospel itself is simple and straight forward, I have sought to keep my thoughts on the subject simple and straight forward as well. Evangelism need not be as difficult as people like myself have sometimes made it. All you have to do is follow the three steps outlined below.

1. Open your mouth.
Studies show that it’s easier to get words out of an open mouth than a closed one, unless you’re a ventriloquist. Even then, the mouth is usually partially open as long as the lips don’t move. Of course, if you’re far enough away from your audience the lips can move slightly. If you would like more information on how to speak without moving your lips I’m sure there are many quality ventriloquistic courses available on the web. In evangelism it doesn’t really matter if the lips move or not. And you certainly don’t need a dummy sitting on your lap. The important thing is that the mouth is open wide enough for words to get out of it. So the first step in effective evangelism is to open your trap.

When the Apostle Paul spoke before the Sanhedrin the high priest ordered someone to smack Paul in the mouth (see Acts 23). Why? Because the high priest didn’t like the words coming out of it (Paul’s mouth). He understood that an open mouth often leads to talking, which could include words you don’t want to hear. Which brings me to the next step.

2. Say something.
Once the mouth is open, the second step is to actually say something. Saint Francis of Assisi is credited with saying: “Preach the gospel at all times, use words when necessary.” With all due respect to Saint Francis, evangelism implies, dare we say requires, the speaking of actual words. I suppose you could communicate the gospel through body language but the potential for misunderstanding is enormous. You might think you’re communicating your excitement for the gospel when in fact you’re really telling someone that you need to use the bathroom. Such are the difficulties in reading body language.

3. Say something about Jesus.
Talking about the weather or the Blue Jays or even Donald Trump doesn’t qualify as evangelism. Sometimes even atheists use their mouths for talking. There are even reports of talking Hindus and Buddhists. In fact, there are unbelievers who can’t shut up.

In order to evangelize someone you must talk about Jesus (see Philip the Evangelist in Acts 8). This is the difficult part of the process. Most people are fairly capable of enacting steps one and two. It’s this pesky step three that really causes the most problems. Some would argue that it doesn’t really matter what you say because “God knows your heart.” You might be talking about the colour of your hair or the tattoo on your arm but God knows that you really want to communicate the gospel so He is able to transmit that information directly from your heart into the head of your unbelieving communication partner. No need for the info to come out through your mouth and into their ears because God is able to work a miracle.

To date, however, there have been no confirmed reports of anyone receiving the gospel through osmosis. Most people hear the gospel through the open mouth of a Christian. Yes, occasionally God speaks to people in dreams and visions but even then the subject usually seeks further explanation from a seasoned believer. Again, that further explanation would require an open mouth saying something about Jesus.

To recap then, the process is indeed a simple one:
Open your mouth
Say something
Say something about Jesus

If you’re not comfortable with these steps then simply do what most other Christians do; leave it to the professionals, which would include pretty much anybody whose last name is Graham.

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5 Keys to Keeping Your Sanity

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Life can be tough. Technological advancements, as wonderful as they are, have done little to take the sting out of life. We still get hurt. We still suffer setback, depression, discouragement and a host of other personal, financial, relational and health problems. The question is: How do we survive it without losing our marbles?

Assuming other people have also asked the same question I’ve decided to list a few things that have helped me “through” life. Not that I have mastered these by any stretch. All I can really claim is that I’m leaning into them and plucking away at them. Bit by bit. Inch by inch. Anyway, here’s my little list. They all begin with the letter H. Not just to make them easy to remember, but mainly because I’m addicted to alliteration.

Humility
By listing this key I fear giving the wrong impression. Namely, that I have already scaled the heights of success with this particular virtue. Little or nothing could be further from the truth. The tricky thing about humility is this: just when you think you have it, you don’t. In other words, if you think you’re humble you’re probably proud. Hence, I try to think of myself as a proud sort of fellow.

But it’s freeing to realize that you don’t have to be the best-looking, brightest, swiftest, slickest, fastest, or leanest kid on the block. As a preacher I sincerely try to think of others as better than myself, even if my reasons for doing so are partially selfish. The fact is, it takes the pressure off. I don’t have to try and meet some faulty expectations set by myself or someone else. Rather, I try to imagine that there are no expectations at all. Therefore, I have nothing to lose. If I succeed it’s a pleasant surprise. If I fail, well then I just did what was expected. It’s no big deal. I will simply try to do better next time. The wonderful thing about preaching every week is that you have a chance to redeem yourself every seven days. If my last message was a flop, it’s okay, In just a few days I’ll be back at the grind ready for a second shot, same time, same place.

Humour
Abraham Lincoln once said: “With the fearful strain that is on me day and night, if I did not laugh I should die.” Lincoln understood what many people still don’t get. Laughter helps reduce stress. Wise old Solomon said there is “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” (Ecclesiastes 3:4) Sometimes we mourn over stuff we should laugh at, and make fun of things that should cause us to cry. We make mountains out of molehills, straining out knats and swallowing camels.

Some things in life should be taken seriously. God. His Word. His will. His call on our lives. But even in these things there must be a healthy dose of joy, because there is such a thing as spiritual exhaustion and even burnout. I believe it happens when we no longer enjoy serving God but serve Him only out of a sense of duty. We serve Him because we have too, not because we want too. There’s one big (or little) thing that should not be taken too seriously. YOU. It’s good to laugh at yourself once in a while. I do it fairly regularly and I never seem to run out of funny material. Anyway, if you’re dealing with difficult circumstances and/or difficult people let me encourage you to keep a sense of humour about it. It will help. Trust me.

Happiness
There is another quote attributed to Lincoln which says: “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” It’s another way of saying: “Happiness is a choice.” We can choose to be happy right where we are. Or we can choose to be unhappy. It has much to do with our mental attitude but that’s another blog. Unhappy people do bad things. An extreme example would be those who strap bombs to themselves, and then blow themselves up in crowds of people. Generally speaking, such evil works are the domain of the depressed.

We have to find a way to be happy in the will of God. Notice I said, “in the will of God.” Pursuing happiness for its own sake is a dead end street. It has led some down the dark and dreary path of marital infidelity. A proverb comes to mind: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” (Proverbs 14:12) We need to trust God that He will bless us (make us happy) as we seek to follow Him.

Health
Studies have shown a connection between physical health and mental health. As I write this, my wife and I are on a five day walking streak. That means we have walked five days in a row. If you think that’s no big deal then you don’t know us at all. Five days straight is a considerable accomplishment for two people who have an unhealthy affinity for motorized transportation. Similarly, going a full day without sugar would be a monumental achievement for me personally, which might explain why I can’t remember ever doing it.

Suffice it to say, physical health has never really been a priority for me. The older I get, the more I regret that very fact. So I am taking baby steps. And if you saw me walking you’d realize that I mean “baby steps” quite literally.

Holiness
Regretfully, this one has not traditionally landed anywhere near the upper scale of my priority list. But in recent years things have changed. Somebody has well said that “sin is insanity.” Continuing to live with known sin is a sure fire way to ensure trouble upstairs (in the mind). In order to successfully navigate your way through this crazy world without going insane you simply must deal with sin.

The subject of sin is deep and wide. Too much to unpack in a single blog. So to simplify, we can say there are two things you must do with sin. You must confess it and you must forsake it. The good news is that God works with us. He doesn’t condemn us when we fail. He helps us in our struggles and strengthens us in our weakness. We simply must go to Him in prayer and bible reading and allow Him to work in our hearts and lives.

There are many other things we could mention here and they don’t all begin with H. If you have any other helpful ideas feel free to leave a comment below.

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Frisky Business

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I was reading an article recently called The Christian Porn Star.
I know what you’re thinking. Actually, I don’t know what you’re thinking and that’s probably a good thing. The article spoke of a certain lady who worked as an actress in pornographic films. Nothing earth shattering about that. But what I find somewhat shattering to the earth is that the lady calls herself an “Evangelical Christian.” She even attends church occasionally and carries her bible under her arm like any good evangelical Christian would do.

Right off the bat two questions spring to mind. 1. Does she actually read the bible she carries? 2. Does the church she attends actually preach the bible she carries? Or do they preach something else? Feel good messages would be my best guess. A dose of self-help perhaps, sprinkled with some prosperity mumbo jumbo. I would consider myself an utter failure as a preacher if somebody heard me speak week in and week out and still felt it was okay to fornicate on TV. Or even to fornicate off camera. To be fair, I rarely talk specifically about sexual immorality in church. When the average age of your congregation hovers around the 70 mark you tend to assume it’s not much of a problem.

The word fornicate in the bible actually comes from the Greek word “porneo” which sounds awfully familiar doesn’t it? If you live in Los Angeles, California you should be familiar with the word, given that over 90 per cent of all pornographic movies produced in the world come from that city. No wonder they call it the porn capital of the world. Is that something to be proud of? Or is it something to be ashamed of? I’d cast my lot with the latter.

Of course, that’s easy for me to say because I hail from a little rock in the Atlantic Ocean known as Newfoundland, Canada. As far as I know there isn’t much porn produced here. Most of the fornicating in this neck of the woods happens off camera. But it still happens. Perhaps just as much or more than anywhere else. A week or two ago, according to local news reports, officials at Memorial University of Newfoundland sent out a memo to students that basically said: “Please stop having sex in the business school.” The students were taking care of business alright. Mostly frisky business. Apparently the study rooms were being used for extracurricular activities. Suffice it to say, we’re probably no better than our neighbours to the south, even those from the legendary city of lost angels. We just don’t film our sin as much. I don’t know if that makes us smarter or dumber. It depends who you ask.

From a biblical perspective sin is never smart. Sin is always dumb, no matter how you slice it. Making money from it doesn’t justify it or remove the dumbness from it. The aforementioned celebrity is seeking to fund her college education. A noble end to be sure. But the means to the end? Far from noble if you asked me. There are plenty of legitimate ways to make money in this world. There’s no excuse for anybody to turn to quick fixes or shaddy ventures.

Perhaps there’s an element of laziness in the whole thing. Why else would a young “Christian” girl in college start engaging in sex for pay? Let’s break it down. She needs money and lots of it. By some estimates the average cost of attending college full-time in the US is around $25,000 per year. One would have to flip quite a few burgers at a fast food joint to come up with that kind of cash. She needs quick money too. Who doesn’t? Legitimate jobs often require hard work. So why not take the easy way out? Why not get paid to do something which other girls on campus are doing for free?

In the final analysis isn’t sin really just about taking the easy way out? Isn’t it easier to stroll down the broad path of pleasure and self-seeking then it is to walk the narrow road of commitment and fidelity? The problem with sin is that it’s often packaged so attractively. It promises freedom but ultimately delivers pain and regret. Sin pays. That much is true. But it’s wages are not what they initially appear to be. Romans 6:23 contains both a warning and a promise: “The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The choice before all of us is between life or death. Sin produces death. Jesus gives life. We can’t have both. It’s one or the other. I hate to end on what may be construed as a condemning note but I feel compelled to allow Hebrews 13:4 to have the last say on this one: “Marriage is honourable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.”

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One God Many Species

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By some estimates there are more than 900,000 different species of insects in the world.

As the snow melts and winter morphs into spring (be it ever so gradually) we’ll likely see the occasional member of that odd looking creeper known as the spider. Apparently, there’s only about 50,000 different species of these little monsters, which is more than enough if you asked me. I’d be much more comfortable with a number in the vicinity of zero. Trust me, I do my part to reduce the spider population. I have adopted a policy of zero tolerance when it comes to spiders in the house. Or any type of creeper for that matter. I kill them whenever I see them.

I’m aware of the fact that more humane methods exist. It’s possible to capture the little terrorists alive and then escort them safely to the great outdoors. But it’s much too dangerous for my liking. The risk of losing them enroute to the door is far too great. I can hardly bear the thought of it.

At this point it seems appropriate to ask the question: Why?

Not only, “why” do I seem to be writing a blog about spiders? But “why” did God create insects in the first place? He probably didn’t do it just to torment us. So I have to say, my deep and insightful answer to the question is a big fat “I don’t know.” I’ve heard it said that a healthy dose of agnosticism is good for your Christian faith.

I probably should have focussed on the fact that there are thousands of different species of trees in the world and left the insects out of it. The point is the same. God loves variety. Just look at the different species of people. I hesitate to get into it. But there are quiet ones, loud ones, fat ones, skinny ones. Short, tall, weird, normal, white, black, brown, red, yellow, stern, stoic, jovial, bubbly and so on.

The good news is that we are free to be ourselves. We don’t have to squeeze ourselves into someone else’s mold. God lays out a unique track for each of us and bids us to run our own race. I can’t run yours. And you can’t run mine. We can help each other. We can lift each other up when we fall. We all trip and stumble along the way. And if you’re too tired to run then walk. If you’re too tired too walk then crawl. If you’re too tired to crawl then rest. And when you’ve rested sufficiently then start inching forward again. That last part about running, walking and crawling should be credited to someone. I read it somewhere but I can’t remember the source. Hence, the lack of credit.

One thing I have discovered is that life is often a game of inches. It reminds me of the saying: “Inch by inch everything’s a cinch.” I would credit that saying to somebody as well but I have no idea who came up with it. I only know that it wasn’t me. But I think the point is that life is more doable when we tackle it piecemeal. Houses are built one nail at a time. One board at a time. One wall at a time. I’m not a carpenter so I really don’t know what I’m talking about here but the point is still valid.

The inch by inch approach to life works well for me. It fits my innate abilities. Others may like to live foot by foot or yard by yard. Runners might prefer to live mile by mile. It all comes back to the variety thing mentioned above. We’re different. Some people are good multi-taskers and then there are people like me. One thing at a time. Here a little. There a little. Walking, plodding, plugging away at the work that God has called me to do.

I don’t know how else to live. My to-do list may not get cleared out as fast as others but at least I have one. And I’m picking away at it, hour by hour, day by day. Actually, there are times when my to-do list seems to behave like the population of the world. Many people die every day yet the population keeps increasing. So it is with my to-do list.

I suppose I’ll get to everything on it eventually. At least I got this blog wrote. The only problem is that it doesn’t have much to do with Easter so the timing is not great. My bad.

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