"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Saturday, February 28, 2009

This makes me so happy!

I remember when I got home from Damascus, I would slowly go through my Google Reader and read the posts written by my favorite bloggers while I was gone. One evening I made it to the January posts and I could not help but SMILE at the pure joy captured here! Even today I was thinking of this post, wanted to see it again and broke out in a huge grin as I watched Angela praise the Lord. I just wasn't expecting it and that's what made it extra-special! I want to link it here so you, too, can be blessed and, hopefully, SMILE!

The world shouts and screams over the excitement of a football game or a rock concert or American Idol contestants, but WE have the Blessed Hope within us. Of all people, WE should be the most joyful! Remember when the ten lepers were healed? Only one came back to praise the Lord -- actually he thanked Jesus with a loud voice! Was Christ put off by this behavior? Apparently not! Instead of saying, "Get on your feet and act dignified in my holy presence," He asked, "where are the other nine?"

Notice how the people rejoiced when their Ark was brought back to Israel.

II Samuel 6 records:

14 Then David danced with all his might before the Lord. He had on a holy linen vest.15 David and all the Israelites shouted with joy and blew the trumpets as they brought the Ark of the Lord to the city.

We should likewise be filled with praise because as believers and followers of Christ, God's presence is with us! Since He's taken those shackles off your feet, get up and praise Him!

I dare ya!

Another "Happy Birthday!"

Hard to believe, but twenty-two years ago today my baby brother was born. He went by David in school, but among family and many friends, he was dubbed "Berkie." He is the third ... David Berkley, III and my dad just called him "Berkie" and it stuck.

Anyway, just wanted to say "Happy Birthday" to my youngest sibling.

Megan, Michael & Berkie pose for a picture last October when the family gathered to celebrate my dad's birthday.

Today my family is getting together to celebrate the family February birthdays. Out of eleven of us -- dad, mom, four kids, their spouses and Michael -- we have FOUR February birthdays! The shortest month of the year and we have Stephanie, Will, Michael and Berkie all born this month. :-)

My prayer for my brother at this time in his life -- Psalm 1

1 Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers.

2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.

I thank God for how He is not willing that any should perish, and I trust Him that one day my dear brother will find true joy and peace in serving God.

January & February Books

I haven't read as many books so far this year, but I have read a few. I am in the process of reading others, but have completed these in January and February. Just wanted to mention them to varying degrees so I'll have record of what I read.

Around the first of the year, I finished Secret Believers: What Happens When Muslims Believe in Christ by Brother Andrew and Al Janssen. It's a book I ordered off Amazon.com a couple months ago. The story took place in an unnamed Muslim country and told how Muslim background believers (MBBs) were faring there. Several things stood out to me including Brother Andrew's words about what became his life call. From Revelation 3:2, "Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die!" Also he shows where the Spirit is saying to the churches and by this, Brother Andrew believes the Spirit of God is speaking to the Church (body of Christ) today as He did in previous generations. Andrew challenges us: "You must listen. What is the Spirit saying to the church in your country?" (pg. 21)

On page 59 MBB, Yusef, told Andrew the only "hope for the church to have any impact on the Muslim community" was "Love. After long years of war and persecution, Christians seldom see Muslims as people whom God loves and for whom Christ died. Christians need a new filling of the Holy Spirit to love those who disagree with them. And the greatest expression of love is to share with them the most precious thing a Christian has, which is the good news of the salvation of Jesus Christ."

I enjoyed the discussion on page 73 when the Arab men were discussing shame in their culture and what humbling themselves according to Jesus in Philippians 2 would mean to them.

Page 137 discussed how walking with Jesus means talking with Him and learning from Him all the time. You follow Jesus; you do not automatically arrive at your eternal destination. Abide in that relationship with Christ.

"Don't curse the darkness but light a candle. . . . the bigger the darkness, the easier it is to spot your little light. And if each one of you lights another candle, the light will grow and the light of Jesus will shine even brighter." (pg. 143)

I enjoyed when Butros realized the worst that could happen to him would be his wife and children or himself being killed -- which meant they would be with Christ. He got much peace from this and decided to go back to serve His people in spite of the persecution he was facing in his country. (pg. 197)

After the story, the authors included a second part and issued challenges to the church. One provoking question was "When you see pictures of large Muslim crowds protesting cartoons of Muhammad in London or Lahore, do you see them as a threat? Or do you see them as a mission field?" (pg. 229) ------- Wow! Good question!

And a verse that came up several times throughout the book, "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it produces much grain" (John 12:24).

"Jesus said we are to love our enemies. To our minds that just doesn't make sense. How can we love someone we hate? But that's the brilliance of this command, for if I decide to love someone, that person cannot remain my enemy. Often I have said that the best way to disarm a terrorist with a gun is to go up and hug him." (pg. 230) -- This reminds me of the quote I read last year about the best way to get rid of an enemy is by making him your friend. What a lofty goal!

Page 236 discusses how we can forgive if no one asks to be forgiven. Of course our best example is Christ on the cross. NO one was asking Him for forgiveness, yet as He hung there, He prayed for God to forgive them for they did not know what they were doing. This page also discusses how "the process of forgiveness requires more than words."

I greatly enjoyed the last challenge from page 249. It was suggested that visitors from the West should come, but "we need to keep the mission heart here ... [and] we need understanding of real partnership. We need people with maturity. This is not a field for beginners or people who want spectacular results. We need people who will come and serve the church. Their agenda must be the kingdom of God. Don't bring Hollywood; bring Christ. Don't bring power. Don't bring just your money. Bring love. Bring the kingdom."

And finally, we are told, "Until we are willing to give up all we consider important in this life--our comfort, our cars, our homes, our families, our careers, our entertainment, our savings, and retirement accounts, whatever Christ requires of us to be His disciples and accomplish His work -- the world will not take the church seriously." (pg. 251)

Things to remember: Jesus told us to GO. He never said we would come back. But what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?

Are souls worth it? One hundred years from now .... will all that earthly stuff be as important as people's souls?

Wow! I wrote the review above about 7 weeks ago and just rereading it now has been challenging. I really should read it every week to keep that message alive in my heart. It's so easy to get distracted and lose sight of the most important things -- the ones that last for eternity.

Fiction book alert: As the jacket says, in Man of the Hour, Peter Blauner "uncovers the real heart of the modern city, where people with wildly different backgrounds live side by side, where what is good for some is evil for others --and one man's hero is another's assassin." Without going into detail or even mentioning the plot, but so I can remember the characters, this book is about teacher David Fitzgerald, a young Palestinian Nasser and his sister Elizabeth and a variety of students, news reporters, family members and police and FBI agents. I read this because it dealt a bit with Arabs and my brother said he read it a few years ago. Plus it was one I could read while using my elliptical.

Whose Promised Land
by Colin Chapman ... The author discusses many things pertaining to the land of Palestine/Israel including chapters on understanding the history, interpreting the Bible and appreciating the issues today. I made note of some pages, but won't type out the notes at this point. Just wanted to note that this is a great read and I wish Christian Zionists would consider the things Mr. Chapman brings to attention in his book.

(For me..noted pgs. 56, 68, 102, 117, 125, 132, 161, 181, 184, 208-210, 263 & 264)

An Arab Christian, Nabeel Jabbour, recommended this book. I respect Nabeel's views after reading two of his books last year and "talking" to him by e-mail in 2008.

More Than a Carpenter
by Josh McDowell ... The author discusses what makes Jesus so different, scientific proof, are the Biblical records reliable, the transformation of Saul/Paul, who would die for a lie and talks of how Jesus changed his life. I read this book in the airport on the way to Damascus.


Rocket Boys by Homer H.Hickman, Jr. inspired the film October Sky, a movie I have actually seen (that's something!) and bought for Andrew years ago. (That's really something!) This book showed me how hard work and determination is so important. I enjoyed reading about the small WV coal-mining town of Coalwood and how the people there thought and worked together and lived. I felt like I was taken back to life there and enjoyed my visit quite well. I loved how the town rallied around the rocket boys and how so many people had parts in the success of the rockets. I enjoyed how Homer and his friends were so determined, worked hard and reached their goal. And, taught themselves higher mathematics ... impressive! In a day when our country seems so divided and often we don't even know the folks who live next door, this book was a great example of how things used to be when folks actually worked together to accomplish goals.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Damascus -- The Menu

Today I will tell you about one restaurant we went to. Sorry, but I don't know the name. I think this was my least favorite place, and it's not that this place was bad. Rather the others were just so delish! We'd just had a wonderful time at the mountain overlook where we'd seen Damascus at night. There were 7 of us in 2 cars so we stopped by a cute restaurant for dinner. Andrew was in his gusto mood to try anything the guys recommended, whereas I was Ms. Picky and not so apt to try new stuff. I have nut allergies so I have an excuse. And after looking at this menu, I was glad I was picky. I just don't see this stuff advertised in most restaurants I frequent in the States. OK...none of them. Can't say I've seen brains, kidneys, livers, testicles or tongues at O'Charley's, Ruby Tuesday or Cracker Barrel. Maybe they are there and I just missed 'em! (Gotta hate that!) Seriously, brains with egg?

Soooooo, I looked at this menu and probably had one of those deer-in-the-headlights faces ... something like 8-/, but thankfully, I found out "shish tawook" was similar to grilled chicken .... ahhhh, something safe. *whew*

The offending menu. I mean LOOK at it!

Ol' Andrew was gung ho to try the local cuisine, but found fatteh wasn't his thing. Can you guess which bowl was his? Thankfully the fries were good and I gave him some of my chicken because, well, I'm just sweet like that, ya know?

Oh, here we are! See how happy I am with my chicken? I was just overwhelmingly glad I wasn't eating brain salad. I'm lovin' Andrew's face at the prospect of having to finish off that bowl of Shami goodness! (evil laugh)

(Aren't y'all wondering about this stupid hat I wore nearly every day? C'mon, admit it! I look like a character from The Cat in the Hat, right? Ha!)

I'd already eaten all the chicken before I remembered to take a picture. (Thankfully, Samer took the one above and sent it to me in time for this post.) Mushrooms aren't my thing ... so I gave them to Sami since he loves them.

And here are our dinner and looking-at-Damascus-at-night companions.
Mohammed and Ahmad (aka Jake)

Basheer, Samer and Sami

Notice the pictures in the background ... we saw those e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e!

Pictures from February 3, 2009
Damascus, Syria

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Damascus -- Street Scenes in the Shiite Neighborhood

I am going to start sharing some pictures from our trip to Syria. On the first Sunday we were there, we went to an internet cafe' in the Shiite neighborhood and when we left it around 1:30, these scenes from the street caught our eyes.

Children, children, everywhere ... even in the streets!

Children talking with their friends after school probably wondering who that crazy foreigner is taking their photo

Kids, bikes, cars, trucks, even the occasional horse ... all sharing the road

These little guys were nice enough to stop and pose for the camera

Andrew got caught by the guy we dubbed "the aggressive nut seller," and he bought . . .

a kilo of pistachios and cashews for about $17!

Photos from February 1, 2009
Damascus, Syria

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Happy Birthday, Michael!

Just wanted to thank the Lord for seven Michael-filled years! What a wonderful nephew!

Today we went to O'Charley's for lunch and Saturday is his birthday party with the family.

Susie and Michael -- 2002

Michael showing where his wrist and hand have healed since he got stitches last month.
Picture taken February 12, 2009

Michael & Susie
Still friends after all these years :-)
Picture taken December 20, 2008

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above,
and cometh down from the Father of lights,
with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.

James 1:17

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Chasing Sunbeams

Syriac Catholic Church in Old Damascus

A week ago right now we were nearing the Chicago airport in what ended up being 13 hours on the Turkish airline flight 005 from Istanbul. I was so ready to get off that plane and get into the States! Our time in Damascus was w-o-n-d-e-r-f-u-l, but since it had to end I was ready to be in my house! The flight from Chicago to Raleigh was delayed, but that actually worked out well since our flight from Turkey was late. However instead of getting home around 9, it was more like 10:30. Yeah, yeah just an hour and a half difference, no biggie, however we were running on fumes after having been awake and/or trying to sleep on a plane or in an airport since too long to remember. We missed a night of sleep because our flight left Damascus at 4:05 AM and we got dropped off at the airport around 1:45. So anyway.... we are back in North Carolina.

And I have been so melancholic ever since.

It seems like for so many weeks I was physically, mentally, spiritually and even emotionally preparing for this crazy trip to Damascus and then, of course, we experienced 2 weeks from home which were great -- flight and airport times excluded. So now I'm just kind of at a loss. It's kind of like the post-Christmas letdown only I never get that though I know many do. Actually just yesterday I was at the newly-remodeled local McDonald's with my nephew and was reading an article from a local church's monthly newsletter. It really struck a chord and is the reason I looked for "sunbeams" pictures. Here are two paragraphs from this article that made me pause.

Gifts and events can't fill the soul.
God gives us such things to enjoy. They are expressions of His generosity as well as ours, but gifts and celebrations themselves are not designed to satisfy. They're designed to point us to the Giver. Gifts are like sunbeams. We are not meant to love sunbeams but the Sun.

Putting our hope in gifts will leave us empty.
Many people live their lives looking for the right sunbeam to make them happy. But if we depend on anything in the world to satisfy our soul's deepest desire, it will eventually leave us with that post-Christmas soul-ache. We will ask, "Is that all?" because we know deep down that's not all there is. We are designed to treasure a Person, not His things.

So maybe I have this melancholy, this sadness and sense of purposelessness because I have been busy chasing sunbeams and trying to satisfy my life with fleeting things when I should have been basking in the sun. I mean, the presence of the Son.

Hmmmm, anyway, that's what's up with me right now.

Enjoy several pictures of our trip here. Samer was so kind to post them yesterday. You can see me in 3 different mosques. I have on that covering thing that I loved so much! :-P

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A week ago today . . .

We were at Krac des Chevaliers. Our trip to Syria was wonderful! Thanks to all who prayed for our safety. We got back late Wednesday.

Here we are pictured with Samer. He is truly a fantastic young man. You can see others we met at this public Facebook link. Great folks!

More later.