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

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Seeking Man's Help Instead of God's

Reading about King Asa's last years is rather sad. We see in the previous chapter that he tore down the poles and altars to false gods. He seemed zealous in serving the Lord. But what happened in his latter years? Why did he stop relying on God and instead try to seek a peace agreement with a foreign king?

This part from II Chronicles 16 is good:

7 At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him: "Because you relied on the king of Aram and not on the LORD your God, the army of the king of Aram has escaped from your hand. 8 Were not the Cushites and Libyans a mighty army with great numbers of chariots and horsemen? Yet when you relied on the LORD, he delivered them into your hand. 9 For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. You have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will be at war."

Asa was confronted with his sin! Instead of having a heart like David and repenting and turning to God, see what he did.

10 Asa was angry with the seer because of this; he was so enraged that he put him in prison. At the same time Asa brutally oppressed some of the people.

Thus the tale of Asa ends in this sad way.

12 In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa was afflicted with a disease in his feet. Though his disease was severe, even in his illness he did not seek help from the LORD, but only from the physicians. 13 Then in the forty-first year of his reign Asa died and rested with his fathers.

You would think his suffering would cause him to turn to God and beg for mercy. But did he have a hard heart and simply forget about God's goodness to him? He sought help only from doctors.

I found this passage sad. How often do I forget or refuse to seek help from the Lord because I trust in man's wisdom?

Makes me think. I want God's eyes to find my heart fully devoted to him (see vs. 9 above).

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The power of praise!

In my first post on Chronicles, I noted how God's glory filled the temple. You may remember the people of Judah were praising the Lord when God's glory came in such a powerful way that the priests were unable to perform their duties. In that case I say, forget about the duties and just join in the praise!

How powerful is praise? Notice in II Chronicles 20 when King Jehoshaphat lead the nation in fasting and inquiring of the Lord about how to deal with enemy nations coming against Judah. Jahaziel got an encouraging word from the Lord for the king:

17 "...You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the LORD will be with you.' "

Now noticed this interesting fact. Who ever fought a war this way? [emphasis below is mine]

18 Jehoshaphat bowed with his face to the ground, and all the people of Judah and Jerusalem fell down in worship before the LORD. 19 Then some Levites from the Kohathites and Korahites stood up and praised the LORD, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice.

20 Early in the morning they left for the Desert of Tekoa. As they set out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, "Listen to me, Judah and people of Jerusalem! Have faith in the LORD your God and you will be upheld; have faith in his prophets and you will be successful." 21 After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the LORD and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying:

"Give thanks to the LORD,
for his love endures forever."

22 As they began to sing and praise, the LORD set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated. 23 The men of Ammon and Moab rose up against the men from Mount Seir to destroy and annihilate them. After they finished slaughtering the men from Seir, they helped to destroy one another.

So, you want to see the power of God in your life?

Perhaps what it takes is having faith in what He says and praising Him!

May books

A Passion Most Pure by Julie Lessman - a Christian fiction book that my mom and sister read; basically light chick lit

A Passion Redeemed
by Julie Lessman - second book in the series -- yep, I had to see what happened next :-)

A People's History of Christianity
with the subtitle of "The Other Side of the Story" by Diana Butler Bass -- definitely not your Religious Right type of book. I posted notes on this book throughout the month ending on May 10 when I finished the book.

The Secret
by Beverly Lewis - Christian fiction book about Amish family (Judah, Lettie, Adam, Grace, Mandy and Joe) and how their mother's choices affects them; first in Seasons of Grace series

Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez is one American woman's story of visiting Afghanistan. I greatly enjoyed reading about the cultural practices of the native population especially seeing them through an American's eyes. The book starts with the author sharing about her friend's preparation for marriage (body hair removal processes, wild makeup, hairstyling) in the beauty salon. Since Debbie was close friends with Roshanna, she was able to attend the marriage and consummation ceremonies. Of course in some cultures women have to prove their virginity. Who cares what men do before marriage as long as their women are pure. Ahem!

One part I really enjoyed was when Debbie and Roshanna were walking through Kabul in order to hire workers at the mosque. Debbie was amazed by the variety of Aghanis' features. She said Americans mistakingly believe Afghanis are Arabs since both are mostly Muslims. However, she reminds us that Afghanistan was the original melting pot as it connected the Silk Road from Asia to the rest of the world. She saw people looking like Chinese and found out they were Hazaras who came after the invasion of Genghis Khan 800 years prior. She saw others who looked Chinese, but were pointed out to be Uzbeks with some Mongol background. Still others were Tajik ("the tribe of their great hero, Ahmed Shah Massoud, the leader in driving the Russians out" p. 79), the majority were Pashtun (most of the rulers were from this tribe including President Karzai and the Taliban) and the ones who looked most European with their blue eyes and blond or red hair were the Nuristanis from the northern mountains.

Maddening -- when Debbie visited a women's prison in Afghanistan and found women imprisoned for daring to leave abusive husbands and having the audacity to get raped. Grrrr! Um, why are MEN never held to any kind of higher standard and women are always at fault in these cultures??

I enjoyed this book overall. Interesting stuff.

Terrorism, Jihad and the Bible
is a small book written by John MacArthur within a few days or weeks following the September 2001 attacks on American soil. In it he tries to explain Islamic beliefs, where God was on 9/11, a response to terrorist attacks including a chapter on the Biblical perspective on war. About that he quoted verses (Romans 13) about the role of government as protector and not welfare provider. He said God ordained government -- and not just America's government -- to execute justice on earth and to punish evil doers. He shared how there are reasons for going to war and explained why some wars are justified in protecting people as being part of loving your neighbor. I copied a few things I liked from this book at the end of this post.

His glory filled the temple

This morning I wrote about sharing some things from my reading of Chronicles. This is the beginning of a few posts I want to share.

This was when the Israelites brought the ark of the covenant into the temple. From II Chronicles 5 --

12 All the Levites who were musicians—Asaph, Heman, Jeduthun and their sons and relatives—stood on the east side of the altar, dressed in fine linen and playing cymbals, harps and lyres. They were accompanied by 120 priests sounding trumpets. 13 The trumpeters and singers joined in unison, as with one voice, to give praise and thanks to the LORD. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, they raised their voices in praise to the LORD and sang:
"He is good;
his love endures forever."
Then the temple of the LORD was filled with a cloud, 14 and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the temple of God.

Can you imagine standing there ready to offer the sacrifices, but being mesmerized by God's overwhelming glory? What a wondrous experience!

Angela, Chronicles, Michael

Angela has an uncanny knack for reading my mind. Or else God just often uses her to speak to me about things that I struggle with. It's almost unbelievable to think I somehow "accidentally" met her on a blog only six months ago. She has certainly been an encourager to me!

Today's post sounds a lot like me. Taking my cares to the Lord and them picking them back up again as if He has ignored them and I have to handle these problems on my own. I really enjoyed the challenge and encouragement. Check it out.

I have been reading Chronicles the last few days. I've taken note of several verses that have stood out to me. I may blog about some of them soon just to record my thoughts on them.

Here is one thing about Michael that I wanted to write here for my own memory's sake.

Most of the time one thinks if you have a "second" of something, you ought to have a "first" somewhere, right? Welcome to Michael's world where that is not true in the case of cousins. On the way to Virgilina the other day it went something like this in our car consisting of me, Andrew, Michael and my mom.

Me: "You do know Kayla is kin to you as well, right? She is your second cousin because your mom and her mom are cousins."

Michael: "Oh." --- a few seconds pass --- "She is my second cousin. So who is my first cousin?"

Me: "Sorry, you don't have a first cousin."

I could tell he was trying to figure that out in his mind.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Questioning the Potter

Whether it's Jesus being the Good Shepherd or God caring for us as a loving Father, the Bible often uses word pictures to help us understand spiritual truths better. One I usually understand is the analogy of us being clay in the hands of God, the Potter who is molding us into honorable vessels fit for His use. I have no problems with that ... until I find myself struggling to trust that Potter.

"Why are you hurting me like this?"

Recently I questioned Him. "You say you are a loving Father, yet it seems you are playing with my feelings and thoughts. Does this bring you some kind of weird pleasure to cause people to hurt?"

Yes, maybe it is stunning to admit to these thoughts and you might be gasping at my bravado in speaking to the Almighty this way. I am aware of those same thoughts, yet I am not telling Him something He doesn't already know about me. He is God so He knows what I am thinking before I put them into words.

The thing about clay is that it is inanimate. It doesn't have thoughts or feelings, hurts and joys as it endures the pressure from the potter's hands. I'm not clay-like. I am living and I was created with emotions and thoughts. I have a hard time enduring things at times. I am only being honest here.

I've been wrestling with these thoughts the last couple of days because I had my heart-to-heart talk yesterday morning as I walked before church.

As He let me pour out my hurts, I was reminded of a verse that He brought to mind months ago* when I was also going through a similar time in my life. If I give up on God, where else can I go? As Psalm 73:25 tells us, "Whom have I in heaven but you?" When the disciples were faced with some hard teachings from Christ and Jesus asked if they would forsake Him, Peter replied in so many words, "Uh, where else would we go, Lord? You alone have the words of eternal life." (See John 6:66-69)

I hate when I am a rebellious piece of clay, when I struggle against those hands that are trying to make me into an honorable vessel...I hate when I struggle trusting in God's goodness.

I did read this a few minutes ago. I thought the timing was interesting since I'd been having these thoughts that I shared above. From a short book written in the month following the September 2001 attack on American soil, Terrorism, Jihad and the Bible by John MacArthur:

The question we ought to ask is not why disasters sometimes happen. What we ought to ask is why disaster doesn't happen all the time! This is the real marvel. It ought to amaze us that God, who owes us nothing but judgment for our sin, ordinarily chooses to bless us, bestow upon us His lovingkindness, and blanket us with His mercy. That ought to keep us in constant astonishment and wonder. And it ought to keep us on our faces before Him in gratitude (pg. 65).

And also this:

The appropriate question is not, "Why did God allow so many people to be killed?" The real question is why He allows any of us to live at all. God is amazingly merciful to this fallen, sinful race. He shields us to a very large degree from the awful effects of our sin. We live under constant mercy, and when the ugly effects of evil are clearly shown to us, we should not be shocked. We have grown so accustomed to grace that we don't understand the full effects of our own sin. But every once in a while, God draws back the curtain and allows us to see what evil looks like in all its horror, so that we can appreciate His justice when He punishes sin. We must never be resentful or think God is the one at fault when the consequences of evil are manifest. After all, we have all been willing participants in the evil, and that is what causes calamity to occur. The fault lies with us, not with God (pg. 77).

Accustomed to grace? Hmmm. Well, I admit I do tend to take things for granted. Reading that was helpful and gave me something more to consider.

* The amazing thing about this verse is that exactly as happened last time, God brought it to mind and later I was at church and the very same verse was quoted by my preacher during his opening prayer. With the thousands of verses in the Bible, what are the odds of that happening? Twice at that?

Damascus -- Final Photos

Can you believe it? This is it! Hear that? THIS IS IT! My last few pictures to share from our adventures in Syria! It's about time since this week marks four months since we boarded the plane for this country! I have enjoyed reviewing my pictures and remembering our days there. Now I can go back and reread things when I want to think about the places we saw and people we met. I may still recall some memories and share them from time to time, but this is all of the pictures that I took. Enough already, eh?

So humor me and let me show you my final pictures. Come along now. But let's put on our shoes first. This isn't easy ground to explore in socks.

Most of our adventures included the three of us: Susanne and Andrew, the American tourists, and Samer, our helpful friend who did so very much for us during our visit!

A few times it was the four of us as Abu Muhammad was the driver we hired to take us to Krac des Chevaliers and the mountainous areas of Saydnaya and Maaloula. He was a sweet person. Unfortunately, I can't stay in touch with him because he doesn't speak English, and I don't know Arabic.

I came to Syria and definitely had a great time. When Andrew took this picture, I was thinking of some commercial from waaaaaaay back. Was it an insurance commercial? All State perhaps? I just remember it having some lyric: "like a rock."

So now the stairs are empty .. of Susie and Andrew, at least

What's next on the horizon? What's beyond that hill where my eyes cannot see from this place?

For sure I am looking and wondering that myself. And most definitely this picture captures me during my stay in Syria. Always looking, always curious, always delighted by the many new experiences!

Pictures from Syria
January/February 2009

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Damascus -- Street People

Besides the numerous westerners we met at the hostel, from time to time we met tourists on the streets of Old Damascus. I have in my notes that we gave directions to some Swiss tourists on the fourth day we were there. Imagine that! We must have thought we were Old Damascus pros by then. I do recall that meeting. They had their Syria & Lebanon Lonely Planet travel guide just like we had back at the hostel. We were able to recommend a place for a quick lunch since Damascus fast food was rather plentiful. One day as we were on our way to an internet café, we were stopped by Thomas because he was pretty much wanting some help in getting away from an acquaintance who had delayed him. (That's my reading between the lines.)

So good old Thomas (left) called us over to meet Christopher (second from left) and one of the only other Americans we met while in Syria. Was his name Bill? I'll call him that anyway. These guys were interesting characters.

First of all Bill is a Vietnam vet who later in life decided to travel the world. He told Samer at first he was a little fearful knowing full well his country dropped a lot of bombs all over the world, but so far whenever he knocked, the door was opened. He had visited Eastern Europe and a few countries in the Middle East with hopes of visiting Iran next. Samer actually ran into him a couple months after our initial meeting and Bill told Samer that so far he hadn't had any luck getting into Iran. He was going to give it a short while longer and then give up and head somewhere else. I admire his adventurous spirit!

Christopher is German and Irish, but he knows Arabic and lives there in Damascus. He arranges tours and helps foreigners find rooms for rent. I believe this is why Thomas knew him as Christopher may have put Thomas in touch with some families who boarded students. He kept saying how Irish I looked, how much my coloring favored his Irish mom although her hair was a bit lighter, on and on. He really dominated my time during that visit and I had a hard time getting away. You can tell when we had the one picture together that he pulled me right to his face.

Thomas was our acquaintance from the hostel. His plans were to study Arabic at Damascus University. He'd previously studied in Egypt, I believe. He was another of the Americans we met. The only other one whom I recall besides Bill (above) was Sarah from Chicago whom we met at the bookstore. She was buying an Arabic-English dictionary.

Picture from Damascus, Syria
February 3, 2009

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Family Fun @ Mayo Lake

It's Memorial Day weekend and my dad's aunt and uncle decided to have a get together. Not sure if it were for the holiday or Dave's 50th birthday...whatever the reason, it was nice of them to invite us to join them! Stephanie wanted a day to relax without Michael underfoot so I gladly enjoyed him instead!

He enjoyed the tire swing

drinking a Coke while talking with Lorraine
(It doesn't appear she got a word in edgewise)

It was warm so after they ate, the young guys changed into their swimming attire and headed down the path towards the lake.

Here is a view of Mayo Lake

And here are the boys having a great time splashing

Damascus -- Random Mountain Pictures

This was the first day we escaped the crowds and noise of Damascus and experienced a different part of Syria. Below are random pictures of our trip to Saydnaya and Maaloula.

The mountains seem to form a natural wall

Road sign along the way

President's photo in Maaloula

We got out often in Maaloula to see interesting things

I saw this young boy walking home after school

A closer look

So many neat sights in this area

Abu Muhammad enjoyed the trip as well!

Pictures from Maaloula, Syria
February 5, 2009

Friday, May 22, 2009

Damascus -- Random Shots

This week I have walked several times at dusk. It wouldn't necessarily start off that way, but I think we all know how it's light and then gradually "the sun goes down" and it gets dusky. Anyway, I've noticed three times recently how that time of day reminds me of Damascus. I guess it's because we walked a lot and it was winter so the days were shorter. We tended to walk quite a bit in the evenings. In this post I've included 3 pictures of Damascus at night. These particular shots were taken near the Umayyad mosque. Also this post just has some random shots of various places around Damascus.

Minaret at Umayyad Mosque

Samer at the old wall

Andrew & Susanne at the library

Here with are with the President's
photo in the background. See it under the flags?

Andrew at the fruit stand

A building near the falafel restaurant

A narrow alley near the hostel

I like Damascus at night.

Pictures from Damascus, Syria
January/February 2009

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Damascus -- Convent of St. Takla

Remember the convent sheltered in the mountain? (see next to last picture) Well, here it is up close! We had to go through the gap to get here.

Convent of St. Takla

a nearby house

Samer, our faithful friend

Susanne & Samer

American and Syrian. Who would have ever thought such very different people would be friends one day? Oh, that would be God! Ha, ha...what a story. I certainly never asked for Middle Easterners to invade my life, but what a wonderful blessing from God to give me such dear friends. I miss them so much!

A view of St. Takla
This place had a really nice cave we were able to visit.

I just loved seeing clothes hanging out to dry!
I am one of the few Americans who does this despite having a perfectly fine dryer.

Pictures from Maaloula, Syria
February 5, 2009

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Life Stuff

Let's see, what have I been doing besides posts on Damascus? I finished a book about an Amish family today. It's the first in a series so now I have to read the next book to see how things turn out. Problem is, I doubt the second book has been published yet so I'll have to wait a bit to see what happens.

Today I read the book of Daniel while walking on my elliptical. I thought it was a longer book, but it was only 12 chapters. I must have mixed it up with Isaiah or Jeremiah which, I believe, are longer.

I went to my sister's house today and went walking with her, Michael and the dog, Bagel. It was a great day outside so we enjoyed the fresh air while getting some exercise. Next I went to the bank and then ALDI in order to stock up on broccoli, carrots and a few others items. I got my tags renewed at the driver's license office. Thankfully there wasn't much of a line so I was in and out quickly. I saw my Lebanese friend, Laure, while I was there. Need coincidence.

Last night we went to visit Sam and Pam at their restaurant. Pam made Andrew a cake for his birthday which was Monday. We met two of their workers, Chad and Khadijah. Khadijah's family is Pakistani. Pam said her family was trying to arrange a marriage for her, but I think Khadijah is a little more western in her thinking about that. She is a non-hijabi Muslim. After we left there, we went by Wal-mart because they had Breyer's ice cream for $2.25! A really great price so we got 3 cartons. :-)

Monday marked 8 years since we bought this house. It's amazing how quickly the time has passed.

I read recently that you save society thirty-some cents for each pack of cigarettes that you smoke. Apparently living longer costs society more than dying young (makes sense.) North Carolina lawmakers passed a no-smoking ban for restaurants and bars. It takes affect next January. That's quite a move for a tobacco state, but I'm glad since I don't like smelling cigarettes.

I think this wraps up my exciting life. Oh, I believe I will meet my goal of getting all my Syrian posts finished by the month's end. I have only a few more to go. Good thing since it's already the last third of May. I bought milk today with a June 2 expiration and was amazed that we were almost in June already.

Off to bed soon!

Damascus -- Meeting the Sheikh's Son

One of our first evenings in Damascus, we met Hassan, a dentist friend whom I had actually exchanged e-mails with from time to time. He was a friend of Samer's from their shared German class.

We went to a café for a short visit and took a couple of pictures before we went our separate ways. Hassan didn't beat around the bush, but asked us straight up what our impressions were of Islam and if we were thinking of converting.

Perhaps he is more direct because he is the son of a well-known sheikh, and maybe he got his outgoing evangelistic nature from his father. Or maybe he just realized he may never see us again and wanted to invite us to Islam during his one-and-only meeting. Either way, I enjoyed talking with him and found his bold approach different from the others who were much more shy.

We also saw a few sights around central Damascus as darkness fell

Pictures from Damascus, Syria
February 2009

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Damascus -- St. Serge Gift Shop

Now that we've seen some things from St. Serge, how about we check out the gift shop.

Oh, it seems an exciting prospect for me!

and what an interesting ceiling this was .. not as lovely as the ones in the mosques and churches, but charming nevertheless

Georgette was our guide in the chapel area of the convent where we were not allowed to take photos. I did buy a pamphlet with pictures from there. Within the chapel, she said the Lord's Prayer in Aramaic. For some reason that brought tears to my eyes as I thought of Jesus saying these words .. they were HIS words, in HIS language. Sweet. In this picture, Georgette is showing us how an ancient lock worked.

The gift shop had many interesting things such as this map of ancient civilizations in the Middle East

and various decorative items

This door is supposedly 2,000 years old and was made from the cedars of Lebanon which are mentioned in the Bible. Lebanon here meaning the mountains of the modern-day country which has that name.

Pictures from Maaloula, Syria
February 5, 2009