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

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Last Day of the Year Stuff

Happy last day of the year! Another year has come and is nearly gone. I don't know about you, but whenever the newscasts have those "In Memory" segments where they show all the famous people who died the previous year, I get kind of teary. There are so many people much dearer to me and you that die every year and they aren't publicly recognized. I'm not griping about that though - I know those people aren't famous in the world's eyes. My point is, even seeing these people it just makes you realize how short life is. There's Michael Jackson or Ted Kennedy or Patrick Swayze full of life, full of purpose and then they are no more on this planet. Death plays no favorites.

Boy, do I sound grim!

I checked my calendar from last December and realized we got our visas to Syria exactly one year ago today. I can't help but feel a bit of a let down this year when compared to the excitement of preparing for that trip. Although, to be honest, I hated packing and preparing so I don't miss that part. I just miss being there!

I finished Christine Mallouhi's book this morning and the last couple of chapters really spoke to my heart. Maybe one day I'll post about those things. For sure, I need to reread this book because it has some great stuff for someone like me.

Here's a quote I came across is a magazine recently. The article dealt with people who were not looking for Jesus. In fact they hated Christians and Christianity and wanted nothing to do with either. Yet Jesus "found" them. The quote: "Believers aren't people who have answered every question about Jesus. They are people who have met Him." I really liked that for some reason.

I was asked on a previous post about the Holy Spirit and who he is. So I'm going to work on a post about what or who the Holy Spirit is to me. I think that's a great question!

One last thing, I was reading just now in Matthew and wanted to share this passage. Maybe your year was full of burdens and struggles. Perhaps it was mostly great, but you still feel something is weighing you down. Maybe life is great for you now, but you will need help in coming days. Regardless, I hope you are encouraged as you read - and respond to - these words from Jesus.

28"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

Ooooh, I just read this post about "holy anticipation" from one of my favorite encouraging bloggers. I wanted to record it here. I needed that.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

December books

I got busy with Christmas preparations and reading/responding to blogs the last couple of weeks so I didn't read as many books. I figured I'd go ahead and post the list of books read this month.

The Best of Evil
is a novel by Eric Wilson which takes place in Nashville, TN. Aramis tries to solve the mystery surrounding his mother's death and also an old American mystery about explorer-turned-governor Meriwether Lewis' supposed suicide. This was an easy read with some mystery to it.

The Edge of Recall by Kristen Heitzmann is a fiction mystery incorporating talk of architecture, labyrinths, nightmares, monsters and psychological problems. At times I wondered why I was reading this, but it ended up pretty good in the end.

The Woman Who Named God by Charlotte Gordon -- "Abraham's dilemma and the birth of three faiths" -- see previous posts, but guard your furniture first

Miniskirts, Mothers & Muslims by Christine Malloulhi -- a book explaining Arab and Muslim culture where "appearance is everything" to western Christians; see previous posts for more information

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Arab Culture -- Community & Shame

The other day I mentioned Christine Mallouhi's book, Miniskirts, Mothers & Muslims, and how she talks to western Christians about understanding the Arab culture. In one chapter she discusses the idea of individualism which is popular in western culture vs. community which is the norm in eastern cultures. One example she gave is lying. I was particularly interested in the part after that however. Read on.

The individual conscience is not an internalised norm. Parents teach children how to behave by using shame. They don't usually say, "Don't lie because it's wrong." It is considered wrong, but they are more likely to emphasise that it's "shameful." This reflects the same understanding of sin that Adam displays in the story of the Fall. He hid from God because he was ashamed and he was subsequently put out of his "home." In Arab society the consequences of sin are shaming your father and family, and being put out of the house. The only way you get back into the house is when an intermediary comes and takes you home to reconcile you with your father. The Gospel story directly speaks to these societies and the good news is that Christ took our blame and shame and is the intermediary taking us back to the Father's house. (pg. 134)

I just found that kind of neat. I recently bought a book about seeing Jesus through Middle Eastern eyes. I look forward to "seeing" him like nonwesterners would when I read it.

Monday, December 28, 2009

2009 Meme

I found this meme on Niki's blog and thought I'd answer it.

1. What did you do in 2009 that you’d never done before?

Went to Syria for twelve days

2. Did you keep your new years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I didn't make any resolutions really. I do recall now that I wanted to live by faith, not fear, and I think I did better than some years, PTL! Next year...I won't read any books that urge me to chase the Wild Goose.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?


4. Did anyone close to you die?


5. What countries did you visit?

Turkey (airport only) and Syria

6. What would you like to have in 2010 that you lacked in 2009?

a purpose in life

7. What date from 2009 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

February 10 -- my last day in Syria -- such a sweet, sweet day, but oh so sad!

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

I think actually getting on that plane for Syria was a huge deal for someone who has never traveled west of Tennessee. :-)

9. What was your biggest failure?

all the times I was selfish

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

got bit by a dog for the first time in my life -- neighbor's Doberman "pinched" me on St. Patrick's Day (I wasn't wearing green!)

11. What was the best thing you bought?

plane ticket to Syria

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

Michael's. Back in January he had to get stitches because he put his arm through a glass door. Although it was bleeding terribly and he hates the sight of blood, he didn't panic, but just told himself over and over, "Don't pass out, don't pass out." Thank God, he did well in the ER. His blood pressure got so low and he wanted to sleep, but we had him sing "Blessed Be the Name of the Lord" and that helped!

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

My own

14. Where did most of your money go?

health insurance

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

meeting Samer

16. What song(s) will always remind you of 2009?

"God of this City" and "Who Shot the Sheriff" -- the latter we heard in an SUV in Syria on the way home from Krac des Chevaliers

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:

i. Happier or sadder?

ii. Sadder.

iii. Thinner or fatter?

iv. Same.

v. richer or poorer?

vi. Same.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

serving and loving others

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?


20. How will you be spending Christmas?

it's over for this year

21. How many one-night stands?

none, thanks

22. What was your favorite TV program?

24, I guess

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

I don't hate anyone that I can think of.

24. What was the best book you read?

A Thousand Splendid Suns, Wild Goose Chase and Three Cups of Tea were three of my favorites

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?

"I'd Need a Savior"

26. What did you want and get?


27. What was your favorite film of this year?

I'm not a movie person and can't recall what I watched except for "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" and "Fireproof."

28. What did you do on your birthday?

Ack, I can't remember what I did. Must not have been that exciting.

29. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2009?

typical Susie mostly, but Arabian Susie earlier in the year

30. What kept you sane?

my faith and God's encouragement

31. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

I'm not big on celebs, but if I had to pick I'd say Kurt Warner has always been dear to my heart.

32. What political issue stirred you the most?

The policitians' out-of-control spending and debt they are putting on other people's children

33. Who did you miss?

my Syrian friends

34. Who was the best new person you met?

Wasim, Barea, Dania in Syria and my new blogging friends like Amber, Sarah, Suroor and Wafa' -- I can't remember meeting anyone new here in North Carolina *thinking*

35. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2009:

Basically when it seems you are at the end of your rope and feel "where else can I turn?" - this:

66From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

67"You do not want to leave too, do you?" Jesus asked the Twelve.

68Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."

I won't tag anyone, but if you read this and want to do it, feel free. I'd love to read your answers.

Arab Culture & Jesus' Example for Me

So I ordered this book, Miniskirts, Mothers & Muslims, that Stacy recommended on her blog a few months ago. I'd written it down and when I placed my Amazon order recently, I sought this book since she told me I should read it. I finally got it and started reading it two days ago. The author, Christine A. Mallouhi, is an Australian Christian who married a Christian Arab man who grew up in a conservative Muslim household. Christine has lived many years in Arab countries and her book is aimed at people like me (basically Christian westerners) who have the opportunity to live in Arab cultures. In no way does she degrade Arab culture or make it seem inferior. Actually she is blatantly honest about how westerners are often perceived and how the ways we dress and act while in Arab countries can either confirm what they already believe or surprise them.

One example is when the author was mourning her father's death and a comment in a hair salon made her start crying, the Arab woman exclaimed, "Oh, this Westerner has feelings!" (pg. 120) The author had just explained that Arabs often considered us "cold." Actually I can relate to this because my Arab friend has often jokingly asked if I were a true Westerner since I am quite emotional. I suppose he thought all Westerners were not easily moved to tears. So I joke back that I must be part Middle Eastern and just don't know it! :-)

Some things that the author shares are not exactly new to my knowledge, however, reading them in black and white made me feel appreciation for my own culture. One, for sure, is the honor killings which happen on occasion. And how mere gossip or thinking that you dishonored the family can cause your father or brother or cousin to be out to kill you. But the thing that struck me too was the way males and females do not interact on the streets. For instance, Ms. Mallouhi said she is very careful how she talks to male friends. On the streets, they may give a nod of greeting or a curt hello, but never stop to chat for the fear of others thinking something improper is going on colors the way they treat one another. She gave these examples not to say they were wrong, but just letting us know how things are different in some cultures.

I'll admit this makes me feel strange because where I live it's so normal to stop and chat with people you know from church, work, the neighborhood or school -- even if they are male acquaintances. Shoot, I even stop to talk to strangers from time to time. That's just the way Southern culture is - we start conversations with people browsing the Walmart aisle with us or standing in line at the grocery store. In fact on Christmas Eve I met a man from West Virginia (WV) while we were waiting to pay for our purchases. I'd let a lady with a short order go before me and when the WV man got ready to leave, he turned back to say goodbye and wish me a Merry Christmas and I told him to be safe traveling to see his family in WV. That's fairly typical behavior where I'm from so not being able to chat with male friends in the Arab world would take some getting used to.

So while I'm thinking of that and how I find it unfriendly and stupid that gossip (which is sinful itself!) makes things this way, I keep reading and my anger bubble has no choice but deflate when I read this:

"If secular and Muslim women can give up personal preferences and submit to Islamic customs that they do not agree with, surely Christian women can do the same for our testimony. Christ left all his glory to become one of us, in order to show us the way home to the Father. We have an opportunity to lay down self for the sake of Christ. We have an opportunity to follow in the steps of the One who laid aside everything to enable us to receive his word." (pg. 119)

Ah, Jesus again! Well, when you put it like that I reckon I can skip talking to my male friends to stop the gossipers out there!

Ha, ha....reviewing my trip to Damascus in light of this book, I am now wondering what kind of thoughts the Syrians had about me because I treated my Arab friends just about like I'd treat my male friends back home. Oooops! Thankfully Damascus doesn't seem as uptight about things as some Middle Eastern areas. Not that I've been other places to compare, but from what I've read and heard they just seem a bit more relaxed than, say, Saudi Arabia. Hmm, but maybe I'm wrong about that. Oh well.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Tri-Unity: Thought, Word, Deed

The other day I came across a website that had this to say as part of their talk on the Trinity. I had never thought of it this way, but it made sense. I have heard people say that God made our hearts to always long for something that only He can fill. Have others of you heard something similar or is that just a strange Protestant or Baptist thing? Anyway I thought I'd share this and get some feedback from my intellectual readers out there.

The teaching of the Bible concerning the Trinity might be summarized thus. God is a Tri-unity, with each Person of the Godhead equally and fully and eternally God. Each is necessary, and each is distinct, and yet all are one. The three Persons appear in a logical, causal order. The Father is the unseen, omnipresent Source of all being, revealed in and by the Son, experienced in and by the Holy Spirit. The Son proceeds from the Father, and the Spirit from the Son. With reference to God's creation, the Father is the Thought behind it, the Son is the Word calling it forth, and the Spirit is the Deed making it a reality.

We “see” God and His great salvation in the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, then “experience” their reality by faith, through the indwelling presence of His Holy Spirit.

Though these relationships seem paradoxical, and to some completely impossible, they are profoundly realistic, and their truth is ingrained deep in man's nature. Thus, men have always sensed first the truth that God must be “out there,” everywhere present and the First Cause of all things, but they have corrupted this intuitive knowledge of the Father into pantheism and ultimately into naturalism.

Similarly, men have always felt the need to “see” God in terms of their own experience and understanding, but this knowledge that God must reveal Himself has been distorted into polytheism and idolatry. Men have thus continually erected “models” of God, sometimes in the form of graven images, sometimes even in the form of philosophical systems purporting to represent ultimate reality.

Finally, men have always known that they should be able to have communion with their Creator and to experience His presence “within.” But this deep intuition of the Holy Spirit has been corrupted into various forms of false mysticism and fanaticism, and even into spiritism and demonism. Thus, the truth of God's tri-unity is ingrained in man's very nature, but he has often distorted it and substituted a false god in its place.


Tell me what you think about the Thought, Word, Deed explanation. And what about the things men have always sensed, needed and known. Is this true for you and for most people that you know?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Three Persons of the Trinity

The other day I started talking a bit about the Trinity. Something that crossed my mind since then is that I'd better be clear who all was included in that as I believe some people wrongly think the virgin Mary makes up one of the three parts. So for those who are not clear on this, the three "Persons" are

God the Father

Romans 8:
15For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." 16The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. 17Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

God the Son

Matthew 26:
62Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, "Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?" 63But Jesus remained silent.
The high priest said to him, "I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God."

64"Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied. "But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven."

God the Holy Spirit

John 14:15-17: "If you love me you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father and He will give you another Comforter to be with you forever - the Spirit of Truth. The world cannot accept him because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him for he lives with you and will be in you."

For those interested here is a website
I found while googling "God the Son." It explains some about the meaning of "son of God" for people who have a hard time thinking of this as anything other than a biological relationship.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Peace on earth and mercy mild. God and sinners reconciled.

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother.
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!

From O Holy Night

Thursday, December 24, 2009

"The Good News about Jesus"

Acts is a book full of actions of the Spirit of God through Jesus' followers. This is one of my favorite accounts from this wonderful recollection. Notice how the Spirit leads Philip to talk to someone seeking to know more. Notice "the good news about Jesus" and keep in mind "gospel" is simply "good news." And lastly see the Ethiopian's response to his accepting Philip's Spirit-filled teaching.

Chapter 8:26Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." 27So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. 29The Spirit told Philip, "Go to that chariot and stay near it."

30Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. "Do you understand what you are reading?" Philip asked.

31"How can I," he said, "unless someone explains it to me?" So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

32The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture:
"He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before the shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
33In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth."

34The eunuch asked Philip, "Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?" 35Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

36As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?" 38And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.

Oh, that we may all be sensitive to the Spirit leading us to share the good news of Jesus with others so they, too, may go on their ways rejoicing!

So what do you believe is the "good news about Jesus" that Philip told this man?

See all of Isaiah 53 here.

Children & Christmas

Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love's pure light

Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth

May we all have more childlike wonder this Christmas!


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Introduction: The Trinity

If you ever are curious enough to learn more about those peculiar Christians that you find a Bible and start thumbing through the index stopping at T looking for "Trinity," let me save you some time. It's not there. At least if you are looking through a concordance with key words from the Bible. Trinity - true enough - is not in the Bible.

What?!, you sputter. Then why do many of you believe in it? Aren't you making God into three gods?

Let me assure you, we are not. Or at least I am not, and everyone who has ever taught me believes we worship the One and Only True God, the Creator of heaven and earth.

So what's with this Trinity thing?

Right off the bat let me assure you that if you are looking for a cute egg or apple or water illustration to satisfy your logic then you'll be disappointed. It's not so easy to put God into some neat visual that we can logically understand. I wish it were so, but He is too complex for that. Or as Isaiah 55 reports:

8 "For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,"
declares the LORD.

9 "As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts."

So if the Lord is higher than us in His ways and thoughts then I'm guessing His nature isn't going to be as easily explained as an egg (yolk, shell, white part: three in one) or water (steam, liquid, ice: all are still water) or anything else. Too bad, right? Hey, I wish it were easier to explain this to others, too! :-)

I think first we should understand this about the Trinity.

"The Trinity is one God existing in three Persons. Understand that this is not in any way suggesting three Gods. Keep in mind when studying this subject that the word 'Trinity' is not found in Scripture. This is a term that is used to attempt to describe the triune God—three coexistent, co-eternal Persons who make up God. Of real importance is that the concept represented by the word 'Trinity' does exist in Scripture." Source

Take note of the word "attempt" in that paragraph and realize even the word Trinity is just that, "an attempt to describe the triune God."

For those who have read or are familiar with the Bible, do you agree or disagree that "the concept represented by the word 'Trinity' does exist" there? As always, I'd love to read your thoughts.

Next I want to better understand Jesus. Many people believe Jesus was a great person, a prophet sent from God with a message of peace and love and service. So is his message so great that some have wrongly deified him? Put him on the pedestal that ONLY belongs to God? I want to talk more about this in an upcoming post so if you are interested, stay tuned.

If there are other aspects that you'd like to cover, please leave me a comment.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Needing to Receive

"The Christmas story is not about how blessed it is to be givers, but about how essential it is to see ourselves as receivers."


"What happened to 'it's more blessed to give than receive'?" you wisely question.

I can understand your thinking
as A Christmas Carol and visions of the miserly Ebeneezer Scrooge transforming into a joyful giver come to mind.

But, before you dismiss William Willimon's quote consider it in light of these and then see if it makes more sense.

John 3

16"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." -- Jesus Christ

John 4

10Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water."

John 14:27

27"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." -- Jesus Christ

John 10

28"I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand." -- Jesus Christ

Romans 8

32He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

Romans 6

23For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Ephesians 2

8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast.

As II Corinthians 9:15 declares,

"Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!"

So be a joyful receiver of God's wonderful goodness!

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Jesus in Islam

My Syrian friend who is working in London sent me this interesting article earlier today. It discusses Jesus in Islam and Christianity mostly majoring on the similarities. The author mentions some interesting aspects including Sufism. Check it out. Here are just three blurbs from it to whet your appetite for more (hopefully!)

But the real significance of Mary is that Islam considers her a virgin and endorses the Christian concept of the Virgin Birth. "She was the chosen woman, chosen to give birth to Jesus, without a husband," says Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, an imam in Leicester and assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB). This is the orthodox Islamic position and, paradoxically, as Seyyed Hossein Nasr notes in The Heart of Islam, "respect for such teachings is so strong among Muslims that today, in interreligious dialogues with Christians . . . Muslims are often left defending traditional . . . Christian doctrines such as the miraculous birth of Christ before modernist interpreters would reduce them to metaphors."


However, for Muslims, the Virgin Birth is not evidence of Jesus's divinity, only of his unique importance as a prophet and a messiah. The Trinity is rejected by Islam, as is Jesus's Crucifixion and Resurrection. The common theological ground seems to narrow at this point - as Jonathan Bartley, co-director of the Christian think tank Ekklesia, argues, the belief in the Resurrection is the "deal-breaker". He adds: "There is a fundamental tension at the heart of interfaith dialogue that neither side wants to face up to, and that is that the orthodox Christian view of Jesus is blasphemous to Muslims and the orthodox Muslim view of Jesus is blasphemous to Christians." He has a point. The Quran singles out Christianity for formulating the concept of the Trinity.


[As] A N Wilson wrote in the Daily Express a decade ago: "Islam is a moral and intellectual acknowledgement of the lordship of God without the encumbrance of Christian mythological baggage . . . That is why Christianity will decline in the next millennium, and the religious hunger of the human heart will be answered by the Crescent, not the Cross."

I thought the first part about Muslims defending traditional Christian beliefs against liberal interpreters was a bit amusing. Feel free to share your thoughts if you have any.

Thoughts on a Christian Caliphate & Being Born Christian

Since I started reading blogs more and more about 15 months ago, I have come across many interesting discussions pertaining to religious beliefs and practices. One thing that has taken my attention several times when comparing and contrasting religions in general with Islam, is when people say, "Well, Islam is a way of life" as if it is supposed to set up rules and regulations to govern huge groups of people collectively as well as micromanage individuals. This has puzzled me since it gives me the impression, by contrast, that Christians have so few rules that it's not a way of life. Hmmm. I honestly try with varying degrees of success to let God influence every aspect of my life - how I vote, how I act, what I say and do. I think of Proverbs 3:6 which instructs us to acknowledge God in all our ways and He will direct our paths.

Is it necessary for the Bible to offer detailed rules for living politically in today's world? Do we need rules to govern every aspect of our lives? One friend asked a while back, "Susanne, if you could, wouldn't you want to live in a nation that was governed by your Christian values?" In essence he was asking, "Don't you want a Christian nation where only (mostly) Christians live and rule and your ideals would be the law of the land? Wouldn't this be wonderful?" (Think Islamic Caliphate...only Christian.)

Ideally this sounds good, however, it seems when people mix their religion with the state, we get corruption in both places. We have the Church becoming corrupt because it welds too much power and we have politics becoming more corrupt. And, really, when The Head Honcho be it President or Church Leader declares "all must be Christians to vote" or "if you are Christian, you get lower taxes and better business opportunities," don't you think there will be at least a small segment who pretend to be Christians just for the perks of being under this label? I guess I just always think of people who have died for their faith and how "the blood of the martyrs [was] the seed of the church." True Christianity actually flourishes more when people are ready to die for their faith. Let's face it, it's not so hard to be "Christian" in America, but try sharing your faith in China or North Korea or Saudi Arabia and you have to be committed - you have to be prepared for punishment from the ruling entities. The threat of punishment or death really separates those who are just Christians because it's the popular thing and it's easy from those who are committed.

I don't even think being Christian is hereditary. It's not like we are born Christians. You may have parents who follow Christ and siblings who have chosen to walk with Him and you may grow up going to church and even singing in the choir, but I believe it's an individual's choice and not a matter of birth. EACH of us much choose for him/herself whether or not we follow Jesus or follow something else.

Um, I had a point to make in this post, but I kind of rabbit trailed. Oooops.

Do you have any opinions about any of this? Do you think Christianity was established so we could form some sort of "Christian empire" kind of like the Muslims have their ideal of having Islamic lands run by sharia? Do you think Jesus had this in mind? What about other Christians over the years? What are the pros or cons of this that come to your mind? What do you think about people being "born Christian"? Does what I say make sense or do you disagree? Please share your thoughts as I love hearing others' perspectives. I learn a lot from you all. So talk! :)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Lazy 5 Ranch

Back in November, my sister's Sunday School class went to the Lazy 5 Ranch with their children. It was a lovely fall day in North Carolina with bright blue skies.

Austin, Blake & Michael

The boys enjoyed seeing all the animals

These two are best friends & regularly get together for play dates. They spend the night at each other's houses. They even made a Star Wars movie near Halloween. (I saw it...'twas cute!) Nice to have such great church friends. When they were younger, they quoted Psalm 23 together at their church program.

I can't look at animals or insects or plants
without being amazed by the creativity of God!

Michael feeding the giraffe - yum!

Michael with his dad and friends

"I want more! This stuff is sooooooooo good!"

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Muhammad or Jesus - Who is interceding for you?

I think I understand it better now! Someone brought this hadith to my attention and now I see why Muslims revere Muhammad almost to the extent Christians revere Jesus, whom most of us believe is the Savior of our souls. (For those interested, I found this site on a quick Google search. It shows some verses about Jesus being God, the Savior.)

Check out this hadith (# 3) from Bukhari ... source

For sure Muhammad is more favored here than any of the previous prophets mentioned or maybe I am reading too much into it. Am I?

Narrated Anas: The Prophet said, "On the Day of Resurrection the Believers will assemble and say, 'Let us ask somebody to intercede for us with our Lord.' So they will go to Adam and say, 'You are the father of all the people, and Allah created you with His Own Hands, and ordered the angels to prostrate to you, and taught you the names of all things; so please intercede for us with your Lord, so that He may relieve us from this place of ours.' Adam will say, 'I am not fit for this (i.e. intercession for you).' Then Adam will remember his sin and feel ashamed thereof. He will say, 'Go to Noah, for he was the first Apostle, Allah sent to the inhabitants of the earth.' They will go to him and Noah will say, 'I am not fit for this undertaking.' He will remember his appeal to his Lord to do what he had no knowledge of, then he will feel ashamed thereof and will say, 'Go to the Khalil--r-Rahman (i.e. Abraham).' They will go to him and he will say, 'I am not fit for this undertaking. Go to Moses, the slave to whom Allah spoke (directly) and gave him the Torah .' So they will go to him and he will say, 'I am not fit for this undertaking.' and he will mention (his) killing a person who was not a killer, and so he will feel ashamed thereof before his Lord, and he will say, 'Go to Jesus, Allah's Slave, His Apostle and Allah's Word and a Spirit coming from Him. Jesus will say, 'I am not fit for this undertaking, go to Muhammad the Slave of Allah whose past and future sins were forgiven by Allah.' So they will come to me and I will proceed till I will ask my Lord's Permission and I will be given permission. When I see my Lord, I will fall down in Prostration and He will let me remain in that state as long as He wishes and then I will be addressed.' (Muhammad!) Raise your head. Ask, and your request will be granted; say, and your saying will be listened to; intercede, and your intercession will be accepted.' I will raise my head and praise Allah with a saying (i.e. invocation) He will teach me, and then I will intercede. He will fix a limit for me (to intercede for) whom I will admit into Paradise. Then I will come back again to Allah, and when I see my Lord, the same thing will happen to me. And then I will intercede and Allah will fix a limit for me to intercede whom I will let into Paradise, then I will come back for the third time; and then I will come back for the fourth time, and will say, 'None remains in Hell but those whom the Quran has imprisoned (in Hell) and who have been destined to an eternal stay in Hell.' " (The compiler) Abu 'Abdullah said: 'But those whom the Qur'an has imprisoned in Hell,' refers to the Statement of Allah: "They will dwell therein forever." (16.29) (emphasis in the text mine)

At least we know from this hadith that Muhammad was not sinless and, in all fairness, he did ask Allah for permission. Contrast this with the teachings of Paul who said in I Timothy 2:5 that the only mediator between God and man is Jesus. Also Hebrews 7 says,

23Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

and finally the last few verses of Romans 8, notice verse 34.

31What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36As it is written:
"For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."
37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Thoughts anyone?

The "Darker Side" of this Tradition of God

Unfortunately for Amber and Achelois' furniture, I have one more post from The Woman Who Named God. I only said yesterday that I'd finally finished the book, not that I'd posted everything from it that I wanted. Sorry, Ladies. Just this one and we can say "goodbye" to Charlotte Gordon. (For those wondering what I'm talking about see the comments from yesterday's post.)

The good news is that I believe today's post won't cause any more damage to either teeth or furniture because these things are perhaps a bit more agreeable or, at least, not blasphemous like yesterday's post came across. We shall see.

Concerning the event of Abraham being commanded to sacrifice his son -- "God had bugled a chilling note, a warning call to Abraham. It was an illusion for parents to believe they owned their children, God declared. All human life came from Him and was ultimately His to reclaim. He was in charge of who lived or died, and nothing could stand in His way." (pg. 243)

Speaking of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (FLDS) which (speaking of gnawing on furniture) I wrote about back in October -- "To these ten thousand or so believers, Sarah's offer of Hagar to her husband is evidence of her heroic devotion to God. Every first wife should be a Sarah, willing to share her husband with many partners. Every man should be an Abraham, willing to shoulder the responsibility of many wives." (pg. 107)

About the ram God provided as a substitute for Isaac -- "There is a tradition that this creature was not an ordinary ram but was one that God had created during the first week of the world and had saved for exactly this purpose, the rescue of Isaac. Certainly, it was miraculous that it appeared when it did. This is why Jews blow the shofar, or ram's horn, in celebration of the New Year. The sound is meant to remind Jewish congregations that even when things appear at their bleakest, God will provide. Furthermore, the blowing of the horn is meant to provoke compassion in God for human suffering, suggesting that there is a darker side to this tradition as well. God's empathy for human beings must be summoned. It is not intrinsically there for us to depend on." (pg. 260)

About this ram analogy, now I know most Jews rejected Jesus as the Christ (the Messiah), but contrast this "darker side" of tradition to Jesus' willingness to heal the sick and meet needs and even wash feet to demonstrate serving others and his saying "if you have seen me, you have seen the Father." (See John 14).

John 12:

"He who sees Me sees the One who sent Me."

John 1:

14And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Colossians 1:

15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

Hebrews 1:

3And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.

Even among the Jewish Scripture, you have this passage from Ezekiel 34 which I read this spring and found touching. God compares Himself to the good shepherd. Take a peek:

15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

And how can anyone forget one of the most famous Bible passages of all? Psalm 23 from King David where, again, God is known as the tender Shepherd.

Lest we forget, in the Bible God is good and God is love. And we all know the wonderful characteristics of true, God-like love. (If you need a refresher course, check out Paul's wonderful summary of love in I Corinthians 13.)

From this post, did anything trouble you that she said? From what I wrote? Do you tend to have a view of God more in line with the "darker side" of the tradition (in the author's interpretation) or do you believe God to be more compassionate or loving and without the need of our having to somehow summon those traits from Him? What are your favorite Scriptures about God's characteristics and why? How do you generally describe God to others? Do you tend to describe Him as the Scriptures declare Him to be, by what He has done for you and/or by how He has manifested Himself to you personally?

So finally we conclude the posts from this book! Hear that? Now, Ladies, you may polish that furniture and take care of those teeth. If for no other reason, I'm glad I read this book because her topics generated these great discussions the last several days. Thanks to everyone who contributed. Enjoyed it!

Monday, December 14, 2009

God: Lacking in Foreknowledge & Lying

Finally! Yesterday I finished The Woman Who Named God by Charlotte Gordon. I enjoyed some things about this book while others raised red flags and made me kind of iffy on this author. I guess any time a book causes me to have harder feelings against God or a man of faith such as Abraham the author gets categorized this way in my mind. Maybe that's my own immaturity and lack of wanting to see things differently. Do I want to view God and Abraham with rose-colored glasses instead of seeing them as they (possibly) more likely are?


Anyway, what do you think of the idea that God's "foreknowledge of events is not always complete"? At least twice the author presented God in this way. First in the situation of Sodom where it seemed God wasn't sure if He could find 50 - or even 10 - righteous people. And then again when he tested Abraham by commanding him to sacrifice Isaac. In the case of the latter event and based on Genesis 22:12,

He said, "Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me," (emphasis mine)

Ms. Gordon writes,

"God underwent His own suspenseful ordeal: Would Abraham obey Him? Was He a worthy partner in their joint enterprise? Second, God needed to test Abraham's loyalties, exhibiting a strange insecurity as though He were a jealous lover doubting His beloved." (pg. 258)

In the chapter where she talks about the angels coming to visit Abraham with news that Sarah would have a son, the author says God misquoted or twisted Sarah's words although when I read the words from Genesis 18, I don't see that God's words were a twist at all. (pages 185+) Ms. Gordon said God lied, and while not everyone thinks small lies are necessarily bad, the Bible declares God cannot lie. At least Paul writes this to Titus (1:2). Or maybe Paul means only when God promises or makes an oath such as the writer of Hebrews declares in 6:18.

So what you do think? Is God limited in His knowledge of future events? Are there some aspects where He doesn't know what His creation will do because He offers them freedom to make choices (e.g. Abraham: to sacrifice or not to sacrifice). Does God lie on occasion? Are the New Testament verses about God not lying dependent upon whether or not He made an oath or promise?

To read more from this book, please see the following posts. Thanks to everyone who contributed to the discussion. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your opinion of things!

Abraham, Hagar, Ishmael & Marriage Choices

Abraham, Sarah, Canaanites & Ancient Egypt

"Rape in the Palace" -- Abraham & Sarah in Egypt

Relating Hagar to Jesus' Birth

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Abraham, Hagar, Ishmael & Marriage Choices

In chapter 27, "Exile," in the book The Woman Who Named God, author Charlotte Gordon writes: "Though the fact that Hagar arranged Ishmael's marriage occurs in both the Bible and the hadith, it seems that later Jewish and Muslim commentators did not like the idea of a woman with this degree of power and influence. Sages from both religions attempted to 'correct' this problem by relating a story about Abraham's role in Ishmael's marriage that discounted Hagar's competence. For once, the traditions were united, albeit by their distrust in the capabilities of females."

Then she tells the story of Abraham meeting Ishmael's wife which I will copy from a website instead of typing it all. And after she tells of this (see below) Ms. Gordon writes, "Yet, despite their doubts about her skills as a matchmaker, according to the hadith, Hagar was the founder of a city and a people. She had fought off the nomads' claims to the Zamzam and the holy site of Mecca. Thanks to her, Ishmael and all Arabs would inherit a vital legacy. Despite western preconceptions about Islam, from its beginnings Muslims have revered Ishmael's mother as a heroine, illustrating that the respect of women is inherent to the faith." (pg. 237)

From Ishmael, Son of Abraham

The Prophet (pbuh) continued: "After Ishmael's mother had died, Abraham came after Ishmael's marriage in order to see his family that he had left before but he did not find Ishmael there. When he asked Ishmael's wife about him, she replied: "He has gone in search of livelihood." Then he asked her about their way of living and their condition, and she replied, "We are living in misery; we are living in hardship and destitution,' complaining to him. He said: "When your husband returns, convey my salutations to him and tell him to change the threshold of the gate (of his house).'

"When Ishmael came, he seemed to have felt something unusual, so he asked his wife: 'Has anyone visited you?' she replied, 'Yes, an old man of such and such description came and asked me about you and I informed him and he asked about our state of living and I told him that we were living in a hardship and poverty.' On that Ishmael said: 'Did he advise you anything?' She said: 'Yes he told me to convey his salutation to you and to tell you to change the threshold of your gate.' Ishmael said: 'It was my father and he has ordered me to divorce you. Go back to your family.' so, Ishmael divorced her and married another woman from among them (Jurhum).

"Then Abraham stayed away from them for a period as long as Allah wished and called on them again but did not find Ishmael. So he came to Ishmael's wife and asked her about Ishmael. She said: 'he has gone in sof our livelihood.' Abraham asked her; 'how are you getting on?' asking her about their sustenance and living. she replied: 'we are prosperous and well off (we have everything in abundance).' then she thanked Allah. Abraham said: 'What kind of food do you eat?' she said: 'meat.' he said: 'what do you drink?' she said: 'water.' he said: 'O Allah! bless their meat and water.""

The Prophet (pbuh) added: "At that time they did not have grain, and if they had grain he would have also invoked Allah to bless it. If somebody has only these two things as his sustenance, his health and disposition will be badly affected unless he lives in Mecca."

The Prophet (pbuh) continued: "Then Abraham said to Ishmael's wife: 'When your husband comes give my regards to him and tell him that he should keep firm the threshold of his gate.' When Ishmael came back he asked his wife, 'did anyone call on you?' she replied: 'yes, a good looking old man came to me,' so she praised him and added: 'He asked about you and I informed him that we were in a good condition.' Ishmael asked her:' did he give you any piece of advice?' she said; 'yes, he told me to give his regards to you and ordered that you should keep firm the threshold of your gate.' on that Ishmael said: 'It was my father, and you are the threshold of the gate. He has ordered me to keep you with me.'

Do you agree with Charlotte Gordon's conclusion that Jewish and Muslim scholars told this Abraham story re: Ishmael's wife because they didn't want a mere woman to have this much power? Or do you think Abraham told Ishmael to divorce his first wife because she gave a bad report about life? What do you think of this story of Abraham telling his son to divorce his wife? Do you think it's in line with Jesus' teachings on divorce? Any other thoughts? Feel free to share whatever comes to mind.

For more posts from this book, please see

Abraham, Sarah, Canaanites & Ancient Egypt

"Rape in the Palace" -- Abraham & Sarah in Egypt

Relating Hagar to Jesus' Birth

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Family In Town

Last month my uncle and his family came to visit my grandparents. We were excited to see them again. My uncle came all the way from Munich, Germany so he was tired due to jet lag. But we had fun singing and talking and laughing.

Cobey, Caleb and Michael played Bakugan and drew pictures.
This was their first meeting.

Michael loved sitting around with the men eating and talking.

Caleb refused to smile for me.
Thankfully Michael gave me a small grin.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Relating Hagar to Jesus' Birth

The last two days I've written excerpts from The Woman Who Named God by Charlotte Gordon, and have greatly enjoyed the comments left on yesterday's post about "Rape In The Palace."

First let me say that I did not realize Hagar "has come to be seen as a sort of guardian angel for African American women." (pg. 122) I reckon that shows how out of touch I am with black culture. Hmmm. Did you know this?

Finally I got to the chapter that explains the title of the book. I could have figured it out sooner if I'd just reread the Biblical account of Hagar in Genesis chapter 16. Hagar had been given to Abraham so that he could have an heir, she'd become pregnant and Sarah started mistreating Hagar. So Hagar fled into the desert. And an angel of the Lord spoke to her there by a spring.

The author writes that when Hagar named God El-roi (according to Hebrew scholar Reuven Hammer it could mean, "God of seeing, that is, the all-seeing God. Also, God of my seeing, that is, whom I have seen; and God who sees me"), she did something "unique." Although we are familiar with a God who sees and hears all and is involved in our lives, "in ancient times, that God could "see" Hagar -- take note of her -- was a revolutionary idea, as it demonstrated that He was unlike the other deities of the ancient world, who routinely ignored their followers unless they were coaxed and fed expensive delicacies by specially trained priests. [Elijah vs. the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel anyone?] Hagar's God...was actually concerned about a poor woman."

Remember also that Ishmael means "God hears." Contrast these names El-roi and Ishmael and their meanings to "other deities 'with [their] mouths that cannot speak and eyes that cannot see.' (Psalms 115:6)." (pg. 140)

The author concludes this chapter by saying,

Hagar's relationship with God is one Abram and, for that matter, any of God's chosen might well envy. With her, God was direct, clear and highly detailed, and most of what He foretold happened without delay. He even gave a specific reason for His actions: He had seen her suffering and was now comforting her. With Abram, God had offered no such guidance. His chosen man would never know why God selected Him, nor could he predict when God would finally enact His promises.

Indeed it would be much later that angels would announce to Abram the imminent birth of another child - information Abram could have used much earlier on. Hagar, not Abram, receives the first divine annunciation of a son's birth. Conventional hierarchies are overturned. The slave woman gets to hear the news her master has been waiting for all of his adult life. (pg. 143)

When I read this last line I couldn't help but think of this time of year and how when Jesus came to earth, the Bible records that lowly shepherds in the field were contacted. His birth wasn't announced to the important government officials or the Head of the Religious Establishment for all to celebrate. Instead the angels told shepherds, the common, blue-collar workers of that era. Makes me think of Paul's words where he declares there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles, men and women, those who are slaves and those who are free. (Galatians 3:28). The same Lord is rich to all who call upon His name (Romans 10:12).

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

"Rape In the Palace" - Abraham & Sarah in Egypt

Yesterday I told you about the new book I'm reading and things pertaining to the Canaanites and Ancient Egypt. I'd planned to tell about a very interesting chapter, "Rape in the Palace," but ran out of room. So here are the things that caught my eye about the story of Abram and Sarai as they traveled to Egypt to escape the horrible famine in Canaan. (Read it here in Genesis 12.)

Knowing how beautiful his wife was, Abram devised a plan for keeping himself safe, well, alive while in Egypt. But it was at the expense of his wife's purity! The Bible's account says Sarai was taken into Pharoah's palace. Was she made part of his harem? Did he take her as a wife or concubine? The Bible doesn't go into those details though it does use the Hebrew word for "took" which is "ambiguous enough to allow for the possibility that they did have sex." (pg. 58) Scandalous!

I chuckled when I read that Abraham's inaction when Sarai was taken by Pharoah earned him "the contempt of one famously opinionated woman: England's Queen Victoria declared on her deathbed that she did not expect to see Abraham in heaven after his betrayal of Sarah." (pg. 53) Ha, ha....now, I don't agree with Queen Victoria, of course, but her thoughts amused me. I think Abraham was like any one of us: human, a sinner, imperfect. So, yeah, he was selfish sometimes.

Some good things stemming from this time in Egypt -- "Pharoah's capture of Sarai exposed him, and Egypt, to the power of the Biblical God." (pg. 59) "Pharoah, who was now profoundly frightened of the wrath of the foreigner's God, did not simply cast out the couple. He showered them with gifts of jewelry, donkeys, camels, and cattle in hope of appeasing their deity." (pg. 61)

She continues, "Compared to Abram, the Egyptian ruler comes off as rather sympathetic. The moment he discovers Sarai is married, he stops his advances. He appears shocked at the wrongdoing that Abram has allowed him to perpetuate and appalled at Abram for delivering his wife into sexual slavery. The question he asks Abram -- 'What is this that you have done to me?' - is exactly the same question God asks Eve in the Garden of Eden. This is a remarkable reversal for a Biblical story, as Pharoah is depicted as the virtuous man, the one allied more closely to righteous action than the patriarch." (pg. 61)

Ohhhh, something interesting about Hagar. Tradition says she was Pharoah's daughter and that "Pharoah was so impressed with the power of Abram and Sarai's God that he declared, 'I would rather Hagar be a slave in Abram's household, than a princess in my palace.'" Whether or not she was truly Pharoah's daughter, "legends are firm that she joined Abram and Sarai at this point in the story."

As the author concludes about this, "Not only would Hagar's arrival change Abram and Sarai's lives - as well as the course of human history - she would also be a constant reminder to Abram and Sarai of a painful and divisive time in their marriage." (pg. 62)

quotes from
Charlotte Gordon in The Woman Who Named God

What do you think about what she wrote? Is it different from your own thoughts? If so, how? Do you think her thoughts of Abram are too harsh? Her thoughts of Pharoah too good? What is your "take" on this story and on what do you base your thoughts?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Abraham, Sarah, Canaanites & Ancient Egypt

So I mentioned this book I found at the library recently. It's by an author I don't know (Charlotte Gordon) and the title is puzzling (The Woman Who Named God), but I saw it was about Abraham and the "birth of three faiths" so I thought it might be of interest. And it is! I've only read the first 62 pages out of more than 300 (OK, I lied...I have also read the end notes pertaining to the chapters I've read), but already I am enjoying it a lot!

The author gives background information on Ur, Mesopotamia and the gods worshiped in these ancient cultures. She told of the Canaanites and how, in reality, they were much more advanced than Abram and Sarai and the gang who came along with them as they went to the country where God lead them.

For instance the Canaanites "had advanced beyond the clumsy system of writing known as cuneiform, where each syllable was denoted by a different symbol, and had invented an alphabet of consonants that the Phoenicians would later modify and pass on to modernity. The Greek, Latin, Cyrillic, Coptic and Brahmic family of scripts in India and Southeast Asia all trace their origins back to the Canaanites' innovation." (pg. 37) Interesting stuff, huh?

She also describes how their cities were well-build and fortified. I guess I just never really thought of it before though I should have since even the Israelites balked at the notion of going in and taking the land flowing with milk and honey. Remember that story and how they ended up wandering in the desert for forty years because of their lack of faith in God's promise?

So why do I have a picture of Ancient Egypt here? The chapter I recently finished dealt with Abram and Sarai's traveling there. I was going to tell about it now, but this post is long enough. So I will wait. But you'll want to stay tuned. It's title is "Rape In The Palace." Provocative, eh?

By the way, how cool is it to think that by the time Abraham and Sarah went to Egypt the pyramids were already ancient relics?