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

Friday, April 30, 2010

Birthday Praise and Tulips!

Today is my birthday. I could probably find something more to say, but I decided in my sleep that I wanted to share this beautiful Psalm of praise to the Lord. It's lovely!

Psalm 103 ~ David

1 Praise the LORD, O my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.

2 Praise the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits-

3 who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,

4 who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,

5 who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.

6 The LORD works righteousness
and justice for all the oppressed.

7 He made known his ways to Moses,
his deeds to the people of Israel:

8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.

9 He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;

10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.

11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;

12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

13 As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;

14 for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.

15 As for man, his days are like grass,
he flourishes like a flower of the field;

16 the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.

17 But from everlasting to everlasting
the LORD's love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children's children-

18 with those who keep his covenant
and remember to obey his precepts.

19 The LORD has established his throne in heaven,
and his kingdom rules over all.

20 Praise the LORD, you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his bidding,
who obey his word.

21 Praise the LORD, all his heavenly hosts,
you his servants who do his will.

22 Praise the LORD, all his works
everywhere in his dominion.
Praise the LORD, O my soul.

Psalm 103

Also, happy 25th birthday, Samer! :-)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

April Books

Another month has almost concluded. Time for me to record the books I finished. I borrowed all of these from a church friend. The same one who also lent a movie - a lone movie - which I've still not watched. I'm so not a movie watcher. :)

The Note
by Angela Hunt -- tells the story of a newspaper reporter trying to find "T" - the person for whom a note of forgiveness belongs. The note was written by someone just before he died and Peyton MacGruder follows the clues and in the process deals with issues she's buried in her own life. I enjoyed this "light" fiction book.

At the Scent of Water by Linda Nichols -- a story set in the NC mountains; a couple headed for divorce after a tragedy with their four year old daughter; this is the story of Sam and Annie - very enjoyable story about how God is faithful even when we suffer; a good reminder on page 361 that "bitterness toward God is a sin... and as long as you cherish it, you'll have no peace."

My Father, Maker of the Trees by Eric Irivuzumugabe - subtitled "How I Survived the Rwandan Genocide"

"No matter what your current circumstances may be or what trials you face today, I am living proof that God can take a shattered life and breathe new life into a broken heart. My hope for you is that as you read my story, you experience healing from past hurts in your own life and find God as your source of comfort. No one has to live as a victim. Whether you have to face the scars of abuse, have lost loved ones, or have physical or emotional pain every day, God sees you and has not forgotten you. He is waiting for you to reach out to him and answer the call that is on your life. I humbly offer my story to you so that you too might be convinced that the power of God is at work, even in the darkest of worlds." (pg. 15)

I was so sad to read the reason for the tension between the Hutu and Tutsi people stemmed from the 1920s when "Belgian ethnologists analyzed the skulls of Tutsis and Hutus and declared the Tutsi people to be the superior tribe." The author believes the Germans and Belgians benefited more from the people being divided and were threatened by their peacefulness. He relates, "Prejudices and fabrications continued for decades, severing relationships, as some adopted the colonialists' belief that the superior 'race' were Tutsi because they were from northeast Africa -- Egypt or Abyssinia (Ethiopia)." (pg. 26)

church motto -- "restored to restore"

In Search of Eden by Linda Nichols -- Miranda travels to Abingdon, VA in search of the baby she was forced to give up for adoption. Very good Christian fiction ..."light" reading.

He Still Moves Stones by Max Lucado -- wonderful book I read on a whim; made me reflective as the author painted such wonderful spiritual pictures such as my bent reed, flickering wick post. Truly a touching, tremendously encouraging book.

When doing things "for" Jesus, "it's easy to forget who is the servant and who is to be served." (pg. 51)

Jesus called the woman healed from her twelve-year bleeding disorder "daughter." "To the loved, a word of affection is a morsel, but to the love-starved, a word of affection can be a feast." (pg. 60)

"'If you can do anything for him, please have pity on us and help us.'" "The power is not in the prayer; it's in the one who hears it." (pg. 88)

And that's it!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Faith Theme

Do you ever notice how important faith is to Jesus? We've finished eight chapters in Matthew already and the faith theme appears quite regularly. Some seem to have great faith, others little faith, while still others fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. While reading He Still Moves Stones last week, I greatly enjoyed a passage from the Gospel According to Mark that Max Lucado spoke about in some detail. I won't quote extensively from the chapter like I've done in past posts, but I wanted to share the part that stuck in my mind. It seems so simple and you all will maybe be unimpressed, but it's like God used a particular phrase that evening to encourage me. I even jotted these five words on the wall calendar hanging nearby.

Don't be afraid - just believe.

See, nothing earth-shattering or new. But five simple words God used to encourage me. He knows how His Susie tends towards fearful thoughts.

Mark 5 tells the story of a synagogue ruler coming to Jesus because his little daughter is sick. He wanted Jesus to come to his house and touch her so she would be healed. Visualize this if you will.

22Then one of the synagogue rulers, named Jairus, came there. Seeing Jesus, he fell at his feet 23and pleaded earnestly with him, "My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live."

Jesus agreed and started towards Jairus' house. On the way Jesus dealt with a woman with a bleeding disorder in need of healing. While talking with her, bad news came from Jairus' household.

"Your daughter is dead," they said. "Why bother the teacher any more?"

Horrors! Jesus was too late! Maybe if Jairus had simply asked Jesus to heal his daughter from afar (as the Roman centurion suggested in reference to his ailing servant), she would have been saved, but now, too late, too late. Jesus can heal the sick, yes. He did it all over the region. But raising the dead is a whole other category!

Isn't it?

This is what Max Lucado made a big deal out of in his book. OK..maybe he didn't make as huge a deal as I'm remembering, but it just stuck out to me so much it seemed huge at the time. Ready for it?

36Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, "Don't be afraid; just believe."

Aha! Jesus ignored human reality - the girl already died - and encouraged Jairus to believe!

Why? Why not put your arm around Jairus, comfort and cry with him? Tell him you are sorry the illness took his daughter before you had time to visit the house and heal her? Why tell him to ignore this bad news and believe? Did Jesus think these men couldn't tell when someone stopped breathing? When someone's heart stopped pumping life-sustaining blood around the body? When the body turned cold and gray as life departed? Why ignore the facts on the ground and believe something so far-fetched and unrealistic?

For some reason I just loved those five words. I love that Jesus urged Jairus to not succumb to the bad news, the "reality" on the ground, but to believe God for great things. To believe God for something out of the ordinary. For something only God can do.

So whatever situations you are facing, don't look at your circumstances and yield to the hopelessness surrounding you. Remember that God is bigger than your circumstances. He is greater than your struggles, your storms. I encourage you, "Don't be afraid; just believe."

By the way, when Jesus got to Jairus' house the mourners were already in place wailing loudly. Jesus told them the girl was sleeping and they laughed at him. But, I think you know by now what happened. Let's just say the little girl laughed again. And I'm sure Jairus did too! :-)

"Without faith it is impossible to please God..."
~ Hebrews 11:6

Monday, April 26, 2010

Faith Without Works Is Dead

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." (James 1:27)

Oftentimes I've told people on blogs and elsewhere that I believe our good deeds flow out of us
as a result of salvation. Not as a means to save us. In other words, we do good because it's the fruit or expression of what we are in Christ and evidence of what God is doing through us. We don't work to earn God's favor and, hopefully, His salvation.

I was reading James 2 the other day and came across these verses and then I also read something in a publication which I wanted to share. The quote from the publication shares how our inner attitude is reflected outwardly ... how our saving faith means God works through us to produce works pleasing to Himself.

My blogging friend Sanil mentioned yesterday how some Christians she know almost have an attitude that things will be sorted out in the afterlife, therefore, they can't be bothered with helping the oppressed or the poor or righting social injustices. It's like they figure God will make it all better in the end so why should they even try. I disagree with this view. We shouldn't throw our hands in the air in defeat and say "what's the use?"

I believe James is teaching that our faith is active! It doesn't have a defeatist mentality or a lazy, uninvolved, uncaring mentality. It's proven alive or real by how we treat others! This is why he concludes "faith without deeds is dead."

14What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

18But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds."
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. . . .

26As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

And now for the quote I mentioned above:

A difficult lesson for all followers of Christ is that our spiritual fruit can come in two forms: fruit of activity and fruit of attitude. Activity, obviously, refers to the things that we do, the works we accomplish for the Lord. While these deeds can be wonderful, we cannot always trust them. Jesus Himself warned about the error of placing too much confidence in our actions (Matt. 7:21-23).

The fruit of attitude, however, is a far better indication of what is happening in our spirits. You see, as the Holy Spirit works in our lives, His fruit is manifested first in our attitudes. As we come under the influence of His love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, our inward attitudes will begin to affect our outward behavior. The change comes from within as the Holy Spirit modifies our thinking (Rom. 12:2). This inner transformation is squarely in line with the very definition of repentance: a change of mind that results in a change of behavior.

When we give the Holy Spirit free reign in our lives and focus on our growth in Him, we will begin to notice changes in our thoughts and deeds. It is as though when we are filled with the Spirit, the fruit of the Spirit is simply the natural outflow of what is happening within our hearts. Then we can't help but show the world what sets us apart as different.

What do you think?

(emphasis mine -- quote from Charles Stanley - In Touch magazine, May 2010,
pg. 9)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Matthew 8 -- Concluded

I'd like to wrap up Matthew 8 with this post. We've already discussed Jesus touching and healing the leper and his amazement at the Roman centurion's great faith. Instead of going in depth on each of the remaining stories, I wanted to point out several themes that took my attention. Bear with me as this might be all over the place (read disorganized!).

Contrast -- how Jesus touched the leper and Peter's mother in law and others brought to him


how he healed disease from afar in the case of the centurion's very sick servant.

Notice how Jesus was willing to become ceremonially unclean by touching a leper and also how he was willing to go against local tradition of "cleanliness" by visiting a Gentile household.

Notice how Jesus rewarded the faith of the leper and centurion. The first recognized Jesus' ability "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean," while the centurion recognized Jesus' authority -- "just say the word and my servant will be healed." Both recognized Jesus' power over sickness and disease.

Amazement -- Jesus was amazed by the non-Jewish centurion's great faith. In fact he told those following him, "I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith." Jesus rewarded his faith and replied, "It will be done just as you believed it would."

Matthew tied all of Jesus' healing of diseases to the prophet Isaiah by quoting: "He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases." (Isa. 53:4)

Cost of following Jesus
Expect hard times. It's not always easy. (vs. 20)
You must follow God over your culture's expectations and traditions (even good ones) (vs. 21)

The Gentile, Roman centurion's great faith


Jesus' disciples' little faith

The disciples were so afraid of the storm.
Jesus ordered them to the other side of the lake. (vs. 18)
Jesus slept -- He trusted God to safely deliver him to the other side
The disciples thought they were going to drown

Jesus rebuked the wind and the storm ceased

Amazed again -- "What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!" (vs. 27)

Last story -- Jesus freed two men from demon possession. These men were so rough that chains could not hold them and they prevented people from going past them. Also they lived among tombs. (Another occasion where Jesus went deliberately to an "unclean" place to minister to the helpless.)

The demons recognized Jesus and asked, "What do you want with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?"

I read this and not only was struck with the obvious fact that the demons referred to Jesus as "Son of God," but what do they mean by "the appointed time"? Do they know something about their future that others didn't know? Did they know that in the future -- at "the appointed time" -- they'd have a reckoning with the "Son of God"? When I read this I immediately thought of a passage in James 2. I may go into more depth concerning this chapter later as it pertains to living faith and how works are important in proving your faith is alive. But this is the verse that came to mind when I read Matthew 8.

19You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

It's not like our believing in God is something "special." Even demons believe that. I believe they know more than we do and this is why they recognized Jesus and referred to some "appointed time" in the future.

So Jesus heals these demon-possessed men and the evil spirits are sent into a herd of pigs which run down a cliff and drown in a lake! The pig owners were stunned, shocked and ran into town to tell everyone what Jesus did! The town people come out to see for themselves and instead of being happy for the men delivered of devils who were hurting them, "they pleaded with [Jesus] to leave their region."

Apparently they were more concerned about Jesus destroying their livelihoods than changing human lives. I don't know. What do you think? Anyway I think it's a good lesson for us to not be so caught up in money and material things that we care more for the temporal than the eternal. People last for eternity. Things don't. Be joyful when Jesus changes lives and restores people.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Final Painting in the Gallery - Yours

Now that you've finished the book, pick up the brush. Now that you've read their stories, reflect on yours. Stand in front of the canvases that bear your name and draw your portraits.

It doesn't have to be on a canvas with paint. It could be on a paper with pencil, on a computer with words, in a sculpture with clay, in a song with lyrics. It doesn't matter how you do it, but I urge you to do it. Record your drama. Retell your saga. Plot your journey.

Begin with "before." What was it like before you knew him? Do you remember? Could be decades ago. Perhaps it was yesterday. Maybe you know him well. Maybe you've just met him. Again, that doesn't matter. What matters is that you never forget what life is like without him.

Remembering can hurt. Parts of our past are not pleasant to revisit. But the recollection is necessary. "Look at what you were before God called you," Paul instructed (I Cor 1:26). We, the adopted, can't forget what life was like as orphans. We, the liberated, should revisit the prison. We, the found, can't forget the despair of being lost.

Amnesia fosters arrogance. We can't afford to forget. We need to remember.

And we need to share our story. Not with everyone but with someone. There is someone who is like you were. And he or she needs to know what God can do. Your honest portrayal of your past may be the courage for another's future.

But don't just portray the past, depict the present.

Describe his touch. Display the difference he has made in your life. This task has its challenges, too. Whereas painting the "before" can be painful, painting the "present" can be unclear. He's not finished with you yet!

And what God begins, God completes.

"God began doing a good work in you, and I am sure he will continue it until it is finished when Jesus Christ comes again." (Phil 1:6)

So chronicle what Christ as done. If he has brought peace, sketch a dove. If joy, splash a rainbow on a wall. If courage, sing a song about mountain-movers. And when you're finished, don't hide it away. Put it where you can see it.

Put it where you can be reminded, daily, of the Father's tender power.

pgs. 191-192, He Still Moves Stones by Max Lucado

Friday, April 23, 2010

God's Art Gallery

Why are these portraits in the Bible? Why does this gallery exist? Why did God leave us one tale after another of wounded lives being restored? So we could be grateful for the past? So we could look back with amazement at what Jesus did?

No. No. No. A thousand times no. The purpose of these stories is not to tell us what Jesus did. Their purpose is to tell us what Jesus does.

These are not just Sunday school stories. Not romantic fables. Not somewhere-over-the-rainbow illustrations. They are historic moments in which a real God met real pain so we could answer the question, "Where is God when I hurt?"

How does God react to dashed hopes? Read the story of Jairus.

How does the Father feel about those who are ill? Stand with him at the pool of Bethesda.

Do you long for God to speak to your lonely heart? Then listen as he speaks to the Emmaus-bound disciples.

What is God's word for the shameful? Watch as his finger draws in the dirt of the Jerusalem courtyard.

He's not doing it just for them.
He's doing it for me. He's doing it for you.

pg. 190 He Still Moves Stones by Max Lucado

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Religious Legalism

"The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." (John 3:8)

All the world religions can be placed in one of two camps: legalism or grace. Humankind does it or God does it. Salvation as a wage based on deeds done - or salvation as a gift based on Christ's death.

A legalist believes the supreme force behind salvation is you. If you look right, speak right, and belong to the right segment of the right group, you will be saved. The brunt of the responsibility doesn't lie within God; it lies within you.

The result? The outside sparkles. The talk is good and the step is true. But look closely. Listen carefully. Something is missing.

What is it? Joy.

What's there? Fear. (That you won't do enough.)

Arrogance. (That you have done enough.)

Failure. (That you have made a mistake.)

Legalism is a dark world.

Legalism is slow torture, suffocation of the spirit, amputation of one's dreams. Legalism is just enough religion to keep you, but not enough to nourish you.

So you starve. Your teachers don't know where to go for food, so you starve together. Your diet is rules and standards. No vitamins. No taste. No zest. Just bland, predictable religion.

Can I give you the down and dirty about legalism?

Legalism doesn't need God.

Legalism is the search for innocence - not forgiveness. It's a systematic process of defending self, explaining self, exalting self, and justifying self. Legalists are obsessed with self - not God.

Legalism puts the fear of man in you. It makes you approval-hungry. You become keenly aware of what others will say and think, and you do what it takes to please them. Conformity is not fun, but it's safe. The uniform doesn't fit, but it's approved, so you wear it. You don't know why you are marching or where you are going -- but who are you to ask questions? So you stay in step and plod down the path of least resistance.

And if you dare explore another trail, you must do so at night, like Nicodemus did.

We religious teachers like to control and manage. We like to define and outline. Structure and clarity are the friend of the preacher. But they aren't always the protocol of God.

Salvation is God's business. Grace is his idea, his work, and his expense.

"God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him may not be lost, but have eternal life." (John 3:16)

Nicodemus has never heard such words. Never. He has had many discussions of salvation. But this is the first in which no rules were given. No system was offered. No code or ritual. "Everyone who believes can have eternal life in him," Jesus told him. Could God be so generous? Even in the darkness of night, the amazement is seen on Nicodemus's face. Everyone who believes can have eternal life. Not "everyone who achieves." Not "everyone who succeeds." Not "everyone who agrees." But "everyone who believes."

Note how God liberates the legalist.

39 Nicodemus, who earlier had come to Jesus at night, went with Joseph. He brought about seventy-five pounds of myrrh and aloes.40 These two men took Jesus' body and wrapped it with the spices in pieces of linen cloth, which is how they bury the dead.41 In the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden. In the garden was a new tomb that had never been used before.42 The men laid Jesus in that tomb. (John 19)

Strange how a man can go full circle in the kingdom. The one who'd come at night, now appears in the day. The one who crept through the shadows to meet Jesus now comes to the cross to serve Jesus. And the one who'd received the seed of grace now plants the greatest seed of all - the seed of eternal life.

quoted from pgs. 118-122 of He Still Moves Stones by Max Lucado

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"I wonder if Eve ever ate any more fruit."

So today I decided to take Michael to lunch. On the way I turned the radio to a music station, but Michael said, "Susie, turn it back to your preacher. I like listening to him." Flipped back to the CD I'd had on when I started the car.

Preacher started his message with a question: "If God asked you 'what do you want most in life?' how would you answer him? Think about it for a moment."

And then he pauses for a few seconds in which Michael looks up from playing with a Lego toy, smiles broadly and blurts out "Eternal life!"

The message was about Solomon being asked this question by God and replying that he desired wisdom, but I grinned at Michael's answer. Just before he blurted out his choice, I was thinking Michael would ask for more Lego collections, a Transformer or a new Bakugan game piece. So I was pretty pleased with "eternal life" if you want to know the truth! :)


In Max Lucado's book he starts off one chapter with a list of "I wonders." Things like

I wonder if Eve ever ate any more fruit.
I wonder if Noah slept well during storms.
I wonder if Jonah liked fish or if Jeremiah had friends.
Did Moses avoid bushes?
Did Jesus tells jokes?
Did Peter ever try water-walking again?
Would any woman have married Paul had he asked?

He continues, "The Bible is a fence full of knotholes through which we can peek but not see the whole picture. It's a scrapbook of snapshots capturing people in encounters with God, but not always recording the result. So we wonder:

When the woman caught in adultery went home, what did she say to her husband?
After the demoniac was delivered, what did he do for a living?
After Jairus's daughter was raised from the dead, did she ever regret it?"

Have you ever read the Scriptures and wondered what happened to this or that person who had such an amazing encounter with God? Here are a few from me.

Did Barabbas - the robber freed instead of Jesus - return to a life of crime?

I wonder what Jesus said to the little children who were brought to him.

Did Balaam feel sheepish when he fed his donkey every morning as he remembered his donkey speaking to him -- and his replying back to him?

Did Daniel ever go to the zoo and smile as he went past the caged lions?

I wonder if Zacchaeus ever climbed any more trees.

I wonder just how many hairs I have on my head and how many bottles of tears God has collected from me.

Do you have any to share?

quotes from pg. 165-166 -- He Still Moves Stones by Max Lucado

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Silly Susie Stuff

Niki aka Nocturnal Queen gave me an award. Thanks, Niki! I truly laughed this morning when I read what she wrote about my blog.

"Susanne - Most of what she writes is an honest look at scripture and Biblical principles. She tells things how she sees them, in a sweet and gentle way. Unless we're talking cruel religious oppression of women."

Ahahahahahahahah.....you mean my outrage to honor killings and polygamy shows sometimes? *batting eyelashes, glancing around innocently*

Now I have to list some random things about myself. I've done this so often, y'all probably know nearly all there is to know about me already including my shoe size. Let's see, hmmm.

I am very happy that God gave me many new blogging friends within the last year or two! Not so long ago, folks could "meet" others by snail-mailing letters across the country or around the world. Now, we can get to know others by social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook, visiting blogs and e-mailing. It's like the neo-pen pal movement and I looooooove it! It's amazing how often my "virtual friends" come to mind. I even pray for them as I take walks in the neighborhood and mow my grass. It's great how God brings you all to mind and how dear many of you have become to me. :)

By the way, I mow my yard on one of these.

I love the convenience and instantity (ha!) of digital cameras, but I was thinking one day of something I enjoyed in years past when I actually used a film camera. Once upon a time I didn't go to Walmart to get my film developed, but sent it off through the US postal system to a company that developed film cheaply and I got my prints back a few days later. It was always exciting to go to the mailbox, see the fat envelope and look at what pictures I'd taken, see how they turned out and remember the events where the memories were captured on film.

On that subject I take waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay more pictures now than when I actually had to buy film and later get it developed in order to see what I'd photographed.

And speaking of "instantity," I love making up new words from time to time! I know Amber does that on occasion, too. We are both cool like that. :)

Cool Me
April 17, 2010

I am quite an emotional person. Not to the extent of women (or even men!) in some cultures, but for one who grew up around "cold westerners," I'd say I have a little "Arab" in me.

Actually I don't think my people are "cold" at all. Sure we aren't as expressive as Semitic people, but neither are we as stoic as northern Europeans and Russians and some in the Far East are stereotyped to be. I live in the South and we have our share of emotional types, I'd say.

Years ago my grandfather sent me a package addressed to "Miss Personality." My family had been to visit and he was *ahem* impressed...errrrr, amused by how expressive I was in discussing things with him, I guess. Thankfully he seemed to like that about me rather than instruct me to be some demure obedient female.

I get slightly amused and a touch annoyed sometimes when people come across as if they feel sorry for me because I don't have children. Honestly I try to give people the benefit of the doubt and understand their cultural upbringing, but I had a huge laugh yesterday when an Iraqi man who befriended me on Facebook awhile back asked me about my children. When I admitted I didn't have any and that Michael was my nephew, he wrote back and said, "I pray to God to bless you with 10 kids!! .. 5 boys and 5 girls!!!" Aw, please, no. Why is a woman's value measured in children anyway?

I like to read way better than I like to watch TV or movies. Case in point, a church friend invited us to her house about a month ago. She lent me a bag of books and one movie. To date, I've read 7 and 1/2 of the books and still haven't watched the lone movie!

I went to a small Christian school and my graduating class only had 24 students. We were a pretty close bunch. Anyway, we had a thing called Senior Superlatives where we'd vote for Most Likely to Succeed, Class Clown and so forth. Any guesses for what I was chosen by my peers?

And, no, it wasn't Most Likely to Talk Everyone's Ears Off. Haha, ...aren't you the funny one? :)

Now I want to award . . .


Yes, you...the one reading this post. So consider yourself awarded and if you want to accept the award and do a post sharing about yourself, that'd be just super! Kindly leave me a comment so I can go to your blog and learn more about you!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Bruised Reeds, Smoldering Wicks, Jesus!

"A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out."

~ Isaiah 42:3 & Matthew 12:20
Old Testament prophecy attributed to Jesus

Is there anything more frail than a bruised reed? Look at the bruised reed at the water's edge. A once slender and tall stalk of sturdy river grass, it is now bowed and bent.

Are you a bruised reed? Was it so long ago that you stood so tall, so proud? You were upright and sturdy, nourished by the waters and rooted in the riverbed of confidence.

Then something happened. You were bruised . . .

by harsh words
by a friend's anger
by a spouse's betrayal
by your own failure
by religion's rigidity.

And you were wounded, bent ever so slightly. Your hollow reed, once erect, now stooped, and hidden in the bulrush.

And the smoldering wick on the candle. Is there anything closer to death than a smoldering wick? Once aflame, now flickering and failing. Still warm from yesterday's passion, but no fire. Not yet cold but far from hot. Was it that long ago you blazed with faith? Remember how you illuminated the path?

Then came the wind ... the cold wind, the harsh wind. They said your ideas were foolish. They told you your dreams were too lofty. They scolded you for challenging the time-tested. . . . .

The bruised reed and smoldering wick. Society knows what to do with you. The world has a place for the beaten. The world will break you off; the world will snuff you out.

But the artists of Scripture proclaim that God won't. Painted on canvas after canvas is the tender touch of a Creator who has a special place for the bruised and weary of the world.

A God who is the friend of the wounded heart. A God who is the keeper of your dreams. . . . Let's ponder the moments when Christ met people at their points of pain. We'll see the prophecy proved true.

We'll see bruised reeds straightened and smoldering wicks ignited.

Quoted from He Still Moves Stones by Max Lucado; pgs. 6&7

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Matthew 8:5-13 -- Astonished By Great Faith

Matthew 8:5-13 tells the story of a Roman centurion who came to Jesus on behalf of a servant who was paralyzed and suffering terribly at home. At this time many Jews thought visiting a Gentile home would defile them. I get that impression from this statement by Peter. Apparently it was one of those traditions people adopted as truth straight from God.

Peter’s words are both interesting and significant:

28 He said to them, “You know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile, yet God has shown me that I should call no person defiled or ritually unclean. 29 Therefore when you sent for me, I came without any objection. Now may I ask why you sent for me?” (Acts 10:28-29)

I find it interesting that Peter believes it is unlawful for him to associate with or visit a Gentile (verse 28). As I read these words, I asked myself this question: “Just where does it say in the Old Testament Law that a Jew cannot associate with a Gentile by entering his home?” I then came upon this statement by A. T. Robertson:

But there is no O.T. regulation forbidding such social contact with Gentiles, though the rabbis had added it and had made it binding by custom. There is nothing more binding on the average person than social custom.

I am therefore inclined to say that having social contact with a Gentile was not contrary to Old Testament law, but rather was a violation of Jewish tradition. source

Jesus heard this centurion's plea and immediately replied that he would go and heal the sick servant.

8The centurion replied, "Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and that one, 'Come,' and he comes. I say to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it."

One study Bible notes, "The Roman centurion recognized in Jesus an authority far beyond what most observers detected. He trusted in the power and word of Jesus. ..."

And what was Jesus' reply to this centurion's recognition of his authority, his faith in Jesus' ability to heal from afar?

10When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, "I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. 11I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

Another study Bible note: "Why is faith such a powerful trigger for the miracles of God? God delights to do extraordinary things for those who bank their lives on His goodness and grace. When we exercise faith in God, we're telling Him, 'I believe You.'"

Don't you love it when someone trusts you? When someone believes you? I remember a time a few years ago when someone asked if I trusted him to be telling me the truth. He rightly stated that there is no real friendship without trust. We all want to trust our family, friends and coworkers, right? There is not much worse than lack of trust in a relationship. It kind of makes you second guess everything the other person tells you, makes you nervous that what Friend says may not be what Friend is actually doing. How much worse is it when you cannot trust your spouse especially when thoughts of infidelity torture your mind? Point is our faith pleases God! In fact Hebrews 11 tells us without faith it is impossible to please God.

Notice how Jesus responded to this man's faith. He acknowledged it to those around him astonished that this great faith didn't come from one of the many Jews who had followed him and seen his miracles and heard his teachings daily. No, it came from a Gentile - a Roman solider!

I personally like the statement about many coming from the east and the west because as a nonJew this gives me hope that the salvation God offers isn't exclusively for the children of Israel, but open to anyone who comes to God in faith.

Lastly read this final verse and see how Jesus rewarded the man's faith

13Then Jesus said to the centurion, "Go! It will be done just as you believed it would." And his servant was healed at that very hour.

What if the man lacked faith and questioned whether or not Jesus could heal his servant from afar? Is this a lesson for us to boldly believe God for great miracles? How do we respond then when we come to God with faith yet our loved ones aren't healed? I know this is frustrating when we pray believing God can do great things, yet things get worse and worse. How do you deal with this disappointment? Does it hurt your faith in God's goodness? How do you justify what happens to make sense to you? Or do you just try to bury it in an effort to not question God?


Thursday, April 15, 2010

"The blessing of His presence"

"Most people would say that persevering through a problem made them a better person, but one must make a conscious choice to see it as an opportunity to grow instead of allowing a bitter root to take over. You have to want to see the blessing of it."

"Job 38:1 says, 'The the Lord answered Job out of the storm.'

God did not wait until after the storm was over to speak. In the midst of it he answered. I wonder if just the blessing of his presence is something we are to learn through the trials. If he is present with us, then grace is present. I've missed living with that truth, as sometimes I just focus on the difficult circumstance I'm facing. But I know if I take my eyes off myself and seek him, I'll find him there in the midst of my storm." (p. 174)

This is a quote from Eric Irivuzumugabe a survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. In a period of roughly 100 days, over 1 million people in his tribe were killed. That's about 10,000 people murdered every day!

Eric was left an orphan with two younger brothers to care for. His book,
My Father, Maker of the Trees, describes how he survived the genocide and the wonderful way God has worked in his heart since then to bring healing. I was amazed by several things in this book, not the least of which is how God has helped Eric forgive and reconcile with his countrymen. His is a testimony of how God enables us to do that which seems impossible.

Love your enemies? With God all things are possible!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Matthew 8 -- Touching An 'Untouchable'

1When he came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. 2A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean."

3Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" Immediately he was cured of his leprosy. 4Then Jesus said to him, "See that you don't tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them."

I was talking to a friend earlier today about how human touch is so important. I've heard of babies in intensive care getting better quicker when caressed by the loving hands of their parents or kindhearted caregivers.

Can you imagine being one of these people with oozing skin diseases or blemishes? The Law of Moses pronounced them unclean and they had to live apart from the rest of society. (See Leviticus 13:44-46) When someone happened to wander near them, the lepers were obligated to cry "Unclean! Unclean!" as a warning. They truly were "the untouchables" for if you touched them, you would be ceremonially unclean. And having to live apart from your family must have been such a sad existence!

Picture this man coming to Jesus and demonstrating such remarkable faith proclaiming that Jesus was capable of cleansing him. Jesus could heal this man and, in so doing, fully restore this person to his family, community and place of worship.

I love that Jesus said he indeed was willing, touched the man and ordered him clean. With a word from Jesus, a person's health and relationships were restored!

My Quest Study Bible notes this:

Though he upheld the spirit of the law, Jesus could be accused by his critics of breaking the letter of the Old Testament law about lepers: to touch anything ceremonially unclean was forbidden (Lev. 5:2). Since lepers were unclean, they were banished from the community and dressed as mourners grieving their own death (Lev. 13:45-46). By touching an "untouchable," Jesus demonstrated his authority over the law. He cared more about people's needs than about religious ritual.

This reminds me of the post I wrote where Jesus told the Pharisees to go and learn what "I desire mercy, not sacrifice" means. I believe people matter to Jesus more than religious traditions. If your rituals are getting in the way of your treating people with kindness, rethink things.

For a more thorough study on this passage, please visit The Gift of a Leper.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"'God' is truly a polluted human word"

Traveled: to Virginia with a friend over the weekend

Enjoyed: spring in the foothills and along the Blue Ridge Parkway

Otter Falls
Blue Ridge Parkway
April 10, 2010

I read this a few minutes ago and found it thought-provoking. It is excerpted and edited from Proofs of God's Existence by Richard Wurmbrand (1909-2001) who was tortured and imprisoned in Romania for his faith and teaching of Jesus Christ. He is the founder of Voice of the Martyrs. This was written in a context of people who deny that God exists.

Search yourself to see if there is some complex of antipathy that makes you deny God's existence. Terrible things have been done in the name of God, and great stupidities have been preached or written as His revelation. "God" is truly a polluted human word. In His name statues of monsters have been declared to be holy.

In His named religious wars, often the most bitter and intense, have been fought. In His name inquisitions were carried out. Nazi soldiers had "God with us" inscribed on their belts. For this reason believers are called to the reality signified by the word "God." It is important to distinguish carefully between name and reality. Let me emphasize that unless a person distinguishes well, he cannot think well.

For more about Richard Wurmbrand, click here.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Matthew 7 -- ASK & The Narrow Way

"Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount."

-- OMAR BRADLEY (1893-1981) US general

This post ends Jesus' Sermon on the Mount as found in Matthew 5-7. I've covered most things from the final chapter, but there were two teachings I wanted to bring up before moving on to chapter 8.

First is a reminder of how important is it for us to ask, seek and knock. I'll just copy the verses here since they say it all better than I could.

7"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

9"Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."

It seems Jesus wants us to remember how good and gracious God is. He is not some stingy Being who will give us snakes and rocks when we need fish and bread to eat. If you feel your diligent asking, seeking and knocking is not working, I encourage you not to give up! Trust in God's goodness in meeting your needs.

13"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

My Quest study Bible has this to say about this passage:

"The narrow road and narrow gate symbolize the challenge presented by the way of the kingdom. It's a road of suffering and self-denial, not the path taken by the majority."

If you go back and review all the teachings from chapters 5 through 7 then think of all the people you know who are truly living this way maybe you'll get the idea. How many of us go the extra mile, don't harbor hatred or lust in our thoughts, love our enemies, seek first the kingdom of God and store up heavenly treasure rather than hoard earthly possessions?

Remember Jesus says those who hear these sayings and put them into practice are the wise ones who will stand when the storms come.

Next time...chapter 8!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Changing Cultural Practices

How often do I hear or read on blogs, "That's not true [fill in religion of your choice]. That's only culture/tradition."

I know Christians are sometimes slammed for daring to go into other nations in order to share the good news about Jesus. Critics often charge them with trying to change the culture, and while I admit we should never arrogantly feel our culture is superior to all others, I do believe most cultures could undergo some changes which would make them better. (Yes, I know my "better" may be different than your "better" therefore it's subjective. Still...)

I was reading the Spotlight article of the latest In Touch magazine and Linda Canup shared about the group Leeland doing their summer tour in Southeast Asia. They wanted to support the people in their fight against poverty -- not by just throwing a bunch of money at the problem, but helping communities become self-sufficient. Here is one illustration of someone changed not by Americans imposing their "western values" on a non-western country, but by maybe Someone else.

This is about the family of a rickshaw driver whom they met.

"In Hindu culture," he explains, "the wife cooks, but she eats last." However, after attending a biblical class on equality, the rickshaw driver went home, and when his wife started to walk away after cooking the meal, he called her back. They both sat down and ate together, equal amounts, as a family. The husband said, "I ate less than what I usually eat, but I've never been more full in my entire life."

So if God changes someone's heart to the extent that husbands are kinder and more equitable to their wives...that, in my opinion, is a good thing. Some cultural practices are worth changing. Especially by God.

Can you think of some cultural practices that need to go? Can you think of cultural practices that were changed for good or bad due to religious influence?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Happy Resurrection Day!

"I am the resurrection and the life.
He who believes in me will live, even though he dies."


You may enjoy Chiara's interesting post Passover, Pasqua, Pilgrimage: Yeshua, Jesus, and Isa

Welcome back, Amber who was gone from the blogging world for Lent!

Matthew 7 -- Those Troubling Verses - Part 2

This is a continuation of yesterday's post which was inspired by a comment on "Gatecrashers & Relationships." I'd encouraged you to read both to make more sense of these thoughts.

In yesterday's post I concluded that I wanted to explore the possibility that Jesus' instruction to "do the will of God"(Mt. 7:21) meant more of a works-based salvation. This is a departure for me since I strongly lean on the works-are-a-result-of-salvation side rather than the we-do-good-works-to-earn-salvation side. That's because I think it's God working through us that produces good, however, for the sake of Sarah's comment let's assume the latter is true and our salvation is more secure if we do more good works. Yeah, I know we all ultimately believe it's the mercy and kindness of God that gives us salvation, but I also realize many believe more good works equals more chances that God will favorably deal with us.

So my quest was "what good works are necessary?" Am I to follow Moses' Law, Muhammad's Law, a mixture of the two, neither of those - what exactly does God want? I read Matthew 7 and kept reading until a short passage in Matthew 9 got me to thinking. It reads simply:

10While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" came and ate with him and his disciples. 11When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?"

12On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

Jesus' reply to go and learn what this means lead me to the Old Testament - Hosea, Micah and Isaiah. I believe we are all familiar with the Jewish Law and the need for sacrifices so why would Jesus tell the religious Pharisees to go and learn something about desiring mercy and not sacrifice? Should we take the hint and also learn what this means?

First note that Jesus said he came not to call the righteous, but sinners. In fact he is sitting there fellowshiping with sinners! I'm almost positive these "sinners" aren't keeping all of Moses' Law so why would Jesus visit and eat with such people? Is it that the Pharisees are already safely in the fold so Jesus didn't need to waste his time trying to get them into God's kingdom? Or is it that Jesus shuns those who are self-righteous, those relying on their good deeds, those who tithe even from their spices (see Mt.23) in an effort to appear "good enough" before God and men? Why would Jesus speak this way to men who are doing all these good works and why would he seemingly favor the cheating tax collectors and community prostitutes? Does this not seem backward?

Keep in mind that Jesus was famous for summing up the Law and Prophets by saying simply: "Love God with your heart, soul and mind and love your neighbor as you love yourself." And also in verse 12, he said "in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you."

With all that in mind, here is a sampling from three of the Old Testament Prophets.

From Hosea 6

6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

From Micah 6

6 With what shall I come before the LORD
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?

7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

8 He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

This next one is especially meaningful. How often have we gone through the motions of saying a prayer (and for some in proper form and with "the right words"), going to church out of tradition, done this or that simply because it was expected....not necessarily because we have a heart for worshiping God and pleasing Him. Based on these passages from Isaiah, I'd say God doesn't get pleasure out of rote, ritualistic tradition, but rather out of sincere reverence and worship and relationship with His creation. What do you think?

Isaiah 29

13Then the Lord said,
"Because this people draw near with their words
And honor Me with their lip service,
But they remove their hearts far from Me,
And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote,

Isaiah 1

11 "The multitude of your sacrifices—
what are they to me?" says the LORD.
"I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.

12 When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts?

13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your evil assemblies.

14 Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts
my soul hates.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.

15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even if you offer many prayers,
I will not listen.
Your hands are full of blood;

16 wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds
out of my sight!
Stop doing wrong,

17 learn to do right!
Seek justice,
encourage the oppressed.
Defend the cause of the fatherless,
plead the case of the widow.

Could it be that God prefers some good deeds over others? Perhaps treating people right is better than the show of outward piety? How many of us are really impressed with the religious garb of priests when we later find out they were molesting children? Do you not believe our actions towards others counts a great deal more to God than our setting aside a tenth of our spices and wearing the right clothes and covering our hair and entering the bathroom with the left foot or not eating pork or shellfish?

If Jesus met you would he visit with you, fellowship with you because you knew your need for God to clean you? Or would you be among the (self) righteous having little need for God? Would GOD be your Savior or are you doing just fine on your own? Would Jesus celebrate your acknowledgment of your need for God or would he say to you as he did to the Pharisees...?

23"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

25"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

27"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. 28In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

Ouch! I don't know about you, but I cringe at the thought of these words being said to me! Whether we believe good works are necessary for salvation or that they are a result of salvation, let's all seek to give more weight to treating others justly, kindly, with mercy and grace. It seems to me that God favors my treating you with love and compassion over my wearing of blended fabrics, my nonkosher kitchen or my lack of a head scarf.