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

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Today ...

I was told I read extremist blogs so it's no wonder I have the wrong view of Islam.

Now I'm trying to figure out which of your blogs are the extreme ones!  :D

On Twitter, I saw this funny quote which Andrew and I both laughed about:

"What is the thinnest book in the world? Biographies of Happy women."


He wants to remember it to share with others.  :-)

Hope you are having a wonderful last day of November!  I haven't put up my Christmas tree yet.  I thought about doing it tonight, but they are talking about a possibility of severe storms with damaging winds (shudder!) and I'd hate to go to all the trouble of putting up the tree and decorations only to have my house destroyed and all that work be in vain. 

Samer told me today that I was a pessimist. Not about this, but about something else.  Maybe he is right.  :)

So, I read a good quote about emotions following our thoughts so we should be careful what we think about. So true.  I notice when I read certain books, they make me think a certain way and then my emotions often get angry, sad, irritated, disgusted and so forth. Can y'all tell I read today about a woman mistreated in a polygamous marriage? 

Actually the book (Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks) isn't that bad.  I like many of the stories and found the tales of the women of the UAE being trained by American women soldiers very interesting!  The instructors said they had to revise their methods and started lavish praise for good behavior rather than harsh criticism of bad behavior.  "These women of the UAE," they said, "were raised to please" so they responded well to praise and not good at all to the harsh mannerism of military drill sergeants.

Speaking of our thinking influencing our emotions, I wonder if Paul had this in mind when he encouraged the Philippians this way:

 8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

If we fix our minds on God and how He has everything under control, we can have peace and joy even in tough circumstances. It's when we dwell on our problems that they seem to loom large, multiply and make us anxious and sad and fretful.

OK, so go have a wonderful December!

That's an order!  ;)

Drill Sgt. Susie signing off

*at ease*

Monday, November 29, 2010

Matthew 20:17-34 -- That Strange, Strange Jesus!

Continuing on in Matthew 20, we have Jesus predicting his death and resurrection. He told his disciples it was coming, but I suppose it was so, ummm, radical to talk about your own death and being raised to life, that they likely dismissed what he had to say or pondered it as just one of those eccentric things Jesus sometimes talked about.  Perhaps it was one of those parables he was so fond of that the disciples didn't always get at first listen.  Maybe they were too literal to "get" Jesus' more spiritual meaning.

Speaking of oddities, how about the moral at the end of this little exchange? I'll bold it for you. I want you to see this strange talk.

 20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.
   21 “What is it you want?” he asked.
   She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”
   22 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”
   “We can,” they answered.
 23 Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”
 24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus called attention to how the rulers of the Gentiles lorded over people, but he said "not so with you."  Jesus told them if they wanted to be great not to ask to sit at his right or left hand in his kingdom, but to serve others.  For Jesus, the way to be great was to serve!  Radical!

No wonder he is so great!

I also noticed from this how Jesus asked if the brothers were prepared to drink his cup (vs. 22) and then how he said they indeed would drink from his cup (v. 23).  That could be nothing but the way it was translated or a nit-picky thing I noticed during this reading, but still.  Jesus drank the cup, we drink from it.  Maybe only small sips or a gulp or two here and there. But he drank it all.  What does this cup represent to you? And drinking from it?

Don't you love how Jesus didn't come to be served, but to serve others!  He's so different from most leaders who want special privileges and exceptions to the rules. I respect people who lead by example.

The chapter ends with two blind men calling out for Jesus to restore their sight.  The crowd told them to hush, but instead they hollered louder.  Jesus stopped, asked what they wanted and when they asked for their sight,

 34 Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.

I love this Jesus who can give sight to the blind and wants to serve others rather than be served! 


Sunday, November 28, 2010

November Books & More Book Talk

I read so few books this month compared to most!  I did read, but I guess I just didn't finish as many. That Zachary Karabell one took so much time reading, writing notes, reading, writing notes...hehehe!  Plus we went on a short vacation and it was Thanksgiving and excuses, excuses.  I think I was busy reading all of YOUR blogs!  Did I ever tell you how much I learn from them?  :)

I went to the library yesterday and found a whole slew of books that I want to read.  I made a "master list" last night in my notebook of book, author, which local library and where they are located on the shelf. I think I have 15 or 20 books on that list!  Plus I added a few to my Amazon wishlist that people have recommended or else they were Amazon suggestions that seemed interesting. Can you believe until about three years ago I rarely read non-fiction books? I liked them when I read them on occasion, but I just mostly read Christian fiction. I guess now is my time to catch up on the non-fiction world.  It's soooo interesting!

I'm reading Nine Parts of Desire presently, but I doubt I'll finish it before the month ends since I just started it late last night.  I found it at the local library yesterday and it seems interesting although it's a bit old now.  So here is my short list for November. 

Children of Jihad by Jared Cohen -- see this post for more details

Peace Be Upon You: The Story of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Coexistence by Zachary Karabell --see previous posts and here is the concluding notes

In this final chapter, the author spoke of the rise of fundamentalism yet challenged us all to remember there are still examples of Muslim, Christian and Jewish coexistence. He gave examples from not-too-far-in-the-past history like Jordan and Israel (although he said many Arabs believe the Jordanian kings to be Western pawns). He gave the example of Dubai and how it has taken capitalism global and built its society on people of all faiths and cultures working together.  He mentioned the Sawiris family of Egypt and the emir of Dubai as people who "are not trying to restore a golden age...not driven by a sense of grievance, ... [but] simply working with the world around them" trying to better the lives of themselves and their families.

He reminded us that this fundamentalism is not something we should project back into history as the way things have always been because as this book has shown, this simply is not true.  Fundamentalists have forgotten the "ecumenical spirit of the Abbasid court, the medieval philosophical tradition that celebrated interpretation and reason, the mystical traditions that emphasized God's love, and the relaxed attitudes toward People of the Book.... Instead, they imagined a time when Islam was the alpha and the omega, when everyone from the caliph to the slave imbibed the piety of the Quran and the tradition of the Prophet, and then in return, God graced his believers with power, fortune, and security."  (pg. 269)

Karabell notes that Jews, Muslims and Christians are all guilty of focusing on the conflict.  He noted that "each tends to paint the past as a series of indignities suffered at the hands of the other two."   Westerners often believe Muslim societies are "backward and intent on war and violence" whereas many Muslims "believe that the West bears ill will toward Islam and Muslims and wants not peace or coexistence but economic and cultural domination." (pg. 280)

He reminds us that "if conflict is what we want to see, there is conflict.  But if peace is what we are looking for, then peace is there to be found."  (pg. 285)

The Face Behind the Veil by Donna Gehrke-White -- see previous post

The Overton Window by Glenn Beck -- I saw this in the fiction new books section and decided to read it.  Not the most thrilling "thriller" I've ever read by far, but I could relate to the message of power corrupting people for sure!

What interesting books or topics have you been reading about lately?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

My View on Christian Rules

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

Sometimes in the course of "religious" discussions I've come across people who express a sense of amazement at how few rules and regulations there are in New Testament Christianity.  I'll say this up front that I am from more of a Protestant background so I can't speak of Tradition that Catholics and perhaps Orthodox Christians adhere to. Maybe the rules are in Tradition.  But for me, I tend to let the Bible be my guide. And while there are many wonderful aspects to the Old Testament - like examples of faithful men and women of God and the glorious promises of God in the Prophets and the Psalms written by David and others - I tend to base much of my life on the life of Jesus as described by his followers in the New Testament.

And, no, there are not a lot of rules.

In fact Jesus summed up all the Law and the Prophets with this: love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as you love yourself.

And when asked who was considered a neighbor, Jesus gave the equivalent of the Israelis and Palestinians today by using a Samaritan man as the hero in a "Jewish story."  So, yes, even your enemy is considered your neighbor and Jesus said you need to love him or her like you love yourself.

Still people want guidelines.  What do we do in the case of divorce? What do we do in regards to inheritance rights for women?  What do we eat? What about this or that or the other situation here?

Most of the people who have expressed surprise - OK all of the ones - have been Muslims who are used to very detailed instructions on things they must do, things they must not do, suggested ways to do things and preferred ways to do things. I know I bring this up on occasion, but it's because I was so shocked when I first began studying more about Islam and saw they even had suggested ways to enter, use and clean yourself after using the bathroom.  Apparently the ahadith is chock full of rules and regulations so a Muslim used to such a way of life is appalled at the lack of direction we Christians must face!

Christ frees us from the weight of rules. We are free to love God and serve others!

You know how I think? 

God gives us principles for living in this world.  Some of us He put in restricted nations like China where in some areas you cannot worship God freely.  Some He put in free countries where we can worship or not worship God such as is the case in my own country.  For whatever reason, God put us in all kinds of countries with different levels of freedom. Do I think He wanted the believers in God who are scattered all over the globe to come together and make a nation called God's Country or Christendom or Islamostan?


I think people have tried such things and failed!  Did Christianizing the Roman Empire bring Jesus' qualities of love for enemies and "going the extra mile" and "the greatest among you is the one who serves" to the people en masse?

We wish!

Instead it seems power corrupts. Whether that is "Christian" power or "Islamic" power or atheistic power, we have to guard against corruption.

I believe God wanted us to have His principles for living and then to live those out within the countries in which He placed us.  Society changes for the better when God changes hearts and lives not when we are made to wear certain clothes or not do this or that by legislation or police enforcing good morals. And for certain marching into other lands trying to change people's minds by sword or bombs is not the answer!

I still remember when I read Karen Armstrong's book and she said Muhammad cared about his family and friends in Mecca so he tried getting their attention by raiding their caravans.  This seems so bizarre!  You show you care by stealing from others?

For those from Europe marching into other lands: you try to convert the masses while at the same time you steal their natural resources?

For me, Jesus gave us guidelines on how to live.  He lived at a time when Palestine was occupied by Romans yet he never called for an uprising although a number of the Jewish people were ready for that.  This is one reason Jesus was rejected as Messiah! The Jews thought their Messiah was going to free Palestine from the occupying Romans.

But Jesus came instead with a message of love and turning back to God. It seemed he was more concerned with their spiritual states than the fact they were physically occupied by an infidel nation!


So no I don't have a list of rules telling me how much I can inherit, how many other wives my husband can take or even my rights in the case of divorce.  I live in the United States and my country has a number of rules covering such issues.  My spiritual role is to live like Jesus within my own country. 

And for you, the same.

One who loves doesn't need rules to tell him how to treat others.

Love God.  Love others.

Whether you are in the United States, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, China, Britain or Venezuela.

If we love God and love others - and treat people like we want to be treated ourselves - just how many rules and regulations do we really need? 

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law." (Gal 5:22,23)


Friday, November 26, 2010

Matthew 20:1-16 -- The "Unfairness" of God

"It's not fair!"

"Life is just not fair!"

Have you ever heard these words before?  Maybe if you are like me, you've heard them come from your own mouth a time or two. Or maybe you've heard this from your child and had to give him or her the ol' "you're right so get over it" speech (or a variation of it) that I heard from my mom.

I can't explain or really understand why some people have good lots in life while others struggle merely to survive. Why some have the touch that makes most everything turn to gold while still others seem to be born losers. Why was I born in a country at a time where I don't have to struggle for my rights to vote, have a career or the freedom to express myself even if I'm critical of my own government and leaders?  I live in a nation where I can worship God freely, in a church and read my Bible without having to look over my shoulder to see if the police are coming to take it away because they hate what I believe God is saying to me.

I've read stories out of China where people in rural areas hide their Bibles because authorities there want to confiscate and burn these illegal books and imprison those who have them!  I can't imagine such an existence because I've always had freedom.  Likely I've even taken this freedom for granted wrongly believing it's the way most people in the world live.

Then I hear from my friends in Syria who can't legally access certain websites like Facebook, Blogger (this blog!!), YouTube and Amazon because that country wants to control its people or something!

Back to fairness, I was reading this passage in Matthew 20 and wanted to ask to whom you could most relate in these verses and what your thoughts were on this parable that Jesus told concerning what the kingdom of heaven is like.

1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius [the usual daily wage for a day laborer] for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
   3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went.
   “He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
   7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.
   “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
   8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’
   9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
   13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
   16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Did you find yourself identifying with the workers who had been slaving away in the hot sun all day thinking they should have received more than those who had only worked one hour?  "It's not fair! We worked all day and these guys only worked an hour and you are paying them the same!"  Or were you OK with being paid the exact same since you agreed upon the usual daily wage and that is what your employee paid? It wasn't as if he broke his promise, right?  

Who will admit to being envious because the employee was generous and paid those who worked only 1 hour the same as those working 8 or 10 or 12?  Don't you think the employee was unfair for having paid everyone the same when some worked much harder and longer than others?

How does this parable relate to the kingdom of heaven since this is what Jesus said the whole point of it was?  And what does "so the last will be first, and the first will be last" mean? 

What lessons can we learn from this parable?  What "lessons" do you think the Chinese person who has to hide his faith might know from his situation that I might not know as one who has taken these freedoms for granted?  Do you see how in some ways he may have the advantage?  I daresay it makes a stronger believer if one realizes confiscation of property, torture and imprisonment are at stake for faith in Jesus Christ as opposed to one like me who believes in a nation that is favorable to Jesus.  Adversity tends to make stronger - more dedicated - believers. I admire my brothers and sisters in Christ who have faith in spite of opposition and unfairness.

Do you agree with how I titled this post? Do you believe this parable demonstrates the "unfairness" of God?  Do you agree that His "unfairness" can be a good thing? If you don't like the title, how would you rephrase it?

Thoughts on any of this?

Thursday, November 25, 2010


 1 Bless the LORD, O my soul;
         And all that is within me, bless His holy name!
 2 Bless the LORD, O my soul,
         And forget not all His benefits:
 3 Who forgives all your iniquities,
         Who heals all your diseases,
 4 Who redeems your life from destruction,
         Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
 5 Who satisfies your mouth with good things,
         So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (Psalm 103:1-5)

So today was Thanksgiving and we had a great day with the family. We went to my sister's house and ate around 12:30. Lots of good food!  My plate looked something like this

though I got this picture off Google Images and now that I think about it, I don't remember if I ate any meat.  I really prefer carbs like potatoes and mac and cheese and vegetables and rolls and stuffing and ... well, yes, I did get full.  :-)

We spent some time looking through the ads and my sister and her husband may head out around midnight for a few of the sales. Some people just like the excitement of shopping and crowds, I reckon!

Food and materialism aside, this is Thanksgiving so I want to also say this:

I am so thankful to God for all the blessings He has given me -- a wonderful family, sweet friends and just so many things that I too often take for granted!  I want to especially mention how thankful I am that YOU are part of my life. I truly enjoy all the wonderful people I've met through blogging.  I've learned a lot from you and I appreciate your willingness to share a bit of your time and words of wisdom and even friendship with me.  

Thank you!


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Matthew 19:16-30 -- Choosing Riches Over Eternal Life; the Value of Serving

 16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
   17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”
 18 “Which ones?” he inquired.
   Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”
 20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
 21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
 22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. 

Why do you think this young man was willing to give up eternal life for the sake of money? Do you think Jesus asked too much of him?  Why did Jesus give him this particular command in order to "be perfect"? It seems the man was moral, upright and kept all the commandments, yet his money was his god.  He would rather hold onto his earthly possessions than "have treasure in heaven" and follow Jesus.  The young man wanted eternal life, but he wanted his possessions more. 

 23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”

I recall reading that Jews thought a sign of God's blessing was material wealth, prosperity and such.  Remember when all those bad things happened to Job his friends asked what great sin he had done in order for God to treat him this way.  No wonder the disciples were shocked! If a rich person (one they thought was living right, therefore, God was blessing) was so difficult to get into the kingdom, what hope had those of little means?

 26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
 27 Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”
 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.

Unlike the rich young man who kept all his earthly possessions in exchange for eternal life, Jesus promises bountiful blessings to those who follow him. 

30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

Remember in God's kingdom, the greatest is the one who serves others.  Anyone can lord over others and demand people give him rights and privileges.  But God resists the proud.  Jesus stated in Mark 10:45

"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."

Any thoughts, questions or comments?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Matthew 19:13-15 -- Atheism, IQ, Security, Wealth & Children

Yesterday I skimmed an article from two years ago, Atheists are more intelligent, but does intelligence lead to atheism?

It contains such interesting ideas as these:

"one reason for the decline in traditional religious beliefs in industrial societies is that an increasing sense of technological control over nature diminishes the need for reliance on supernatural powers"

I get this.  People can explain things scientifically instead of having to believe a Higher Power was somehow in control.  Worshiping and sacrificing in order to appease the gods who controlled the weather or fertility didn't matter so much as technology improved and people could better control some things in their lives.

"increasing material wealth in Western Nations in the 20th century lead to increasing IQ"

This one puzzled me as I couldn't understand the correlation between wealth increasing one's intelligence (I had this wrong visual of someone winning the lottery and immediately adding 20 points to the IQ!) until I went just now to read a bit about IQ on Wikipedia. I had the wrong idea about intelligence quotient (IQ) thinking it was something one was born with instead of considering the variety of factors that can influence it (e.g. nutrition in childhood, having been breastfed, nurture, personality traits, musical training and so forth).  So now this statement makes better sense and I can see why and make the jump from increasing material wealth to increasing IQ to atheism. 

Because ...

"a secure life equals a life in which people can free themselves from religion."

This reminds me of why people often say suffering draws them closer to God. When life is going great and everything is falling into place, what use then is there for God?  But when your wealth can't buy health and your doctors and medicine fail or when your child is addicted to drugs and you throw up your hands in despair because it seems there is no solution, faith and trust in God is often what we hold onto.  There is that need for hope that something can be done, somehow, somewhere by Someone bigger than sickness and addiction.

So what does all this have to do with the next part of Matthew 19? 

Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.
 14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15 When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there. 

and the parallel passage in Luke

 15 People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18)

It's just that when I read that article about intelligence leading to atheism verses such as these came to mind.

Children: examples of the greatest in God's kingdom

1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.  (Matt 18)

 25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.  (Matthew 11)

It made me wonder why Jesus specifically mentioned changing to become like little children, the kingdom of heaven being made up of such like children and his praising God for revealing "these things" to little children instead of the "wise and learned."  Did he see that in the future people would have technological advances, more material wealth, secure nations with good armies and they would no longer see any use for God?

Was Jesus encouraging future generations to remember their need for God?   If we think this world is all there is to living then I can understand one wanting to live it up, acquire wealth so she can travel and experience all the goodness and thrills of this life. However, what if there is more? What if this life is like a vapor compared to eternity? 

The article stated:  "As children grow up, they are less likely to agree with statements like 'I believe there is a God' and 'God means a lot to me'."

Were these messages from Jesus concerning children and child-like faith a reminder to us not to forget the awe and wonder of God?

What do you think of the article?  What do you think of Jesus' words concerning children that I mentioned in this post?  Do you think I should have considered the article and verses separately and I am way off in my thinking by linking them together this way? Please share your thoughts on either or both. Do you think my reasons for why technologically-advanced, wealthy nations have given up on the idea of God make sense? How would you explain it differently? What does Jesus mean when he says we must be like little children to be part of God's kingdom?


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Matthew 19:1-11 -- Thoughts on Marriage and Divorce

I need to pick back up in Matthew and continue what I started earlier this year. Join me in chapter 19 which begins with a discussion of divorce.

 1 When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. 2 Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.

 3 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

When reading this yesterday I was wondering what the test here was. I mean, how did they want him to answer?  Was there a trick for him to avoid?  Did he pass their test or get caught with the wrong answer?

   4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

While rereading these few verses I mused at truly what a beautiful picture this is if you stop and think about it. Especially when you take into account other Biblical passages about how men are supposed to treat their wives like Christ treated the Church (the believers). For instance, Paul says Christ nourished and cherished it and so men ought to love their wives this way. 

When you leave your momma and your daddy to unite with your wife, you and she become ONE - a unity - in God's eyes. How then can you abuse, disrespect, humiliate or neglect part of yourself?  When your tooth is hurting, you do something to help it feel better. You clean and groom your hair, cut your nails, wash your face. You take care of yourself.  Men, if your wife is part of you and, women, your husband is part of you, treat that part of you with honor, love and respect! 

We don't give up a tooth or toe or arm without some pain ..or without a fight! I don't know many people who would cheerfully and willingly give up a leg. Even people with life-threatening injuries grieve the fact they must sacrifice a toe or leg in order to halt a disease that could kill them.  An injured soldier doesn't readily give up a crushed limb. Why then do we often treat our spouses as people we can give up? Why would we fight more to keep a toe or hand than to keep our other half?

Marriage: when 1 + 1 = 1

I think Jesus wants us to consider this. We are ONE in God's eyes. Two halves that make a beautiful whole. Don't give that up!  Fight for your marriage.  Honor, love and serve one another. Consider the other better than you consider yourself. If both men and women seek to do this, I think a lot more marriages would still be intact!

 7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
 8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

Only because of the people's hard hearts did Moses allow them to divorce. I've heard Jewish men would sometimes divorce their wives because she burnt dinner, wasn't pleasing to him any more or whatever other reason he could think of. Apparently women back then didn't have anyone much to defend them in this so I am glad Jesus spoke up telling these men "from the beginning" this - divorce for little-to-no-good reason - was not God's plan for marriages.

Remember God is about relationship...and not those fickle, shallow, I'm-only-here-when-things-are-goin'-good kinds. He's there for us in the good and bad and He loves unconditionally and intimately. He has that 'anyway' love as opposed to that 'because' kind.  What do I mean by this?

Conditional love says because you are good-looking, kind and make a lot of money, I will stay with you.

Unconditional love says even though you forgot it was our anniversary, have a nasty temper when things are not going in your favor, and ran up massive debt on the credit card, I love you (anyway.)

 10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”

Were these men conditioned to having an easy 'out' if their women didn't please them?  I'm puzzling over their statement here.  Is the prospect of staying with a spouse for life and actually working on your marriage with honor and love so difficult that they would rather not try?

 11 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”

It seems some people would rather stay single in order to devote themselves to God's work. This is fine for those to whom this lifestyle has been given by God.  But marriage is honorable as well.

I saw a few headlines just this past week about how the idea of traditional marriage is becoming obsolete for many Americans. Do you agree that the concept is outdated?  Do you believe people divorce too easily or are divorces too difficult to obtain? Thoughts? How has divorce (or marriage) impacted you or someone close to you?

Muslim Women in America

I'm reading a book I found at the library last week published in 2006. The Face Behind the Veil by Donna Gehrke-White is a collection of stories of fifty Muslim women in America. Some grew up in America as second-generation immigrants while others are converts who have ancestry here going way back. Others came seeking asylum from war-torn areas or even abusive husbands.  The book includes ten stories for each of the five groups:   The New Traditionalists, The Blenders, The Converts, The Persecuted and The Changers.

Most of the stories are quite inspiring, and so far I've especially enjoyed the Blenders' stories.  One lady in particular is fighting multiple sclerosis yet she has such a wonderful attitude. Plus she grew up in an area of Florida where her family was the only Muslim family so her best friends in the public school were evangelical Christians.  Like herself, they didn't drink, do drugs, dressed modestly and so forth.   She said she had a lot in common with them and the reason this resonated with me is because Samer and I came to these same conclusions early on into our friendship.  And, yes, I know not all evangelicals are like me nor are all Muslims like Samer. It was just a very broad generalization we made ages ago that I liked seeing reflected in a small way in this book by one of the ladies who grew up among more conservative Christians.

The Converts' stories were of great interest especially their reasons for converting to Islam. Granted these were only ten women out of many, many more, but I was struck that nearly every single one of them came from broken (divorced parents) or abusive families.  I think only one wasn't and her father died when she was young.  Maybe that was just a weird coincidence, but it did stick in my mind!  At least two of the women mentioned Catholicism, namely one saw her daughter sing to the Virgin Mary in a children's program and that struck her as idolatry. Another mentioned kneeling in front of a statue of Mary and idolatry came to mind again.  In the case of Cathy, she grew up in a nonreligious family, but wanted her children to have a faith.  Since some in her extended family were Catholics, she tried the Catholic church first, but the people at this particular church were not very welcoming or friendly and she was desiring more of a faith community which she found among the Muslims.  Also she was angered and turned off by the Catholic church's failure to address the sex abuse scandals and condemn them right away. She was the one whose daughter sang to the statue of Mary during a program.

Two of the women grew up in the Bible Belt South -- Louisiana and Mississippi. One was Japanese American and the other African American. They grew up in conservative churches. The black lady's father (divorced from her mother) was a Baptist preacher.  She didn't like the racism that she thought the churches supported back then and this made her disillusioned with Christianity.  She eventually joined the Nation of Islam which still later mellowed into her following a more orthodox version of Islam.  For the lady of Japanese ancestry, she was saddened by her church's new bus policy when they decided they would no longer pick up black children for church services.  A few ladies mentioned growing up in faiths where leaders or grandmothers said "just accept it by faith and don't ask questions." This was a turn off to those who wanted answers to their questions.

For these women and others mentioned, their reasons for accepting Islam included:

Islam promotes strong families
helped them during difficult lives
promotes education
makes more sense to them than the Holy Trinity
wanted a faith more accepting of all (important for those who thought Christianity was racist)
promotes women's rights
Islam was "more liberating to them"
"enriches their lives"
"gives answers about diversity and human rights"
they were able to "keep their birthright" meaning their maiden names when marrying

Not everything was good. Many did not like how some cultures made women inferior, but they insisted this was not Islam.  Also a couple had problems with "underground polygamy" in the US where "brothers" would take advantage of their newness to the faith, try to marry them only for them to later find out these brothers already had wives. Also one convert's daughter who grew up Muslim decided to marry early. She was just six days past 16 when she married an Egyptian professor twice her age. He later took her with him to Egypt where the marriage soured within a year or two.  She had to fight to keep her child with her, but the judge in South Dakota ruled in her husband's favor (since he was more educated and able to provide for the child) so her daughter was taken back to Egypt with him.  Other Muslim women reported abusive husbands and/or fianc├ęs. One lady fled to the US to escape a first cousin whom she met later in life, agreed to marry and then realized he found nothing wrong with hitting her - repeatedly!

Overall though the stories are positive and I've enjoyed getting to better know a few of the Muslim women sharing the United States with me.

I've read 191 pages and have 102 pages to go, but I wanted to recall some of what I read...thus, this post.

Have any of you read this book? It seems maybe Amber did now that I think of it. Did you? Aha, yes, I found your post about it.  I knew this seemed familiar somehow!  Read Amber's post if you want a better description of the five "types" of Muslimah in this book. She did a good job of explaining that and sharing a few things from the book that stood out to her.

Thoughts?  Questions, comments?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A week ago today ...

We went to Lover's Leap ...  (click pictures to see them bigger...unless seeing me bigger might scare ya - you've been warned)

Somewhere in Virginia

Didn't leap!

"Bewared" of the bears
Trust me, curly-haired, white girls are not good to eat -  so there!
.... 'cause I sho' nuff didn't want to be food for feed them suckers!

Saw Mabry Mill

Ya better rest up while you can...

closed for the season.

Nosed around the grounds

Happy to not be bear food

and took some pics.

Claimed my rock at Rocky Knob

"I'll stand on this rock so we can remember where this picture was taken."

Andrew claimed one too!

This rock put the "rocky" in Rocky Knob

Climbed a tree
I love this tree!
And Showoff there climbed higher!

Way to go, Andrew!

All of this is why our projected three-and-one-half-hours trip to Damascus - remember Damascus? -

House near downtown Damascus,Virginia built in 1889


Yep, you read that right.  

Pictures from November 13, 2010

Friday, November 19, 2010

Thanksgiving Day Tidbits - Part 2

Part 1
Thanksgiving Day hasn't always been celebrated at a set time each year like it is now.  In fact sometimes the colonists' leaders would ask for days of prayer and fasting after hardships like drought and then celebrate with a day of thanksgiving when blessed with beneficial rains.  The Continental Congress asked for a day of thanksgiving for the victory over the British in the Battle of Saratoga whereas President George Washington declared a day of thanksgiving in recognition of the Constitution's ratification.

Jefferson: Too busy to proclaim any days to offer thanks?

President Thomas Jefferson never proclaimed any thanksgiving days and states often varied on its appropriateness. "A thanksgiving day was annually appointed by the governor of New York from 1817. In some of the Southern states there was opposition to the observance of such a day on the ground that it was a relic of Puritanic bigotry, but by 1858 proclamations appointing a day of thanksgiving were issued by the governors of 25 states and two territories."  (Wikipedia article

Hale: Her editorials influenced a President

Thanksgiving was not celebrated on a set day by the whole country until President Abraham Lincoln "prompted by a series of editorials written by Sarah Josepha Hale, proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day, to be celebrated on the final Thursday in November 1863."

Later the day was changed to the fourth Thursday which means sometimes Thanksgiving is celebrated on the the last Thursday (such as this year) while some years it's the next to last Thursday.  This was done in order to allow more of a Christmas shopping season between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I saw this on Wikipedia concerning this change and found it funny enough to share.

Despite a civil war in the nation in 1863, Lincoln made Thanksgiving Day a national holiday.

"Republicans decried the change, calling it an affront to the memory of Lincoln. People began referring to Nov. 30 as the "Republican Thanksgiving" and Nov. 23 as the "Democratic Thanksgiving" or "Franksgiving" [because this change happened under Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt]. Regardless of the politics, many localities had made a tradition of celebrating on the last Thursday, and many football teams had a tradition of playing their final games of the season on Thanksgiving; with their schedules set well in advance, they could not change. Since a presidential declaration of Thanksgiving Day was not legally binding, Roosevelt's change was widely disregarded. Twenty-three states went along with Roosevelt's recommendation, 22 did not, and some, like Texas, could not decide and took both days as government holidays."

I wonder what would happen if you had both Republicans and Democrats in the same family! Ha, ha!  Maybe Texas had the right idea and one could celebrate both the last and next-to-last Thursdays with good meals! 

The day after Thanksgiving - often referred to as Black Friday (and in this case "black" is something good unlike "Black Death" or "Black September") is the official start of the Christmas shopping season.  That's why my family often looks through the sales ads at some point on Thanksgiving afternoon to see if there are any "must have" deals for those crazy enough [that'd usually be my sister!] to brave the massive crowds.   The Thanksgiving edition of the paper is usually stocked with ads from stores trying to lure you to spend your money at their establishments.

Some people actually enjoy the excitement of Black Friday sales and get most all their Christmas shopping finished.

Do any of you plan to shop on Black Friday?  Can anyone tell me why it's called Black Friday and why the "black" is good in this case?  What do you think about Texas declaring both the Republican Thanksgiving and Franksgiving as national holidays?  Anything here new to you as it was to me?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Why I struggle with Christianity

Every once in a while I come across someone with the moronic notion that we should just nuke Iraq or Afghanistan to get rid of the terror trouble once and for all. As if such a horrible and extreme action which would kill millions of innocent men, women and children would rid the world of terrorists.  (People, look in the mirror!)

What's even more disturbing is how a few (OK, it's just been two people, but two too many in my opinion) will use the example of the Old Testament (OT) and insist "those people" were supposed to have been gotten rid of thousands of years ago anyway.


Somehow they have ignorantly and wrongly put all of that area of the world into God's directive to Joshua and the Israelites to take the land of Canaan that He had given them.  (Afghanistan and Iraq are parts of ancient Palestine?) So there are a few problems with that OT justification. First, that was thousands of years ago.  Second, if God told the Israelites to do this and they failed to cleanse the land of the wicked Canaanites, that doesn't mean we finish that task all these years later.  That I recall, God never told the United States to clean up any 'leftovers' that the directly-ruled-by-God Children of Israel failed to do.

Most importantly to me: if you consider yourself a follower of Jesus Christ you have to look to HIM as your example not Joshua or Moses or David.  Jesus came along and said you have heard it said "eye for an eye," but he changed things around.  We are supposed to go the extra mile, offer our other cheek, forgive and even *gasp* love our enemies!  So why in the world do I see people who claim to love Jesus say such evil things about those they perceive as their enemies? Is there any wonder people don't take Christianity seriously when our history is full of fighting, killing and doing damage in the name of the Lord?  Is this not taking God's name in vain by using God as your justification for perpetuating evil?

It's such a shame and crime that people look at the history of Christianity and scoff, but I can hardly blame them!  It's disheartening to see people who claim to follow Christ commit such heinous crimes against each other! Why are we not known for how loving, caring, serving and honorable we are?  Why instead are we known for what we are against, how we hate and fight and kill?

This is why I reject the religion of Christianity and oftentimes want to distance myself from the majority who claim to be Christians. If you are truly a follower of Christ, act like him!  Don't act like any ol' person in history who goes after his enemies. Do the weird thing and love and serve others like Christ did!  Put your own needs behind you and put another in the place of honor.

Why are people prone to use 'just war' as their guide and not this?

Do you think this is why Jesus said many will say until him "Lord, Lord, I did all these things in your name" and he will declare "sorry, I never knew you"? Relationship is key!  You can call yourself Christian all day, but if you don't know Jesus, you won't act like him. Instead you will act like your human nature wants you to act and the world will keep on mocking at how there is no difference, Christianity is unrealistic because look at the Christians...do you see them loving their enemies and serving others like the Christ did?

And for those who want to "nuke 'em all" under the justification that they shouldn't be around anyway because God commanded the Israelites to kill ALL inhabitants in the land yet the Israelites failed to complete their mission, don't forget Jesus never reiterated that call. In fact he deliberately went into areas of Palestine and ministered among those people. He didn't tell us to finish off what Joshua and David failed to do.

We are not better than Jesus. If you claim to know Christ, act like it by doing what he did. Start praying for your enemy instead of allowing the anger and hatred to take over.

Don't you want Jesus to one day say that he knew you?  Then get to know him and act like he would act. "Nuke 'em all" should never come out of our mouths if we are following Jesus. 

"Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord.  On the contrary: 'If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.'  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:19-21)


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Thanksgiving Day Tidbits - Part 1

So, someone asked me the other day if I'd tell a little about America's Thanksgiving Day and how it relates to religion and most especially Jesus.  The short answer to that is, it really doesn't.  There is no Thanksgiving Day set up for Americans in any religious text, although the Israelites were commanded by God to celebrate the bounty of the Earth in the Feast of Booths or Sukkot.

But, hey, we aren't Israelites so ...

Wikipedia writes:
Sukkot was agricultural in origin. This is evident from the biblical name "The Feast of Ingathering,"   from the ceremonies accompanying it, from the season – “The festival of the seventh month” – and occasion of its celebration: "At the end of the year when you gather in your labors out of the field" (Ex. 23:16); "after you have gathered in from your threshing-floor and from your winepress" (Deut. 16:13). It was a thanksgiving for the fruit harvest. Coming as it did at the completion of the harvest, Sukkot was regarded as a general thanksgiving for the bounty of nature in the year that had passed.

Since the first settlers known to start the modern Thanksgiving tradition were religious, likely they were influenced by such passages.  Also being thankful to God is quite an ongoing theme of much of the Bible especially in the Psalms and Paul's letters to the churches. (see a few Thanksgiving verses here

Other cultures have held thanksgiving days and festivals to celebrate the bounty of harvest.  The beginning of this article told about some of those including this one: "The ancient Egyptians participated in a harvest festival in honor of Min, the god of vegetation and fertility. Parades, music and sports were a part of the festivities."  While reading of the other cultures was interesting, the mention of parades, music and sports reminded me of the tradition here for many to attend and many more to watch (on TV) the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City. Also many Americans enjoy watching football games as part of their Thanksgiving Day.

Macy's annual Thanksgiving Day parade features lots of exciting things to see!

The period around Thanksgiving - especially the day before - tends to be one of, if not the busiest traveling days of the year as many people try to make it home to celebrate the long weekend. 

"Thanksgiving also stands out from other American holidays in the sense that it isn't tied to any specific religion, and you can pretty much celebrate it however you want. The only essential traditions are to enjoy a meal with friends or family and to give thanks for what you have. In the pantheon of holidays, Thanksgiving is about as simple as it gets."  (source)
Almost time to eat!

This is why some people prefer it to Christmas.  Yes, it can be stressful to prepare the big meal for Thanksgiving if you are trying to do it all by yourself, but at least you don't have to worry about buying gifts for family and friends and coworkers and pastors and teachers and, and, and... who already have way too much stuff!

"The holiday also honors American history, of course. In countless Thanksgiving plays, American children have told the story of the first Thanksgiving when the Pilgrims and the American Indians celebrated the autumn harvest in cooperation and acceptance." (source)

So true!  I remember in kindergarten we would make those little paper headbands with feathers and Pilgrim hats to wear at our Thanksgiving party.

We'd make hats similar to these and have popcorn and candy corn at our party too!

Any thoughts, observations or questions so far?  Do you watch the Macy's parade, football, have memories of wearing similar Indian hats and having popcorn at your elementary parties?  What Thanksgiving plans do you have?  What foods do you look forward to the most each year?  Trying anything new this year?  What are you especially thankful for this year?

Stay tuned for part 2 coming soon.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Home from Damascus!

On Saturday we left North Carolina to travel to Damascus. Did we go all the way to Syria? They say a picture is worth a thousand words so let's examine the evidence with just these four pictures (click to enlarge photos.)

A bed and breakfast in downtown Damascus

The road near the place we stayed
Main Street as seen from above
Here's a big clue!
You were right! We never left the country! What tipped you off? The lack of crowds in the street?  No minarets showing? The American flags in the first two pictures?   :-)