Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Family Ties

Relatives...we all have them. The Bible is big on relatives. There are even chapters dedicated to informing us of lineages. As for myself, I often gloss over these long lists of names of who begat who. It's overwhelming and dry for me. Repeatedly, I have to tell myself that those names are there for a purpose. Sometimes the reason pops up at me and sometimes it doesn't. All the same, I have to admit, it can be hard to get through the lists.

So what's my point about relatives? Shortly after the lineage of Noah is given (Genesis 10-11) Abraham comes into the picture under the name Abram. In Chapter 13 he makes a strange statement that stood out to me. Abram tells Lot in verse 8, "...for we are close relatives". That got my mind rolling. Why would looking over the land remind Abram that they were close relatives?

If we don't read through the laundry list of names we miss the mention of how the enemies of the Israelites were distant family. I often thought the Canaanites (Genesis 10:6, 17-19) and the Philistines (Genesis 10:14) were totally unrelated to the Israelites. I have no idea where I thought they came from, but all the same I thought they were strangers to the people of God.

But when mankind was given a second chance at life after the flood, man from that point on was related to one another. Then there came the Tower of Babel. In that one night, families became strangers and yet they were still relatives. Ah, the birth of strange family ties.

If you look at who was alive at that time and how far down the lineage Abram was, you realize that not much time had passed. So as he walked through the promised land, he was walking around the land owned by distant relatives. Ah, sometimes distant relatives can be people who interest us to a point we wish we could be more like them. Then there are those we wish would go away. The idea of being related to people who act, think, or look so differently from us can be hard to swallow. This is where I think we find Abram in Chapter 13. While Abram may not have understood the Canaanite people around him, he knew of them as family – distant family. That's why he reminded Lot they were close relatives.

It's interesting that these distant relatives fought each other over land and possessions. And then as time passed, these family ties melted away and they no longer saw each other as related in any way. Keeping peace between nations was not always an easy task - the Bible is full of battles that prove that point.

What's even more interesting is that through Jesus we become close relatives again. The family of God, right? But, it's more than a blood thing. It's a unification through the Spirit of God. We can meet a stranger for the first time and feel the bond of the Spirit uniting us in conversation and action. Giving us that feeling that we have known each other for years. God's plan brings us back to the way family ties should be.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

New Year - Old Memories

Recently I attended a church service where the message was a call to love God. Not just exalt Him and acknowledge His presence but to really love Him. There were several key points made about showing God how we love Him. Of course, Matthew 22:35-38 was referenced, but the main message centered around Deuteronomy 11. After a few days I wanted to review the points made so I started by reading the chapter but ended up receiving a lesson of promises and warnings.

In the reading, the Israelites were instructed to remember what God had done for them and to continue clinging to His directions. If they did this then things promised to go very well for them. Yes, they were about to experience something they never even knew to dream about. But God is telling them that they will have valleys and hills and water.

Coming out of a desert region where they had no place to hide from any desert storm that blew - no valley, no hill, no cover - a place with hills and valleys sounded wonderful. Then there's water. When you think of deserts, you think of dry mouths from the lack of water. The new place sounds like the place to be.

But God speaks to the very nature of man in this chapter. When things get going well, we tend to forget about God. Hence, the warnings. In order to continue the new harvests, new wine, new olive oil, lush pasture for livestock, and food for eating then they needed to keep God's anger away. It wasn't that hard a thing to do. They were to love God, talk about God, and follow whatever God decreed for the people to do. Following this, He would drive out opposing forces. Sadly, we know from the other books in the Bible that they failed to hold to this simple instruction.

As I read the chapter, I felt the Lord was speaking to me about the new year and the continuation of the new path I am on. All of us are heading into a new year full of new experiences. Some of these we can see coming, like having a president who is not the normal politician. But, mostly, the new year holds mysteries; some big and some small, but definitely something different. This new year promises to bring me new experiences I've only dreamed of, like the publishing of my first novel, One Way Out.

God has always been with me, but in the past year I have seen His hand of provision and encouragement in new ways. He has taught me through His Word, and held me when I was lonely, sorrowful and angry. The lessons He has given me, the patience He has shown me, the love He has imparted to me through others has opened my eyes to how important I am to Him. We all are. Knowing it completely is the tricky part. 

Near the end of the chapter it states that God has been cultivating this new land. I get the sense that this new year is one God has been preparing. Who knows what all we have ahead of us. I do know that the land the Israelites took over had hills and valleys. That means there will be good times and tough times in our coming year. There will also be water. Jesus said His water would cause us to never be thirsty again. This year may bring us plenty of Jesus so that our souls' longing is quenched. (John 7:37-38; 6:35; 4:13-15)

I like the way the end of the chapter reads in the Message version. When we enter the new year we will be at a crossroad. As is the way of God, we have freewill. We choose what path we take. We either remember and follow God and thus receive His promises, or we ignore what He's done for us in the past and fall into the curses that follow.

This new year is a new adventure for all of us. We are entering a time that God has had His focus on. He has tended it and has prepared it for us to enter. I don't know about you but my plan is to do my best to remember what God has done for me and to follow the path of promises so I can soak up all that God has for me. God will bless our steps and actions and take us to places we didn't think were possible.

Monday, December 5, 2016

A Season of Loneliness

My mother used to tell me I didn't understand how lonely she was after my father passed away. I tried to help her, telling her to call me whenever that feeling set in and I would come. Then she would tell me that sometimes her loneliness came when she was with people she loved. No matter what I did I failed to help her completely. Recently through my own experience I realized she was right that I didn't truly understand the sea of loneliness she sometimes faced.

This revelation came at the arrival of the holiday season. Suddenly, without warning,  like a tsunami coming from an unknown direction, I was stunned to find myself struggling with a deep loneliness. Like being dropped in the middle of a deep steep-walled ravine with no one to hear my cry. The feeling of abandonment I fought through back in the spring returned to reek havoc once again. The tears flowed and I found myself in a battle for stability. Yet, when I focused on Jesus and His presence I found a peace that relaxed my nerves. It was as though the wave of loneliness got kicked out of the stadium.

As I struggled to keep my attention on God, King Saul came to mind. I hated to think I was like him, someone who didn't love God. But I had to ask myself, "Did King Saul feel this way?" 1 Samuel 16:16-23 tells us his relief from a troubling spirit came only when David played the harp. Interesting to note, King Saul never cried out to God in any way. (There's no mention of him doing it, so I can only assume he didn't.) He rested in the advice from king-pleasing-servants and in his own strength. Hmm. I wonder, if he had cried out to God would he have struggled so much? All I know is that each time I sang along with the praise music and cried out for Jesus to help me I felt the heaviness lifted.

The sermon at my church the following weekend spoke about taking refuge in Jesus during our battles with emotions and sins. After speaking of how God provided Old Testatment cities of refuge for the Israelites our pastor pointed out that Jesus is the New Testament place of refuge. (Hebrews 6:18-19)

Oh, I must say that even after conquering the sea of loneliness there have been moments when I feel it trying to encroach on me once again. But each time, I try to stop it in it's tracks before my emotions can kick in too far. Instructing my mind to focus on God's promise brings relief.

I'm not alone. I have Jesus with me always. I've been informed that the holiday seasons will bring some of this battle, but that in time there will be no more episodes. I need to remember it's a path that I must traveled to the place where loneliness cannot nor is able to enter. I look forward to that day.

Thank you Jesus for Your Presence with me. With You there is always hope.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Painful Peace

There I was on the massage table for the first time, a place I swore was stupid and unnecessary for anyone. But the ENT told me my issue could just be a nerve reaction to tight muscles, so I was giving it a try. The massage therapist moved his skillful firm hands up and down my back slowly. I could feel the tightness alleviating. Then he hit one spot that brought pain. With my groaning announcement he returned to the exact location and applied more pressure.

Can you say pa-innnn? Sensations of discomfort shot out in all directions, like sunbeams spilling out from behind clouds. Until that moment, I thought massages were suppose to be relaxing. At least, that's what I'd always heard. The pain from that one spot reached out to my hip and jaw all at once. I wanted to jump off the table and run as far away from the therapist's hands as I could get. My thoughts scrambled like water beads on an oily surface as I fought to gather them together while tension raced through my body. Then the therapist tells me, "Relax." Relax!? I thought he was nuts. "Relax and take slow deep breaths." He said in a calm quiet voice.

Despite my feelings to the contrary I tried it anyway. And as tough as those instructions were, he was right. As I took deep breaths and focused on relaxing in the midst of those shooting pains I experienced the sunbeams returning to their starting point and then fading away to a fraction. By the end of that first session, my initial problem wasn't solved but it was not as great a problem as it had been when I first entered that massage establishment.

That was many years ago and I have since become a big advocate of massages. They have made a difference in my overall well being. I have learned so much about the body and how a tight nerve-muscle knot in one location can affect the pain you experience in a completely different location of the body.

You may be wondering what my whole point in this story is. Well, currently I'm attending a Bible study on 1 Peter. And the lesson's focus the other week dealt with being at peace when you are going through tough times. That seems like a difficult thing to grasp. Our eyes so often are transfixed on our immediate problems...getting a job, keeping peace in the family, paying all the bills on our income while trying to enjoy life, raising a child, teaching a teenager to drive, the list goes on.

God calls us to look to Him. To lean on Him. To call to Him when we have trouble. And more importantly, to not worry about what tomorrow will bring. (Matthew 6:34) When I was dwelling on these verses I remembered my massages and how important it was to relax. If I can learn to relax and deep breath as I ask God to help me with my concerns then maybe all that's left for me to do is watch Him work and take care of things. That sounds so stress free and so much more peaceful than spending hours worrying about the what-if's. I need to practice this more often, with the big things and little things. How about you? Have you given it a try?

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Senior Moments

Have you ever had a moment when thoughts flitted out of the thinking path of your brain and evaporated into the great unknown of space? Or, walking across the room intent on doing a specific action you forget where you're headed or what you're suppose to do when you get there? This is the essence of a senior moment for me. It's frustrating and comical at the same time. How can I just lose a thought? I'm happy when it only takes a moment of reflection before I remember and I can continue in fulfilling my goal.

What does frustrate and confound me is when this kind of a thing seeps into my Christian walk.

With all the lessons I've learned over the years, I should have Christianity down to a fine art by now. I would think that actions lacking any sign of a Christ-like love would be obsolete. Right? "Senior moments" of forgetting what I've learned from God shouldn't exist. I should flawlessly be exhibiting Christ's love all the time. But that's not what happens to me. There have been times when someone approaches me the wrong way, or a vehicle passes within inches of my car and I find myself amazed how quickly rude intonations pepper words proceeding out of my mouth. Comments spill forth before I realize it and I'm left wondering where the words came from in the first place. Hello, where is the love of Christ in this? It's a terrible time to have a senior moment.

And then there are the times I can be going along seamlessly and all of sudden I find myself bouncing off ill spoken words directed at me. Followed by hours struggling to embrace the fact that I'm God's precious daughter and that I am loved. Why the struggle? The words should slide off my back and find no foothold in my mind or spirit. Oh bother, another senior moment.

These are the gut reactions that bear witness to the fact that my inner being is still in need of a good Christian clean-up. How can this be? Years of studying and reading the Bible should be manifested in my behaviors. Why do the applications of these lessons seem to vanish in one moment of reacting to the world or the actions of someone who managed to hit my weak spot? But, as I've thought on the humorous and non-humorous side of this I've discovered a couple of things.

I am no different than some of the people I read about in the Bible. I take some comfort from this. Let's look at Moses for instance. Did you realize that he was in his late seventies when he went to Egypt to rescue the Israelites? And after witnessing God's miracles one right after another, he did a no-no. (Look at Deuteronomy 34; Numbers 20) The way I understand it, as a long-time believer in God, Moses allowed his anger to affect his actions when he struck the rock rather than speaking to it. So, when I struggle with my outbursts, it is not something new to God. He knows people who were stronger in their faith and still failed.

When I fail to speak lovingly or without condemnation in my voice I realize that my Christian walk is an ongoing process. Even after years of being in the Word, I still have room for improvement. I will never be as good as God. I will always need His forgiveness and His grace. That's the way it's suppose to be.

What I can do is practice taking several deep breaths and silently calling on Jesus to guide my words. Slow to speak, remember? (James 1:19) I am blessed that I serve a God who is patient with His flock. He knows I'm trying and that each day I improve so that my senior moments as farther and fewer between.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Did You Know?

I have two "did you know" statements to make today.

Did you know that Paul may not have stopped traveling after he arrived in Rome for the two years of his house arrest? The possibility of this is new to me. I have always thought that once Paul arrived in Rome he never left the place, that his days of traveling were over. But, in reading Chronological Study Bible I learned that there are ancient sources that report that Paul was released from the Roman imprisonment after his two years.

There is a church historian, named Eusebius, that dates Paul's death in A.D. 67. That places his passing four years after he was released from house arrest. This information explains how he traveled to Macedonia as mentioned in 1 Timothy 1:3 and Spain as mentioned in Romans 15:28. Interesting, don't you think?

The second "did you know" has to do with slavery in Biblical days, at least in the times of Rome. While the book Philemon has a lesson is forgiving those who deserve full punishment, it brought the subject of slaves to my attention. When I think of slavery I think of the cruel manner in which many of the slaves were treated in our country. They worked the land but owned nothing, and ate only what was portioned out to them. They could be beaten at will, whether deserved or not.

Looking further into ancient slavery I discovered a few things. If a Roman slave misbehaved, or escaped and then was returned, the slave could be beaten and tortured. Similar to what I mentioned above.  But on the upside, they could own property, including their own slaves. They could even buy their freedom from their master. If positioned in a house of wealth they could save money, buy their freedom and then with the help of their former master find a place in society. (This is according to Chronological Study Bible)

God did not condemn slave owners. He, however, addresses slaves as to their behaviors, see Paul's writing in Colossians 3:22-25. You see, slaves were a part of how life functioned in those days. Matthew 18:23-35 and 25:14-28 give us a glimpse into some of the freedoms and responsibilities that slaves, servants in the KJV versions, had in the days of the Bible. 

Those are my little tidbits for the day.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Olympic Conflicts

There are so many things I love about the Olympics. It probably starts with the number of competitions I would otherwise not view on the TV. And, every four years I'm introduced to a new sporting event. Then there's the tear-jerking back stories on athletes from around the world that help us to cheer on many competitors in their final drive for the finish line.

With a few exceptions the athletes appear to have respect for the skill of those they compete against. What does break the "spirit of the games" is when an athlete or coach must file a complaint with the judges or referees. Unfortunately, over the years a sense of bias has played into some of the decisions made. But, this isn't the conflict I want to mention. 

The conflict rolling around in my mind started at the end of the Opening Ceremony. I didn't get to see it from the beginning but I did get to see the lighting of the torch. The magnificent sculpture has to be the most beautiful display of the Olympic fire that I have ever seen. And as the fire works went off around and above the top of the stadium the screen shot switched to the birds' eye view of the statue of Jesus in the foreground with the stadium down below.

The commentators on many occasions have mentioned that the people can look up from any location and see the statue of Jesus with His arms spread out ready to receive the people. The camera often ends a segment by showing the Olympic stadium from the birds' eye view with the statue in the foreground. It's a great picture.

As I looked at the screen shot I got to thinking. Isn't that how our lives should be? Shouldn't we be able to look up and see Jesus ready to spend time with us. And, also serving as a reminder to us to mind our manners.

Ironically, the people of Rio De Janeiro are known for their partying lifestyle. Did you see some of the outfits the women were wearing as they danced in front of the opening ceremony crowd? I'd say they have little inhibitions when it comes to their celebrations. Sadly, there's also the city's high crime rate to be considered.

How interesting. Here they have the ever visible statue of Jesus that they are so proud of, and yet down below in the city, the party lifestyle allows for actions that might not equal the call Jesus places on any of his believers. So I ask myself, do I do this?

Do I allow myself to be a part of actions or activities that celebrate or embrace something Jesus doesn't call me to do? Do you? How easy is it to have Jesus in our sights and still do the wrong thing? We know He's there calling to us, beckoning us to Him. And yet we continue in our desires, not acknowledging that what we are doing brings Him sadness rather than joy. It's definitely a conflict I think we can all relate to in some aspect because none of us is perfect. But He is. And He continues, just like the statue, to hold His hands out ready to receive and forgive each of us.