Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas Miracles

Have you ever thought about the little miracles God performed in order to bring us the hope that Christmas delivers? There's so much behind the scenes stuff to consider, so much more than shepherds seeing and hearing from angels in the sky.

First God moves a southern small town man, Joseph, to another small town up north. From a quick modern glance this doesn't set off warning flares. But on a closer look it does resemble a little miracle to me.

Joseph moved from renowned Bethlehem to can-anything-good-come-from-there Nazareth. This means he went from being located just off a main road leading to Jerusalem and the temple to a town positioned on a dead end road leading up a steep hill, where you couldn't see the place until you were almost right up on it.

This would be like going from walking thirty minutes to church to walking more than a couple of days to get there. And while there's a home Bible study group in town, all the major church celebrations still need to be done at the church now a couple of days away.

Not only was the distance a new issue for this righteous man, but his new town is in a part of the country thought to be a disgrace to the nation. Between the people slurring their words with other languages and keeping peace with the cruel Roman guards in the area, they were not respected by the rest of the Israelites. So now we're talking about going from an acceptable place to the bad side of the tracks. But Joseph goes to Nazareth anyway and miraculously stays.

While we don't really focus on the repercussions of Joseph following God's encouragement to take Mary as his wife, that in itself was a miracle as well. Joseph chose to put his reputation on the line and marry a girl who was already pregnant. Hello rumors. And then he has a woman living under his roof but he has to contain himself because he knows she must remain a virgin until the prophecy is fulfilled. Only with God's help was he able to do this. . .another miracle.

Then there's the census, which according to my commentaries occurred for some unknown reason. It didn't follow the need-to-take-a-census patterns in place in those days. But it was the means to get Joseph to leave Nazareth and return home to his family's land. Oh and by the way, a little food for thought, since Mary's family came from David's blood line also, more than likely her family came along for the census too.

And while our celebrations don't focus on these details as miracles, they are. God hasn't changed. He still works these little miracles into play, you know, putting the right people in the right place at the right time in order for his will and plan of action to take place and be fulfilled. We just never know what he has up his sleeve until we find ourselves in the midst of the bigger miracle.

May the miracles of the Christmas season bring you hope for eternal peace.

For a follow-up post on the birth of Jesus and the shepherds you can read my guest post on on December 26th.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Why Take Jerusalem?

Last week I mentioned David and his army finding the water tunnel that gave them access to take the city Jebus. The big question is, why did David feel compelled to take the city from the Jebusites in the first place?

Perhaps the draw for David may have come from the city once being called Salem when it was the home of God's prophet, Melchizedek, to being in the hands of a foreign people, the Jebusites. (Genesis 14; Psalm 76, Judges1) But, according to The Bible Knowledge Commentary the city was located in neutral territory because no one had conquered any of it since the nation returned from Egypt. I say neutral because the nation was already divided between the northern and southern kingdoms when David began his reign. I somehow overlooked that fact.
When David settles his army on the hill near what would be called Jerusalem he challenges his men to find a way into the city. It wasn't until they captured the walled city atop the steep hill that the two locations were united into one city and then called the City of David.

What I find interesting is that the Jebusites were so confident that David wouldn't find a way into their safe haven city that they taunted him (2 Samuel 5) by saying even the lame and blind people in the city could defeat him. Can you imagine how much arrogance it takes to bring lame and blind people into an argument that might lead to fighting? I've always wondered why both sides were picking on those weaker people. I feel sorry for them. They couldn't fight for their home let alone fight off David's army.

In any case, David and his army took the city and established it as the headquarters for his kingdom. Did you notice he used parts of the former names to unite into one name, calling the place Jerusalem? It united the nation and the people. And, eventually, David brought the ark and the temple to Jerusalem to the high hill where everyone could see God's resting place.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Where's the water?

Did you know that the Romans had aqueducts around Jerusalem? At one point I figured they brought the water into the city so that they would be able to follow their traditions of bathing. But recently I discovered the water was already there. I've heard about the Gihon Spring, but I didn't realize the significance of the city's water source, even before it became the City of David.

Before it was known as Jerusalem the city was called Jebus, and had remained in the hands of the Jebusites for centuries. It was quite secure, mainly because it had a steep hill topped with tall walls. And in addition to that, the Jebusites achieved a remarkable feat. In order to hold off attackers for an extended period of time and secure their safety, they needed access to the water at the base of the hill. So the Jebusites carved out a tunnel.

And this tunnel was quite a task to build - descending to the water level then digging out sixty five feet in order to reach the mouth of the spring at the base of the mountain - all of this done through solid rock. And then they hid the entrance to the tunnel, which until King David and his army arrived on the scene remained hidden.

According to the Chronological Study Bible the tunnel still stands to this day and is viewed by visitors to the city.

I find the hidden entrance aspect fascinating. Imagine all the people who tried to capture the city from the Jebusites never finding the entrance to the tunnel. And then there's the fact that some of the tribe of Benjamin peacefully lived at the base of the hill along side the Jebusites.

I've got to wonder what the Benjaminites thought to themselves centuries later when King David and his army found the secret entrance leading up to the city at the base of the mountain. Did they wonder why their people never found the secret way in? Or were they in no hurry to fight for the mountain? In any case, you've got to admit it's interesting how long that spring entrance remained hidden.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thank you

How easy is it for you to say thank you? It's easier for me now than it use to be. Sadly, while I may have been thankful, I didn't always say thank you. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving but it's also Hanukkah. According to the Jewish Jewels newsletter, for the first time since 1861 the first day of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving Day fall on the same day. How cool is that?

After reading the newsletter, I learned that the Jewish holiday is centered around giving thanks and that it isn't a mandated celebration from God. Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of oil and how God kept the oil burning in the Temple. The Maccabees, who stood up for God when it wasn't popular or politically correct, put into motion this eight day long celebration that focuses on giving thanks to God for his miracles.

Thanksgiving, on the other hand, I feel has slowly become a time to be thankful for who and what we have in our lives. As I well know, being thankful is different than giving thanks. To be thankful is to feel grateful, or pleased, or satisfied and so on. When we're thankful we don't necessarily tell anyone about it, or give them thanks for their part in it.

The coming together of these two holidays directs us from just being thankful to speaking gratitude. So who are we giving thanks to? Are we acknowledging just the people? Or, are we also thanking God who has allowed the blessings and provisions in our lives?

One of the verses read during the Hanukkah celebration speaks of the sacrifice of thanksgiving. (Psalm 116) Have you ever wondered why it's a sacrifice? While I haven't thought of it as a sacrifice I do understand the difficulty in sometimes getting the words out of my mouth.

The Jewish Jewels newsletter quoted Rabbi Naftali Hoffner, who basically said that speaking thanks puts aside our self-centered attitudes and gives credit to God. Think about it. When we say "thank you" to someone for their action we show appreciation that they made an effort to help us or care for us. The same holds true when we thank God.

According to the writings of Paul in Thessalonians, we're to give thanks to God in all things. This is not always a natural thing to do. When we're suffering it's so much easier to say, "why me?", "I don't deserve this!" But the newsletter pointed out that when we thank God while we're going through a tough time that we're believing God to show his goodness and mercy in bringing an end to our hardship. And, in giving him thanks we bless him.

Wow. All through the Psalms it speaks of blessing God. I didn't realize that in giving God thanks I was blessing him. What a concept. This Thanksgiving I hope we can all remember to give thanks to God for the people and provisions we are thankful to have in our lives.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Dividing Equally or Not

Have you ever looked at the maps in the back of your Bible? They're wonderful, aren't they? Helps me to get a better picture of how things were situated. But, I have to say the map displaying how the holy land was distributed between the tribes of Israel has me wondering, what they were thinking when the land was divided? I mean Simeon is an island in the midst of the territory belonging to Judah. That would be like putting Rhode Island in the middle of Texas. Awkward.

But according to several sources when Joshua assigned land parcels among the nation, he had to base it on the size of the tribe and the land features. So he looked at the rivers and valleys and hills making sure every tribe could meet their need for water, had a way to plant and harvest, and could graze their livestock. Not having a system to survey the land for boundaries they measured the split by cities. It would be like splitting up Texas into sections and telling one group you can have the area from San Antonio to Austin and over to Fredericksburg.

I find it interesting that centuries after Joseph provided food and shelter for his family from the infamous famine, the tribes of his two sons are granted the most fertile lands in the area. And like some families, they still grumbled that they didn't receive enough land. What were they thinking? They got the biggest portion and they still complained?

Also, curiously, the small tribe of Benjamin had to be placed between the two biggest tribes. The commentary, Bible Knowledge Commentary, explains it was to curb any rivalry between the two bigger tribes. Interestingly enough, that small tribe had no problem holding onto its humble track of land which became the site of several important cities years later. . .Bethel, Gibeon, Ramah, Jericho, and Jerusalem. They may have been small but they were entrusted with much.

I do like that Joshua and the nation put the tent of meeting in a central location for all the people to come and worship God. Of course, the Levites were sprinkled among the tribes to keep the people's focus on God. . . it's like having a church and pastor in every town. It's cool when you think about it. God placing spiritual leaders near communities for support and guidance; he still does.

While the map continues to look strange to me, at least now I can make sense of what happened back then that led to such an interesting arrangement. Just goes to show, there's always a reason for the way things were done.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Now What?

So the nation of Israel obliterates Jericho, now what? Well, they've got to get to Mt Ebal and Mt Gerizim if they're going to complete the instructions given to them by Moses back in Deuteronomy 27. To get there they have to pass the city of Ai, which they eventually burn to the ground. (Joshua 8)

Now, what the writer of Joshua leaves out is a reminder of just where these mountains are located. They take the ridge route through the hill country of Canaan to get there. And right at the base of these mountains is the historically significant city of Shechem.

Do you remember Shechem, or the mountains? I didn't. These two mountains, which by the way are hills by some people's measurements, with their city are the center of traditional stories that would have been told down the generations. Tales relating the building of altars to God. The recounting of God giving a good and healthy land to their father Abraham. And, stories of their father Jacob ridding the family of foreign idols so that they would remain focused on God in heaven.

It was all tradition and stories until the day they stepped into Shechem and stood in front of one of the mountains. Then it became real. Standing along side the other altars built by Abraham and Jacob was now the altar Joshua built in front of them. Can you imagine how they felt when the realization of being as important to God as their fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob hit them?

And where they were told to stand doesn't really matter because the small valley that lies between them has an amphitheater effect according to A Visual Guide to Bible Events, so they would have heard everything said anyway. The group in front of Mt. Gerizim hears the blessings that will be received if they follow God's instructions. The other group, in front of Mt Ebal, hears the curses that will follow if they drift away from those same instructions or act unseemly. (Some of the reasons for curses are quite interesting; you should check out Deut. 27-28.)

But, in the end, what a perfect location to be reminded that this was their land, given to them by God. It was theirs to fight for and reclaim. Now that's encouragement to keep up the good work.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Crumbling Walls

Several weeks ago I wrote about the crossing of the Jordan river by the Israelites. I've learned a few things since then.

Did you know that where they crossed the river was an important ford when the river was low enough to cross? I didn't know that. That was one of the things Jericho defended. If it was like the medieval days of Europe they probably exacted tax money from travelers seeking to sell their wares in Canaan.

And speaking of Canaan. . .because of it's location Jericho guarded the area as well. Any invading army had to try to get by the fortified city first. And from what I've read it was the largest city in the area. If an army didn't conquer Jericho they most certainly would have been attacked from the rear as they made their way further into the land.

Those two things alone make the city worth attacking. But, there's one more reason to take the city. Did you know that the city was near or right at a spring that gushed loads of water daily? I didn't. This means that not only did they have an optimal location by the river Jordan they had water within the walls of the city more than likely. It must have been like paradise.

But paradise sometimes comes with a price. The Hebrew-Greek Study Bible mentions that the people of that area buried children in the foundations of the walls and gates. Disgustingly unbelievable. Right?

What would give those people the idea to do such a vile thing? Did they think "the gods" would honor their work and keep them safe? Did they think it made their walls impregnable because the spirits of their young would help protect their parents who lived within the walls? Who knows?

I do know one thing. It's rather befitting that the wall they put so much into would fall without the use of weapons or manpower. Think about it. . .they were so afraid of the people who just crossed their powerful river that they locked everyone behind closed doors. No one could leave the city, and no one could come in.

For six days they watched as the Israelite army quietly marched around their city, one time each day. How odd it must have been for them to see seven men without any form of protection carrying rams horns leading the way in front of the very object that caused the water to stop flowing. Their nerves must have been reeling.

Then when the city expected a seventh episode of marching the army does something different. It marches seven times instead of one and then blows trumpets and yells. Can you imagine their surprise and fear when the very thing they depended on for protection crumbles all around them? Without force?

I can't imagine what other vile things were done in this city that God would command that everything be burned, and that no one was to rebuild on this site. The authors of A Visual Guide to Bible Events points out that by not building a new city over Jericho the nation is forced to rely on God for protection and to place their trust in God's will for them.

We should learn from this. That no matter how strong we may think something is, our God is greater and can destroy it with the strangest method. His got our back. And, he will help take down even the most fortified and overwhelming struggle within us.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Who's In Charge?

Have you ever seen someone use friendship with a person in leadership or power as an excuse to change the rules to their personal need or liking? Or maybe, just not follow the rules at all? I'm sure you've heard a statement similar to this, "oh, they'll do it differently for me because I know. . ." I call it the 'exception rule'.

A perfect example of it can be heard lately on the news about Obamacare. Legislators who made a law forcing people to go through the government system to get insurance are considering whether or not their staff should have to go through the new system. Hmm.

Well, I'm not here to talk politics. But as you can see the practice of wanting to be exempt from rules is all around us in the physical world. So I have to ask, what about the way we approach the spiritual world? Do you ever act or think this way when you talk to or about Jesus? Or, the Holy Spirit? Or, God the Father?

I think it's a trap we can all fall into. After all, we're accustomed to calling Jesus a friend, or even a brother. And as we spend time praying and studying his word we get to know him even more. But in knowing him this way, do we forget who he is? Do we forget the respect we should show him? Do we slide into thinking we fall into the exception rule and forget all the expectations he has for his followers?

A point shared in the book, Listening to the Language of the Bible, is that in every synagogue is a cabinet, called the ark, which holds the Torah. Many times the words "Know Before Whom You Stand" are written above it. I love that. What a reminder for all of us.

God's not a political leader whom we elected to power. He's not the head of a company who rarely mingles with the peons who run the day-to-day operations. He's so much more than that. He's in charge of all things and this is his planet. Yes we can talk to him openly, but he is still God.

And, we would do well to remember that he can still do all those sci-fi actions you read about in the Old Testament. You know. . .making a donkey speak (Numbers 22), or raising up dry bones to life (Ezekiel 37), or growing a tree up overnight (Jonah 4). Just because he hasn't done them lately doesn't mean he can't or won't. He is after all the King of the universe.

I think if we remember these things, we'll be able to keep in mind exactly who we're standing or kneeling before when we pray.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

With All My Guts?

My mother always told me and my siblings we should love God with all our guts. It was her way of telling us how deep our love needed to be. I hadn't thought of that statement in sometime until I read about praying with direction and devotion in Lois Tverberg's book, Listening to the Language of the Bible.

The idea is that whether one speaks a prayer that's been written by someone else or is made-up as you pray, you should have your whole heart in it. No one around you will know if your mind is focused on a prayer or not. But God will.

I have to confess sometimes I speak out a prayer in a manner that seems halfhearted. I don't like it, but it's true. Do you ever do that? Do you ever struggle to keep your mind on what you're asking or talking to God about? Do you ever have a last minute fleeting thought that causes you to speak an even faster, perhaps halfhearted, prayer?

It's easy to fall into these traps in today's fast pace, multi-tasked oriented society. So many things grab for our attention. Multi-tasking has become second nature for many. And unfortunately, it spills into our prayer life. However, or whenever, a prayer is spoken we should do our best to put our all into the words we speak.

Praying to God and loving him with all your guts doesn't mean you have to spend a solid hour in prayer everyday. Although, there is nothing like it when you do. But lifting up focused-from-the-gut prayers throughout the day reminds us who's in charge and who we answer to. It's a constant reminder to the very core of our being of who's the BIG boss.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Whale or Fish?

How many of you grew up hearing that Jonah was swallowed by a whale? I did. I believe it's because my teachers knew of no other "great fish" in the ocean. I accepted this in my younger years until I learned that whales have a very small esophagus. Jonah couldn't have been in the whale's belly for any length of time let alone three days. So for years I chose to believe that God created one fish for the duty of getting Jonah's attention.

Then one day I was taken to the Bahamas to a resort called Atlantis. Integrated into this huge and spread out complex is an equally expansive aquarium. There are indoor and outdoor tanks mingled around the pools. For example, the shark tank is part of the water slide area. And along side most of the tanks were workers stationed to answer your questions about any of the species or the aquarium itself.

I have to admit I love aquariums. It seems I find a new fish each time I go. And this place was no different. There were fish there of colors and shapes unique to the Bahamas which were wonderful to watch.

One of the fish I came upon was enormous. My friend and I were commenting on the size of it when we were interrupted by the aquarium worker. "Oh, that's just a baby. When he's an adult he can swallow a man." He proceeded to tell of how divers report being swallowed up by this fish and then spit back out. One of his final statements stayed with me. "This is the fish that swallowed Jonah."

I had to laugh at myself. God didn't just create one fish for the job. He created a species that's still alive today as a reminder to modern man. I just had to go to the Bahamas to find it.

I have to wonder though, how many people trip over this one story? Do they not trust God because they've never seen a fish that can swallow a man? If they can't see it or don't hear of it, do they stop trusting or seeking God? Just because we don't see it or know of it, doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Do we limit God as a result of our limitations?

It definitely helps to discover that what we read about in the Bible is real. It confirms our faith in Jesus, whom we can't see or touch. If you think something, anything, in the Bible is made-up, ask God to show you where to look to find evidence that it's real or can happen. He's faithful and he will.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Concubine - Mistress or Wife?

What are your thoughts when you read about kings and prominent men of the Bible having concubines? Have you ever wondered why those men even needed concubines if they already had multiple wives? I have. Can you imagine all that female hormone under one roof, oh my.

And one more thought. . .have you ever noticed how infrequently daughters are mentioned? But when there was victory over a king, among the list of things taken were the concubines. Why did they rate being mentioned?

Until recently I thought of concubines as in-house mistresses. But they weren't. In fact, concubines were the showcase of a king's power. The more territory he conquered or wealth he gained the more concubines he had.

But a concubine wasn't just a mistress or some piece of purchased property. She was like a back-up wife. There was even an official ceremony appointing her to that position. She ate with the family and bore the king legitimate sons; that's why they're listed in the family tree. She had all the rights as a wife, in fact, she could even be divorced.

Here's a killer fact. . .when a man wanted to usurp power from a weak leader or seal the overthrow of a king, he didn't make some kind of political move and then bed the king's wife. No, he took a concubine. (2 Samuel 3 and 16)

Go figure. A concubine holding the position that dictated who had power. Unbelievable. But, true.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Just Off the Highway

When you picture Bethlehem back in the days of the Bible do you see it off on a little country road, or next to a highway? And what about Herod's country palace, Herodium. How do you see the people getting there?

In my mind's eye I always pictured the travelers heading to Herodium turning off the main road before they reached Bethlehem. According to In The Footsteps of Jesus, by W. E. Pax, the only way to get to the town that serviced Herodium was through Bethlehem. I had no idea there was a town nearby. I also had the misunderstanding that Herodium was Herod's get-away palace. What I learned from W.E. Pax is that it was also an administration center for places south of Jerusalem. That was new to me.

After all these years of picturing Bethlehem as a quiet country town on a slow going road with a small inn for the few people passing by, my mind has to re-adjust how to picture this landmark town. And perhaps see a couple of the stories around the birth of Jesus in a new light.

Like, no wonder there wasn't any room in the inn. All the people coming in for the census plus the foreign business travelers going to or from Herodium would have left little room for a late arriving group.

Not only that, but to be honest, I thought the soldiers who did the killing of the children looked at it as going to a no-name town, killing babies and small children, and never having to return there again. Now I have to wonder, did the soldiers who killed the children also travel with Herod? Did they know these people? How difficult was it to then face the families each time they passed through town? What an ugly mess.

It's amazing how sometimes the small just-off-the-beaten-path places pack so much history. Bethlehem is one of those.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Not Too Wide

Have you ever seen pictures of the Jordan River and wondered why the writer of Joshua ever made such a fuss over the nation of Israel crossing it? Most pictures show a small not-to-be-feared river. It doesn't look to be too difficult to cross. But in the beginning of the Biblical book of Joshua the writer tells us the river is over its banks. After living in Texas for so many years, I know how a babbling creek can rise and become a river that packs a mighty wallop. There's a reason for the saying, "God willing and the creek don't rise."

During a sermon message years ago I learned that the Jordan River at flood stage could be as wide as a mile. . . now, we're talking Mississippi River size. The commentary in The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible and A Visual Guide to Bible Events both mention that the river was not only wide but also deep.

Obviously the current of the flooded Jordan River couldn't have been too bad since the spies crossed over to Jericho and returned back across. Swimming with and against the current would have been difficult, but obviously, manageable for two strong men. However, when you add women, children and animals into the mix that's another story.

So now let's look at the crossing of the Jordan River by the nation of Israel. The river is overflowing it's banks. The priest have to step into the fast moving water while carrying the heavy ark of the convenant without stumbling or dropping it. And, at the same time, trust God to do what Joshua said God was going to do.

Sure enough, as they touch the water the river stops coming down from the north. In fact, it piles up in a big heap further upstream. First, the flooded grassy lands are exposed and then the river bed. Everything south of the ark is now a dry creek bed, which is a good thing because the people needed the space to cross over.

Keep in mind the people had to distance themselves from the priest and the ark. I have to admit reading Biblical measurements is hard to comprehend. I was surprised when I figured this one out. The people were told to stay back from the priests 2000 cubits. Now each cubit is the same as 18 inches for us. To me that didn't sound like very far away, but when you do the math the distance becomes 36,000 inches. And, in case you were wondering, that figures out to be 3000 feet. Hello, that's over half a mile.

But can you imagine how frightened the people of Jericho were. From their perch and elevation they would have seen it all happening not far from them. A large group of people chose the worst time to cross a river that rages without stopping during harvest time. And not only did they cross it, but the river itself stopped and rose up as though respecting the golden object the front men were carrying.

The goal had been for the people of the earth to fear God and that should have done it. How wonderful that must have been to see a flooded fast paced river stop in it's tracks and allow a million people with animals and goods to cross over to the other side.

It just goes to show you, nothing is too wide for God to help man through or over. We just have to do as the nation of Israel did and keep our slate clean before God and be prepared to see his hand at work. (Joshua 3:5)

Friday, September 13, 2013


How many times a day do you speak a word of blessing into someone's life or actions? A kind word? A word of thanks? A word of positive acknowledgement? There are so many ways to do it. Now here's a bigger question. . .how many times a day do you speak a blessing to God?

Recently I found that the word "praise" and the word "bless" in the Psalms are interchanged depending on the Bible translation. It comes from a word (barak; berakh) whose root meaning speaks to kneeling in adoration, blessing, praising, saluting, thanking. What I found so interesting when reading Listening to the Language of the Bible was how and why the Hebrew people would bless the Lord. Think of the things you praise God for and where you do it.

The Hebrews did it everywhere. Do you bless God for thunderstorms? The Hebrew people did because it showed his power and strength. Did you know they also blessed him when the trees and plants brought forth flowers? It acknowledged him as creator and provider. And when a wedding, or birth, or something else joyous happened they blessed him for allowing them to live long enough to see the day come and go.

That all seems rather natural and appropriate, but they went further in their blessings. They blessed him as they woke and dressed. Thankful for bodies that worked and God's provision of clothes. And one I find hardest of all, in the midst of grief, when something terrible happened, they blessed him anyway. Giving him credit as a righteous judge.

Do you bless God this often? I remember hearing my mom thanking God every morning she awoke to a new day. I have to admit the first time I heard her do this I was struck with doubt as to the need of it. But she was in the right. None of us are guaranteed to awaken in the morning with the same bodily function as was present the night before. Or, with all our possessions about us.

I found the more I thank God for events and activities the easier it was to see his hand working in my life. He became more real, even in the little things. I see him more as a constant companion, going with me everywhere. I don't have to shout out for him to hear me and come running to see what my need is. He's already here. If I thank him or bless him as things happen I don't have to wait until Sunday to do it, and risk forgetting something.

He is real. Most of us know that. But thanking him continually brings blessings back to us and our lives. Blessing God, praising him each day in each moment allows us to sense his presence as a reality in our personal walk. If you don't believe me, start blessing God for the little things, for everything, and see what happens.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Gone to the Dogs

What comes to your mind when you think of dogs? To a cat person they might seem big and loud with a bit of a drool. Others may see an obedient companion who can bring you joy through their silly antics. I can understand both these descriptions.

Recently, observing my son's new puppy play was a joy, filling our moments with lots of laughter. Course, it did help that she had been given a medical collar that prevented her from licking her recent surgery site. Her frequent change of direction due to the collar getting caught on pieces of furniture and her reaction that followed were often hilarious.

With the exception of a few breeds, dogs are fun to watch run about chasing a ball, or rabbit, or squirrel. Some are smart in the retrieval process. Others make you wonder if they have any kind of plan of action at all.

It's hard for me to visualize dogs overall as being something to be avoided. Most people think of dogs as being loyal and protective. So I have to wonder, how can the Bible refer to people as dogs in demonstrations of how bad people are? Or as a punishment to be avoided? People are reported as being eaten by the dogs, or being thrown down to the dogs. Yuck.

But I'm thinking like a modern person. Dogs have come a long way since the days of the Bible. The Chronological Study Bible points out that many dogs ran free and wild back then. Sure, they avoided humans by coming out at night. . . makes you kind of want to stay off the streets after the sun set. And they ate whatever they could find. . .that much hasn't changed. Although, they did often eat bloody dead things which made the Hebrews consider them unclean animals. And, as far as eating them goes, they had paws which was considered unclean to begin with.

So next time you read about people being as bad as dogs, think hungry dog pack. Think of something just short of wolves. That gives me a better picture of what the writer is trying to say.

Friday, August 30, 2013

That's My Son

Years ago I sang a song in a choir production that mentioned Jesus being my father. To be perfectly honest, I had trouble with that song and it's words. When I sought counsel on it I was told to keep praying about it. Never having received an answer I dropped the issue. Now, years later my eyes have been opened to understanding.

Listening To The Language of the Bible is a book that helps you to see and understand the Hebrew thinking behind a word or statement. This has been an eye-opening book to read. And, I have mentioned it several times over the last two years.

One of the Hebrew words for son is 'ben'. 'Ben,' like so many other Hebrew words, has more than one facet to the meaning and its application. The obvious meaning is the son of parents. But, it can actually extend to include the relation of an heir to a forefather. And, interestingly enough it could mean a disciple or student of a rabbi.

Basically, wrapped up in the word is a similarity with one who came before you, or leads you. When you were called the son of someone it was because you had their characteristics. Although, in the case of a natural born son he was expected to be like the father. If the father was kind, the sons were expected to be kind. If he was a free-will rule-changing-aggressive man, like Ishmael, then his sons would be like him. So to be called a son of someone could be a compliment or an insult.

Throughout the ages there have been many children who attempt to walk a different path than their parents. Some change to be better than what they had at home. Some change because they themselves are rebellious and can't keep up with the ideals of their parents. . .perhaps it's just not in them.

I always wondered why Jesus told the Pharisees that their father wasn't Abraham but rather the devil. Now it all makes sense. He was relating their current attitude and behaviors to the one who acts the same way. If you want to call your self the son of someone then you very well better act like him. It's not just a name or a title. It's a behavior that has to be harnessed and embraced.

The book also stated that when genealogies are listed that some generations are skipped. They only list the known names, or those of people who stood out with certain characteristics.  Now I get why the Bible does that. . .skipping names in the genealogy of Jesus. But, that's why it was easy to call Jesus the son of David. I thought he was just trying to point out that he was born into the right lineage thus a check mark on the list of prophecies about the Messiah. But Jesus is a son of David in that he loves God with his whole heart, and he will take the throne as king for eternity.

Let's not forget the last association on the list. The one that was the eye opener for me. When a student embraces a teacher's instructions and follows him, he is also called a son. Thus making the teacher a father to the student. Yes, the student can still love his biological father as much as he loves the teacher. But when the teacher's ways become his ways then he becomes the son of the teacher, so to speak.

If Jesus is our teacher and we follow his teachings and instructions then we can be called a son of Jesus. That would mean Jesus can be looked at as our father. What a concept! All these years of not getting it. The song was right all along.

The question remains. . .do we follow his teachings so closely that we are thought of as a son of Jesus? Do we embrace everything he says? Everything he demonstrated in the scriptures? Do we give him our best effort?

Jesus said he was the Son of God. His actions showed that. So when we try to follow Jesus we are in essence trying to act as God in heaven wants us to act and be. Showing his love to those he places in our lives. Directing them to God in heaven. Is it our goal? It's certainly a way to make our teacher desire to call us his sons.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Not The Same Size

Have you ever read 1 Samuel 17 and wondered what in the world was going on?  Why would tall Saul give short young David his armor? Wasn't it obvious they weren't the same size?

Imagine David saying, "I can do this thing for you." Then within minutes he has all this protective metal and leather around him making it impossible to move. Trying to picture his trial walk around the tent with the armor on can be humorous. It's no wonder David turned around and diplomatically gave it all back.

If you're having trouble picturing this, think of a baseball playing father telling his young son he can play for the father in the game. He even gives the son his uniform to wear. The shirt ends up going to the middle of his thigh. The 'short' pants hang at the waist and run down to the lower part of his calf. The socks can be pulled clear up to his thigh. The team ball cap falls down over his eyes and onto his nose. The glove, too loose in the grip, slips with the slightest tip downward. The shoes have to be stuffed so the son can move without stepping out of them. Are you getting the picture of this?

Now picture David trying to walk around the king's tent. . . tripping and stumbling. Granted David wasn't a young boy but by the preceding verses we know he wasn't old enough to go to battle. Think about it. Where was David before this? At home, minding the sheep. . .not fighting for his country like his brothers. Was it because he was too weak to fight? No, he was strong enough to fight off and kill a bear and a lion while doing his job.

I've gotten off track, let's get back to the armor.

Have you ever wondered why Saul didn't take the armor off someone else? You know, closer in size to David. And, why would the king give his music playing servant his own armor? Well, perhaps, Saul wanted to thank him for playing soothing music by giving him the best protection he could...his own armor. Or, was he so desperate to have someone fight Goliath that he didn't think clearly when he offered his armor to David? Maybe he felt responsible, or guilty, in agreeing to send a young boy to battle the giant everyone else was too afraid to fight.

But there was more to it than meets the eye. I was recently reminded of the significance of this act when I read The Chronological Study Bible. Back then offering his own armor to David was in essence offering David the position of king. Was Saul seriously giving his position as king over to a boy who wasn't his son? Did he even think it through?

Whatever the underlying reason we know from the chapters that follow that Saul, who was too afraid to lead the people to fight a mean group of people, had no intention of giving his throne to David. Let alone following through on his promise of a reward marriage to his oldest daughter for the one who killed the giant.

Yet, in this whole process David set an example for us. He knew he was to be the next king. He was already anointed. But, he knew it was to be in God's timing. He was patient and willing to wait until God handed him the crown. . . not Saul, not Johnathan, not himself. . .only God.

Friday, August 16, 2013

I'm Not so Different

It's confession time I'm afraid. I recently realized I shouldn't be so hard on the Israelites who traveled with Moses.

After writing about them the last few weeks and how they seemed to miss the boat in what was happening to them. . .wishing they were back in Egypt instead basking in the presence of Almighty God. . .I kept asking myself, how could they do that? Why would they do that? Didn't they trust that God was taking them where there was green grass and freedom? I know I'm seeing it from the 20/20 hindsight mode, but why did they doubt and grumble?

Was it the change they were experiencing? Change can be hard. If you've ever moved away from the known to the unknown, you know how easy it is to compare the new to the old. It's a natural thing. So, maybe that was why they grumbled.

I mean after all, they went from having a flowing river with green vegetation nearby to walking in a desert for over forty years. They went from growing and eating a variety of foods to eating the same food every day. How many of us can do that without complaining?

And, they went from having market places hosting products from all over the world to having no place to upgrade or change their belongings. We're talking no malls, no strip-centers, not even a Target or Walmart. How long could you go without shopping?

But the one thing that gets me. . .they went from having dwellings that had doorposts to living in tents. I am not a camper, hello, need I say more?

Ok. So, if I look at it from their shoes I get the grumbling. I can understand where they're coming from. Do you? Would you have grumbled?

But my confession doesn't stop there. So many changes have hit my life lately that I found myself, for several days, wishing I was back on an old path and not having to face the changes ahead of me. My anxiety increased with each passing day making it harder to get anything accomplished. Then reality hit me. . .I'm an Israelite. . .a full-fledged grumbler and doubter. Ouch! I didn't just understand them I had become just like them. How easy was that to do? Ouch again.

I want to follow God's leading hand. I want to be where he wants me. And, right now in my life that requires changing some things. So I started telling myself. . ."God's taking me to the promise land". This has worked well to change my attitude and focus. And I strive to remember that I can do all things through Jesus who strengthens me.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Two Strikes You're Out

I know what you're thinking. . .no, it's three strikes you're out. But have you ever looked at Moses? He only got two strikes. His first time to strike a rock for water was done following God's instructions, shortly after the group's departure from Egypt. Then after the second time, God informed him he'd lost his opportunity to go into the promise land with his people.

I've often wondered why one strike on a rock was acceptable and another one, albeit angry, wasn't. Without going deeper into study one might think God is wishy-washy. But we know he's not. God never changes. His laws remain constant. It's people who change and think the rules should change with them.

Studying the book A Visual Guide to Bible Events gave me a great insight into the second strike. It took place in a different location from the first. The second area has porous rocks that from the description sounds more like the rock beds we have in Texas, with one major difference. Those rock beds held water under pressure, ours do not. And, in those days any astute person could find the right bulging rocky-mineral cap, hit it and produce an abundant amount of water.

So, when Moses struck the rock with his rod it was something anyone could have done. And at the time, he was angry at the people. Note: he struck it twice. Sure, the people saw the rod as a tool God used in the hands of Moses. But that wasn't the instructions he was given this time.

With the same need in place, in this second episode God gave different directions. He told Moses to speak at the rock not hit it. Because speaking at the rock would have been a sign for the younger Israelites that God was their provider. Instead the grumbling people saw Moses as the provider. In a sense, he now joined the grumbling, rebellious people in their grumbling, rebellious nature and sin of not honoring God as holy. And that's why he was out after the second strike.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Doubters United Equals Regret

Have you ever regretted doubting someone? Wishing your trust had been there before the person had to prove he was worthy of your trust? Remember Thomas? Doubting Thomas? How he demanded to see for himself before he would believe? But he shouldn't be the only one to be known as doubting. I mean he wasn't the first one to doubt.

Way back when Moses was trying to get his people to the promise land they threw him a doubters' curve ball. He sent twelve spies into the land so they could return with reports regarding the nature of the land and conditions of any cities. Oh, yes, and to bring back some samples of food.

And they did. They brought back pomegranates, figs, and one cluster of grapes that took two men to carry. But in spite of wonderful reports about the land, what they focused on were the fortified cities and the giant people that lived there.

Just an aside: All these years I thought Goliath (1 Samuel 17) was an odd ball; you know, genes gone wild. But, here we read about a whole group of people known for being extremely tall. . .giants in fact. Look at Deuteronomy 9. . . Moses reminds his people that the men they will face live in cities with high walls and even without the walls no one can win against these giant men. So Goliath wasn't an odd man. He just had giant genes.

Well, enough of that. Getting back to our spies. . .ten of them focused on the bad; letting the negatives outweigh their God. They in a sense doubted that God could go before them and bring them victory. Never mind they recently witnessed a wind strong enough to dry land and keep the water away while hundreds of thousands of them traveled to safety. And, then the wind dying back so quickly that the water rushing to return to its place took out the entire Egyptian army. That wasn't the only example of God's might. Why did they forget? Did they not understand the reason for the mission?

Moses sent them into the land not to be scared spit-less to the point they would convince the others it was too much for their God to help them. He sent them to see just how much God was going to do for them and how much the booty was going to be. It was suppose to be an encouragement, not a doubt-giving experience.

Was it just fear that gripped them? Or, did they really doubt and not trust God enough to protect them? To go before them? Equally perplexing is that the people listened to the ten who were weak. They saw the same evidence of God's presence and yet they still did not give him the trust he deserved for their final step into the promise land. They didn't believe the two men whose trust in God's ability to protect the nation were speaking the truth.

It saddens me when I read how there was no second chance given. There was no going back even after they confessed their sin. Maybe their heart wasn't right. You know, they only regretted their words because they didn't want the punishment. They even tried to make it right, on their own terms, by attacking the people, in their own accord. And, guess what? They were defeated and sent running back home. All because they didn't trust God the first time.

Forty years. The doubt of the people was so great. . .not giving God the chance to show his stuff. . .that they continued a nomadic life; one year for each day that the spies spent in the promise land. That's a lot of years of regret. Hopefully, the adults raised their children, who would be allowed entrance into the promise land, to listen to Moses and to trust God in all things.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Smelling - A Profession?

Have you ever given much thought to the warnings that Samuel gave to the people of Israel before God appointed Saul as king? (1 Samuel 8) Among the warnings he told them that a king was going to take their daughters and make them perfumers, bakers, etc. But, the people didn't care. They wanted a king.

All these years I thought that was a bad thing. . .for Saul to take their daughters and force them to do these things for the king's family and court. I mean it's mentioned in the middle of the list warning the people of how bad things will get for them. But according to the Chronological Study Bible, it may not have been such a bad thing after all.

To be a perfumer was to have a profession. And a highly respected and sought after profession. There were even priests who were perfumers.

Apparently the perfumers had to know all the oils and lotions available to mankind. And, since they came from a variety of countries around the known world they had to know where each came from. And when to use what. And how to concoct and apply preparations. . .such as, which oils should be used to soften the skin and hair from the damage done by the sun. Or, to help you sleep. Or, bring healing to a sore. And, let's not forget all the ingredients needed for preparing royalty for their tombs. That's a lot to know and learn.

I had no idea that a good nose could be a prized possession in those days. I can see how the people may have thought that was not such a bad thing, the king taking a daughter to be a perfumer. It'd be like having a doctor in the family.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

More Than Just Salt

When I think of salt, I think of food. It brings flavor to any dish. And food stands out as bland if you forget to add it. On the other hand, I've eaten at many restaurants where I wondered if the lid fell of the salt container during use. The food was so salty it began to burn my tongue after awhile.

When I read about salt in the Bible it's not always about food. Leviticus, Ezra and Ezekiel mention the people were to include salt in their offerings at the temple.  Matthew 5, 9 and Luke 14 speak of our needing to be salt because if we're not salt then we're useless. Matthew 9 even encourages having salt and peace within us as something to desire and achieve. Colossians 4 speaks of salt being part of our graceful speech to one another.

Those things I knew about. But, there's more. Judges 9 shows salt as part of the completing act of destroying an enemy. In 2 Kings, salt is used to heal water in the land. Hello, how did I miss these? And those aren't the only things I missed.

Did you know there is such a thing as a salt covenant? Do you know what that is? When I caught up on my reading of the Jewish Jewels newsletter (May 2013 issue) I learned about a salt covenant. If I ever attended a class or sermon on this subject, I slept through the whole lesson.

A salt covenant refers to loyalty in relationships according to Neil and Jamie Lash. The reference goes back to Numbers 18:19 when God says its a salt covenant between him and the priests that will last forever. That's the relation and loyalty part of salt. The Lashes state that in some desert tribes salt is placed in the hands of a bride and groom when they marry - making it part of the marriage bond. The Lashes say being salt is really about our relationships with other believers.

So when we're told to be the salt and light of the earth there's a lot riding on that statement. It's not about pounding our fists on the Bible and proclaiming God's curses on the wicked. We're to stand out as holding on to something that brings healing, as preserving God's rightful place in our lives, as continuing in his presence so that his salt doesn't fade from the view of others. And we're to be loyal about it, not jumping from one thing to another when we get bored.

Being consistent in all of that is tough. But my God is able to help me, and you, do this.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Which Way Did They Go?

Over the years I have heard all kinds of instructions and teaching given on the crossing of the sea by the Israelites. Some have taught that they crossed a marshy stretch not far from where they started. Others teach that they went as far as a large lake down from the border of the country. While still others show the border of Egypt being farther into the Sinai peninsula with the crossing taking place further over a larger body of water.

I did see a video once (I'm sorry I don't remember the name of it) that showed an underwater ledge running from the tip of the Sinai over to the coastline of Saudi Arabia. Not only that, it showed evidence of a mountain that fits the description of Mount Sinai with smoke markings still exhibited around the top of it. And, there was a rock at the mouth of a good size river bed. Interestingly enough, the area they went to is guarded and when they asked to see it through regular channels they were denied.

Whether by heaven's design or man's, the exact location of all the Exodus happenings seems to be elusive. We may never know exactly where until we get to heaven. In any case, there are some things to keep in mind when listening to any presentation on the subject.

One thing I somehow pushed to the back of my mind was the number of people we're talking about. Check out Exodus 12:37. Hello. That's 600,000 men not counting children or women or animals or even the mixed multitude that went with them. Keep reading and you see they also had silver and gold items, clothing, and flocks and herds - a very large number at that.

So, we're not talking about a large family reunion kind of crowd when we speak about the escape from Egypt. We're talking moving the populace of the state of Hawaii.

So wherever they crossed had to have enough water to make walls on either side of them as they crossed over. The dry path had to be wide enough to take the Israelites only a few hours to escape. Not to mention there had to be enough water to drown the entire Egyptian army and horses when the walls of water came tumbling back down. And, wherever it happened, was big enough to impress the people sufficiently to know they had been saved from death by God.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Begat? TMI?

Is there anyone else out there who falls asleep, or has their mind wander, whenever family names are read during a passage reading from the Bible? Why are the names there anyway? What does it matter? Do I need to know who begat who? Is it TMI?

Up until I read Listening to the Language of the Bible, I thought the only reason to give such long lists was to inform the reader of the first born male. After all, the 'firstborn' got the majority of the 'goods' since he would become the next head of the family. What I didn't know was that even while a child that first born was given respect by his siblings. Hhmm . . . hard to picture that.

Of course, there are exceptions to the first born being called the 'firstborn.' Look at King David.  As the youngest son in his family, he was appointed to be firstborn by God. (Check out Psalm 89.) That's because firstborn can also mean 'closest in relationship.' I did not know this.

Putting this aside, I felt pretty self-centered when I read the explanation in Lois Tverberg's book. Apparently, many cultures pretty much need to know the family history of a person to know you're talking about a real live person. Not a character from a book or film, or made-up just for the sake of an argument. Having a family name in the Bible makes lessons plausible and real. It's what gives substance to a story, rather than it being all fluff.

Who would have thought that names could hold significance beyond the firstborn details? Now I know. So the next time I come across a passage that lists names, I will praise God that his story is becoming real to someone else because those names are there.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

That's How They Knew

In studying Abraham I noticed yet another verse I have skimmed over. Genesis 15:13. Hello, Abraham was told before he went into Egypt that his great, great, great, great grandchildren and so on would be slaves. (He knew?) For four hundred years. I can't even fathom how long that is.

Knowing this Jacob still obeyed and took his family into Egypt. Hunger can do that; putting yourself and your loved ones in harm's way. And even though there was a famine when they first went there,  Egypt offered them so much more when the famine passed that they decided to stay on. (Even though they knew what it would entail.) The abundance of water could have been a real draw . . . the Nile River is huge in season. The weather is more conducive to growing crops. And they were less likely to be attacked or have their lands invaded because of the Egyptian army protecting the land.

Now, here's some food for thought. Once they started making babies nothing stopped them. They went from being in charge of land to being the slaves working that land overnight. Still Exodus 1:12 tells us they kept growing. Nothing stood in the way of God making his people a huge nation. Even in spite of the fact that they probably lost large numbers of people to beatings and such.

I have often wondered why God took so long to come rescue his people. Why hadn't he come sooner? Why did it take four hundred years to hear them crying for help?

But since the father of their nation had been told how long they would be in Egypt, I guess after four hundred years they started crying out to God to come save them. Because it was time to leave this place and return to the land Abraham once wandered. That's why God finally heard their cry and came to rescue them and return them to the promised land filled with milk and honey.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Great Beginning

Have you ever wondered what happened before Genesis 1? Like you've missed the first part of the story?

In reading Lois Tverberg's book, Listening to the Language of the Bible, I learned something oh so interesting. "In the beginning" is the phrase that is translated from the Hebrew word "B'reisheet." The letter B that begins that word is the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet, not the first letter.

Symbolism fills the Hebrew alphabet and the letter B is no different. It's structured so that when read right-to-left, as is done in Hebrew, it has a closure on the right but an open end on the left. Lois wrote that many think this directs the reader toward the text to be read.

Lois also points out that the rabbis say that what comes before the second letter is for God to know and not for man to know.  So in military terms, on a need to know basis, man only needs to know what comes after the second letter of the alphabet. That's our part of the mission here on earth. John 16 and 1 Corinthians 2 and 13 all speak of this need to know level and when we'll know fully.

As a person who likes to find out the background of people, places, and things, I find this an interesting concept. One I gladly sit back and accept. I do, however, look forward to that day when Jesus pulls me away from the pages of history and tells me. . .here's the rest of the story.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

No Room In the Family Plot?

When you read Genesis closely you see Joseph and Jacob were buried in two different locations. Personally I usually skim over the names without giving much thought to it at all. But, come to find out Joseph was buried in a different location than his father and grandfathers.

Jacob got to be buried in the family plot, so to speak. His first wife was there, as were his parents and grandparents. Hmm. He requested it and it was done. So, why didn't Joseph? After all, he was the one who saved the entire family and subsequently an entire nation from extinction.

Jacob was buried twenty miles south of Jerusalem and Joseph was buried thirty miles north of Jerusalem. Jacob was buried in Hebron; Joseph in Shechem. Both places oddly enough sit on the same road known as the ridge route. I didn't realize that road traveled south of Jerusalem until I read A Visual Guide to Bible Events.

Here's the background that got my attention: Jacob was buried on the land that was the first piece of property bought by Abraham. Joseph was buried not only on the second place to be purchased by the family (his father Jacob), but it was also the place where God promised to give the land to Abraham's descendants. So there was significance to where Joseph's bones were laid to rest.

Still that's a long way to go to bury four hundred year old bones. Ever wonder how they did that without the bones breaking while the people made a run for it from Pharaoh's army, or while fighting off all the kings in their way, or while traveling to get to the final resting spot?

Again another detail that I've skimmed over. Joseph was embalmed. This is most unusual for the Hebrews. The Egyptians, however, would bury bodies in a substance commonly found in Egypt called natron, which was made up of sodium carbonate and baking soda, in order to preserve bodies for the afterlife. If I had looked closer before now I wouldn't have wondered how they transported bones that were almost four hundred years old.

It's a marvel how even back then that a man's request could be fulfilled four hundred years later. God made a way even if there seemed to be no way.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Heart = Mind?

How is it possible? The heart means the mind too? To me, separating the emotions of the heart and the knowledge of the mind makes sense. They're two different things, right? Not according to Lois Tverberg in Listening to the Language of the Bible. In Hebrew it means the same thing.

Okay, so, in some ways I can see it. I mean after all when the heart is happy our thoughts follow the same pathway. When our minds are not heavily burdened with stress and the troubles of life we can laugh easier, and have a lighter feeling in our walk. When we force our minds to focus on something lighthearted or even make ourselves smile there is a change in our emotional baseline.

Lois explained that physical things are often used to explain abstract things. So the word "heart", something all mankind understood, becomes the image not just for the emotions of the heart but also for the mind and thoughts. And to help all of us non-Hebrews, when the scriptures were written in Greek, the writers included the word "mind" to help us understand what Jesus meant. (Matthew 22)

Lois pointed out we focus far more on our worship time and prayer time than our Bible study time. But in biblical days, the actual studying of the scriptures was the greatest form of worship. Acts 17 and 1 Timothy 4 talk about people pouring over the scriptures daily. And of course there were the pharisees.

But some of those leaders in the temple listened to Jesus. So I have to believe, they weren't just trying to be know-it-all's, walking encyclopedias so to speak. These people were worshiping God in the most complete way they knew. . .spending time to focus their thoughts and the fullness of their knowledge on God Most High.

Now that's something I did not know.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

What's A High Place?

Several times in the Bible there is mention of the high places. (i.e. 1,2 Samuel; 1,2  Kings; Ezekiel 20) Where are those high places? According to the April newsletter from Jewish Jewels it was the various mountains throughout the country of Israel. Many good things happened on some of those mountain tops. The ten commandments. The beatitudes. Jesus ascension. The list goes on.
I would say these good things represent what we think of as mountain top experiences. You know, when something fantastic happens, or you have a quality time in God's presence. The fact that so many church camps and retreat centers are located on hill tops or in the mountains helps to lend itself to giving you such an experience.

But the Bible also mentions the high places with a negative connotation. As odd as it may be, from time to time the Hebrews, including the leadership, would offer sacrifices to idols or foreign gods on these high places. When that happened, the country slowly began to change and stray from its loyalty to God. You're probably thinking we don't do that; we don't offer sacrifices to idols. Let alone do it on hilltops or mountains. And looking at it from the surface you might be right.

However, years ago I attended a Bible conference that taught we still have high places, no matter where we live. You see, as the Word of God spread throughout the world, steeples and bell towers were erected to call the people to worship. Those were our high places as they were the highest point in the area.

Then over the years the steeples gave way to the financial institutions of America. First bank buildings became several stories high then other money-making firms took over. The more we made money the taller our buildings became. Oh they may not be tall trees or high hills as is mentioned in the Bible, but they are our high places. Ouch. And it's what we do in those high places that matters.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Whose Idea is Hardship Anyway?

A loving God giving hardship to good people? No way. But when I think about the patriarch Joseph, I think, yes way. That's one story I've always had trouble with.

Imagine a large family who's suppose to be the shining light of God's promise, but the 'world' surrounding them seems to be having a greater pull. (After all, Judah had sex with a woman he thought was a temple prostitute in Genesis 38.) And, the one child in this large family who has an open heart for God to receive dreams from him is tricked by his own brothers, stripped of his clothes, sold to strangers who cart him off to a foreign country then sell him as a slave.

But wait, it gets even better. He does his job so well he's promoted. Then in the blink of an eye is accused of a wrong-doing and is sent to prison for over two years. But, he's innocent.

And this was God's plan? Yes, most definitely yes. If this young man had not been taken into slavery and thrown into prison, he and his family may have dwindled and not grown large enough to become the great nation God promised. Not to mention they might have forgotten who their God was and abandoned the whole reason they were sent to the promise land in the first place.

As for me, because it took place so long ago it's easy to forget that so much bad happened to someone so good. Granted he wasn't perfect and he made mistakes, but in light of everyone else around him, he was a good and Godly man. I wonder how many times he asked himself and God, "Why me? What did I do wrong?" Did he thank God for his hardships? Did he think that one day he'd be out of prison and good-times would return? Remembering how the bad in Joseph's life created a way for so much good does make it easier to thank God in all things. (Ephesians 5)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


How big do you think the Sanhedrin was? Somehow I pictured the Sanhedrin as a small group of leaders that put Jesus on trial. But from reading A Visual Guide to Bible Events (VGBE) and The Bible Knowledge Commentary (BKC) I found out that there were 71 men that made up the Sanhedrin. That's not the small group I was thinking it was.

They met in the Temple complex and were known as the Great Sanhedrin. "Great" probably because it was actually composed of three courts made up of 23 members. Each member, like any court system today, had to know the law very well. They also had to have a good reputation, be over thirty and married. (Thompson Chain Reference Bible)

According to VGBE, in order to have a trial leading to the death penalty there had to be 23 members of the great Sanhedrin present to hold court. Interesting.

According to the BKC, Jewish law requires that a trial be done during the day. Also interesting. So in writing about the cock crowing three times we not only get the story of Peter's denials but we also see the start of a new day and the start of the official trial against Jesus. (Matthew 26; Mark 15)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Yearly Promise

Spring. The time of year when the promise of beauty enters into our boring yet chaotic life. While I've heard of places that never see grass go dormant, here in Texas we look forward to the season when we can once again have fields of green grasses. But before we see green, we have color.

You see, just when the brown has become too much to bear there pops up out of the ground the most colorful view. Each spring Texas has some of the most beautiful landscape due in part to weeds. Only in Texas, a place known for its wild and tough nature can the beauty of a wild flower be anticipated.

By nature wild flowers are just that - wild - popping up in small groupings, even singly. Here in Texas you have to think big. Our wild flowers can be thought of as hallway runners, throw rugs or even carpeting to the ground they cover.

The prominent color being the blue to purple hues of the bluebonnet. Add in some reds, whites and yellows and the design of the new ground cover becomes even more breath-taking. Coloring the roadsides like no where else I've been.

The carpeting affect throughout the hill country of Texas brings the promise that there is life brewing beneath the dull brown. The splashes of color speaking statements of a promise that things will get better and life will go on. 

I hope when the brown days of life seem to be overtaking my thinking and zest for life that I will remember that there is coming a promise that life does go on and the beauty of color will enter in at some point. I just have to hang tough.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Just How Bad Does It Get?

"Youth today. Going to ruin in a hand basket." It's a line from the movie Thoroughly Modern Millie. While it's meant to be funny in the movie, it came to mind recently. I have to wonder if today I would be the old lady saying it. Perhaps it's just my current study of the book of Revelations that has influenced this thinking.

But the other night I had the opportunity to watch The 700 Club for only a few minutes and my stomach was sickened at the news of the widespread problem of child prostitution in Brazil. I don't watch the news often enough to know if it's happening in other countries. I do know I haven't heard of any story like this being presented in mainstream news. You have to ask, how many other dreadful things are happening? 

The fact is most of what I see is news focused on wars and rumors of wars. You know, the building of nuclear weapons in Iran and North Korea, the threats to Israel and the U.S., the awful drug-related shootings along the border with Mexico. (So many innocent lives are being lost there. It's just craziness.)

So, when I think other things could be happening one question comes to mind, are we the only country that has people losing their minds enough to go into buildings and shoot at the innocent for the strangest of reasons, or are there other countries dealing with this? It makes me think of the second seal in Revelations 6. (Again my current focus may be playing into this.)

And while there is so much talk about the rapture occurring at the start of the tribulation I beg to suggest, what if we are already there? One might ask, isn't God suppose to spare his children of the earthquakes and plagues? But then I remember all the plagues the Hebrews had to endure before they were released from slavery in Egypt. It didn't harm them but they still had to endure it. Nuts. I guess this means we may have to endure the seals after all.

But on the other hand, if we haven't entered the tribulation times yet I have to wonder. . .just how bad will it get if this isn't the start of the tribulation? If it's not bad enough yet, how bad is it going to get?

In any case, the best thing we can do is to keep our eye out for the bridegroom. Keep our hearts praising him and seeking his guidance every day. I love reading Psalm 91. It offers so much promise of protection from plagues and illnesses that attack the crowds. It brings me comfort.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Last Chance Supper

I'm sorry for the delay in writing about the last supper, but jet-lag and allergies got the best of me the last two weeks. Sunday I was blessed with a wonderful reminder of just how much God the Father loves me. Well, all of us really. The death of his only son, so that I can be with him in eternity, is so much more than I can fathom. But I accept it. And it doesn't stop there, it gets even better. Death couldn't hold on to him. He's still alive. His love just never gives up or dies.

And before he showed his love for all of us, he did an incredible thing at the last supper. Jesus made a huge unspoken display of love for the one who would betray him. First, let me give you some background.

In reviewing a page in A Visual Guide to Bible Events and then remembering a lesson my brother taught me, I was reminded how many times we allow what we know today to influence what we know of God and the experiences of Jesus. How many depictions of the last supper have you seen with Jesus sitting in the middle of the table and the disciples evenly split to his left and right?

Well the truth is more than likely they weren't sitting. They were reclining. And, Jesus wasn't in the middle. He was in the second position in the seat of the host. The two highest places of honor were to either side of the host. The guests would sit in descending order of honor around three sides of the table.

I always figured Peter was close by, but he had to be across the table in order to gesture to John to get the rest of the details of Jesus' words. (John 13) The last position? How confusing is that? But if you read Luke 22 it talks about how the leader needs to be like a servant. So, Peter seeing himself as a leader of the group would naturally have volunteered to sit at the end of the table.

So, with John in one place of honor then who was in the other place of honor on the other side of Jesus? The book suggests Judas. That was a startling thought. But, he was close enough that Jesus handed him a piece of dipped bread. Of all things, Jesus giving his accuser a close place of honor, and with it a chance to learn what he was really about, a chance to feel the love of the Son of God one last time, a chance to say no to the pharisees before the unfortunate deed.

How much love is that? To love your enemy. (Matthew 5) He said it; he meant it. And he still means it. Awesome news for us.

Monday, March 25, 2013


If you've ever moved to a new location, did you feel yourself fitting in right away? Did it take time? Did you have to prove yourself somehow before you were truly accepted? Maybe it wasn't a new location. . .maybe it was being part of an organization or church. I have to wonder if Abraham felt the same way.

Do you realize that he moved constantly? The only time the Bible mentions him having a piece of land to call his own was when he insisted on buying a burial site for Sarah. Even though the people respected him and he'd lived there for decades, he still called himself a foreigner to the people.  

And yet, centuries later his descendents saw this land as the place to return to. It was after all the land God promised to Abraham. And when they did return they fought for the land and won it. Of course, fighting for the land has never really gone away.

Over time, Abraham's family changed the nature of the people of the land. Oh, the land may be referred to once in a while as Canaan, but it is not thought of as the land of rough Godless people. No, the land and it's people in general are known to love God and desire to worship him as they did in days gone by.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Making a Memory

How many times have you hung pictures on a wall so you could remember something special? Like a wedding or a vacation. Each time you pass it in the hallway your heart and mind relive the joy of that moment. Nothing can compare to that.

Well, back in the day of Abraham they didn't have cameras or walls for hanging pictures. But they did have stones for building up altars and memorials to honor God and his promises. Through tradition future generations would have learned the significance of the stones and locations. And, how did the generations find these stones?

Well, they were actually put up along the road known as the ridge route.  I never gave it much thought until I read A Visual Guide to Bible Events. Even Abraham would have passed these many times as he moved his flock back and forth along the road in search of pastureland. Interesting. A bit like walking by a picture in the hallway, don't you think?

Even with these remembrances Abraham still made mistakes and in spite of that he continued to gain favor with God. I find this perplexing yet comforting at the same time.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Moving West

Have you ever had the urge to move west? Many cowboy movies associate moving west with adventure and discovery. And, back in the day I'm sure it was. What with trying to find water or land suitable for growing produce or raising cattle. Then having to fight marauders to keep your land. Living in wagons until houses could be built. It took certain personalities to make it work.

For many years I skipped over the part that mentions Abraham's father setting out for Canaan. But he never made it. Instead he settled in Haran.  I don't know if God called him to go or if he just thought to go there. But he never completes the trip.

Of course the story doesn't end there. God still wanted the family in Canaan. So he calls up Abraham to finish the trip. You might think this means that Abraham had what it took. That he was the perfect man, absent of any flaws. You need to keep reading the story of Abraham if you think that.

One thing he did do perfectly was to answer God's call to move west. He didn't tell God he was going to stay where things were easier. Instead, he moved away from the known green grasses of the Fertile Crescent. Away from the luscious rivers that fed the land. Away from family and friends to have over for dinner.

Moving west was a big step of faith. Would you have done it?

I know in some aspects I did it when I married a military man. Life away from family and in places that added to our cultural knowledge was not always easy. But in the midst of the struggles I grew in my faith and knowledge of God, just like Abraham did. For that I can never be sorry.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Meteors vs Stars

Did you hear about the meteor that exploded over Russia? I find this an interesting bit of news, especially when you consider there were two others spotted that same day. Not to scare you or be all doomsday-ish, but here's some food for thought. Have you read chapter six of Revelations?

During the sixth seal, John talks about the stars falling to earth like unripened figs being flung from a tree during a windstorm. I think it will be meteors that fall. John would not have known to call them anything other than 'stars.'

And just look at the damage one good sized meteor did when it exploded over a city in Russia. Can you imagine how much damage will be brought when more than one explodes as it hits the earth? I agree with you. It is a scary thought.

Do I think it is the sixth seal happening? No. We haven't experienced the other seals yet. But, I do think it is a taste of what could happen. Should we walk around in fear? No. Our hope comes from knowing Jesus is protecting us and guiding our days.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

God's Love - The Perfect Valentine Gift

Valentine's Day is a perfect day to talk about God's love. The song, One Thing Remains has hit home with me so vividly lately. In that no matter what I do or how I think I've failed Jesus or how far I might stray in my thinking, his love will always be there pulling for me to do the right thing. I will forever be surrounded by it. I can't tell you how freeing and comforting the realization of that is.

My heart breaks for all those who run from God. Who don't want anything to do with him. But that isn't something new for God to deal with, is it? Think about man before the flood, and after the flood. Remember the tower of Babel? Apparently man is habitually running away from God's love and then establishing his own idols and gods.

In reading A Visual Guide to Bible Events I realized how much God loved man even when he'd turned away from him. Did you ever think it was love that caused God to move Abraham away from family and friends? You may not think so, but I do.

I mean it's confusing in some aspects because he moved Abraham from one area where there was fresh water and plenty of land filled with green pastures to another area that wasn't. This new place was a narrow land bridge connecting the two larger areas of the fertile crescent. And, by narrow, I mean you couldn't spread out. If you go too far to the east, you hit the desert. If you go too far west, you hit the ocean. But there was a reason he picked this place.

People, merchants mainly, traveled through that area all the time. And when they did they would come across a nomad named Abraham who loved God in Heaven. While initially they may not have thought much about him they began to see the provision of God. In the narrowest fertile area Abraham's wealth increased. His flocks multiplied. He became a father twice in his old age, and one of those sons came from his ninety-year-old wife. Who ever heard of such a thing?

Can't you just hear it? The God of Abraham blesses him. Provides for him in that place. Oh yes, the word got out; reminding the people of the Mighty God in Heaven. They could no longer ignore him. And as time passed and the nation of Abraham grew, people from all over the civilized world came to know about the love God has for the Hebrew nation, and for man.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Home Sweet Home?

Have you ever wondered how man filled up the earth so fast? There was only one family saved from the first and only mega-flood. Then a couple of chapters later in Genesis you read about all the nations and people making a home for themselves throughout the fertile crescent area.

There's one phrase that gets repeated several times that tells it all. . .'had more children.' (CEV) Not to mention the fact that those men still lived a looooonng time. We're talking centuries. No wonder cities grew so quickly and the people had to spread out and discover new places. (Did you know Egypt and Ethiopia are the names of grandsons of Noah?) Sadly, I see, that as Noah's family grew and moved away from home they forgot about God.

How do I know they forgot about God? Look at all the false gods the Bible tells us about. So, why did Noah's relatives forget?

Have you ever heard a sermon or Bible lesson on staying focused on God, even when things are going in your favor and life is good? Well, life was smooth sailing for them. For the most part. You see, they lived in places where the ground was good. By 'good' I mean food could be grown and harvested; animals could multiply in pastures lands that were green from rivers running through it; trees grew prolifically. This wonderful place stretched from the Persian Gulf all the way over to the tributary area of the Nile River.

And in the midst of this crescent is a stretch of land that makes the whole thing look a bit like an hourglass. The road has to hug the ocean because of the ridge-filled area. And if the people go too far to the east of the ridges they hit the desert. And out of all the places in the fertile crescent this was the 'promised land.'

I have to wonder if Abraham and Lot after seeing the fertile crescent from one end to the other wondered, why here? Why not live where the land searches out farther than the eye can see? But they didn't argue with God. Seeing the green side of things, the water and pastureland, they settle in their new home and made the best of it. Ah, home sweet home.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

That's Not What I Meant

The old joke goes something like this: There was a woman who prayed for patience. So, God gave her a son. (Laughter follows.)

It took me several years to understand that one. But it holds true. We keep thinking God is going to hand us the answer on a silver platter. But it doesn't work that way. To get to a victorious end result there is a hard and sometimes confusing middle that requires work and effort.

Elijah told kings who wanted a victory over a rebellious nation to dig cisterns to catch the water. That wasn't the answer they were looking for. They wanted an easy out. But it took work to get the victory God intended for them.

I'm sure Daniel and his family prayed that the hearts of their fellow countrymen would return to God. And look what happened to him. He was captured, made to work in the palace, taught the ways of the conquering country and then told to eat food he wasn't suppose to eat. They worked hard and risked their lives to prove their God was greater than anything Babylon had to offer. And in the long run the people did return their hearts to God. Ah, victory.

As I hear people telling church members to pray for a spiritual revival in this country I have to ask myself how far will we fall? Will we be invaded like Israel was (oh, so, many times)? Will we have to risk death, go without electricity, experience massive tragedies? What will it take to gain our country back for God?

Only He knows what will work. And no matter what it takes, God will bring us back to him. And He will stand victorious over this country.

Friday, January 25, 2013

No Thin Tower

For years I imagined the tower of Babel being tall and thin, much like towers you see attached to European castles. And being in the middle of an empty plain with nothing else around it, just a tower.

Well, I was wrong on two fronts. First, I overlooked two key phrases in the story - 'they dwelt there', and 'to see the city.' The people found the Plain of Shinar in the Fertile Crescent area and settled there under their family leader Nimrod. Then the Lord came down to see the city Nimrod's people were building. Somehow my brain had never wrapped itself around that part of the story. Now reading that part carefully, I see the name of one of the cities in the area was Babel. . .duh, the Tower of Babel.

By the way, did you know that Babel is Hebrew for Babylon. It's no wonder the Hebrews hated Babylonians. They were a reminder of the ill-fated tower and of man's attempt to reach into heaven to make a name for themselves.

As for my tall thin tower theory, well. . .In reading A Visual Guide to Bible Events and the Chronological Study Bible I learned there are towers, known as ziggurats, throughout the Fertile Crescent that were usually built for kings, nations, or idols. The oldest one found so far only goes back as far as the Nebuchadnezzar era.

Just how wrong was I about the size? Here's a description of a tower that CSB says was found in an ancient Babylonian writing. The base of this tower was two hundred and ninety-five feet squared. (That's a football field length squared.) There were seven platforms that were one hundred and eight feet tall, with ramps and stairs between the levels. Of course, each platform up was slightly smaller than the lower platform. And the last platform held a temple.

Ok, well, I'm not an engineer and that's why I wasn't thinking like one. So the tower must have been massive if they were planning to reach all the way into heaven.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Timing is Everything

My dad used to say those words. He loved a good joke, and a punch line could be ruined if the timing was off. But as I sit and read some details of history I find his statement applies not just to jokes but to lessons taught in the Bible.

Remember the town I mentioned last week? Bethpage? This morning I learned it means "house of the preseason fig." And why is this important? That's where Matthew 21 and Mark 11 take place.

Long story short. The fig-less tree Jesus curses is in this very town. A place known for having early figs. The tree fails to provide what should have been there, so it's cursed and withers away. I've always wondered what that poor tree did to deserve such a punishment, but now I see it. The tree missed its timing for the area but gave ground for Jesus to teach another lesson.

There they are standing by a dead fig tree discussing how it completely died overnight. Then Jesus tells them, "That's nothing. If you tell this mountain, without doubting your words, to jump into the sea it will do it." I've always wondered, why a mountain? What mountain? Remember timing is everything?

Well, this is where it gets interesting. Think of where they're standing. . . in Bethpage . . . which sits on a high hill. In fact, the hill is high enough to see traces of the Dead Sea in one direction and Herodium in another direction. (Note: In building Herodium, Herod and the Romans actually moved the top of one mountain onto the top of another mountain before building the palace/fortress on the higher of the two.) And this is important because of a purpose the Dead Sea held in Hebrew oral tradition. I learned from A Visual Guide to Bible Events that they were to take whatever was a symbol of idolatry and throw it into the Dead Sea. It was part of the process of cleansing the land of idolatry in any form. (This was new to me.)

So think about it. When Jesus tells his men to move the mountain into the sea he's pointing at Herodium then pointing at the Dead Sea. In a sense he's telling them you can do this, you can move mountains, you can work to cleanse the land of sin and idolatry and bring the focus of my people back to God.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

What a Difference a Donkey Makes

We know from Matthew that when Jesus rode the donkey into Jerusalem that he was fulfilling a prophecy. But have you ever given it much thought?

Can you imagine Jesus sitting on a foal of a donkey? And, in case you didn't realize it, a foal is less than a year old and has never been ridden. Jesus being the Son of God knew the foal would carry him, but as a bystander I have to marvel at the sight of it.

Here's a young animal who has the coats of more than one man thrown on its back. Then a full-grown man gets on top of the coats. That's quite a feat for a first ride. But it doesn't stop there. This young animal has to carry the man and the coats down the hill to Jerusalem. And because things weren't interesting enough already. He must navigate the roadway that is being covered by slippery coats and palm branches.

That would get my attention if I had been there. Then to realize, hey, this guy is succeeding in doing what the prophet Zechariah told us would happen.  And, isn't he the same guy who raised Lazarus from the dead a couple weeks ago? I would have joined the crowd. I would have shouted for him. I mean if he can raise a dead man and make a little donkey carry him down a hill without falling then he can overtake the Roman government. Right? He has to be the Son of David! Hosanna!

Here's a sneaky angle to think about. In the New Testament period, riding in on a horse meant there was a military presence to contend with. Jesus wasn't delivering a threatening message. He came on the foal of a donkey to bring a message of peace. Zechariah simply foretold what would happen, not why.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Not Alone (part 2)

Two weeks ago I wrote about Mary doing the brave thing. And, how God did not abandon her. What amazes me is that there is little mention about her family. But before you go thinking bad things about them let's look again. Note the scriptures don't say her family kicked her out and her betrothed came to her rescue. No, her family stood by her.

In fact, her family grew in size. Where she could have lost a husband, it was Joseph who did the next bravest thing. After his dream he went back to Mary and her family and stepped forward to become the step-father to the Messiah. Mary now had an additional support system to help raise a son, teaching him skills and lessons from the torah.

Of course things weren't always smooth. They had to go to a stable for the night while Mary was in labor. And, yes, Jesus was born there. And while we focus on the awful location I can't help but think that we missed the party. While those who were invited to the birth scene would have marveled at what they saw, don't you think they were laughing and chuckling among each other that it finally happened. The Messiah was here. Celebrating. Hugging one another. Laughing out of shear joy. Slapping Joseph on the back that now he had a son to raise, the blessing of a great responsibility.

I know this sounds strange to many of you because it goes against the grain of what the church has long established. But I have to think that God would not announce this big occurrence then leave a teenage girl to handle it alone.  Yes, the scripture is silent as far as Mary's family goes except in one place. Luke 2:44 tells us the holy family was traveling with family and friends from the Passover celebration in Jerusalem. If they had been abandoned years ago by their families, they would not have been traveling with them when Jesus was twelve.

God knew she would need the help and support of family. Her family knew the huge weight Mary and Joseph carried, and didn't abandon them. They were there. How long were they there? To the end. Mary's sister was at the cross with her. And if you research the names there's a good chance that the sons of thunder were cousins of Jesus.