Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Biblical Oils - Frankincense

Ah, Frankincense. The other oil brought to Jesus by the three wise men. So precious and sweet it was part of a special perfume God directed Moses to make for the temple. This perfume was to be considered holy for God alone. Not for man to use. (Exodus 30)

According to Connie and Alan Higley in their book Reference Guide to Essential Oils it is mentioned over 52 times in the Bible because they include the word incense which was sometimes translated from the word frankincense. By name, Frankincense is mentioned several times in the Bible, especially in Leviticus. You see, it was part of meat and bread offerings, but definitely not to be part of any sin offering. It was associated with perfuming the king or groom in Song of Solomon. It is listed among the items that will be lost when the great city of Babylon is destroyed in Revelations 18.

But what makes Frankincense stand out as an important gift to give a king?

It's rare because it's found in only two places in the world, Somalia and Oman. This made it very valuable -- even more than gold. For many centuries it was considered the holy anointing oil and thought to give healing. Life Science Publishing's book Essential Oils pocket reference notes that only those with abundant wealth, such as royalty and nobility, possessed it. So, of course, the wise men would want to ensure the new king would have the appropriate oils in his possession.

So what is Frankincense known to heal?

Let's see, Essential Oils pocket reference and Reference Guide for Essential Oils give quite a long list of this sesquiterpenes containing oil's uses. There's tumors, allergies, headaches, depression, respiratory issues, cancer, orthopedic problems, skin health, stomach disorders, blood pressure, nerve pain, dental diseases, mental disorders, insect bites, arthritis and osteoporosis. It's also known to stimulate the immune system, relax muscles, uplift attitudes and promote calming and relaxing. Is there anything it doesn't do?

Again, keeping in mind that Jesus was a healer he didn't need to have this oil to stay healthy. But as mentioned before, possession of this oil had been limited to only the wealthy and royal. Giving this oil to a baby in a small insignificant town was a statement of acceptance into the ranks of royalty. The wise men knew he was the king they had been seeking, and without having to speak a word they told all who saw their gifts that Jesus was royal and worthy of such treasures.

I have one other thought to share before I close. Joseph and Mary may have used the Frankincense and Myrrh for their own ailments until such time as Jesus could help them. But more importantly, when they arrived in Egypt they came with wealth and a way to support the baby Jesus. In a sense, they had the financial backing to get a home and establish a carpentry shop. By selling the oils, albeit perhaps a little at a time, they could support themselves until the time came when God called them to return to Israel. God is a provider for all, even when you've been sent packing away from family and friends to a foreign country.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Biblical Oils - Myrrh

As I mentioned last time essential oils today and back in the Bible were not cheap. Which gives us great insight when we read about the three magi visiting Jesus. They were wise to search the sky for a sign that the promised Messiah was born, and wise to seek out the baby Jesus, and they were wise with their money for they had to be wealthy. The fact that they brought two expensive oils and a precious metal with them tells us this. And because of their gifts they would have traveled with ample security for themselves and their treasures. They wouldn't have taken any chances of having their gifts stolen out from underneath them.

As we all know the two oils they brought to the baby Jesus were Frankincense and Myrrh. But why those? Why not Cedarwood or Hyssop? Why not oils of spices, like Cinnamon? Let's start with Myrrh.

Myrrh, although mentioned several times in the Bible, is first seen in Genesis 37 where tradesmen were carrying it to Egypt. We overlook that detail because the story is about Joseph's first step into slavery.

In Exodus 30 it was part of the sacred anointing oil that God instructed Moses to make.

Another fascinating reference is in Esther 2 where we read that Esther must go through a twelve month cleansing process before she can see the king. Six months of the process was spent having myrrh applied to her body. Hmm, interesting.

Later, in Psalms and Proverbs it is considered a perfume. Which may be why it was combined with frankincense to create a perfumed smoke at the arrival of the groom in Song of Solomon. But then in Mark 15:23 it was mixed with wine to help deaden pain as seen at the crucifixion scene.

Even in these Biblical references we see that it is multifaceted in its uses. So what do we know about it today? What's so fabulous about myrrh?

It's chemical make-up contains sesquiterpenes which help the body to rebuild itself. According to Life Science Publishing's Essential Oils pocket reference book, it's an antioxidant, anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-parasitic, and analgesic. And, it has been used for such things as diabetes, cancer, liver ailments, fungus on the skin, mouth and dental issues, chapped skin, wrinkles, and stretch marks. When you smell it, it is thought to influence the brain's center for emotions and memory.

There's one other application of myrrh I haven't mentioned yet. It was one of the oils used to anoint a dead body thus helping to lessen the smell death brings. (John 19:38-40) Years ago I was instructed that this was the main reason Jesus was given this oil - as a foreshadowing of his death. But as you can see there were many reasons myrrh would have been used by the holy family. It was the three king's way of insuring Jesus had the best medical care available. Never mind he could heal anyone of anything; they gave him what they felt he would need throughout his life.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Biblical Oils (Part 1)

How many of you use essential oils?  In case you are unaware, essential oils are growing in popularity. And while some are discovering them for the first time, they are not new. There are several references to oils being used in the Bible, mainly for food, offering and anointing. But there are other references that may go undetected, for instance Psalms 133 and Numbers 16.

For many years I wondered what happened to the Biblical oils used for incense and anointing. Why did people stop using them? I often questioned if there was anything worthy in the knowledge of using oils or did it become archaic and obsolete as medicine fine tuned itself. As far as I was concerned oils weren't around anymore. In fact, when my brother started to use an oil called Thieves I was impressed that he had researched oils enough to have found this information. Turns out, I just didn't know where to look.

As I began to read and hear about oils a part of me still felt it was a bunch of fru-fru archaic stuff, even if it was brought back into usage by physicians during WWI. Recently, my brother showed me two other easily overlooked passages in the Bible. Ezekiel 47 talks about the wonderful water flowing from the temple, nourishing the land and eventually producing fruit trees. At the tail end of the chapter is the description stating the leaves are to be used for healing. Helloooo...oils! And when the tribulation is done and over with (Revelation 22), there will be a healing brought to the nations, believe it or not, through the leaves of the tree of life.

So what have I done with this knowledge of oils? I've begun using them for freshening a room and for a variety of ailments from bug bites to muscle tension to nasal congestion.

Now, before I go any further I do want to say that visiting a physician to find out what's ailing you is most important. Self diagnosing can be a dangerous thing to do. I also found a couple of resources that indicate that some oils may worsen a condition rather than help it. The same thing happens with homeopathic medication. You could be doubling up a dosage if you take something without first consulting your doctor.

Do these oils work? When used properly and if your body accepts it the right way, yes. For example, recently I burned myself with overly hot water at a restaurant. One of the workers brought me a packet of burn ointment they use in the kitchen. Guess what the active ingredient was? An essential oil. Within minutes the burn was gone.

Another thing I've learned is that the oils are not cheap. Nor were they cheap in the days of the Bible. Some of the oils come only from one place or one type of vegetation on the earth. They are made from the leaves, roots, and flowers of all kinds of trees, shrubs and bushes. And it takes lots of that ingredient to make a liter of oil. Which is why in Biblical days the oils were treasured and of equal value with gold when given as a gift.

Over the next few weeks I'd like to fill you in on some of these Biblical treasures. We'll start with Frankincense and Myrrh that the wise men brought to the baby Jesus. There was a reason beyond displaying wealth that these expensive oils were given to Jesus as a gift.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Passion vs Passionate

What do you think of when you hear passion or passionate? Do you first think of a love scene in a movie? Maybe you think of someone who's so crazy about their work or hobby that when the subject is brought up that's all they talk about.

When I was a preteen my dad was stationed in Germany and we went to see the famous production called the Passion Play. It happens every ten years for a set season in the town of Oberammergau, a beautiful town in the Bavarian Alps. The play is based on the life and death of Jesus and takes two days to watch. It was all in German, but I could figure out what was happening by watching. It's quite something. The whole town shuts down to perform the play.

Now that's being passionate about a play. Why do they put so much effort into a story that most churches tell in an hour program once a year? I'll tell you why.

In the 1600's when whole villages were dying off due to an epidemic of the plague, the village people got together and prayed for God's protection. They promised God if He would spare them they would present the story of Jesus in their village every ten years. The village was spared. And, except for a few wars they have kept to this time frame and continue the tradition of the Passion Play.

I never questioned why it was called the Passion Play, but thought it odd. What is passion? Why name a story about Jesus Passion?  It's a strange word actually. Merriam-Webster's definitions for passion include strong feelings that might lead in a dangerous direction, a strong romantic feeling, the sufferings of Jesus, emotional reactions and just plain suffering. Some of these are older definitions but are still listed.

I like what Jewish Jewels said in their newsletter for November. The love God has for us is so great that it is a passion. He is passionate about having us with Him for eternity. Jesus has so much love for us that He suffered for us - first he put himself under the law by being born to a woman, then ended his hard work on earth by being put through an unjust trial, then humiliated by having his clothes stripped off, then publicly beaten during his humiliation, then killed in the most horrible public way.

Are you passionate enough about anyone that you would do these things? Especially, when at anytime in that process you can stop what was being done to you? It's like a grown man allowing his toddler children to beat him up when at anytime he could swing his arm and knock all of them down then place them in time out or send them to their rooms. You get the idea.

I for one am glad that Jesus had that much love and desire for man that he came to live among us. As we near the celebration of his birth let's all remember just how much he endured for us because of his passion for us.

Friday, November 21, 2014


Have you ever wondered where the name Hebrew came from? When did the Israelites start being known as Hebrews? And why? Recently these question came to my mind.

Strong's Concordance defines Hebrew as being related to Eber, who was a descendant of Noah's son Shem and an ancestor of Abram. That's an interesting connection, but why not say "the Shemite" if you're going to refer to a relative. The NKJV Concordance simply called it a term used in referring to Jews.

The Chronological Study Bible and The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible along with an article in the Biblical Location of the Lost Ten Tribes gave me a better explanation of the term.

The first one to be called a Hebrew is Abraham, while he is still known as Abram. We see this reference in Genesis 14. Prior to this Abraham is just Abram, the man God called to leave the home he knew, taking his family and way of life to the mysterious land God promised him. So what happened to change how Abram was known?

Well, during that time there were a group of wanderers that were called Habiru, also known as Hapiru and Apiru. (Just a side note: the root word here comes from a word meaning to cross over.) These people left their homelands, for whatever reason, and wandered about other lands, finding no place to rest and settle. Some of these groups were large and fought as an army. And, as is with all groups, some of these people caused trouble wherever they went.

Let's do a quick review of Abraham's story and see if he falls under the definition of Habiru.

Abram and Lot left their homeland to travel to this promised location. They never settled anywhere because they went where the grass was green and their flocks could feed. But after leaving Egypt Abram decides they need to part company in order to keep the peace between their workers. So Lot chooses the land where the grass is green enough that it resembles the Garden of Eden and Egypt, and Abram goes into Canaan. So now there's two related groups with very large flocks roaming the countryside in two directions.

And when Lot is captured, an escapee goes to the other wandering relative, Abram, to bring his army of 318 men to rescue the captives. And he does. Unfortunately for Lot, he is returned home to the land of Sodom and Gomorrah.

I don't know about you, but the definition of Habiru sure seems to fit Abraham. I can see where people would have looked at him as being a Habiru. And it's so similar in spelling to Hebrew, they look like they might have been pronounced similarly. Although, the article linked above states the words are pronounced differently. In spite of this, it totally makes sense to me.

Of course, the reference stuck. Descendants of Abraham still call themselves Hebrews. And, Israel calls their language Hebrew.

But I have one more tidbit of information. Hebrew isn't the only descriptive word given to the Israelites. According to the referenced site mentioned above, many Hebrews, or Israelites, migrated to the north into Europe. The Romans saw these people as uncivilized and called them Barbari or Iberi. From those names came the term barbarian. Who knew? All this time I thought barbarians were a rough, unkempt, murderous people. Actually, the definitions found in include uncivilized and savage. But it also includes philistine, and someone living outside the Roman Empire or a Christian country.

Isn't word history interesting? This has given me a greater understanding of how others viewed the father of many nations when he first came on the scene. And, it fills in the gaps, so to speak.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

What's the Therefore There For?

Have you ever looked at 2 Thessalonians 1:11? Paul is writing to the Thessalonians and tells them, "Therefore we also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power,..." (2 Thessalonians 1:11)(NKJV)
A friend asked me to prepare a devotional thought on this verse and I have to admit at first it left me a little perplexed as to its meaning. But then I remembered a lesson I received many years ago. . .when you see "therefore" go back and see what it's there for. So I did. I read the whole chapter. Turns out, it's a wonderful blessing written by Paul.

In essence he's saying, "You're doing a great job and we're bragging on you. Don't worry about what you're going through because those who are trying their best to put you down and tear up your families, homes and businesses are going to find themselves in the middle of destruction and far from anything God has to offer. Also, because you've been doing a good job up to now we're praying that God keeps giving you the power and faith to complete all your desires to do this good work. In this way you can glorify Jesus and He can glorify you."

With this message in mind, I come away with a couple of thoughts. One, God gives me the strength to continue striving to be His example before others no matter what life throws my way. And for the record, one thing I've learned is that what one person sees as a huge persecution is nothing  to someone else. It's all in what we can individually handle. God knows this. He knows us better than we know ourselves. In fact, He's there through each little or big struggle helping us to succeed.

And, secondly, that old adage of troubles showing where you truly stand with God is reflected in this scripture. Troubles and frustrations, which I'd rather not have, aren't there to add stress to my life. They are opportunities to show love to my fellow believers; to show tolerance, love and guidance to those who have yet to find Jesus; to bring glory to God because no matter the outcome He walks through those troubling times with me.

All I can say is, "Ouch." I don't always remember this. Unfortunately, I know I don't pass the test every time. And when I compare my dealings to the persecutions believers on the other side of the world deal with, I feel as small as a mouse. But then I remember, God knows this. And He's there for each of us in each struggle we face cheering us on to be a shining light to those who live in our circle of life and thus bringing glory to Jesus.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Trick or Treat or Witch's Night

Count me odd but honestly, I really don't like Halloween. As a child I took little pleasure in dressing up to walk door-to-door amongst scary costumes only to receive candy I detested. Although, I must say, sometimes I could trade off those undesirables and still end up with more candy than my parents usually had around the house.

And while candy is currently the main focus of this holiday, it did have questionable beginnings. The History Channel gives an excellent explanation of this celebration. I learned a great deal by reading their article.

One thing I already knew was that not every country celebrates this particular holiday. But, as I learned while living in Germany as an adult, there is another yet similar celebration. It's called Hexennacht or Walpurgisnacht, translated Witch's Night, and happens in the spring on the last day of April. Of course it's practiced in other European countries, but since my experience comes from Germany I'll stick with what I know of the celebrations.

What I do remember is that it was compared to our Halloween celebration with two differences. No candy was involved. And, it was only tricks and pranks that occurred that night. As part of the tradition the children or youth of a village play tricks on others in the town. If you left anything outside overnight, it was fair game. It could end up in the town square, or up in your neighbor's tree, or anywhere the teens found humorous. And, don't bother calling the police the next morning because you were warned of the possibility of damage. Most of the pranks we experienced were on the humorous side.

Thinking back to my childhood, I remember being told in school that when the trick-or-treating practice began in this country, the tricking was a reality. Now, as I recall, the trickery was not malice in any way. Interestingly enough, I did not find that bit of information at any of the sites I researched. But it's got me thinking.

I feel this holiday has played the biggest trick on all of us. While we have wonderfully cute costumes nowadays, long gone are sheets pulled over heads to mimic and scare away ghosts, the evil factor still remains. We decorate with the goal of scaring people with fearsome skulls, gruesome cuts, and weapons of bloody destruction. So where's the trick in it all? It takes our focus off the real treat in life.

You see, there is an ultimate treat we might forget to focus on right now. No candy, no sugary substance, no colorful drink can compare to the treat that Jesus has given each of us. He suffered the horrors embraced in this season so that he could be an incredible life-giving treat which takes us away from the fears and dreads this season embraces.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Sea Peoples

It's been a while since I looked at the book A Visual Guide to Bible Events, and this time I read about Samson and the Philistines. The chapter actually answered some questions I have had for a couple of years while doing research for a book.

In that time, I watched a program (which I can't remember the name of) that spoke about people hiding in caves to get away from the "sea people". The producers of the program didn't know who these people were. Only that they were greatly feared because of their ruthlessness. It was the first time I had heard the term sea people. And since I didn't use the internet to try to find the answer, it's been a puzzle for me. That is until I read the chapter mentioned above.

So, here's a quick synopsis of the chapter's short summary. The Canaanite people had strategically placed towns along the Mediterranean coastline. About the same time as the Israelites return comes a strong, highly militarized people with advanced weaponry attacking from the sea. The Canaanite cities are destroyed and the new people erect cities of their own. These people were called the Philistines by the Hebrews. But to the Egyptians, according to Mazar in Archaelogy of the Land of the Bible, they were also known as the "Sea Peoples". Bingo. Question answered.

And as far as Samson is concerned, his actions angered the Philistines over and over again. See Judges 13-16. Personally, I would have loved to have seen the fox episode. Can you picture foxes tied together by their tails? Now try to picture a lit torch tied between their tails. I can see them jumping and trying to pull away from each other. Then Samson sets the foxes free to run in the fertile fields of the Sorek Valley. And how many foxes did he tie up? Three hundred! Good-bye crops.

Samson wasn't a perfect man, but you have to admire the strength and ability to do such a feat. Most people remember him more for his encounter and demise through Delilah. But, ultimately his greatest victory came at his death when he pulled an entire building down on all the leaders of the Philistine people.

Did this stop the Philistines? No. When Saul and David come into the picture of Israel's history, the Philistines are still hanging around. Remember Goliath? Now you understand why the Israelites were very hesitant about engaging in fighting these feared people. Albeit they forgot they had God on their side.

The Philistines, or sea people, were a tough group to get rid of. And while they lived in varying stages of peace with the Israelites, they continually fought over control of the Sorek Valley. I'm not sure what happened to the Philistines in the end. Perhaps it was the Babylonians or Assyrians who finally destroyed their power. But by the time of the New Testament the fierce Philistines were replaced by the even tougher and more organized Romans.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Living the Unbelievable

When I started this blog I chose it's title because writing a blog post is something I would not ever considered doing based on my personality. It was a new requirement in my life pulling me out of the box I lived in and onto a dedicated path of writing. You must know that writing or spending time with technology are not natural callings for me. But when God calls you to write a book, you take the steps necessary to do it.

I must admit that writing has become more natural for me. I live, sleep, eat and drink post ideas as well as book ideas. I've been published in two books and written one of my own and am almost finished with the second book in the series. Who would have thought?

As I think on these things I realize I am living the unbelievable. But the unbelievable is not happening just in my life, it's all around me. We live in a time of unbelievable things happening. Just look at the news.

It has been a long time since we've heard of a disease attacking children to the point of paralysis and near death. Science has managed to stop most of the childhood diseases of the past; i.e. measles, mumps, chicken pox, polio, etc. This cold virus gone mad is their newest challenge.

But it doesn't stop there. The virus Chikungunya attacks all ages, as does the Ebola virus. While the concentration of these diseases is outside the U.S., it is still out there threatening to enter our borders. If you concentrate on all three of these it can be overwhelming.

The unbelievable situation of these diseases threatening to attack the unsuspecting is joined by the groups that hate everyone that is not a part of their group. "Wars and rumors of wars" keep coming to my mind. One country is attacking Israel in an attempt to conquer it. While another has a civil war threatening to go global. What I find more incredible is that they get their new recruits via the internet. News shows air snippets of these recruiting efforts coming from locations one would think didn't have internet connections. But somehow they do. Inconceivable.

I'm sure there's more I could describe that would point out that we all are living in an unbelievable time. And, as I've said before, I'm glad to know that God is in control of the bigger picture. In His book of Revelation, He tells us how crazy and unbelievable things will get as this world nears its end. None of this surprises Him. I just need to remind myself to look to Him when yet another thing occurs confirming how unbelievable life is right now.

Monday, September 29, 2014


I started to write this posting before the U.S. and other nations bombed Syria and Iraq in an effort to slow down ISIS and Khorasan. While I don't want to see war, I was very glad to see our military launch an attack to slow down the efforts of a group bent on bringing down Western countries.

I have to admit, many times I hesitate to even turn on the news. . .there's so much evil and ugliness nowadays that I'm not sure I want to hear any more. But, last week I was glad to hear of action being taken, that the military did what they are trained to do in taking down a new enemy before the rest of us know there is another enemy. We don't always get to hear about these military victories.

Does this action stop the evil from happening? No. Did it make the groups hit by the bombs mad? Sure it did. The surprise attack is no longer a surprise. Are we still targets? Yes. So is there a chance to have peace? That's the million dollar question.

While peace evades the countries of the Middle East, I must confess that hearing this news in the confines of my home, far from the countries under attack, makes everything seem detached from me. But, in many ways it's not. Those fellow citizens are fighting half a world away to keep me safe in my home and at peace. Then I realize that on any given day we could have a repeat of 9/11, not just in the U.S. but in other western countries. Now where's my peace?

And what exactly is the peace I'm looking for? According to Merriam-Webster, peace by definition is a state of quiet or tranquility. adds it is a freedom of the mind from annoyance, distraction, anxiety, obsession...a tranquility, serenity.

How do I get that?

Here's where God comes in. How many times in the Bible have you read, "Do not be afraid," or "Fear not...," or "Peace to you..."? While some of those people were told these words because an angel of the Lord stood before them, others were in the midst of trouble. Either way, nerves were on fire inside the person and they're told to be at peace. This is how God works. If there is nothing happening to scare you, if there's no reason to cry out to God, then there's no need for additional peace.

So while it only takes turning on the TV to be scared and fearful of harm, I need to cling to what I know in the scriptures. God is in control of the bigger picture. And nothing that happens is a surprise to Him. I just have to remember that my peace comes from Him and not the status of peace in the world.

Now is a great time to read, really pray, the Psalm being recited by the Jewish people at this time of year... Psalm 27. Read it. Pray it. Cling to it.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

It's Here

What's here? The time to wake up and smell the weeds. I say weeds because to say roses would imply that things are sweet. And, they are not sweet. We need to look around and stop pretending that the awful things written in the Biblical book Revelation will never happen.

I know that sounds fatalistic but have you been listening to the news? There are so many people being killed because of their faith and refusal to follow ISIS or Hamas. Some networks tell it all, while others play it down. If you only listen to the local news that's all you're going to hear... local news. I follow Joel Rosenberg's blog and my eyes have been opened to so much more as a result.

If you follow the link above you'll read about believers in Iraq being killed by ISIS. Not just killed but beheaded and crucified. Hello. Did you know those actions were still in practice today? Most of us probably didn't, but now there's a video floating around the internet showing the recent beheading of an American reporter.

Years ago when I read the book of Revelation for the first time I scoffed at the word 'beheaded' (20:4). My thinking was, "no one does that anymore; John was wrong when he saw that." I admit that was very naive of me. But I truly thought modern man was beyond beheading, hanging or crucifying people to death. Now, years later I find out I'm wrong.

Hearing of the recent beheadings alone tells you that we are in the midst of the beginning stages of what's to come. I don't want anyone to be scared in any way. On the one hand it is an atrocity to hear of these things happening. On the other hand, the Bible tells us how bad things will get as we head into the years before and during the Tribulation.

We have options to take now. We could run into the streets yelling, "The sky is falling and the world is coming to an end. Save yourselves. Run away from the city and hide." We could sock away stock piles of food and supplies to last another lifetime. Or, we can go before God Most High and ask Him for directions, as well as for peace.

As bad as things seem to be getting I have to realize that God is in control. Read Revelation 6:9-11. Those who died because of their faith ask when will their blood be avenged. God's reply is the clincher. There is a certain number of fellow servants and believers that God is waiting to be completed. Until then He waits.

What should we do as we hear about these deaths? I don't know about you but I will continue to pray for believers in Iraq and Syria. For that matter, throughout all the Arab nations. As I posted earlier there are Jesus followers even in Muslim countries. Let's not let our fellow believers down by ignoring the fact that their lives are threatened with death.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Out With the Old and in With the New

Every autumn marks the beginning of a new school year. Depending on where you live, school starts either right before or just after Labor Day. It brings a sense of excitement to the season as something new is about to happen. It's the one thing that breaks up the warm fun-in-the-water days of summer.

When you think about it, autumn is a great time to start a school year. It reflects how everything is changing as the temperatures begin dropping to signal the impending winter months. Personally, I love the fall with the start of college football and the foliage colors transforming all around us. Of course for those of us in Texas, if we want color we have to find locations with deciduous trees whose leaves will help us see the beauty of the season. Fortunately, here in the Hill Country all we have to do is take a Sunday ride through the back roads or visit Lost Maples State Park (come early if you want to get in).

I digressed... Let's get back to where we were...

For many people each school year brings new schools and new friends. And while new is good and fun, change can be hard at times. Gone are the routines of the past.

Good or bad, routines are something we can count on... a stability of sorts with no unwanted surprises, almost to the point of boredom. In my case, I love some routine and cling to it when I can. There's nothing like following a repeated pattern and seeing it through to the end each time you start it, or always seeing the same object in the same place wherever that may be. But, to experience change now and then does keep me feeling fresh and alert.

So while I love routine, I have found God doesn't call us to a routine which can lead to indifference or being stagnant. He calls us to change. He wants us to always be moving forward whether it's in our personal life or walk with him.

It's my love of routine that has kept the same furniture and household items in my life for decades. But as we move our things back into place after renovating the house, I've found that it's time to change. This is a big step for me, but as I look back over my life I can see where change has made a difference. For example, if I had never left Texas to follow my husband in his military moves, I would never have learned the Biblical truths I now know.

So, I'm taking a lesson from the season and embracing the change happening in my home. Whether it's just at school or in some other avenue, may you also enjoy the changes this autumn brings to your life.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

When is Enough Enough?

The phrase, "God never gives you more than you can handle," has come to mean more to me in the last three years then ever before.  In the past I've heard people explain away the trials of others by that statement, saying, "Well, God won't give him more than he can handle, so he must be able to handle this on his own.  I'll just pray for him."  Honestly, asking God what kind of help is needed for the person would be a better action.

Now before you start shutting me out... thinking, I'm up on some pedestal, preaching should and should nots... let me say one thing.

When trials come my way, and I remember those words, I try talking to myself in much the same way as the little engine going up the hill... "I think I can, I think I can."  Although, I must confess, it's more like singing the chorus, "God will make a way where there seems to be no way."

This is a chorus I've sung almost weekly over the past three years.  I think if I were to take a stress test that covered that time period, my score might well be off the charts.  As my already high level has recently elevated with the ever increasing renovations we've been undergoing, I have experienced fatigue.  Fatigue that has interrupted my easy focus on God and my weekly postings. (Note my last posting was one month ago.)  As I struggle to keep that focus where it belongs I've looked on the above phrase in a new light.

God may not give us more than we can handle, but is what we can handle more than we think?  Do you ever feel that one more thing on your plate will send you over the edge?  Before my recent much needed vacations, I realized I was at the end of my strength.  That feeling of "I can't do this" was overwhelming and brought me to a point where I could go no further.

My rescue came in the form of my sister making an additional trip down just to help me prepare for the next step in the renovation process.  Her help was a breath of fresh air.  I didn't have to ask her to come.  Still, God used her to lighten my load.

In all this I learned a jewel of a lesson.  If I take my eyes off Jesus and stop looking to Him for guidance every day, I falter.  I accomplish far less than is normally possible and I'm exhausted by what little I do complete.

So, while I discovered I can handle more than I thought I could, I have also found that sometimes it takes putting someone at the brink of overload that gets our attention to turn to God... to ask daily for His energy, His wisdom, His guidance for the next step in the day.  And that next step, may be to stop and rest in His peace.  I also learned, actually I'm still learning, that I don't have to be perfect to accomplish what God has for me to do each day.  God knows my weakened state.  I only have to reach His goal to the best of my current ability.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Teacher King

I know the Israelites in the days of the New Testament were expecting a Messiah to come and rescue them from the treacheries of the Romans. The timing was right in as far as prophecy had predicted the time when the Messiah would arrive. In fact, Jesus was a popular name for a baby when the Messiah was born. That's one of the reasons he was called Jesus of Nazareth. It helped identify him.

Other prophecy called for him to be a Servant King. And he was. The climax of this was when he washed the disciples feet. This was something new for his followers. Can you see the mayor of your town washing the feet of his office staff, including the janitors? Or a general of an army, who expects his commands to be followed without question, washing the feet of the privates under his command? Kind of gives it a different spin on it, doesn't it?

Whether you think of Jesus as a servant King, or a conquering King, or just simply the Messiah, he is known as a teacher to all of us. We read his parables today and still learn from them. We search his words regarding the end days to see if we are nearing them. We learn about heaven and what to expect when we enter eternity.

And while thinking of him as a teacher is second nature to us, it may have been a stumbling block to the Jews of old, especially the Pharisees. According to Lois Tverberg in Listening to the Language of the Bible, the people were expecting the Messiah to teach from and about the law. No wonder the people gathered to hear him speak. He brought understanding to the heart of the law. He walked the talk.

Somehow I missed that connection. I didn't realize the Messiah was suppose to teach the people. I just figured it was his way to get the word out that he had arrived and that the people needed to change their lives around in order to get right with God.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

God Works in Mysterious Ways

All I wanted was an answer on what to do with some land we had just outside of town and what to do with our current home. Do we sell the land or build on it? At the time I was leaning toward building on it since our years of having it on the market had failed. Oh we had inquiries about the land but we never got any good offers. Talk about frustrating. Then to add onto that, if we decided to build on the land then we needed to sell our current home. This brought in another dilemma. . . how much do we renovate so that the house holds its worth on the current market?

I was in turmoil. There's so much I would change in the house if we stayed, but if we wanted to sell how much did we need to do? Do we paint? And how many places in the house do we paint? Maybe all we needed to do was change the counter tops in the kitchen. But what about the stained, no-longer-plush carpet. . .do we change it? In which rooms? To what style. . .cheap or high quality? What do I pack up so the house doesn't look cluttered?

The possibilities seemed to snowball. The more I thought on it, the more I needed to consider. My stress level was reaching an all time high. How was I going to sell a house and then turn around and build another one?

So, I cried out to God. In the end, I told him maybe all I needed to do to be happy in my current house was change the carpet. At the time it seemed a weak concession, but it felt like the right answer. At the same time, Dave came up with the same conclusion. We decided we would put the land in God's hands and fix up the old house.

Oddly enough from that moment on things fell into place. (That sounds like a line from a movie.) In whatever way it worked, whether we were on the same page at the same time or the timing was finally right, our lot sold within six months. And our ride to renovating the house began.

The changes to the study were completed without any issues. But the kitchen held another story. In removing the drywall behind the sink we discovered the plumbers were unique in their placement of pipes. This lead to some expected expenses.

And speaking of expenses. . .the kitchen work was placed on hold and slowed when one early morning I discovered that our water heater was leaking. This may not be so alarming to some of you. But, if your water heater is in the attic and the drip pan connection is cracked, then you have a problem.

After one hour of scooping out water from the pan, pulling out every towel we own, and soaking up water from the carpet, we called our insurance company. The water restoration people quickly arrived. They pulled down dry wall, tore out door and floor trim, and cut open the carpet to remove the padding that was soaked before beginning the drying process. And let me just add that large fans and dehumidifiers are LOUD.

Now, months later, we are almost finished with the repair work from the damage done. I must say that I now have a better understanding for all the DIY and home improvement shows that always find something that has to be updated or brought up to code in the midst of their project.

Interestingly enough, the last thing to be fixed is the carpet where the men had pulled up the padding. When the contractor went to put the carpet together they couldn't, so they went back to the insurance company. Come to find out, the carpet will need to be replaced not only in the area where the damage was done but also in the adjoining loft area, bonus room and stairs.

When I talked to God about the carpet I was only thinking about the great room. What I'm getting is far more than I ever expected. And in this round about, mysterious way I see God's hand in it all.

Friday, June 27, 2014

What an Example

My intention last Sunday was to view the segment about drones on 60 Minutes, but what ended up making an impression on me was the story titled "The Coptic Christians of Egypt." It was fascinating to say the least. While I highly recommend that you view the segment through the internet, I will give a quick summary of the points that made me think.

After supporting the military take over, Coptic Christians found themselves under attack by Muslims. Let me insert here that I had no idea there were so many Christians in Egypt. They have multiple churches and even have a pope. I remember hearing of churches being burned but I was thinking the buildings were probably small and not many of them. The pictures shown on Sunday were cathedral type buildings now burned and crumpled in the wake of the destruction done by Muslims.

What the show's producers probably thought they would find were Christians seeking revenge, instead they found people still meeting in large crowds. Still worshiping Jesus. And still getting a cross tattoo on their wrist that identified them as Coptic.

But what hit home with me the most was the attitude of the leadership of the church. They embrace the discrimination. They have always had it. They have forgiven those who destroyed their churches and killed some of their membership. They feel that if they do anything less than forgive they are not just enough to ask for justice from God.

The peace and sincerity I saw in that leader's face was refreshing. He showed no hidden agenda. He truly embraces what he spoke. What a testament. Those Christians stand strong for God, for Jesus. They're not letting destruction stop them. The persecution continues to surround them and yet they keep going forward for Jesus.

I wonder. . .in our country where we have the liberty to worship God freely, do we know our God well enough to stand this strong? Would we pick ourselves up and forgive those who try to knock us down? Or do we take our fight to the court system crying foul play?

If our liberties were to change, how would we respond? How would we look at life? Would we welcome the discrimination and the chance to stand up for our faith? Would we be the God-loving example the Egyptian Coptic Christians show themselves to be? It makes you think. Doesn't it?

I thank God we have the Coptic Christians as examples of God's love and forgiveness. May God continue to bless them for their faithfulness.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Ode to Mom

Sorry about the lapse in postings. The past several weeks have involved remembering a rough time in our lives. My mother passed away a year ago after a quick battle with bile duct cancer, a silent one that leaves its victims with less than six months to live once discovered. One thing I've learned over the years is that cancer shows no respect to any area of the body and will grow wherever it pleases.

I could deviate and talk about cancer but that would not serve the purpose I have for this post.

Mom was an amazing person. Many may not realize what she accomplished in her life time. She spoke no English when she won a language-based-scholarship to study in America. She married a man who could not afford a maid, so she had to learn to cook, clean and raise children all by herself. She taught herself to paint oils and watercolors out of her loneliness for home. Later, after being taught Chinese Brush Painting by an expert, she instructed others in all areas of painting.

She experienced a mixture of receptions while she lived in America. From those thinking all people from Mexico were poor and uneducated to those who spoke to her because she was from Mexico. On many occasions she was asked to speak about her native home. She was even invited by military base leadership to accompany visiting dignitaries because of who she was.

Through it all she kept her eyes on Jesus. Right before the process of finding out what was going on with her body she complained to God that she had no one to talk with or to share what she had to say. But there in the hospital while all the tests were being run, she greeted everyone who entered her room. Telling them that her life was in God's hands and why she knew it. She didn't preach at them. She just loved on them. When they moved her to another unit, the first unit people came to visit. When she returned to the hospital for more procedures, they came back again. While waiting for me to bring the car around at the end of her stay she heard a small voice tell her, "It is finished." Less than six weeks later she was gone.

Once I knew of her desire to reach out to others I started a blog for her. Unfortunately, I was too late to have fresh lessons posted. And even though the postings are from her written memoirs she is still reaching others for God.

If I can take away anything from her life it's this. Life may not always be easy going and pleasurable, and some of the people you meet along the way make you want to shake some sense into them. But, we shouldn't let anything stop us from going on an adventure in life and doing all that God has for us to do.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014


When do you think Pentecost began? For many years I only associated Pentecost with the disciples speaking various languages when the Holy Spirit came into the upper room and filled the men with the ability to speak all kinds of dialects. Don't ask me what I was thinking, but I didn't realize that the whole event was actually named after the Jewish high holiday called the Festival of Pentecost, which I knew as the Feast of Weeks, or the Festival of Shavuot.

This week is that celebration. It occurs fifty days after Passover. The most notable one occurs in the book of Acts when over one hundred thousand people returned to the city of Jerusalem. These people would have seen Jesus crucified just fifty days earlier, but they had no idea the significance of that act until another unusual thing happened during the Pentecost.

You see the rush of wind in the upper room and its house could be heard outside and the people came running. According to A Visual Guide to Bible Events, when the room filled to capacity they moved outside, more than likely to the southern steps of the temple. Just so you know, the rabbis would frequently teach the people from that location. The steps were wide enough to accommodate many people and the apostle's voices could be heard easily.

While the other disciples spoke in tongues that got the people's attention, Peter spoke to clarify what was happening. He helps the people make a connection between what they saw in Jesus and what was promised in the scriptures. Here's an interesting fact about the feast, not only were the people giving thanks for the grain harvests but they were also recalling the giving of the law at Mount Sinai. Don't you find it interesting that on that very celebration Peter would show the people that the law and it's prophecies for Messiah had come to fruition?

And here's another interesting tidbit. Next to these steps was a large ritual bath set-up (miqva'ot) that could have been used for the baptisms that followed Peter's teaching. And while only three thousand were baptized that day, you know that the rest of the listeners went back home and shared how men from Galilee spoke the dialects of lands to which they'd never traveled.

How amazing that must of been. Today not only do we have the Bible written in almost every language, but it's also available in many forms. The first Pentecost after the resurrection of Jesus was the start of it all. . .getting the word out to the world that God loves them and wants them to join him in heaven for eternity.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Buying Back

Did you know that another way to say redeem is "buying back"? So when we say Jesus is the Redeemer, we are saying he bought us back. Back from what you may wonder? Back from sin and a death away from God.

But, I've also heard Jesus often referred to as the kinsman-redeemer. Do you know what a kinsman-redeemer is? I had only a vague idea until I read Lois Tverberg's book, Listening to the Language of the Bible.

Think back to the days of the Bible. Do you ever read about insurance companies? Or, benevolent people and organizations restoring homes? Or, the government using tax money to help the people recuperate in any way? There were no funds to help you rebuild after a storm tore up your field, or house, or place of business. So, the place people went to for help was their family. Relatives, as a kinsman-redeemer, were expected to come to the aid of family members in need.

In this way, if a person had to sell their portion of the family farm because of bad investments or bad crop growth then the kinsman-redeemer would buy the land to keep it in the family. Or, if someone got so indebted that they became a slave the kinsman-redeemer would buy them back.

The family member would remain obligated to his redeemer and belong to him, but not as a slave. He would be like a close family member. The example Lois Tverberg gave was the story of Boaz and Ruth. Boaz bought the land from Naomi in order to keep it in the family and this included Ruth, whom he took as his wife.

So, Jesus bought us back by his death and resurrection. We are in a sense indebted to him for the price he paid. But, he doesn't see us as his slave or servant. He sees us as family members who've been saved from being eternally separated from the heavenly realm. How awesome is that?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Where's God?

Do you remember a few weeks ago I wrote about bad things happening? Recently, it seems the global outcries have increased. . .what with, school girls being taken away from families while they were at school. . .countries invading other countries because the old regime wants their power back. . .fellow country men killing each other in order to gain political control. It doesn't appear to take much for men to kill or attack others, whether they are helpless girls or armed fellow citizens.

It's really sad to see all this happening. While most of these countries do not recognize God as their god, there are some who might ask why doesn't God intervene? In a sermon years ago, the pastor stated God can't be expected to be around when things turn bad if he wasn't asked or accepted when things were going good; he can't be where he wasn't asked to come in.

While this is true I had my eyes opened to another possibility when I read Amos 4. God called a 'non-prophet' shepherd, Amos, to speak prophecy about destruction to the well-to-do temple-going people in Bethel during a time of relative peace. Chapter four talks about what God is sending and what he has already caused or allowed in order to get the attention of his people so that they will turn back to him.

What gets me is how similar Amos 4 sounds to today. One city getting rain, almost too much, and another city on the brink of severe drought. One city borrowing water from another. The destruction of vegetation by pests. Diseases and murders. Some people being spared from the edge of destruction and still not turning to God.

Amos does speak of hope, though. In verse 5:4 he tells the people to seek God so that they may be saved. And, he ends his prophecy by saying that the destroyed cities will be rebuilt and vegetation restored.

So when I think about how bad things look, I hope to remember God will use this to bring people to him. God's purpose is being served. Let's pray that not only in our country, but in countries being thrown into the eyes of the world, there will be a calling out and returning to the one true God.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Eating to Forgive

Is there someone you enjoy eating a meal with? Or someone you avoid during meals? Is there a reason why you feel that way? Do you ever use a meal as a way to get to know someone better? Of course, there are all kinds of special meals where you may or may not have a choice who gets to join in. . .birthdays, wedding receptions, Christmas, Thanksgiving. . .I suppose the list could go on and on.

There's one meal where everyone from all walks of life is welcomed, and we celebrate it in churches across the globe. That's the last supper, better known as communion. Even those who don't frequent the door of a church may know of this meal, since the scene is recreated in many paintings.

The last supper, or Passover meal, introduces the disciples to the new covenant with Jesus. He tells them how his body and blood will take away the sins of the people. They may not have understood what he was saying at the time but they did later on. Through him there is salvation. . .our ticket to heaven, so to speak. There is, however, another meal that carries as much or more weight in the end.

Not long after that last Passover meal the disciples did the unthinkable. All but two scattered. How did the disciples know they were forgiven for running away when it really counted? Especially after they told Jesus they wouldn't run; that they'd always be there.

According to Dr. James Martin, in his book Exploring Bible Times, there was an ancient custom known as a meal covenant that signaled to those invited that they were forgiven and accepted. He referred to the meal in Psalm 23 as being of this nature.

When Jesus ate in front of the disciples in the upper room in Luke 24 he was showing them not only was he alive and well but that he forgave them. And, in case there was any doubt as to his forgiveness, he did it again. In John 21, Jesus was the provider of the meal when he called the disciples over to join him on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. This second time he was assuring the disciples they were forgiven and accepted by him.

Now that's the meal to remember. Even when we deny him, even when we fail to accomplish all we set out to, even when we show our weaknesses to the world, Jesus will forgive us and accept us back to his celebration table.

Friday, May 2, 2014

When Bad Things Happen

I don't like it when bad things happen. Nobody does. Especially when it happens on a large scale or to someone we love. It can make us angry at God. Or, beg the question, "Why God? Why did you allow this bad thing to happen?"

But, here's the shocker. Bad things happening and evildoers have always been around. If you don't believe me, just read the Bible. Hello, that's God's book. And, God being in our lives will not stop things we see as evil or bad from happening. . . look at Luke 13. Those things occurred while Jesus was walking among the Israelites. So if evil is not new and may eventually find its way to our doorstep, how do we deal with it when it happens to us?

Last week I saw a city struggle with a threat to its children. Parents responded in a variety of ways. But the law enforcement officers rose to the occasion and kept each and every school safe. A lesson can be learned from this I feel.

It was a moment to learn where our weak point is. For most mothers our children are our weak point. We would rather die than see anything bad happen to any of our children. For fathers, their nature is to protect and do what they need to do to protect their heirs.

Some may ask, "Why has God allowed evil?" Well, it's not really God allowing the evil so much as he allows man to have free will. Free will to choose Jesus as Savior. And, free will to choose to follow the natural path of man that leads to various degrees of evil. Of course, many things are not seen as evil until it involves children, then it gets our attention.

But if your faith is in God, knowing he will take you only when your days are completed, then nothing can stop you from doing his will. Nothing can stop you from going into the world.

So this brings up the question, is death a bad thing?

To those living and breathing, death removes someone from our lives. We don't get to speak with them, or hug them, or even argue with them anymore. It brings a separation that some have trouble dealing with. On the other hand, death takes the person who leaves us to a spiritual plane where there is no fear because God's peace surrounds them. There is no anger because things are good and righteousness rules. There are no questions because God's presence brings all the answers.  Heaven celebrates when another soul joins them.

I don't want to sound like I'm down playing the anguish a parent feels when a child is lost to heaven, but I want to encourage us as parents to downplay the stigma of death being a bad thing. We will all die. . .some day.
When my children were young, as a way to keep them in line and safe, I told them they could fall and die if they continued the questionable activity they were performing. That usually got their attention. Then one day I was admonished by the Lord, "That's why people are afraid of death." I stood speechless. And from that day on I never spoke of death as being an awful result of an action.

As my mom approached the day of her death she shared what she was experiencing in the spiritual realm. She told me, "Be happy because it's all good. It's ALL good. Be happy."

As I grieve her passing I remind myself. . .it's all good where she's at. I still cry for her. And I still have an emptiness that only her pictures and paintings can fill. But it's all good. And some day. . .I'll be there. . .where it's ALL good.

Friday, April 25, 2014


Can you picture burying a loved one in a grave where someone else is already buried? Not in today's world, right? I mean even mausoleums have individual niches. But, that's not how it happened back in Bible days. When they write that the person was placed in a family tomb, that's what they mean. Multiple members of a family were in one tomb.

So, when you read that Jesus was placed in a new, unused tomb, that is something significant. Especially in a city that's been around for centuries.

Now the process they used in caring for the dead is interesting too. According to A Visual Guide to Bible Events, before the body was completely buried in the tomb it was placed on a preparation table first. Once on that table the linen and spices were applied to the body. Then when the process was completed the body was stored in a niche, called a kokh, while the soft tissue decomposed. It was a year or so later that they would place the family member's bones into a small box called an ossuary.

Do you know why they rubbed spices on the bodies of their dead relatives? I thought it was because they didn't embalm their dead like the Egyptians. And, because they visited the grave several times in the first week after someone died. But there was another reason. Apparently, in a sealed tomb poisonous gases would form as the body decomposed. And these spices would stop the formation of those gases.

Interesting, right? But why go back into the tomb? Why put the dead body in a box after it decomposed? Why not put the dead person in a box when he dies?

In a land with limited places to bury the dead, a family did all these preparations so that the body of their loved one could rise from the dead, when the dead are resurrected. (Matthew 22 mentions this future resurrection.) The followers of Jesus had every intention of making the body of Jesus ready for that resurrection.

Can you imagine how shocked they were to find the tomb empty? Think how you would feel if you arrived at the funeral home to make arrangements for a burial and you're told, "You're loved one isn't here anymore. He's alive." I'd be freaked out, wouldn't you?

Anyway, because Jesus was the only one to use this new tomb there could be no confusion as to whose body was missing that wonderful resurrection morning.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Three in One

What does Easter mean to you? For some it's the coming of a bunny that brings baskets filled with colored eggs and presents. But for those who believe in God it's the celebration of Jesus dieing on the cross, defeating hell and its power to punish the sinful, and then rising to life again. Currently, he awaits the signal from the Father that the time is complete and he can return to earth.

The idea that the holy God in heaven has three separate identities yet is one God has tripped up many. Especially when it comes to receiving and accepting that Jesus, as part of that triune, died for everyone. It is a complicated idea, until you look into God's creation.

He knew that understanding the three in one concept would be difficult for mankind to grasp so he created some wonderful examples for us to hold in our hands. While many fruits have three sections that could be used to show how three parts can make up a whole, I prefer the example of the egg.

Each part of the egg is an entity into itself. But the three cannot exist apart from one another. An egg cannot survive to be of use without the shell holding the white and yolk inside. Once the shell is broken you can have access to all parts of the egg.

So how is this similar?

Until Jesus came there were limited times when the Spirit of God came upon someone and allowed them to do mighty things for God. Jesus promised that he would send the Comforter (or Advocate or Counselor, depending on your translation) once he returned to heaven. He even told his followers if he didn't go away that there would be no Comforter coming. (John 16) In addition to this, as per the law, only the high priest could enter into God's presence. And then only once a year.

When Jesus died a miracle happened. The thick heavy curtain that allowed the holy God of Israel to be present among his people without them dieing from being in his righteous presence was torn from the top down. (Matthew 27) God ripped that curtain to signal that all people could now have access to him and enter his holy presence.

The yolk is inaccessible unless you break the shell. Think about it. The shell must be broken in order for the white of an egg to spread out and expose the yolk. Curiously, as it spreads it continues to surround the yolk and still remain attached to the shell. The Holy Spirit works in the same way as he is always in the presence of the Father and Jesus.

Another thing, the white of an egg is also good for gluing things together in the cooking process. The Holy Spirit holds the body of Christ together as it works for the spreading of God's kingdom. It's through him that we communicate with the Father, he even groans for us when we cannot put the right words together as we pray. Check out Romans 8.

And even though the curtain was torn and we can have access to the Father, he is still holy. And only when we come to him in the name of Jesus will the moving of the Holy Spirit allow us to approach the throne of God as a prince approaches the king. And it's through Jesus that we can speak to him in familiar tones. This is the gift we've been given. We just have to accept it.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Becoming Sin

The Passover celebrates how God's angel of death passed over each house having blood on its threshold during the last plague in Egypt. Only by the blood of the sacrificial lamb were they saved from death. In case you may not be aware of it, when Jesus went on the cross he represented a sacrificial lamb and the establishing of a new covenant with God.

Jewish Jewels does an incredible job of explaining the covenants and how Jesus made a one-sided covenant with humanity. His covenant made it possible for all people, not just the nation of Israel, to have hope and access to God. I cannot imagine my life without God. Can you? Jesus did that for me. . .for all of us.

But to give me that hope, Jesus who lived a sinless life had to become sin. How did dying on a cross do that? Well, way back in the Old Testament, in Deuteronomy 21, the instructions given include a man who died on a tree would be cursed, in other words become sinful.

Not only did Jesus become sinful the moment they nailed him to that cross, but he was humiliated in the process. Stripped of his clothes in front of people who knew him and didn't know him. And, he was placed along a road traveled by all the people entering the city for the Passover preparations. That's why passersby could shout insults at him. One of my pastors even mentioned crosses often being placed so that the person was just off the ground, allowing the people insulting the accused to get up in their face as the shouted the insult.

But it didn't stop there. Did you know that the Romans took pleasure in crucifying Jews in a cemetery? I didn't. According to A Visual Guide to Bible Events Jesus was crucified in a cemetery. Those standing by him would have been considered as ritually unclean by the pharisees.

And don't believe some of the depictions of the crucifixion. Yes he had a crown of thorns on his head, but many pictures of Jesus forget the one word in Matthew 27 and Mark 15 that tells us the rest of the story. . . scourged, or flogged. Jesus was stripped of his clothes then given lashes with a flagellum which could kill a man if he was whipped enough times. (Flagellums, in case you didn't know, were a multi-strapped leather whip that had metal and bone tied or embedded in the straps. That thing could rip open a man's skin and expose the rib cage. Not a pretty sight.) And he did this for me and you.

The last thing the Romans did actually backfired on the Sanhedrin. In their attempt to further humiliate Jesus and demean the Jewish people the Roman guard placed a plaque on the cross written in three languages, which said Jesus of Nazareth, The King of the Jews. Here's a curious thing. I was once told that the way the lettering lined up, it spelled the name of God. The Romans in essence were stating that God was being crucified. That was one of the reasons the Sanhedrin were up in arms.

Perhaps some of them came to believe in Jesus as the Messiah, and regretted their decision to have him crucified. Perhaps others begged God's forgiveness when the curtain that had divided a sinless God from a sinful people was torn from the top down the moment Jesus died. Perhaps Peter and Paul helped their family members to see the sin of their fathers and walk away from it.

I hate what Jesus had to go through. It breaks my heart that man would be so guilty of sin that Jesus had to be beaten and punished in such a graphic and brutal manner. But if ever there was a true picture of something bad happening so that something wonderfully good could come of it, this is it.

Jesus had to die on a cross to become cursed and guilty of sin which would send him to hell. But in his righteousness and because he was God he created a pathway out of there. If you choose his path before you die, you don't have to stay where punishment is given. When your time on earth ends, you can pass hell and go directly to heaven, where the streets and buildings are made of the finest and purest gems. Where joy and celebration take place everyday. Where love can be found in its most complete form.

Thank you Jesus for loving us.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Did They Forget?

Many pageants and movies about the life of Jesus show hundreds of common people shouting to Pilate, "Crucify him," which begs the following questions. "Did the people forget Jesus entering Jerusalem as a king earlier in the week? Did they forget how he taught them at the temple? Did they really want a murderer to be freed instead of this good teacher?"

Did you know that when Pilate asks the people about Jesus that it was six in the morning? How many people do you think were out that early in the morning? I mean it is the day of preparation for Passover, but being that early I don't think it was the huge crowds that many productions make it out to be. No, the people answering Pilate were from the Sanhedrin, chief priests and other influential leaders. Check out John18-19, Luke 23, Mark 15 and Matthew 27.

Now, before you get confused because many translations use the word multitude let me remind you that the Sanhedrin was made up of seventy men, seventy influential men who more than likely kept a servant nearby. The passages in Mark and Luke indicate that there were more leaders than just the Sanhedrin. And, I'm sure there were a few early risers passing by who stopped to check things out. So all in all, there was a good sized crowd there to answer Pilate's questions.

I can see the leaders discussing among themselves that allowing Barabbas freed was an easy way to rid themselves of Jesus. So did they, the Sanhedrin, forget what Jesus did or how he entered the city earlier in the week?

Of course not. They remembered. That's one of the reasons they were doing what they were doing.

And those who may have happened on the scene that early dreadful morning, would they have spoken up against the leaders? No. The Sanhedrin were the educated ones. The ones who knew every letter of the law. If the leaders standing by them were implying Barabbas was better than Jesus, who were they to argue?

And while the people did greet Jesus as king by waving palm branches and throwing coats in front of him there was something missing in his entrance. According to a guest speaker on Day of Discovery, a king would have been greeted by the leadership of the city, placed on a platform, introduced to the people, and then allowed to address the city. This did not happen. So for most of the people Jesus was just another actor in the Passover celebration activities.

This is a two-fold scenario here. Sadly the leaders who should have known Jesus was the true Messiah rejected him and agreed to honor only Caesar. Fortunately for everyone else who ever lived the Sanhedrin caused Jesus to be crucified. Without that crucifixion none of us would have hope of an eternal life in heaven.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Pressed Down and Shaken

I've often wondered why Jesus didn't go back to Bethany and celebrate the Passover with Lazarus and his sisters. Why stay in Jerusalem where his enemies were? Turns out that's where everyone was to eat the Passover meal according to Deuteronomy 16:5-6.
And at the end of this particular Passover Jesus takes his disciples away from the upper room to a garden called Gethsemane, which means the place of the oil press. The Mount of Olives was filled with olive trees that extended down into the garden called Gethsemane where the olives were pressed to produce oil. Doesn't sound much like a garden does it?

What an interesting location, right? But the disciples knew this place well. A little statement made in John 18:2 tells us they went there often. And, according to A Visual Guide to Bible Events, people went there to get away from others, to get some privacy.

On this particular night, after a long day of activities and preparations, rather than learning more from Jesus they were asked to pray. But, they failed to stay awake long enough to pray for Jesus as he himself wrestled in prayer. Can you relate to falling asleep if your stomach was full and the night was late and you had trouble focusing on words to pray?

On the other hand, Jesus prayed hard. So hard in fact, that he did something they may never have seen before. He sweated blood. After two millennium of others experiencing the same thing medicine calls it hematohidrosis, or hematidrosis. By description it can happen in several locations on the body, not just the forehead; it can occur with a wide range of blood coloring; and usually occurs when under a great deal of stress.

Knowing you're going to die when you take your next big step is a great deal of stress. But being tempted one last time can add to that stress also.

You see, just up the hill from the garden was the way into the Judean Wilderness. Jesus could have gone up there and hidden from the Pharisees, the chief priests, and the Roman Guard. He could have been free and clear of the brutality that would soon come to him. But then he would have failed. His human nature would have won out and he would not have given us the greatest gift that has ever been given.

Instead he chose to kneel in the garden, crying out to his heavenly Father, "Take this cup." In the end he bowed to the will of the Father. In many ways, waiting there for his punishment he had the last of his human nature pressed out of him in a place known for pressing out oil. Oil that would be used to light lamps that would show the way. Oil that would be used to make bread for an offering.

Jesus showed his followers the way to the Father. He continues to show us the way. He was Son of Man when he was taken to the high priests but more importantly he was the innocent, sinless Son of God when he was beaten then nailed to a wooden cross.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Donkey?

Remember I once said there were meanings behind meanings? Well, there are a few things around Jesus entering Jerusalem the last week before his crucifixion that at one point in my life didn't make sense to my modern mind. Like, why ride the colt of a donkey downhill after resting for a short while? And why didn't everyone take seriously the proclamations they made about Jesus when he rode into town on the donkey? For that matter, why didn't the Roman guards take offense when the people laid their cloaks on the ground in front of Jesus as the people proclaimed him a king?

Maybe you've heard the answers before, but I thought I'd review them for those who hadn't heard them.

Bethphage is where Jesus waited for the disciples to return with the donkey and colt. In that day, that was where the city limits of Jerusalem began. And in order to fulfill the prophecy found in Isaiah 62 and Zechariah 9, Jesus as the Messiah king had to arrive into Jerusalem riding the colt. So that's what he did.

And you know what. The people knew that. In fact, part of the Passover season was celebrating and role playing the soon coming Messiah who would bring a peaceful kingdom. In other words, the removal of the Roman occupiers. So, celebrations were happening throughout the city in various ways. In the eyes of the Roman guard, the entrance Jesus made was only one of the many celebrations going on.

The words the people shouted, ". . .Son of David. . .," associated Jesus with Solomon, who also rode in the exact same way when he came into Jerusalem to be made king. And, both of them were fulfilling a prophecy that had been given to David. And since this was part of what the Messiah King would do, the people added to their reception of Jesus the placing of their cloaks on the ground. Which, by the way, was what people did to greet a king. . .it's akin to rolling out the red carpet.

Oh and as far as the palm branches go. . .that's a symbol of the Jewish nation as well as a symbol of peace. Remember they were thinking the Messiah was bringing peace from the Romans.

So if this was all going on, you may wonder why the Romans didn't get alarmed by the crowd around Jesus and what they were yelling and doing. There were several reasons. First, if Jesus wanted to be king and usurp Caesar he would have ridden a horse not the colt of a donkey. And his people would have been armed in some manner other than palm branches. Also, remember there were many people coming into the city shouting praises to God who was bringing them a king. What was one more celebration in the eyes of the Roman guard?

But in the long run Jesus knew more than the people who celebrated his entrance into Jerusalem. Whether they knew or believed him to be the true Messiah, the people fell into the plans of the Almighty. Jesus introduced himself that Passover season as the Messiah who had arrived to be the sacrifice for their sins, their protection from the angel of death. Without their failure to understand who he truly was, or to hold on to the truth that had been presented to them, he would not have been able to die on the cross for me and for you.

Friday, March 7, 2014

When Did Lent Begin?

We are now officially in the lent season. For a long time I didn't connect the religious significance to the lenten season. I thought it was a form of self-induced punishment enforced by some religions when Easter was approaching. But I've learned the truth over time.

Lent is a time of reflection, fasting something that means a great deal to you while asking God for forgiveness of wrong doings. A time to prepare for the upcoming celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. A time to remember what Jesus did so that we can accept the promise of a free ticket to heaven. And though I say free ticket, it wasn't free. A price was paid.

As I reflect back on Jesus and his sacrifice for me I read about Lazarus. Did you know this happened at the start of what we call the "lenten season"? Did you realize this was the straw that broke the camels, or rather pharisees' back, so to speak? Once he raised Lazarus from the dead the pharisees who felt threatened by him were out for blood.

In case you don't remember Lazarus, his story is found in John 11. After being dead for four days Jesus brings him back to live yet another day. Not only does he reek, but the people of that day believed his spirit should have been long gone. Which is what made this resurrection unique. All the others had been dead only a short while when they were raised up.

Add to that, the town where this took place was only a couple of miles from Jerusalem. So of course, some of the witnesses ran off to tell the religious authorities. Which only puts Jesus on the get-rid-of-him-now-radar of the pharisees as well as getting more attention from travelers. All of this causes Jesus to travel to Ephraim in order to allow the pieces to fall into place. . .the next step to completing his reason for living an earth born life.

In this first season of reflection Jesus took time to prepare for what he was about to do. Thirty-three days later he enters Jerusalem with loads of people looking for him and watching him enter Jerusalem in a most interesting way. It's a great example of how we should take time to reflect when we know we have something big on the horizon of our life.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Behind the Words

"What did she really mean when she said that?" Have you asked that question before? I know I have. When you pray the Lord's prayer, have you ever felt there was more to it than the obvious words you're speaking? Frankly, I didn't until I read Listening to the Language of the Bible by Lois Tverberg.

Right from the beginning, there's more behind the first two words, "Our Father," than you might realize. Take note that Jesus didn't just start with Father or My Father. He started the example prayer with reminding the people that God is the Father to all of Israel not just himself. According to Lois it also reminded the people that we need to pray as a group, not just separately.

What I didn't know was that there were several corporate prayers in place that began in the same way. But, as I see it, this time Jesus makes it personal for them. The people have heard Jesus referring to God as "my father in heaven"; a phrase the Messiah was expected to call God because of his close relationship to him. Did you know this was one of the Messianic prophecies? (2 Samuel 7) I didn't.

So, Jesus who has been calling God my father turns to the people and says our father. It's like your best friend's mom saying, "Don't call me Mrs. Jones. Call me mom." Do you think the people understood that they could have the same close relationship? And Jesus didn't stop with reminding us to pray as a group or calling God, Father. He reminded us that when we speak to God we need to remember his name is to be kept holy.

This is easy to say. But do we keep God's name holy all the time? Do we respect it and view it with awe and wonder? In everything we do? I'm sure most of us watch our words so that we show this respect. But is there more we can do?

In scripture, names are important because it's part of a person's reputation. And not just the name but the meaning behind it. Today the meanings of names are often not considered when a baby is named. But, back in the days of the Bible it was very important. I have to admit my name held no significant meaning to me until a pastor explained it. . .then I was blessed to have a name of blessing.

My eyes were opened when Lois pointed out that our actions, which are said to speak louder than words, can often bring more disgrace and dishonor to God's name than anything else. Most people think curse words dishonor God's name, and this is true. It shows little respect for the God we worship. But, according to the lesson in Lois's book we need to consider our actions.

I'd never thought of sinful or thoughtless actions as being a form of failure in keeping God's name holy. Now I've learned that watching my words isn't enough. I need to watch my actions. When I don't forgive someone I dishonor God's name of Forgiver. When I place my activity above taking the time to go to a friend in need I fail to honor God's name as Healer and Friend. The more I think about it, the more shortcomings there are in keeping God's name holy. Ouch. Keeping a good name for God should be at the core of our words and our actions.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Testing Gideon Again

This week I want to talk about the little known details around Gideon's testing of God through fleece. It's the story he's most known for. (Judges 6-8) But, do you notice God doesn't belittle Gideon for asking these things of him? Our God is a patient person, especially when asked. I take so much comfort in that.

So to catch us up from last week, let's review. Gideon tore down an idol worship center which made the Midianite men angry, so they sent for help in killing Gideon. Gideon has also sent word out to his tribe and the tribes surrounding his area. And while he's waiting for help to arrive Gideon realizes he must know without a doubt that his God is for him and going ahead of him. Which when you get further into the story is a good thing to know.

You may ask, "why fleece? Why did Gideon pick fleece and dew?" Here's an interesting fact; the Midianites thought Baal was the one who provided the dew and rain for their crops. I'm sure that's one of the reasons Gideon picked the fleece-dew requests. It was a great way to be shown that indeed his God was greater than any false god any day of the week.

Another interesting fact is that it's summer, when moist air from the Mediterranean Sea would cool off at night then settle on the land as heavy dew. But this effect didn't occur every night. And, according to A Visual Guide to Bible Events, the threshing floor where the fleece was placed would have been on or near a ridge where a constant wind blew. Between the heat from the rising sun and the wind the threshing floor would dry first before the rest of the ground.

So when Gideon asked to have the fleece wet with dew and the ground dry, it was actually an expected possibility. Fleece is naturally quite absorbent, so the dew would not have dried up as fast as the land. So even though he squeezed a large amount of water from the fleece, Gideon realizes he needs to change the request. And so he does.

But as the men arrive to help Gideon he is faced with another internal struggle. Surveying the valley filled with Midianites who've come to fight him, he views a sea of men and camels. He has to remind himself that God is on his side, especially when only 32,000 men have arrived to help him. Imagine his surprise when God tells him, "that's too many."

At least Gideon is told that God wants it clear who is delivering the nation from the Midianites. He reminds Gideon how men tend to think they alone had a hand in their victories. So Gideon sends the fearful men away. I know if it were me, I would have a sick feeling in my stomach when over two-thirds of the men left. But Gideon is told it's still too many.

I love this next step of weeding out the the men. God tells Gideon to have the men drink some water from the nearby spring. You have to read closely or you miss who God chooses to have fight this battle. Note, the kneelers are positioned to keep an eye out for what's going on around them as they drink the water; the lappers have their head down focused on the water they're drinking.

Who would you pick? The guys with one eye out, ready to stand and fight if need be, right? Well, that's not who God chooses. God chooses the ones who are focused on drinking the water as a dog laps.

No matter what people may think of Gideon and his 300 men, God worked a miracle through them. This is a perfect story to show God uses those whom he chooses, not always the people men think will get the job done.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Testing Gideon

After reading about Gideon in A Visual Guide to Bible Events and then in Judges 6-8, I realized there's more to the story of Gideon than asking for wet and dry fleece. I for one can associate with him in many ways. Think about it. What would your reaction be if someone suddenly appears where you're at and tells you you're going to do something big? Can you picture yourself asking, "What? Who me?" I can.

I've heard him called a fearful man. . .hiding in the wine press to thresh some wheat he'd gleaned from the harvest; tearing down an altar at night. But when you read the last part of verse 11 you realize he's smart and crafty. Yet, he doesn't believe it when he's told that he, the youngest son of the smallest family in his tribe, will be a conqueror. He doesn't even realize for another five verses that it's an angel of God talking to him.

Before his revelation, he puts the words of this stranger to task and asks for a sign that he has God's favor. (6:17) That's when the angel of God burned up the meal offering Gideon had prepared for him, which turned out to be Gideon's wake up call to God's proclamation. And, obviously his moment to shake in his sandals because he's told to relax; he wasn't going to die. If someone I had been speaking to vanished from my presence and kept talking, I'd be shaking in my shoes.

Then God tells him to tear down the altar built to Baal, the god of the Midianites. Rebuild an altar to God. And, burn a sacrifice on it. Now at that time this is a huge request/test for Gideon. Yes, he knows that he was just told he would lead Israel in victory against the Midianites, but first he has to do something that affects him at home.

Isn't that how God works? Tells us he will do something through us, but then asks us to do something smaller in a place or area that affects us personally. Having us take an action in a smaller setting before putting us on the bigger stage, so to speak.

So, it's no wonder Gideon hesitates in doing this thing for God. He knows that if he attempts this in the daylight he will be stopped by his father and the rest of the men in the city. He will be unable to complete the task God has for him. So in his craftiness yet with fear of the power these men have over him, he does it at night.

And the repercussions of this action? Gideon's father, Joash, stands up and defends him against the men of the city and tells them that Baal should defend himself. Don't you think Gideon was taken aback when he heard what his father did? Joash didn't give the men full access to Gideon so that they could kill him. Gideon had to be shocked.

Of course, as often happens, his dad starts calling him by a nickname that will remind him of what he's done. There is no mention of Gideon's father or family after this episode, but we do know one thing. Joash didn't lay a hand of punishment on him. Perhaps he noticed a difference in his son. Perhaps Joash only went along with some of the worship practices to a fake god because he feared the Midianites as well. And, inwardly was glad to see his youngest son have the guts to stand up to their oppressors.

It's those smaller steps before you get to the final goal that can be the toughest ones to take. Gideon isn't the only one to fear telling family, "hey I have to tear down this family tradition because God told me to." And the courage it takes to do the big thing has to be seeded in the smaller steps. Moving away from the norm is a difficult thing to do, especially in the first step.

Friday, February 7, 2014

When There Seems to Be No Way

Remember we talked about the Israelites falling away from God after conquering the land of Canaan? Unfortunately, they didn't get back on track with God very well and went through a time when judges led them against their enemies. Deborah, the only female recorded to be a judge, went from giving counsel on situations to accompanying men to fight the enemy. Can you imagine. . .a woman, in those days going to battle? (Judges 4,5)

Let's picture this battle. They take ten thousand men onto a dome of a mountain, Mt Tabor, that sits 1,929 feet above the valley floor. As they gather to await further instructions from God the Cannanites arrive on the valley floor with 900 chariots, and foot soldiers, ready for battle. As the authors of A Visual Guide To Bible Events put it, these chariots were the equivalent of tanks.

Can you imagine? Unarmed farmers going up against tanks? Surely they asked themselves. . ."What is God thinking? We wanted to be rescued from this awful leader and this is God's answer? We have no horses or chariots, how are we going to beat them? Will they come up to fight us?"

So, they're safely on the mountaintop, the enemy arrives with weapons, it starts to rain, and God directs them to go down to the valley to fight. Even though the odds look to be against them and they might not have understood why they were leaving the better fighting position, they followed God's instructions through the prophetess Deborah.

The battle ready Canaanites were probably rejoicing that they didn't have to leave the protection of their chariots to fight an uphill battle against the ill prepared Israelites. Each and every charioteer would have thought victory was soon theirs. But they forgot one little thing. . .it was raining.

God gave the Israelites this one advantage. If you look at pictures of the landscape or see a map you'll notice there is a creek bed, called the Kishon River, that runs by Mt Tabor. Now from pictures I've seen it resembles Texas in this way. . . when it rains the creek becomes a torrential river, quickly. And dry land can become impassable before your very eyes.

Now let's look at the scene again. The Israelites are on the top of the mountain. God tells them to go down to the valley floor just as a downpour begins. And when they get to the bottom of the mountain, water has pushed out from the overflowing Kishon River and is flooding the entire area.

The Canaanites run for their lives, leaving chariots and probably weapons behind as they run away from the torrential flooding waters. The Israelites are able to catch up with their enemy and bring them down. The victory is theirs. But only because God made a way.

You know, as I look at this scene and apply it to my life and the experiences of those around me, I have to say that God still works that way. Sometimes when things look lost God brings a victory. And sometimes he does it by asking us to do the strangest things at the strangest times.

Friday, January 31, 2014

The Allure of Another Way

Have you ever wondered why the Israelites pulled away from God so many times in the Old Testament? Why did they stray, even when signs of God's presence was visible right in front of them? What exactly were they wanting? Do we ever demand so much of God and then turn our backs on him?

It's actually scary how fast and often the Israelites sometimes moved away from God's ten commandments and took another path. God brings them through the Red Sea and they still lose heart waiting on God's direction so they build a golden calf to worship. (Exodus 32) Years later they cross over the torrential Jordan River and conquer land only to begin idolatry of the god Baal as they learn from the people of the land. (Judges 2)

Granted, in the second case, they were learning to farm the land from the natives and took on all their rituals as part of the land caring lessons. But instead of showing the new people the ways of God and how to trust him, they incorporate the sexual homage styles of Baal worship into their lives. It's so sad to read of their backsliding. Then I wonder, do we ever do this?

Of course, I'm looking at it from 20/20 hindsight, where things are clear and easy to see. But when I turn my focus to today I realize not much has changed. My parents always said that to know what was taught behind closed doors of a home, look at the children. They will reflect the teaching. And they were right.

Churches were packed in the sixties and seventies, but by the way things stand now you can see that something happened. Somehow things non-church-goers found important became an attraction to church-goers and slowly replaced the importance of God in their lives. And the ways of God were not passed down as they should have been. The ways of the world have been so embraced that God has taken the back seat. Again, this makes me sad.

But just like in the Old Testament, there is hope. There is always forgiveness and a stepping back on track with God. And each time we step back on track we return with a greater knowledge of who our God is and what he is capable of doing for each of us. Once the nation of Israel faced their punishment there was always a return to live another day. Look at them now, two millennia later, they are a prosperous nation at the forefront of the news.

So, while many may be proclaiming doom for our culture I see hope in the compassion that is alive in some of our youth and young adults. I see an openness and searching that only God can fill and will fill. And most of all, I see people praying to God for help. There is hope. And in hope there is victory.