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.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Forgiving Others

This is my friend Marji Laine, who I met at the Blue Ridge Writer's Conference in May of 2013. She is a homeschooling mom of 4 with the oldest working in the mission field in Africa. She spends her days transporting to and from volleyball, teaching writing classes at a local coop, and directing the children’s music program at her church.

With decades of leading worship, directing and performing in theatre productions, and script-writing, Marji took the plunge to creating scintillating Christian romance and romantic suspense novels with a side of Texas sassy. She invites readers to unravel their inspiration, seeking a deeper knowledge of the Lord’s Great Mystery that invites us all. She has written a devotional blog post for this week.

Jesus spoke often of the need to forgive. “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” Matthew 6:14-15. (NAS)

He wants us to practice forgiveness, but how? I don’t know about you, but personal attacks against my family or my kids bring out the momma bear in me. Such affronts leave a bitter residue that makes forgiving a difficult task.

And yet, letting the frustration of an insult continue to smolder destroys a joyful attitude. That’s why Paul instructs in Eph. 4:26-27 “In your anger, do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry and do not give the devil a foothold.” (NIV)

I remember one time someone completely misunderstood me. That person, imagining a slight, proceeded to twist my words and secretly spout what a horrible person I was to those within our circle. By the time I found out what was happening, the person had moved away. Robbing me of confrontation.

And for years, I rehashed the conversations I wanted to have, not only with the person responsible, but with all of those who actually believed the lies. With every moment I spent on the imagined confrontations, bitterness curled around my heart like kudzu.

The cure? Prayer. Not the type of prayer I initially had where I proceeded to relive the anger under the premise of talking to God about it. Like He didn’t already know. And that only succeeded in getting me all stirred up again.

The prayer I needed, the one that really started to help me heal, didn’t come until I longed to forgive the injury, but realized that I didn’t know how. I had to make it up as I went along. When the conversations started drifting into my mind, I started praying blessings on the injuring party. And no, I didn’t ask for the blessing of conviction. (Though I did think about it!)

I prayed God would bless with love, family, health, finances, purpose, and a rich relationship with Him. Well, that’s what I ultimately prayed. What I started out praying was something like, “God I can’t bring myself to ask blessings on that person. Could you please make me want to ask for those blessings?”

A slow process, but well-worth the effort. The object of my prayer received blessings and I received the grace to forgive. Win-Win!

Your turn: How have you learned to forgive others?

My latest collaborative novella, A Dozen Apologies, deals with forgiveness. Mara had humiliated so many men, but having accepted Christ as her Savior, she felt she must attempt to right the wrongs she’d committed. She sets out to find each of them. But they have an equally hard task of forgiving her. To read Mara’s story, find the posts on Write Integrity Press and watch for the notice of the free e-book. (

Thursday, January 16, 2014

What's in the Root?

Have you ever seen an olive tree? When I first saw a picture of one I have to admit I was disappointed. They're not tall and straight like a redwood or a palm tree. And they're not majestic in height and foliage like a maple or willow tree. But the tree in spite of its unique appearances does have some honors. The oil produced from it's fruit is very popular and in great demand. And, the nation of Israel has adopted it as the national tree.

I learned another interesting fact from the December 2013 newsletter from Jewish Jewels concerning olive trees. I knew olive trees grow in odd shapes, but what I didn't know was that the odd shape came from shoots that will spring out from the roots of the trees and at times wrap around the tree itself. And according to the newsletter that shoot wrap helps the trunk to hold up the tree

Does this mixed-up intertwining system work? Well, there is an olive tree that is said to be between two thousand to three thousand years old. That's right, thousands of years old. That means in it's mixed up root trunk system it has lasted through calm seasons and storms, through peaceful times and wars, through famines and feasts. So, yes, a good set-up can keep a tree from collapsing.

If that wasn't an interesting enough fact about the tree, get this. The word (notzrim) that's used to describe this root-shoot-trunk action is the same word that's used for 'christian' and 'watchman.' I find it interesting that a thing called a christian would hold up a tree that has often symbolized the country of Israel.

God has us dependent on one another, even in his creation. Just as the tree is dependent on the root shoots to surround it and protect it from the elements as well as from it's own weight, Christians are needed to watch and pray over Israel. Israel is strong and prosperous, just like the tree. But the nature of the countries that want to attack Israel requires us to be aware of when and how to pray for her. It's essential to the survival of both of us.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Fact or Fiction

Do you remember the scene from the Walt Disney film Dumbo when the storks are flying in the baby animals to the circus train? Other cartoons often showed the same scenario with human infants. For years I would hear adults joke around about the storks bringing babies. I just figured that's where the animator's got the idea for a tall gangly bird to fly babies to their mothers.

Recently, I read the December 2013 Jewish Jewels newsletter. They included an interesting fact about storks. (They're in the Bible several times.) Storks pass through Israel on their way from Europe to Africa and then back again in the spring when the weather warms up.

Their tour guide, Hanna Ben Haim, told them that many children in European countries were conceived after the harvest was completed, which placed the time of the births around the return of the storks. This became the root of the old wives tale of the storks bringing the babies to their homes. My dad always did say there was an ounce of truth in every old wives' tale.

I have to embarrassingly admit that until I traveled to Romania I thought the stork as portrayed in cartoons was a fictitious idea of animators. My basis for this was the roadrunner from cartoons. Having lived in Texas for several years the only roadrunners I ever saw were short. I figured animators had lengthened the legs of the roadrunner as well as storks for the purpose of a story. I had no reason to think the animals were portrayed in true nature.

Of course I knew long legged birds such as flamingos and cranes existed. But up to that point I'd never seen a roadrunner or a stork in a zoo. And I didn't have the desire to do any research that might correct my distorted thinking. I know that sounds archaic and severely lacking in knowledge but remember this was before the internet age of instant information. Back then it took time to find the right encyclopedia or magazine in the library. . .I had other teenage things to do.

But when I traveled through the Hungarian and Romanian countryside as an adult, I experienced an educational moment. Sitting atop many of the houses and buildings were these giant nests. And inside the nests where huge birds. Only when they took off from the nests did our bus load of people realize just how big a stork truly is. Turns out the animators had done a wonderful job of depicting a stork flying babies to mothers.

Oh, and by the way, most information I've found on roadrunners only shows a short-legged variety. But I'm here to say that a long-legged variety, just like in the cartoons, is alive and well and living in my area. The little rascal tried to eat some of the baby barn swallows around my house a couple of years ago.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Praying in The New Year

How many of you when you read about Abraham arguing with God for Sodom have thought, just do away with the place? Why save it? Or have you looked at it from a different perspective and asked. . .are you arguing with God? You're trying to tell God what to do? Have you ever marveled that God didn't strike Abraham down for having the guts to speak to him that way? In fact, he's not the only one in the Old Testament who argued with God.

Perhaps you've been told that you shouldn't be so demanding or argumentative with God. That you shouldn't be angry with him or tell him your true feelings. But we must remember he is our heavenly father not our heavenly CEO. When we speak with him we can approach him about anything and everything we deal with. We can come before him as a child who speaks to a loving busy father, which sometimes means we have to ask more than once.

And after reading Listening to the Language of the Bible, by Lois Tverberg, I have a better understanding of the necessary need to repeat our requests to God. And that in arguing with God it can be seen as a righteous heroic thing to do, with no worries of being punished for our disapproval.

She speaks of Chutzpah (HOOTS-pah) which is a persistence in asking God for whatever we want. Some of our Biblical examples include Abraham arguing with God in Genesis 18 for Sodom; Moses pleading for Israel after they sinned in Exodus 32; the Gentile woman wanting healing for her daughter in Mark 7. I'd also like to point out Jonah, who though he argued with God and tried in his own way to change what God was asking of him did not sway God but did not die from what he did either.

It's true when many of us pray, we look to our own needs, our wants and desires. Lois pointed out that in Ezekiel 22 God is looking for someone to stand in the gap for the land, but he didn't find anyone. How often do we pray for the lost? Do you ask God to punish the people who sin and lead others away from God? Or do you ask for God to forgive the sins of our nation?

Do we have the courage to go before God as a child goes to his father and ask for something so big we can't take care of it? And not just once but repeatedly? What if he keeps saying "no"? Do we have the boldness to keep asking and arguing with him until we know he's heard us? I guess it's like the old saying, "you won't know until you try." Shall we try?