Monday, June 26, 2017

Find Good Friends

"Find good friends." This is what my dear friend said to me as she shared her recent experiences. "Find friends that have your best interest at heart, that will do you no harm, that you can trust. You don't need many, but if you have one good friend, you are blessed." She was practically choked up as she said those words and as we spoke with each other I knew exactly what she meant. Having completed a major move, she had to rely on her friends more than she anticipated but they came through for her.

Real friends, true friends, good friends will do that for you. Perhaps she thought her needs and requests were burdensome, but the friends in her life didn't see it as such. They stepped up to help carry the load,

Good friendships stand the test of time; there are shared memories that are hard to walk away from because of a perceived slight or a real hurt. Because sometimes friends do hurt each other, but not intentionally. If it's intentional, question that friendship. Sometimes in our well-meaningness, we may say or do things that aren't received in the manner we anticipated. My friend explained that she has said things to her friend and the friend would say, "you know you need to apologize to me for what you said." She'd apologize as she never meant to hurt her friend, but she still needed to speak her truth and have her friend receive it. Sometimes truth convicts and hurts - so the apology maybe for the expression but not for the truth. Good friends are able to be truthful with one another but due to closeness, the painfulness of the truth may hurt more. Iron sharpens iron; this is not an entirely pleasant process but a profitable one for both.

Good friends give each other space but they also know when to step in.

Good friendships don't feel draining but rather are refreshing with no fear of judgment.

Good friends nurture each other spiritually, physically and emotionally.

Good friends regularly check on each other.

Good friends really get to know each other through shared life experiences.

Good friends don't try to connect with each other, they just do.


Good friends are people of integrity.

Good friends have unbreakable bonds.


We see vivid examples of friendship in the Bible - David and Jonathan  (1 Samuel 18:1-3) whose souls were knit to each other. There are aspects of friendship in the relationship between Moses and Aaron - brothers who were there for each other (Exodus 17:11-12).  An unlikely friendship occurred between Ruth and Naomi (Ruth 1:16-17), a daughter and mother-in-law. Friendships surprise us and come in all shapes and forms; we never know where a friendship will take us.

I recall Drew and Rob from college. Drew and Rob were good friends in college and have remained so with their bond getting tighter over time. Drew suffered a major health crisis in recent years and Rob was there for him as he spent a significant amount of time with his friend as he recovered. I can hear the love in Drew's voice as he talked about Rob. I think as a culture we are surprised by deep friendships between men, but it happens. It's a given that women will have friends, but gender alone doesn't determine the quality of our friendships.

A friend is one of the masterpieces created by God.  A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of Nature - Ralph Waldo Emerson. We all have the opportunity of being masterpieces by being good friends.



Can two walk together, except they are agreed? Amos 3:3

Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend. 
Proverbs 27:17

A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother. 
Proverbs 18:24


Be a good friend and find good friends. Are you a good friend?

--Nylse

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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Thoughts While In a Lingerie Shop

The wedding is approaching and as such, there are different events that go along with a wedding. In my day, I had a bridal shower where I was showered with everything from housewares to lingerie. So I visited a lingerie store and I have questions.


Why are male appendages everywhere?
Why are cake toppers, toys, and assorted gadgets in the shape of the male appendage?
Why are there so many toys made for every crevice in the body?
Why is everything so "in your face?"
In this particular shop, there was a whole section devoted to pornography which left nothing to the imagination. Why?


We were visiting for lingerie but found that and more. Curiosity got the best of me as I wandered around until I just felt soiled and dirty. I knew this wasn't God's design so I mentally checked out until the other parties were done. As I was mentally checked out I was struck by this thought: As Christians, we are called to be different; no part of our lives is exempt from this calling, including our sexuality." Nowadays, sex is over the top and in your face and I can't help but feel that this is not the way its supposed to be. The world has made the sacred into the profane; something special into something sordid. God created man and woman, and when He was done he declared creation very good. Genesis 1:27, 31

But as Christians, we can redefine the standard. What this specifically means is that we don't have to do things the way the world does and we can still have fun which is defined as enjoyment, amusement or lighthearted pleasure; we can still enjoy ourselves. Too many Christians act as if they don't know how to enjoy themselves. The world doesn't get to define what is fun or what is acceptable. If things aren't in line with who we are as believers, we don't have to participate. This may take some courage but it's worth it because there's no internal conflict on our part and there's no obligation; it's freeing. So as a Christian, your bachelor party shouldn't have strippers and debauchery and your bachelorette party doesn't have to display male appendages at every turn. By participating in these activities there's an unspoken assumption that you're missing out. Are you? You're not. One last thought - how are you any different than your non-Christian friends? You may be inadvertently creating a path of confusion for them by your choices.

Perhaps, this was the wrong store for purchasing lingerie, as the lingerie appeared to be an afterthought. This is not my area of weakness, but if it's yours I would recommend finding a different type of lingerie store or purchasing online (google "Christian lingerie," but be careful!) because there's nothing wrong with frilly undergarments that make a girl feel pretty for her intended beloved, or just to feel pretty for herself.

As our minds are transformed, our consciences can be our guide. A transformed mind does not use the standard of the world but the standard of God to determine how to live.


Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:2

How do you approach purchasing lingerie? What would you say to a bride to be in this area?

--Nylse

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Monday, June 19, 2017

Reflections on Fatherhood from a Daughter

Yesterday was Father's Day - a time to acknowledge the fathers in our lives and their contributions whether good or bad, physical, mental or spiritual - to our lives; though I do think these days are more an acknowledgment of the good and an ignoring of the bad. Life is never so binary or so simple - there's a whole spectrum between good and bad. As I talked to my father on Father's Day I was grateful that he is a presence in my life and that he's still here. Having lost two close relatives so far, death reminds me to cherish the people in my life even if they don't live up to my standards.

My father is old now and in old age, you become a certain way; some call it stubborn. Though everyone should be understanding of each other regardless of age, it seems that the older you get the understanding is not mutual. As the younger and as the child, I have to extend greater understanding to an old man who is my father.

I believe as a child I was fearful of my father as he and my mother were very strict, so I made it my point to obey and stay out of trouble. But our household was not turbulent in a horrible way; it was lively and noisy. I remember going to the beach every Saturday - all seven of us piled up in the back of a Ford Escort. At the beach, we spread our towels and played in the water. Then two to three hours later we'd spread the towel on the seat and pile back into the car and go home.  I remember the time my dad brought home a puppy which we christened Gilda, named after a hurricane. I remember our first dog Bobby who eventually had to be put to sleep because he got hit by a car. I remember my dad bringing home a box of Julie mangoes which were the sweetest thing I had ever eaten. He was happy as he watched us devour those mangoes. I remember a time when my father seemed to laugh more. I remember him going to work with pride every day and having workers from his company take us to school and then pick us up in the evening.

When we immigrated to America his disposition seemed to change - he was never able to go back to the professional level he had but in this transition, I learned from my father discipline, presence, perseverance, and stability. I got a new appreciation for "life isn't fair but you still have to live it well." Daddy didn't complain, he just did what he had to do for his family.

My father is a man of parables and few words - he says a whole lot while saying little. "You might be smart but you ain't wise" or "Marry in haste repent at leisure" or my personal favorite - "Start late, you finish late." I had to learn discernment through listening to him because everything he said was not applicable to me but his proverbs also required you to think. When I got married, I saw a different side of my dad as he walked me down the aisle. He was happy, proud and relaxed. Even then he was giving me some last bits of advice, "Take it easy, relax!; Hold on to my arm." We'd never been so close until that moment!

My dad's personality is somewhat reflected in me. He was very disciplined with his spiritual walk - every morning he woke up he had a cup of tea and he read the Bible. In the evening, we always had Family Devotions where he and my mother would lead and then we would go around in the circle reading the scripture, then he would pray and we would all kiss him and my mother good night. We did this for many years.

So I've had the presence of my earthly father all through my life but yet I've not always felt close to him though I love him dearly. I'm grateful that his presence has shaped me in ways that sometimes I don't even understand. I can't say that the void of an earthly father is replaced by a heavenly one because I've had both. But I do know my relationship with my heavenly father supersedes my earthly relationship and there is no comparison. My Heavenly Father is always there, always faithful, keeps his promises, disciplines appropriately, is holy, is a constant provider, forgives without question, and offers true freedom.

Earthly fathers will fail us; some may have abandoned us; some of us may have never known a father. I can't say I know what that feels like but I've known enough people - men and women, to whom the absence of a father has left them incomplete and troubled. And then there are those whose fathers were in their lives and they too don't quite understand their fathers and are troubled by some of their actions. The Bible gives us a picture of a heavenly Father that no human could ever live up to. My Heavenly Father is who I have chosen to anchor my life to - he never disappears, never leaves, and always understands me. I also know that the closer I am to Him, the closer he is to me. I'm grateful for the presence of my Dad and how he has impacted my life but more grateful that I'm a child of the King and that His presence brings a greater joy.

“He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples...... For in him we live and move and exist. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’" Acts 17:24-28
How was your Father's Day? What's your relationship like with your father? Is it worthwhile to compare your earthly dad to your Heavenly Father?


--Nylse

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Thursday, June 15, 2017

How Wedding Planning Mirrors Daily Life

Going to the chapel and we're  gonna get married.
Going to the chapel and we're gonna get married
Gee, I really love you and we're going to get married
Going to the chapel of love

We are eagerly looking forward to my daughter's wedding. For us, there's a palpable excitement in the air. We've had long phone calls with the bride and the groom - my future son-in-love, to discuss plans for the day and life after that. We realize that the day itself is a celebration of their love and our love as parents.

But it hasn't been all roses and sunshine. This phase of our lives and theirs has been an opportunity for letting go. For us, as parents, it is recognizing that your children are indeed adults and they're going to be all right. We've all become keenly aware that everyone thinks differently and sometimes it's not right vs. wrong, just different, especially when it comes to wedding traditions. For example, on a very trivial scale - cake or cupcakes. If you're Jamaican, that would be Black cake. The trivial oftentimes leads to a greater understanding of whom each person is. While I appreciate our closeness as a family, boundaries are firmly in place which recognizes the bride and groom as a new emerging unit. In this planning phase, they are establishing patterns for their new life as husband and wife.

There are so many details involved in planning any endeavor and in that regard, a wedding is no different. Colors, cost, location, venue, bridal party, and the biggest detail - how many guests. Sometimes these details threaten to take over the big picture - the start of something new on your wedding day. With a loving fiance at her side, and her family as a sounding board, my daughter has been able to navigate the details. In our day to day lives also, details threaten to override the big picture and we have to take deep breaths, step back, pause, pray and remind ourselves of what's important.

As she plans and we're involved the following lessons are being learned:

Enjoy the journey. For all the details, this is a part of life and enjoyable part at that. Attitude is everything and it's only as stressful as we make it.

Planning forces you to prioritize. Money isn't the only consideration, peace of mind is important also so it's essential to also take care of yourself. Like Esther, this time of planning can be used to nurture your mind body and soul. (Esther 2:12-15)

Life goes on so there will be unexpected bumps along the way which can take many forms - health scares, unexpected costs, difficult people; all have reared their heads.

The planning phase is an opportunity to fall in love with your future spouse over and over again. When he sees how gifted you are at negotiations, this makes his heart swoon. When she sees you quietly taking charge of things she doesn't want to be bothered with, she is reassured again that she made the right choice.

This is an emotional time - sometimes you just need to cry especially if you become overwhelmed with some of the details. Or as you look ahead, you may cry because of the happiness and peace you feel.

Nothing works without having a good support system in place. The happy couple has a built-in support system in each other. In addition, they both can rely on their families and new family members. (Proverbs 11:14, Proverbs 15:22)

The culmination of all of this planning is your marriage but the day still requires some thought and preparation whether it's a big or small wedding, casual or formal, big budget or low budget.

We've had many phone calls - where I simply reminded my daughter to not lose sight of what's ahead which is a declaration of your love and commitment to each other. It's a happy time and a celebration; trust me when I tell you no one will care what favors you gave them or if you even gave favors. They will remember the atmosphere of love in the room that the bride and groom exudes. When planning a wedding, as in life, it’s so important to enjoy the journey. So whatever your timeline is, give yourself permission to enjoy each step until the big day. Take deep breaths, step back, pause, and pray as often as you need to until that day when you can finally say "Going to the chapel and we're gonna get married!"


“A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.” Geoge S. Patton

What have you learned from planning?


--Nylse

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Monday, June 12, 2017

What's Your Frequency?

As I was reading Psalm 119, I became fascinated by verse 164, which says "Seven times a day do I praise thee because of thy righteous judgments."

Recall that this is the longest chapter in the Bible with 176 verses, where practically every verse highlights the attributes of God's word all from the very personal perspective of David, Ezra or Daniel since the author is unknown. This chapter demonstrates raw devotion toward God and his Living Word. It affirms not only the character of the Scriptures, but it affirms that God’s Word reflects the very character of God Himself. The format of Psalm 119 is an alphabetic acrostic, meaning that the first letters of each line in Hebrew follow through the alphabet, 8 lines per letter, thus 8 lines x 22 letters in Hebrew = 176 lines. One message of this psalm is that we are to live a lifestyle that demonstrates obedience to the Lord, who is a God of order (hence the acrostic structure), not of chaos. [Source: gotquestions.org

The Word of God can literally save a life: George Wishart was the Bishop of Edinburgh in the 17th century (not to be confused with another Scot by the same name who was martyred a century earlier). Wishart was condemned to death and would have been executed. But when he was on the scaffold he made use of a custom that allowed the condemned person to choose one psalm to be sung, and he chose Psalm 119. Before two-thirds of the psalm was sung, his pardon arrived and his life was spared. [Source: blueletterbible.org]

Back to verse 164 - what makes a person so emphatic in their declaration of praise? Well, one quick answer is already noted in the verse - it's because of God's righteous judgments. He has seen that God has always done right by Him - He's never left or abandon him.

But there's more. The frequency speaks of devotion; it indicates that God is top of mind and that if He's not, he becomes so. He may be using it as a mechanism to allay anxiety and refocus. Praising God so often must elevate his spirit while acknowledging the sovereignty of God. His praise - whether it is a word, a phrase, a thought a song or a lengthy prayer happens with a notable frequency. Regardless of the length of his praise, it his often. It allows him to starve the flesh and feed the spirit. It equips him to handle what is before him or be grateful for what he's just walked through because the writer of this Psalm had seen his share of troubles.
In trying to take this verse literally, I became aware of how often I could praise God throughout the day. I definitely started my day with praise and often did the same at the end of the day. That left five times throughout the remainder of the day and the precise among us may figure that to be every three hours. The more cognizant I became for the opportunity to praise, the more I did so. It was freeing and I lost count. I realize that there are opportunities to praise God throughout a day at every turn - when I wake up because I have life, when I go outside to get the newspaper and absorb the quiet beauty of nature in the morning, the mess my daughter makes in her room leads to praise because she has a room; dirty dishes lead to praise because I have a sink and I have a family; my family with all their quirks. Opportunities for praise abound. Other religions have an obligation to prayer, a certain number of times daily, facing a certain direction. God makes no such requirement of you. You can exceed your seven times within an hour! Seven is not a limit, but a reference as to what the writer noted in his life.

It was in the process of being cognizant and being aware, that praising God with regular frequency became a habit. Like the psalmist, I could now say, "Seven times a day I will praise you because of your righteous judgments." (Psalm 119:164)

And my tongue shall declare Your righteousness And Your praise all day long. Psalm 35:28

Praise the LORD! For it is good to sing praises to our God; For it is pleasant and praise is becoming. Psalm 147:1

Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. 
James 5:13

How often do you praise? Do you have a reason to praise God?

--Nylse

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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

How to Survive the Unexpected

When I'm in the midst of unforeseen events, I always have to remind myself that everything happens for a reason; everything happens when it's supposed to. I don't often remember this during good times but somehow this thought rises to the top of my mind during trying times. Perhaps it's a coping mechanism. When life is good, we take things for granted; it's almost as if we forget how to utilize our faith and trust muscles. We have a different experience during misfortune as there is an opportunity for solemnity and stillness.

Three weeks ago, in an effort to help her sister heal from a muscle injury, my older daughter placed a heating pad combined with Vicks on the Little One's calf. The exact placement was her outer left calf. After this treatment, there was a huge welt and then blisters which combined to form one large blister. It was at this point that I realized that she was burned, so I went to the pharmacy and bought the necessary first aid for a burn - burn gel and bandages. Of course, I checked with Google first which indicated that in approximately two weeks I should begin to see healing.

After two weeks, or thereabouts, I noticed that the site of the burn was not getting better, as a matter of fact, it looked gross, so I decided to visit the pediatrician because I had a concern about infection.

I went to the doctor on Friday. When he examined her leg he said, "That's a big eschar" which sounds like big ___ scar! As I sat there, I wondered why the Doctor would be unprofessional and make such a statement. I thought I waited too long to bring her to the doctor. For reassurance, I asked him to repeat what he said and he said, "eschar....ESCHAR - which means a dry, dark scab or falling away of dead skin, typically caused by a burn, or by the bite of a mite, or as a result of anthrax infection. [Source: Google.com] When I indicated what I thought he said, we all had a good laugh.

She was referred to the Outpatient Clinic of the Burn Center which is across the street from the doctor's office. I went in on Tuesday with the expectation that she would be treated on an outpatient basis. Instead, I was told she had a third-degree burn which would require debridement - the removal of damaged tissue or foreign objects from a wound, and skin graft surgery. She would have to be hospitalized and the surgery would commence on Wednesday and then the skin graft surgery would take place on Friday. What we thought would be an outpatient procedure became a five-day hospitalization.

After we got over the initial shock, this is exactly what happened.

What has this experience taught me?

God's placement - The Burn Center is a world renowned facility located in my neighborhood. Automatically she would be receiving the best care for this type of burn regardless of its size. By default, she is now part of a burn survivor community and will reap the benefits for many years of receiving treatment here.

God's provision - We have lived in California for 10 years and have struggled with connecting with others. We had the mistaken notion that it would be the same as when we were in New York. But this incident showed me that community is being part of the family of God. The Little One and us have been overwhelmed by the genuine care and concern demonstrated by the body of Christ. I never expect this care, even though we are called to look after each other and to bear one another's burdens. I will now be more intentional about caring for others in their time of need.

God's providence - So many things could have been worse in this scenario, but they weren't and I attribute that to the mighty hand of God that orchestrates all things. The Little One is in good spirits despite the surgeries, the older sister does not have unnecessary angst over this situation, we are now more educated than we ever thought we would be on burns and can now help others in this situation, and this is yet another situation where I have increased my faith by trusting God more.


Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them. Psalm 139:16


You CAN rely on God's placement, provision, and providence for all areas of your life even when circumstances are unforeseen.



--Nylse

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Monday, June 5, 2017

Women of The Word - Michelle Harris Collins

Women of the Word is growing faster than I anticipated. Praise God. I met Michelle Harris Collins when I moved to California. Initially, it was through Track and Field but as I spent more time with her I discovered her heart for the Lord. Last year she spoke at a women's conference I attended where she fired up the entire room! I'm excited to share her insight with you. Be blessed as I was by her.

Michelle Harris Collins


1. As someone who studies the Bible, what are your favorite tools and resources?
MHC: Whenever I need to prepare a specific message, or for leisure reading, I use various commentaries to gain different perspectives. I don't have a favorite. Although my personal version is the New King James version, I also like to read different versions of the Bible, in order to gather a more wider meaning of a familiar or unfamiliar verse. Additionally, Google is my friend and right at my fingertips if I want to study deeper in Greek or Hebrew for context comprehension.

2. Old Testament, New Testament or both?
MHC: Both. I love the patriarchs in the Old Testament. The New Testament shows us what the church in action should be.

3. Why do you study the Bible? What was your initial motivation?
MHC: Having been raised in the church, the church life can become what you're told as opposed to what you learned. As I matured in my walk with Christ, I developed and answered my own yearning for the things of God, including His word.
The Bible serves as a blueprint for most of the issues we face in life. I am intrigued by the characters, character flaws, the faith and even the dysfunction. I believe what is most captivating is the way in which God, as Father rescues, delivers and fights for and on the behalf of His people.

4. How does inspiration work for you? How do you know that what you're writing or understanding is as if God is moving the pen and you're just the vehicle?
MHC: Inspiration is a sudden quickening in my spirit that calls me to immediate action. It is the divine unction to move in a certain direction, to share a nugget that is downloaded in my spirit in word or deed and even a tug to pray.
I know that it is of God when the manifestation is more than I could have ever imagined.

5. How do you handle complex topics that may not align with popular views? (Can you give an example?)
MHC: By personality, I have a need to understand and until I reach a state of understanding where compassion is displayed, I know that I must continue to deal wisely with complex issues. The Bible says that we must bring down "every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of Christ." And for me, this includes all judgmental thinking, pride, and prejudice, which are contrary to what Christ stood for.

6. When confronted by the truth of scripture, even for difficult topics, how does it re-orient you?
MHC: I'm grateful for the Holy Spirit that resides in me, to poke, nudge and rebuke when I'm confronted with the truth of the scripture. Allowing the Holy Spirit to do His perfect work is living in submission to the Spirit of God and a call to be more Christlike.It's a matter of life and death. I have no desire to be a walking dead and I don't want my brothers and sisters to do the same.

7. Tell us a little bit about yourself, current projects you are working on and where you can be found.
MHC: I am a Speaker, Author and Founder/Program Director of The Persona Program www.thepersonaprogram.org, a youth organization for girls 7-18, where through our sessions and events, we develop confidence, build character and promote proper conduct. I designed a WORKbook for moms raising daughters "30 Ways in 30 Days to Be That Mom."  It's a journal style guide that allows the for the nourishment of the soul for both mother and daughter. I am a wife of 17 years and mother to our two daughters and son 16, 12 and 8 years old. I am enthusiastic about seeing others embrace their divine magnificence and allowing their creative aspirations to flow for the advancement of the Kingdom.
You can follow me on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/personaprogram/ and https://www.instagram.com/michelleharriscollins/
More information for the Persona Program can be found at www.thepersonaprogram.org

8. How do you deal with discouragement and doubt? (Bonus question)
MHC: I constantly feed my spirit with positivity. It serves as my bank. Therefore, whenever I'm low in spirit, in turn, my own spirit dispenses whatever I previously deposited. Works every time! So I encourage everyone to read, listen to podcasts, find a mentor, pray and you too will be filled.
--Nylse

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Thursday, June 1, 2017

Book Review - Americanah & Crossing the Lines

Sometimes no matter how much we plan, things don't go as expected. In the midst of planning a wedding which by the way is going well, we've had some unexpected turn of events all related to our health. My husband has a nagging knee injury that required an MRI and my Little One suffered a third-degree burn. And life goes on.
So while working and waiting, I read. I'm reading my Bible and completing a Bible Study but I also read whatever interests me.

One of my newest favorite authors is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Her most recent novel is Americanah which lived up to all of its positive reviews. Americanah captured all of my senses. I read it with awe not just at the storyline but at the way, the sentences were constructed and thoughts were developed. This is a confident writer who has no problem sharing her world, or her heritage with the reader. It's shared as common knowledge though it is new to many who are reading.
The story of our two protagonists - Ifemelu and Obinze starts off in Nigeria and winds its way through London, various cities on the East Coast of America and then back to Nigeria.
In mainstream culture - one would say they were high school sweethearts whose paths diverged and then they finally come back together. But in the Nigerian and African American cultures, this is so much more colorful. There are cultural norms associated with immigrating and then returning home - hence the name Americanah - a Nigerian slang term for someone returning from America pronounced with a heavy emphasis on the last syllable.
There's the plight of being undocumented while trying to maintain your dignity and make a living. There's getting to know others who are not like you and falling in love. There is losing yourself in love, yet trying to find out who you really are. There's a discovery of your race and what it means in other countries outside of your own; discovering you weren't black until you came to America. Then there's coming home and how it makes you feel whole again.
Through the eyes of Ifemelu and Obinze, we experience all of these things while we receive a sociology lesson on various cultures. This is pleasurable reading.

Then recently I read Crossing the Lines: A Novel by Richard Doster. This book caught me by surprise in a good way. I don't know why I downloaded it to my Kindle but I'm glad I did. Have you ever thought about the Civil Rights movement through the eyes of a white sports reporter who really loves the South but hates its portrayal to the entire world, while figuring out where he fits and how he feels based on his Christian faith? Those are the intersections that are explored in this book in a believable and entertaining fashion.
As a sports reporter, Josh Hall takes a stand on the integration of baseball and his family suffers for it. As they attempt to rebuild, he is presented with new professional opportunities that have him interviewing leaders of the Civil Rights Movement - Martin Luther King, in Montgomery Alabama and Arkansas. The book humanizes the bus boycott and the integration of Central High. While all of this is happening, we are also introduced to the genius behind the musicians B.B. King and Elvis Presley. We see how race impacted the music of the times and how we came to have the Blues and Rock and Roll.
The book is set in Atlanta, in a suburb, where Hall's local church also struggles with how to deal with integration. The struggle is for the "Beloved Community" that MLK envisioned and the one vs the exclusionary status quo.
This book is a lesson on race in America, with some of the ugliness removed.





--Nylse

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Monday, May 29, 2017

Something About A Name

Your name can have many connotations but more often than not we'd like to think our names are associated with something good. When I was growing up in the Bahamas, I distinctly remember a child with the name of Felony. Ponder that.

Well, I don't know if a name has power but he certainly lived up to what he was called. No felony acts were committed in grade school but he was simply uncontrollable and perhaps was heading down the path to what his name described. Also, this child never looked happy; he looked like he was always looking for trouble and finding it.

Becoming a parent forces you to think about the importance of a child's name. In my culture, we didn't have a naming ceremony, but the bestowing of a child's name was very important. For each child, my husband and I spent many hours discussing and debating the merits of potential names. In addition as a Black person in America, I didn't want my child counted out of opportunities before he was in the race, simply because of his name. I'd seen the studies around an ethnic name on a resume not receiving the same consideration as someone without an ethnic name, regardless of the experience. I'd also seen this phenomenon up close and did what I could to change it. I interviewed Becky, Robert, and Jane as well as Benissa, Tyrone, Jaquan and Tifarah. As a parent, I didn't want my child's name to be a stumbling block or a liability; I wanted their names to be somewhat unique, with a spiritual meaning. We regularly conveyed to our children why we gave them the names they have.

So I was pleasantly surprised when I recently looked up the meaning of my children's names:
Offspring #1 - Friend or lover; he who holds Christ in his heart.
Offspring #2 - God is gracious; consecrated to God.
Offspring #3 - God gives strength; a woman of God; victory of the people.
Offspring #4 - A singer or a song; faith and joy.

As I reviewed the meanings of my children's names, I think I accomplished what I set out to do and as I considered each person, the people they are correlated to the meaning of their names.

But like the child named Felony, we don't all have names we like or names that uplift us. Some of our names are literally letters thrown together with no meaning yet as the bearer of the name given to us at birth, we own that name and carry it with a degree of pride. For those that don't, as soon as they can, they legally change their names.

More significant than the name given at birth is when God gives us a new name. Abram became Abraham (Genesis 17:5); Sarai became Sarah (Genesis 17:15); Jacob became Israel (Genesis 32:28); Simon became Peter (John 1:42, Matthew 16:18-19). When you become a Christian - you have a new name that creates a new identity and purpose. As believers our new names in Christ define us. Saul/Paul is an exception in that he had both of these names - one Jewish and one Roman, but once he was converted he went by his Roman name of Paul (Acts 9:1-19). Jesus changed his life. As a Christian he had a new identity - he no longer persecuted the church but became an advocate for Christ and His transforming power using the name Paul. Of the twenty-seven books in the New Testament, Paul wrote at least half. That's the difference a changed life can make.

I love my birth name for its uniqueness, but my favorite name, the name that anchors me and defines me, is to be called Christian.

The nations will see your righteousness, And all kings your glory; And you will be called by a new name which the mouth of the LORD will designate. Isaiah 62:2
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 2 Corinthians 5:17

Has your name changed?

--Nylse

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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Through the Lens of Marriage

Marriage is on my mind these days. You see I have a daughter who is embarking on this journey and I'm happy for her. There's a lot of information online today regarding this holiest and most sacred of relationships and all of it is not relevant advice.

As a matter of fact, if you pay too much attention to what everyone is saying without knowing yourself, God's view of marriage, and having a confidence from being a worthwhile child of the King, you will be confused.

I've heard a wedding is a day but a marriage is for a lifetime - and while this is true it doesn't negate the beauty or the planning that goes into the day. Prioritize what is important but know that your wedding day can be just as important as ensuring you have a healthy marriage.

I've heard as the bride it's your day so you can do whatever you want. Here's a reality check: it IS your day but you CANNOT do whatever you want. In no other area of life is it true that you can do whatever you want without ramifications; this rule does not take a break on your wedding day or as you plan your wedding. So as a wise bride, display what is in Ephesians 4:32.

I've seen whole posts validating the amount spent to plan a wedding. Again, be wise and spend what you want and can afford. If $425.00 makes sense for you then do that. If you want to do more and you can without over-extending yourself, then do so. Everything in life costs - so weigh the cost.

I've seen chatter about making sure the groom can spiritually lead - that's a huge weight that was not intended to be burdensome. This spiritual leading will be an outgrowth of his own spiritual life. Though married, in Christ we are all each responsible for our own walk. Yes, it's great if, from day one, each person possesses the appropriate level of spiritual maturity - but maturity, spiritual and otherwise comes through experience.  As Christians, we are all being molded and changed by His grace into something resembling Godly character here on earth. Both the bride and groom should have a heart for the things of God - this is a good place to start.

As someone whose married a long time, I've wanted for my children what I have experienced in mine (most of the time): the beauty of oneness, the sweetness of support, the ease of communication, a vulnerability that's not rejected, the shared enjoyment of new experiences.

I said most of the time because there are times when the person closest to you can make you the angriest. Or knows your buttons so they can push them to the point of irritation. It is also in these moments when you learn the essential nature of forgiveness, the return, the rest, the quietness and the confidence.

And yet in Ephesians, marriage is used as a metaphor for our relationship with Christ and His with us - this is the profound mystery. He uses what we know to give us a representation of who we are to Him. Though a sacred relationship in which we as Christ's bride are treasured; within this relationship, we will have tribulations, it won't all be peace and joy.  But we don't quit because He is there with us. He doesn't quit on usHe never leaves or forsakes us. This is indeed a mystery encapsulated in love. Someone loved us to the point of death. Someone extends grace and mercy no matter how much we mess up and this rightly humbles us.




Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,

That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.

For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: 
For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.

For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.

This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Ephesians 5:21,25-32 


The planning, the big day, are all peripheral to the relationship. The spiritual leadership by the groom will come over time especially if he is desirous. Life will instill the beauty and reinforce the picture that's painted in Ephesians. Submission to God is humbling. Submission to each other is humbling. Marriage is humbling. I wish the best for my daughter as she embarks on this new journey.



--Nylse

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Monday, May 22, 2017

Just Like Two Plus Two Equals Four

Source
When you hear 2+2 =4, you automatically know that this equation is an absolute truth.  The outcome does not change based on your feelings or opinions. As a matter of fact, without me stating the outcome you know what it is because this is an obvious truth.

In mathematics, an equation is a statement of an equality containing one or more variables. Solving the equation consists of determining which values of the variables make the equality true.
An equation is analogous to a scale into which weights are placed. When equal weights of something (grain for example) are placed into the two pans, the two weights cause the scale to be in balance and are said to be equal. If a quantity of grain is removed from one pan of the balance, an equal amount of grain must be removed from the other pan to keep the scale in balance. Likewise, to keep an equation in balance, the same operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division must be performed on both sides of an equation for it to remain an equality. (wikipedia.com)

Today I want to highlight a verse that contains two equations that can help us and then what is often our response, even though it is laid out so clearly.
These equations are from Isaiah 30, a chapter about the Israelites having misplaced trust by not trusting in God. And since we are no different from the individuals in the Bible, let's see what this particular verse means.  


Trusting God's promise means returning. If there is conspicuous disobedience in our lives, we must return to the LORD's ways. Outright disobedience is never consistent with real trust in God's promise. Returning also has the idea of drawing close to the LORD.
Trusting God's promise means rest. When we trust God, we don't have to strive for ourselves. We don't have to run all about trying to protect or guard ourselves. We have the best Protector, the best Guard in God. We can rest in Him, and when we do, it shows we are really trusting in God's promise. (Source: BLB.org)


Trusting God's promise means quietness. You don't need to argue for your side when God is on your side. Be quiet before Him and before others. It shows that you really trust Him.
Trusting God's promise means confidence. You aren't given to despair or fear because you trust God's promise. You know He can and will come through, and you have a profound confidence in the God who loves you. (Source BLB.org)

All of these things together mean a real trust in God's promise, and it means that we shall be saved, and it means that we will find strength. There is no person walking this earth more powerful than a child of God boldly and properly trusting the promise of the living God! (Source BLB.org)

This verse ends with the phrase, "and you would not." Everything was laid out for them, yet they would not. I was struck by this phrase because so many times things are laid out plainly for us to our benefit and yet we choose otherwise. I have been guilty of this but as I re-read this passage this past week I am grateful for God's grace towards me; for the opportunity to return to Him (i.e. repent); for the rest he promises; for the quieting of my spirit overtime and the confidence he has imbued in me. I can confidently say he is my strength and salvation.  


For thus saith the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength: and ye would not. Isaiah 30:15


What about you? Is God your salvation and strength?
--Nylse

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Thursday, May 18, 2017

Do You Have a Divine Appointment?

In our day to day lives oftentimes we have to make an appointment to be seen. If we're ill or there's a question about our health we make an appointment to see the doctor. If we need to get our hair done, we make an appointment. Nowadays we can even make appointments with DMV so that our time there is best used.

We make appointments because they're in our best interest to do so - we can manage our time and hopefully the person we made the appointment with, is aware that we are coming. They can be prepared for us and cut straight to the chase.

When you make an appointment you have made a determination or a decision.

God has made an appointment concerning us also - he's always available and he wants to do something for you:

To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified. Isaiah 61:3


He wants to replace your ashes with beauty.

He wants to replace your mourning with joy.

He wants to replace your depression, your spirit of heaviness with praise.

In Hebrew, this is rendered as replacing epher - ashes, with pheer - beauty. It's a play on words, shifting the placement of one letter makes it go from pain to joy or from pain to gain.

I love when I leave the doctor's office and I feel that a weight has been removed. It's not that I'm healed it's that I now have the knowledge to deal with what I have. Better yet, I love the feeling of lightness, of newness, of prettiness when I leave the hairdresser because of the attention and the care she took in doing my hair. I have felt like a new woman after leaving the salon and my hair is done and I try to maximize this feeling for as long as possible.

God is like the doctor and hairdresser all wrapped in one. Isaiah said he will give you beauty for ashes. God knew you would be burnt by life’s experiences. But he also knew he could replace that burnt out mess with something beautiful. He gives you the knowledge and the freedom because he replaces the old with the new; your sadness with joy. And it's so that you can have a purpose; the purpose that was determined from the time you were born but you just didn't know; circumstances clouded your purpose; you fought against it, but when you come full circle where he cleans you up and your dignity and honor are restored - you begin to know your purpose. You become as steady as a tree that has been divinely watered. When others who knew you before, ask "What changed?" You can sincerely say, "I kept a divine appointment, and I'm the better for it."



I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels. Isaiah 61:10


He's seeking you out and ready to manage your time wisely and turn things around for you, but are you seeking him? God has already determined that you are important to him. Have you determined his importance to you?

--Nylse

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Monday, May 15, 2017

Reflections from the Book of Judges

Christians are hung up on perfection. There I've said it. We like perfect churches with perfect people. We cater to the perfect. The safe space is really a perfect place. It's not for the flawed, broken or hurt among us. The imperfect are relegated to some place else, though we're not sure where that is, since what Christianity offers was supposed to be that place. Perfection is reflected in our cultural norms - a certain look, a certain type, a certain way to be. So we're conflummoxed, befuddled, unraveled when we read the stories that are found in Judges.

God wasn't hung up on perfect but we are. He used the ordinary, the fearful, and the marginalized all to accomplish his plans and purpose. In fact, all of these flaws were found within his chosen people - the Israelites. Clearly, chosen does not mean safe or perfect.


We see in this book the cycle that is so common to us who are also chosen - sin, repentance, deliverance, and obedience.
We see that replacing God with anything else has dire consequences.
We see that if you're willing, God can use whatever you have in your hand.
We see that God's justice is not like man's justice; we see that the wages of sin is death.
We also see that through death comes redemption. Samson’s death saves Israel from Philistine persecution, and Sisera’s death at Jael’s hands was a poignant symbol of Israel’s victory to be celebrated in song.
We see that God can empower a small group to squash an enemy.
We see the consequences of being self-centered and doing right in our own eyes which mimic the current state of affairs in our world.
We see that when you're chosen by God, you're not alone
We see that your personality can be subjected to your character; that your character determines your heart and God cares about your heart. 
We see that when you have a relationship with God, it's easy to discern his voice. Your ears are attuned to his voice.
We see that to be a hero of the faith simply requires total reliance and obedience to God and a willingness to follow.
We see that you can test God.
We see that God is very patient. Over and over he demonstrated his love for his chosen people though he was often angry at their chosen actions.
We see that no one is immune from bad behavior when they're not following God.
We see that the actions from one generation do affect the next, but God can always turn things around.

The next time you're down on yourself or are beating yourself up for something that you did, read the book of Judges. Sometimes we think we're unforgivable - but the stories in Judges highlight that nothing we can do will take God by surprise and though he may be angry at our actions he still has a heart for us. And who knows how he will use you and your flaws to influence the kingdom? Surprisingly, I was very encouraged and humbled by what I learned from this book; by how God used some of these macabre times in history to discipline and restore his people and that if he can do it for them, he can certainly work in my life. We as Christians should do as God did and embrace the imperfect among us.


For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit, and joints from marrow; it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart. Hebrews 4:12

Do you see yourself as imperfect yet capable of being used by God? What will you allow God to do through you?

--Nylse

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Saturday, May 6, 2017

My Newest Superfood - The Papaya


Whenever I visit Jamaica, I noticed that my mother in law has a ritual. Every morning she wakes up bright and early and while singing or humming she peels and prepares a plate of fruit.

This plate is usually made up of whatever is in season or in her backyard. So we always have bananas, mangoes, cantaloupe, and papaya. She finds it cathartic to peel and then assemble this plate. If I try to help, I just get in the way so we'll talk while she works. (I help with other things).

She says papayas are good for you and that they aid in your digestion.

When I return back to the states, I usually go on the hunt for these fruits. Well, I live in California where there are many ethnic markets - Filipino, Korean, Mexican, Indian, combined with lots of farmers markets and I have been able to find the best papayas at the most reasonable price at the Filipino Market - It's the Mexican Papaya and it tastes similar to the one I eat in Jamaica.
This is a great price!

My mother in law likes to cut it vertically and scoop out the seeds like a melon, but I prefer to cut it horizontally into slices as its much easier for me to handle. Of course, you know that this goes into my daily green smoothie. The seeds are soft and edible, so I add a little bit of those to my smoothie also. She was definitely right about this superfood being good for you.

Papayas offer not only the luscious taste and sunlit color of the tropics but are rich sources of antioxidant nutrients such as carotenes, vitamin C and flavonoids; the B vitamins, folate and pantothenic acid; and the minerals, potassium, copper, and magnesium; and fiber. Together, these nutrients promote the health of the cardiovascular system and also provide protection against colon cancer. In addition, papaya contains the digestive enzyme, papain, which is used like bromelain, a similar enzyme found in pineapple, to treat sports injuries, other causes of trauma, and allergies. 

Read more about the papaya and its benefits here -  and then start incorporating it into your daily ritual. Your body will thank you.
--Nylse

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Monday, May 1, 2017

Women of the Word - Khristi Adams

The next installment in this series is Khristi Adams, who was introduced to my by my daughter who also contributes to this blog. Khristi is a young woman whose youth does not deter her from having a heart and passion for serving the Lord in the capacity as a speaker, student, youth advocate and author.
Khristi Adams



1. As someone who studies the Bible, what are your favorite tools and resources?
KA: Outside of the Bible, A Bible Dictionary, Matthew Henry Commentary (even though it is an old English format) and NT Wright Commentary. Online, I rely on Bible Gateway and of course Google; but I'm a big believer in checking and verifying all my sources.


2. Old Testament, New Testament or both?
KA: Both though I probably lean more towards the Gospel - Matthew, Mark, Luke & John. The Old Testament provides better narratives which are easier to preach and the New Testament reinforces. I like the real examples of the Old Testament combined with New Testament theology.


3. Why do you study the Bible? What was your initial motivation?
KA: I grew up in church and was involved in Youth Ministry. When I went away to college, I didn't have the safety of the church so I was forced to learn the Word for myself because I wanted to grow spiritually and learn about God. Now I study the Bible more for practical application. Your perspective can change over time, so as I speak I always ask, "How can this be applied to my life? How can this be applied to someone's life?"



4. How does inspiration work for you? How do you know that what you're writing or understanding is as if God is moving the pen and you're just the vehicle?
KA: I share knowing that I am not always the expert, but I'm being transparent and allowing God to work through me in whatever way He sees fit. It keeps me humble. I get a sense that something is happening and just let go of everything that's happening around me. Inspiration is easier to assess when preaching due to the immediate response of the audience.

5. How do you handle complex topics that may not align with popular views? (Can you give an example?)
KA: First, I make sure I'm clear on what I believe. Second, I'm confident in my "I don't know" especially as it relates to God's Word. As an example, women in ministry is a hotly debated topic. I know I've been called to minister to others as a woman. Many don't think the Bible can be sacred and contextual. Patriarchal culture is considered contextual, yet in context throughout the Bible, women ministered. Jesus was a part of the day's culture, yet he transcended culture. I use these thoughts to guide me.


6. When confronted by the truth of scripture, even for difficult topics, how does it re-orient you?
KA:
I focus on conviction vs. condemnation. Once convicted by God's word, my actions are very clear - repentance and changed ways.


7. Tell us a little bit about yourself, current projects you are working on and where you can be found.
KA: 
I can be found online at https://khristilaurenadams.com. Khristi is an Author, Speaker, Youth Advocate, Filmmaker & Playwright. She is the author of the book “The Misinterpreted Gospel of Singleness: a cultural critique of myths surrounding singleness in the Christian community.” Khristi is ordained with American Baptist Churches USA. She is currently an Associate Pastor of Pastoral Affairs at First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens. Khristi is a graduate of Temple University with a degree in Advertising and a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary where she obtained a Master of Divinity degree. Khristi is writer and director of the stage plays, God & Country, The Herstory Exhibitions and Yesterday I Died.She has done cross-cultural work in Ghana, West Africa; Kingston, Jamaica & Mexico working with churches, schools, prisons and community groups. She recently joined the Board of Directors for “Word Made Flesh,” a non-profit organization existing to serve among the most vulnerable of the world’s poor. Khristi is a Pastoral Counselor at Christian Wellness Center in Somerset, NJ & a featured writer on Huffington Post Religion, Off the Page (of Our Daily Bread) and several other online publications. In the Fall of 2017, Khristi will begin a Ph.D. program in Organizational Leadership at Eastern University.

8. How do you deal with discouragement and doubt? (Bonus question)
KA:
 I'm Surrounded by wise counselors i.e. I speak with my counselor/therapist as needed. In addition, I have people in my life that I can be vulnerable with and who keep me accountable. I try to take regular time for myself.

--Nylse

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Saturday, April 29, 2017

How to Incorporate Essential Oils Into Your Routine

I've become more natural the older I get - my daughter calls it health nutty! I discovered the value of essential oils when my aesthetician (sounds fancy but at the time she only threaded my eyebrows) discovered my thinning eyebrows and recommended Rosemary Oil. She said it stimulates hair growth and would reduce the thinning. So I bought it, used it, googled and discovered there is a range of uses for EOs as they are commonly referred to.

Currently, I have a growing collection of essential oils - rosemary, tea tree, lavender, lemongrass, sweet orange, peppermint and most recently citronella and eucalyptus.

I like to make oil mixes for my hair and scalp - so basically I use a carrier oil like olive oil or castor oil, then I add jojoba, grapeseed, and sweet almond and finally add about 10 drops of lavender essential oil and 5 drops of lemongrass essential oil to this mix. This is my magic potion and it lasts for a while. I apply to my hair and scalp with a dropper.

When I feel adventurous, I'll make a different blend and use on my hair and skin.

To repel mosquitoes when I travel overseas, I will now mix a couple of drops of citronella oil with grapeseed oil.

When I make my mask that I use as a shampoo - I add a couple of drops of lavender. My shampoo mask is made of the following: bentonite clay, aloe vera juice,and black strap molasses combined with a few drops of essential oils. I don't typically measure but am usually aiming for a consistency of Greek yogurt. I won't ever go back to conventional shampoo.


My daughter steams her face by adding rosemary oil and sweet orange oil to a bowl of boiling water. It has the additional benefit of clearing her sinuses.

If you suffer from insomnia, a few drops of lavender on the wrists relaxes you and helps you fall asleep.

A word of caution - essential oils are really potent so you don't need to use a lot. As with all products, please read the labels prior to using. These little bottles can last anywhere from 3 to 6 months.

I purchase mine from Sprouts and the Aura Cacia brand is the only one I buy since a portion of the proceeds goes to help women as part of their Postive Change Project. A win on all sides!

Do you use essential oils? If yes, please share how you use them.


--Nylse

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Friday, April 28, 2017

The Last Five Chapters of Judges Reads Like a Modern Day TV Show

In the days when the Israelites had no king, every person did what was right in their own eyes. They were focused on their own "I" nothing else.  When you are so singularly focused on yourself, your needs, your desires it is a recipe for disaster. This post took much longer than I anticipated because I wanted to ensure its accuracy. I am simply retelling the events that transpired; the unpacking will come over time.

Micah's mom sets things in motion by creating an image and an idol for her son after her stolen money is found - a significant amount of 11,000 pieces of silver. By the way, it was Micah, her son that stole her money. (Judges 17)

Micah created a shrine in his house that included this image and idol. Micah then consecrated one of his sons as his personal priest and then a man from the tribe of Levi - the tribe of priests. So Micah had 2 priests - his son and a Levite priest for hire. The men from the tribe of Dan are passing through, recognize the priest's voice and convinced him that he should be a priest to them instead of one man. He likes their proposition and becomes their priest instead. Subsequently, Micah comes to claim his priest but he is outnumbered. The men from the tribe of Dan captured the group from Laish and they end up worshipping Micah's carved image for a very long time. (Judges 18)

This is the first set of events that happened which set the stage for the next happenings.

A Levite takes a woman as his concubine, his legal mistress. She cheats on him and ran away or ran back home to her father's house. Because she is his legal mistress her father is referred to as the Levite's father in law. After four months the Levite goes to fetch her. The man and his father in law have a good time eating and drinking so much so that he is delayed by one day in his travels. He eventually leaves with his concubine on the 5th day, late in the afternoon. As they are trying to make their way back home they stop in Gibeah for the night. They thought Gibeah would be safer since they are Israelites; they are familiar with their ways and would feel more comfortable there. An old man from the town of Gibeah takes them in and is their host for the evening. After dinner some worthless guys surround the house wanting to have sex with the Levite. What sort of place is Gibeah? This goes from bad to worse because of their host, the old man who said, "no instead take my virgin daughter or the concubine." The worthless men insisted on the Levite so he pushes his concubine outside where they rape and abuse her all night. In the morning, she is returned to the old man's house where she dies at the doorstep. Without any thought or concern for her, the Levite implored her to get ready for travel and realizes that she is dead. The Levite picks her up and carries himself and her dead body home. When he gets home he cuts her body into twelve pieces and each piece is delivered to a tribe. (Judges 19)

What madness is this? It gets worse. (Judges 20)

The Levite, the husband of the woman who had been murdered, said, “My concubine and I came to spend the night in Gibeah, a town that belongs to the people of Benjamin.  That night some of the leading citizens of Gibeah surrounded the house, planning to kill me, and they raped my concubine until she was dead. So I cut her body into twelve pieces and sent the pieces throughout the territory assigned to Israel, for these men have committed a terrible and shameful crime. Now then, all of you—the entire community of Israel—must decide here and now what should be done about this!

In retelling his account of the events to the tribes of Israel, the Levite does not share how he played a part in his concubine being turned over to the worthless men. The tribe of Benjamin sides with the men of Gibeah and through much fighting and subsequent defeat they are tainted as a tribe because of this heinous act. After Benjamin's defeat at the hands of the other Israelites, 600 Benjamite men are remaining. Since they are tainted, the remaining tribes made an oath that no one could marry these men from the tribe of Benjamin, so they come up with a scheme. First, they found 400 women from Jabesh Gilead after killing everyone (men and women who weren't virgins). But there was still a need. So they devised this plan - go to a festival in Shiloh, and when you see single women dancing grab and run; who you grab will become your wife. (Judges 21)  All of this reminds me of episodes of SVU.


In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes. Judges 21:25 

This is how the book of Judges ends.
These last five chapters provide graphic detail of what happens when people do right in their own eyes.
The Israelites had no king - this phrase was mentioned at least three times in these last chapters. Each time this statement is made, the subsequent acts are more reprehensible. This was people begging for leadership. The human condition demonstrated the need for a Savior.
They were sincerely wrong - they chose to do what they thought was right but it was clearly wrong. You can be sincere in your beliefs and yet be wrong.
There was a misunderstanding of God's word - which led to idol worship, civil war, fighting, rape, murder, you name it!
Foolish and immoral behavior led to cycles of sin - as evidenced throughout this book. Only God can break this cycle.
Every facet of society was affected; those who we thought would know better did not. Think of Micah's mother, the priest for hire, the Levite with the concubine, or the old man.
None of us are immune from depraved behavior without the Grace of God

We are no different from the Israelites when we esteem our knowledge above God's knowledge as laid out in the Bible. These chapters can be read as a cautionary tale to let us know our craven depths without God in our lives. As I was driving recently, I turned on a road that was recently paved but unlined. I was used to the lines, which indicated which lane I should be in. Without the lines, I found myself initially drifting to the wrong side of the road and then I consciously righted myself. You ever wonder why they are lines on the road? Without the lines to guide us, our natural tendency is to drive wherever we want to create mayhem. God's word is like those lines on the road. Choose to follow.


The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life.
I will advise you and watch over you. Psalms 32:8

Have you ever read these chapters? Were you convicted, disgusted, shocked or something else? What can you learn from these chapters?
--Nylse

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Monday, April 24, 2017

Samson's Desperate Cry

Desperation - when your back is against the wall and the odds are seemingly stacked against you. That state of becoming unraveled because it seems as if there's no solution. This is where Samson is because he finally gave in to Delilah and he is captured by the Philistines. (Judges 16:20-31)

Samson thought he could do what he always did which was rely on his strength - but this time he was on his own; the Spirit of the Lord was no longer with him; he had the dawning realization that without God, he was a mere weak man. The enemy could torture and humiliate him. In our lives, it could be likened to our diminishing time in God's presence daily. If our habit of spending time with God changes, we won't have the same resources available to us; our weapons won't be sharp. It would be like going into battle with a dull knife - we are not prepared. We delude ourselves until we realize we are in the heat of battle.

How humiliating and painful - a man who was known to be so strong is brought so low. He was bound with brass chains and his eyes were gouged out - adding insult to injury! Our bad decisions can lead to painful humiliation. When you decided not to punish a child for being disobedient and then they turn around and speak to you as if you were equals; when you took a shortcut with a process at work and now the client account is at stake; when you didn't think before you spoke. Opportunities abound for Team Bad Decisions - but you don't have to be on this team.

As a stone grinder for the Philistines, all Samson has is time. It is in this state of brokenness and desperation that he can reflect and realize that the Lord's hand was on his life. It's often in our desperate moments that we gain clarity on the hand of God. It is also in this state that growth happens. For Samson, his hair began to grow again. Hope lives even in desperate situations. Samson received an outward physical reminder that coincided with his change of heart.

His enemies were rejoicing in their "victory". They paid Samson's hair no mind or forgot the importance of his hair. Have you ever had a feeling in a desperate time, where you knew that you were going to overcome but no one else around you could believe it or see it but only you knew? At this point is doesn't matter if you're overlooked because you recognize that your desperate state is not your final state. Being overlooked in your desperation because God is working on you is all right!

They decided to bring Samson out as Exhibit A in celebration to their false god. He's bound and seems harmless, so when he makes a request to stand between two stone pillars, he's able to do so.

I love Samson's last desperate pray - “Sovereign Lord, remember me again. O God, please strengthen me just one more time. With one blow let me pay back the Philistines for the loss of my two eyes.”
This pray says, Lord, I know you and you know me. I know You are and were my Source. Just one more time Lord, one More Time - GIVE ME STRENGTH.  This pray is an acknowledgment of the Greatness of God. Desperation makes us recognize the greatness of God.

At the end of Samson's life, we see his desperation and devotion to God. Then Samson put his hands on the two center pillars that held up the temple. Pushing against them with both hands,  he prayed, “Let me die with the Philistines.” And the temple crashed down on the Philistine rulers and all the people. So he killed more people when he died than he had during his entire lifetime.


If you are in a state of desperation, may it bring you full circle back to God.


As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for God, the living God. When can I go and stand before him? Day and night I have only tears for food, while my enemies continually taunt me, saying, “Where is this God of yours?” Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again— my Savior and my God! Psalms 42:1,2,5


Are you desperate for God?


--Nylse

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Samson's Women Trouble

The three women in Samson’s life were Gentiles. The first was the woman from Timnah whom he married, the second was the whore from Gaza, and the third was the only woman mentioned by name, Delilah, with whom Samson “fell in love.” According to the Biblical account, Samson’s relations with these women were a means to avenge the Philistines. (Jewish Women's Encyclopedia)

Samson's only wife was a woman from Timnah. She caught his eye one day, and that was all she wrote! He told his parents to do what they could to make this marriage happen. “A young Philistine woman in Timnah caught my eye. I want to marry her. Get her for me.” (Judges 14:1-2)

His parents objected but ultimately acquiesced. They didn't realize that God was orchestrating this connection so that he could ultimately deliver Israel from the Philistines. (Judges 14:4)
Samson's parents were well intentioned, provided guidance. However, they weren't aware of the details of God's plan for Samson's life. They probably thought that since he was a Nazarite that what they were suggesting made sense. But I also noticed they didn't put up a real fight and they went along with his decision. His parents were at the celebration.

For brevity, the following happened (Judges 14:5-19):
On the way to Timnah for wedding preparations, he killed a lion.
On the second trip to Timnah for the wedding, he ate honey from the dead lion's carcass.
At the wedding celebration, he told a riddle based on his exploits with the lion that no one could figure out.
On the fourth day, the Philistines still couldn't figure out Samson's riddle.
The Philistines told her to entice her husband - Samson. so they could solve the riddle.
His wife wore him down until he gave her the answer which she then told to the Philistines.

"If you hadn't plowed with my heifer you wouldn't have solved my riddle." (Judges 14:18) To me, this sounds like a derogatory view of his wife. This would be consistent since throughout his life he didn't seem to have great respect for women; they were only good for one thing. But this statement also indicates that she was more willing to oblige others than her husband. In trying to keep her people happy she lost her husband and ultimately her life. Samson didn't know how to communicate with his wife or manage himself (i.e. he had no self-control).

And then he got angry.

He used his strength to kill 30 men, then went back home to his parent's house. He left his wife.

It's unfortunate, but his wife became the best man's wife without Samson's knowledge. At some point, Samson decided he wants to go back to his wife only to discover she is no longer his. All he has is his strength so one thing leads to another and his wife is killed as an act of vengeance. (Judges 15)

Now he's angry again and when he's angry he's strong.

He escapes, is captured and returned, pretends to be subdued, releases himself and uses, his strength to kill 1000 men with the jawbone of a donkey. After this eventful start, he judged Israel for 20 years. During the course of his leadership, we meet his other liaisons - a prostitute and then Delilah. We don't know why Samson never married again, but he may have been employing the adage, "Once bitten, twice shy." This was not clear thinking and was not the best choice, as we will see.

So he spent a night with a prostitute and then he fell in love with Delilah. (Judges 16:4-22)

Delilah was more upfront than his first wife - she specifically wanted to know the source of his strength so that she could tell the Philistines. She was honest and did not have his best interest at heart. Samson knew this and probably thought he could outsmart her - but she wears him down by nagging him, literally to his death. Three times he gave her different scenarios because he was a bit of a prankster, and three times she tried. By the fourth time, he finally tells her the source of his strength. Delilah must have been real good because she was persistent. This is when we wonder about Samson's intellect because Delilah was clear in her mission, but Samson seemed to be blinded by lust and perhaps an over-reliance on his strength.

Samson had a gift but he didn't seem to know how to use it wisely. He didn't develop it, he just knew he had it. It was a good way to get out of trouble or toy with people. In spite of Samson's woman trouble, he was able to have the presence of mind to judge/lead Israel for 20 years. He had strength in leadership, God-given strength and a weakness for women. What a combination.

But the man who commits adultery is an utter fool, for he destroys himself. Proverbs 6:32

What can you learn from Samson's choices in women?

--Nylse

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