Monday, February 27, 2017

Why Do We Fluctuate in our Devotion To God?

Reading about the Israelites in the book of Judges, you may wonder how they could be so stubborn. You may even think that you're not like them - once you've committed to something or someone you never waver in your commitment, you're never tempted, and you never doubt.

In my last post, I mentioned how God sent judges to deliver the people of Israel; but why did they need deliverance?

Their leader died (Judges 2:6-9). Joshua died at 110 years old but he was influential in ensuring that the people followed the Lord's commandments. When Joshua and those of that generation died, the upcoming generation did not know the Lord and all of his works. Because of this lack of knowledge they chose to worship other gods. This worshipping of other gods instead of the one true God makes God seem petty, but He's not. When you make other things an idol - they become very important to you. Idols will now have a high priority in your life; the idol determines how you live and who you associate with. In Israel's time, false gods like Baal and Ashtoreth - couldn't save lives, couldn't deliver you from oppression, couldn't help you cross a Red sea, couldn't rain plagues from heaven. Instead, these idols created a false hope and filled lives with rituals that had no meaning. But God was and is different - everything He instituted had meaning and purpose and was not an empty ritual. God knew what He was talking about. Today we make idols out of different things - fame, athletic prowess, smarts, money. If we give these things more precedence than God who made us, they are an idol and they will have the same detrimental effect as worshipping false gods in Israel's time.

There was a gap in knowledge (Judges 2:10). As much as it is up to you, your legacy matters. Perhaps because they had not experienced God's goodness directly, the younger generation made a choice to test God. Perhaps they did not really understand what it meant to serve God. Sometimes in spite of passing down what God has done, the next generation chooses to go astray. Each individual has to make the choice to serve God.

God made all of us with free will (Judges 2:11-22). We get to choose. God said if you're always going to choose wrongly, you will suffer but I will still make a way out for you.

So why is it so hard to stay the course?
  • Sin is enticing. The worship of false gods was enticing to the Israelites; it was all around them. Proximity to sin also made it tempting.
  • Sin is influential - Bad company corrupts good character.
  • Sin makes us weak - We don't really have willpower unless we choose to subject our minds. Our wills are entirely powerless.
Perhaps you now see a little bit of yourself in the Israelites; I know I do. Don't look with disdain at the Israelites instead, see yourself in them. Yield to the promises of God's word and be willful about serving Him. Like the Israelites, you'll begin to recognize that He is there in spite of your messes. Out of the mess will come a message.

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. Romans 5:8

Even though you fluctuate, He remains faithful. 

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Power a Judge Holds

There's a big competition that happens annually throughout the United States that is called the US Academic Decathlon, informally called AcaDeca. This year I was asked by a friend to serve as a Judge. I had no idea what I was in for but since I became aware of this competition, I have had a peripheral interest in it, as it represents academic excellence. I keep my eye on these things just in case a child of mine can participate. So being a judge was a perfect way to learn how this competition works, but it turned out to be more than that.

AcaDeca is an intense competition; a theme is picked annually and each school has a team dedicated to this endeavor. Basically, as a student, you spend all of your free time studying for this competition. What's unique about this competition is that a team is made up of A students, B students, and C students - A, B & C being their GPA. I like the message that sends because so often in schools it seems that the A students are automatically selected for every honor and the others are left out. But this is a team competition so everyone has to work together.

I was asked to be a judge for the interview portion of the competition. We were given an orientation that day on how to be an interview judge. As a judge, we worked in teams and decided which questions to ask the students. We were looking to see how poised, confident and comfortable the competitors were. After each interview which lasted for 7 minutes we then rated them. As an interview judge, it was my job to ensure that they answered the questions. There was no right or wrong answer to any of the questions - for example, "Based on your circle of friends, what would they say about you?"

Some of the competitors were so coached or so scripted we never got to see who they were. Others realized that they could let their true selves shine through without negative ramifications. And some were so shy and tense, we had to work really hard to get them to open 7 minutes. We judged based on the behavior they presented to us.

As judges we were in a powerful position - our scores for this section of the competition determined how the team performed overall. The competitors did not take it lightly neither did we (though we had more fun!)

The Book of Judges is named as such because it details the Israelites exploits after Joshua died while living in the conquered land of Canaan. But you know the Israelites were all too human just like us so they fluctuated in their devotion to God. Judges specifically states, "Whenever the Lord raised up a judge over Israel, he was with that judge and rescued the people from their enemies throughout the judge’s lifetime. For the Lord took pity on his people, who were burdened by oppression and suffering. But when the judge died, the people returned to their corrupt ways, behaving worse than those who had lived before them. They went after other gods, serving and worshiping them. And they refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways." (Judges 2:18-19 [NLT])

My role as a judge was minuscule compared to the judges that God raised up to lead and deliver Israel. Nonetheless, the judge played an important role - they kept order, followed God's laws, brokered disputes,  and was the final authority next to God. Their authority was recognized however, a judge was different from a king in that he/she did not have the authority of a king.

We minimize judging today; we get upset when we feel we're being judged and this is only the case when our actions don't align with the standard of the person doing the judging. Granted, if the individual's heart or motive is wrong, then they will be judging wrongly. But that's not what upsets most people - it is the actual knowledge of being judged that lets them know that they have deviated from a standard. It's being called out - but there is a way to do this.

Judging happens and judging is necessary. If we weren't judging that important aspect of the competition, the outcomes may have been different. If God hadn't sent judges, the Israelites would not have had relief from their enemies' oppression.

Over the next couple of weeks, I'll break down what judging actually entails and how the Israelites were affected by the Judges that God used to deliver them.

And he shall judge the world in righteousness, he shall minister judgment to the people in uprightness. Psalms 9:8

Have you ever been a judge? What was it like?

Thursday, February 23, 2017

More Black History - After Slavery and Jim Crow

My initial post on slavery was written on August 4th, 2015. The 2nd part - this post, has sat in draft mode until now. It seems fitting that I should post this before Black History Month ends. So many of us don't know our history; not just Black History. As an adult looking back, I can now see that History was one of the more important topics taught - but depending on your sources the picture painted may be incomplete. Is history ever complete? We weren't there so we have to rely on and trust the records of what was done at the time. As it relates to Black history, the more we read, research and speak to others the more we realize that this is an area that is shortchanged on many school's history curriculums. As I said in my prior post, it wasn't until I went to college that I really began to unearth my history. Hopefully, this post whets the appetite for learning more of our history.

America has always been conflicted about how to treat its Black citizens. Though Jefferson coined the phrase all men are created equal, he didn't truly believe it for Jefferson was a slaveowner; his belief and his actions were not aligned. Jefferson, like all slaveholders and many other white members of American society, regarded Negroes as inferior, childlike, untrustworthy and, of course, as property. Jefferson, the genius of politics, could see no way for African-Americans to live in society as free people. He embraced the worst forms of racism to justify slavery. (

Of the nine presidents who owned slaves, only Washington freed his. (

But even though many of them decried it, Southern colonists relied on slavery. The Southern colonies were among the richest in America. Their cash crops of tobacco, indigo, and rice depended on slave labor. They weren’t going to give it up and history has shown they did not.

Here's a brief history lesson taken from various sources. The first U.S. national government began under the Articles of Confederation, adopted in 1781. This document said nothing about slavery. It left the power to regulate slavery, as well as most powers, to the individual states.
A dispute arose over the legislative branch. States with large populations wanted representation in both houses of the legislature to be based on population. States with small populations wanted each state to have the same number of representatives, like under the Articles of Confederation. This argument carried on for two months. In the end, the delegates agreed to the “Great Compromise.” One branch, the House of Representatives, would be based on population. The other, the Senate, would have two members from each state.
Part of this compromise included an issue that split the convention into North–South lines. The issue was: Should slaves count as part of the population? Under the proposed Constitution, the population would ultimately determine three matters:
(1) How many members each state would have in the House of Representatives.
(2) How many electoral votes each state would have in presidential elections.
(3) The amount each state would pay in direct taxes to the federal government.
Only the Southern states had large numbers of slaves. Counting them as part of the population would greatly increase the South’s political power, but it would also mean paying higher taxes. This was a price the Southern states were willing to pay. They argued in favor of counting slaves. Northern states disagreed. The delegates compromised. Each slave would count as three-fifths of a person.

What should be done about the slave trade, the importing of new slaves into the United States? Ten states had already outlawed it. Many delegates heatedly denounced it. But the three states that allowed it — Georgia and the two Carolinas — threatened to leave the convention if the trade were banned. A special committee worked out another compromise: Congress would have the power to ban the slave trade, but not until 1800. The convention voted to extend the date to 1808.
A final major issue involving slavery confronted the delegates. Southern states wanted other states to return escaped slaves. The Articles of Confederation had not guaranteed this. But when Congress adopted the Northwest Ordinance, it a clause promising that slaves who escaped to the Northwest Territories would be returned to their owners. The delegates placed a similar fugitive slave clause in the Constitution. This was part of a deal with New England states. In exchange for the fugitive slave clause, the New England states got concessions on shipping and trade.

The black community received an enormous shock with the Supreme Court's "Dred Scott" decision in March 1857. Blacks were not American citizens and could never be citizens, the court said in a decision roundly denounced by the Republican Party as well as the abolitionists, because slaves were property, not people. By this ruling, they could not sue in court. The decision was finally reversed by the Civil Rights Act of 1865.That was 8 long years.

The constitution set forth the ideals of freedom and equality while providing for the continuation of the institution of slavery through the fugitive slave clause and the three-fifths compromise. Slavery was abolished by Amendment 13 of the Constitution. Amendment 13 - Slavery Abolished. Ratified 12/6/1865. Here is the actual text of the 13th Amendment: 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation. 

The ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1865 is considered the end of slavery. This then ushered in the Jim Crow era. Jim Crow an appropriate name - not flattering, derogatory, a way of life for blacks and whites, and cruel.

The Jim Crow era accompanied the cruelest wave of "racial" suppression that America has yet experienced. Between 1890 and 1940 (some sources say up to the 60s), millions of African Americans were disfranchised, killed, and brutalized. Quite simply, another human decided that you were inferior because of your skin color. You couldn't drink at the same water fountain, swim in the same pools, go to the same schools or churches, stay in the same hotels, shop at the same stores and many more aggressions because you were Black. You could not vote or participate in democracy. As a Black person, you were raped, lynched, or imprisoned for any perceived slight with minimal recourse. Please let that sink in. This went on for generations and became a way of life for black folk though it was not right. On the flip side, it reinforced a warped sense of superiority in white folks that they never had. This too was not right. Fear is a crazy thing!

Yet, during this time we survived. There was brilliance in Black people and slowly but surely the world came to know. There's MLK Jr, and many before him; there were doctors, nurses, journalists, educators, musicians, athletes, inventors, scientists, activists. There's an endless list of Black achievement from this time frame. There were many battles to fight and many ways to fight them all with the goal of restoring some degree of human dignity to Black people in America.

As a nation, Jim Crow and its vestiges are a part of this country's history. 

Remember, those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it (Edmund Burke).

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Reaping What You Sow

When we were children, one form of fun and entertainment for us was playing board games. One year my oldest brother brought home this game called "The Gold Talent" which was a Bible Trivia game. To this day, I remember my brother with his handsome smile asking, "Who was the king who had his thumbs and big toes cut off?" In all of my reading of the Bible, as a teenager, I'd never found anything like this in the Bible. Back then we didn't have cell phones or even a computer at home. We had encyclopedias, but this information would not be in one, and if it was it would take too long to find.

So we were stumped, and we said, "Who?" He said, "Adonibezek."  Adoni be who??? I had never heard of him; perhaps you hadn't either.

Adonibezek's story is found in Judges 1:1-8. Adonibezek was the king of Bezek - a Canaanite king, who was captured by Judah and Simeon- two brothers. When they captured him they cut off his thumbs and big toes. It turns out that Adonibezek had done this to seventy kings, so he thought this was a just punishment. "As I have done, so God has requited me." Then they brought him to Jerusalem and he died.

There are no random stories or mere coincidences in the Bible; everything is there for a reason and serves a purpose.

We don't know why Judah and Simeon chose to inflict this punishment on Adonibezek but as you continue reading you realized that there was a method to the madness - this was a practice Adonibezek had employed on a regular basis. As he did to the kings he captured to reduce their dexterity, the same was done to him. Cutting off the thumbs made working difficult; the big toes - made walking difficult. These captured kings gathered crumbs from under Adonibezek’s table. They were really humiliated!

Sometimes God in his providence makes the punishment answer for the sin.

So be careful about cutting off the toes and thumbs of others – the same punishment may be inflicted on you. Unlike Adonibezek, if you have the chance to right a wrong, do so before the wrong comes right back to you.

The one who sows iniquity will reap trouble, and the rod of his fury will end. Proverbs 22:8

Do not be deceived. God will not be made a fool. For a person will reap what he sows....
Galatians 6:7

What do you need to make right today?

Friday, February 17, 2017

Encouraging Words from an Old Man to the Rest of Us

After Joshua encouraged the elders, he gave his last sermon to the congregation, which once more included the leaders.

Once, many years ago I went to a Women's Ministry meeting, at church, on a Monday night. The lady who spoke that night talked about rehearsing the goodness of God. I had never heard that phrase before until that night and it is one of those phrases that has stayed with me. The context in which rehearsed is used in the Bible simply means to tell or declare; to repeat. In modern times it means to practice, run through, or review.

In either context, when you rehearse the goodness of God you become emphatic in declaring what God has done for you, and this is exactly what Joshua did in his last sermon. Joshua emphasized how God delivered the people of Israel and how He fought for them in the most eloquent terms, from the time of Abraham to their present - I gave you lands you did not work for and you partake in its benefits. (Joshua 24:1-13)

Joshua then encouraged the people to,  now, therefore, serve the Lord with sincerity and truth. (Joshua 24:14).

When you rehearse what God has done, there's only one response that makes sense; that acknowledges His goodness - service.

Because it's always up to each of us individually to make the choice, Joshua issued a challenge to the congregation- choose ye this day who ye will serve. (Joshua 24:15) Joshua had already made the decision for his household but, would others follow?

What happens next is not something I've ever seen in a Sunday morning service. It almost has a call and response feel to it.

The Israelites said, "We'll serve God." (Joshua 24:16-18)
Joshua said in so many words, "No you won't. You'll mess up. God is not to be messed with." (Joshua 24:19, 20)
The people countered and said, "No we won't; we'll serve God because we have experienced Him."(Joshua 24:21)
Joshua said - "OK. Let's set up a covenant as a witness to what you said you would do." So a covenant was made that day;  it was written and a stone was set up by the sanctuary of the Lord to indicate that a covenant was made between God and the people. (Joshua 24:26, 27)

Joshua died at the age of 110 and it seems the people remembered their covenant because...Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that overlived (i.e. outlived) Joshua, and which had known all the works of the Lord, that he had done for Israel. (Joshua 24:31)

Through Joshua's prompting, Israel remembered all the works of the God. They rehearsed the works of God which allowed them to remember which ultimately encouraged them; for to lose memory is to lose hope.

Since that night, many years ago as a young working (tired) mother, I have rehearsed the goodness of God. When I felt too tired to care, I remembered how God carried me. When I thought I was at my wit's end, I remembered how God came through in providing a different way for me to look at a situation and arrive at a resolution. Even for work, when I was expecting difficulty God paved a way and provided opportunity. God has always been good to me in spite of my circumstances. The simple act of waking up and breathing is evidence of God's goodness. So I rehearse; I practice so that I remember. Like a runner who practiced so that their performance is automatic. Like a singer who rehearsed so that singing is second nature. When we rehearse we're creating muscle memory. We're strengthening our faith and hope muscles creating muscle memory. The work of God in each life is powerful; powerful to change us, powerful to encourage us and powerful to make us live right.

I will remember the works of the Lord. Yes, I will remember the amazing things you did long ago! Psalm 77:11

Like Joshua did to the children of Israel, rehearse God's goodness in your life. Choose who you will serve. Make the choice to serve Him because of all that He has done for you.

Are you ready for rehearsal?

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

As a Leader you Must be Courageous and Obedient

Don't you hate when encouragement falls flat? When someone is just saying something because it sounds good but doesn't really understand what's happening with you? When the words being said are without conviction - like they almost don't believe what they're saying?

Joshua was not like that; he was purposeful in his encouragement so his encouraging words did not fall flat. There's a purpose to encouragement; it's to reinforce that you're on the right track; it's to pick you up when you're down; it's to remember how you overcame in the past; it's to let you know that seasons come and go - sadness/doubt/depression won't last forever. Encouragement strengthens our hope and reinforces our faith.

Joshua was able to be purposeful in his encouragement to the Israelites well after they had conquered; 14 years had passed and with the passing of time Joshua's faith was reinforced. He was now in a position where he could pass on what he had learned, first to the leaders.

In Joshua 23:1 it notes that Joshua was old and stricken in age. There's a beautiful benefit to being old in that your experiences have become the foundation of your life. They have shaped you, up to this point. Joshua led the Israelites into the Promised Land and he lived and witnessed the hand of God -up close and personal.

As a leader who was victorious in conquering Canaanite lands, it is from this vantage point that he is able to encourage the elders - other leaders, and subsequently the people.

Leadership requires courage. Joshua recognized this trait and told the Israelites often to be very courageous. Leadership also requires obedience. Joshua said, "Be very courageous and do all that is written in the book of the Law." (Joshua 23:6)

Why were courage and obedience so necessary and part of Joshua's encouraging words to the Israelite leaders?
The Israelites were now living with the folks they had defeated. These folks had their own customs many of which included idol worship. When you live with others, if you're not strong or careful, their ways can become your ways. Some things may be innocuous, such as housekeeping, but other things such as was the case with idol worship would be detrimental. Who or what you worship determines your belief systems which in turn impacts every area of your life. Idol worship of pagan gods lead to practices that placed you away from God; idol worship would corrupt their thinking. The thing with idol worship is that you are replacing God with anything or anyone else. Because it's not the same as worshiping God, you will never experience what you desire, just a short-term high compared to a long-term sustainable relationship where God is your source.

Joshua was prescient by telling the leaders to be courageous and obedient. And then he provided credible evidence by telling them that God fought for them. One man of you shall chase a thousand for God fights for you. (Joshua 23:9,10) He went on to say, "In addition, you can see that God has not failed you, everything has happened like he said it would." (Joshua 23:14)

Good things come when you follow me...Joshua 23:15,16

The purpose of Joshua's encouragement was a reinforcement of the goodness of God. These weren't empty words that had no validity for Joshua reminded them how liberally God had fulfilled His promise and concluded with a picture of the evil which would befall them if they rebelled against God. Joshua's encouragement was also practical. It takes courage to be obedient to God's law especially when it seems as if those around you are faring better than you while not obeying. But they're not courageous and they're also not the standard to judge yourself by - God's word is. He has our best interests at heart and time after time he has shown that following him is rewarding. In his old age, Joshua encouraged the leaders of Israel one last time. I love talking to older people as there's a gravity to their words. They know whereof they speak (and you can take it or leave it). Joshua was like that - he was getting ready to leave this earth. As an encouraging leader, he shared these thoughts with his leaders.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

How would you measure courage and obedience in your life? Can you up the ante?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

I am My Husband's Wife

I wear many titles in life, most with a degree of pride (i.e. I like the person I am). Honestly, when we go places and we're being introduced for the first time, I love saying I'm Nylse (well, my real name), Garth's wife. I absolutely love saying that as it makes me smile on the inside. I like that we're a couple, I like that we're together, I like what we've built together. I know him and he knows me but there are times when I'm intrigued and want to know a little more.

To date, here's what I know about my husband and why I'm happy to be known as his wife:

He's smart - very smart like geek smart. Though he's smart this can sometimes be annoying because when I'm looking for lite, I get heavy. But I like him just the same because he can't help himself. It makes me feel good to know I valued smartness and he embodies it.

He's sensitive - way more sensitive than me. Again this is not a new thing and it used to make me doubt my empathy and caring skills; well I had reason to because I had a low tolerance for folks who didn't operate to my standards, but it wasn't his fault. But I've seen with him, regardless of how he's been mistreated or treated, that he takes time for people. This has made me a more caring person.

He thinks I'm cute. If we go anywhere, he's confident that I will present myself well. Boosts a girl's self-esteem, yes it does.

He is a serious Christian. I've never had a problem with this but he was always more verbose about his expression of faith. We have lots of good deep conversations (when the stars are aligned perfectly!)

He has an interesting sense of humor. I actually don't mind this because he generally makes me laugh because I get it! No one else has to get the joke but me. Now I must admit that when I'm in a bad mood, I don't find his sense of humor laughable at all, but in the grand scheme of things, that's not often.

He has a different way with the children than I do. I'm rough and tough like a drill sergeant. He is quite the opposite but as it turns out - our children needed both.

He has always supported me. Now sometimes I didn't feel supported but he was there for me. He'd listen to an idea, ask a million questions (which I hated at the time), think, ask more questions. But even if it didn't make 100% sense to him, he was there for me.

We have been married for 28 years in March. Wow! I'm speechless. I'm glad we're in this thing of life love and marriage together. Cheers! We're almost at the stage where we can share each other's reading glasses. :)

I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine:.....Song of Solomon 6:3

Are you happy to be called your husband's wife? Tell him. Husbands, are you glad she's your wife? Tell her.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Notes From My Daughter - How Pain Makes Us Stronger

Occasional notes from my second daughter. I never know what to expect when she writes but I am always blown away. Did this child come from me? Read on!
I know why you run away and I know why you come back” – God to me, 1/1/17.

You live a very interesting life when you are both injury-prone and have a high threshold for pain. About 4 years ago while at an ice skating rink, my blade got stuck in a groove, and I started flying face first towards the ice. I managed to turn a bit before I landed but not fully. My knee hit the ice first and then I remember feeling a sharp pain in my shoulders and back. As usual, I didn’t scream. Life just paused on the ice rink and everything moved a bit slower.

Then I noticed all the people staring at me.

I quickly got up on my own politely refusing help,  assured the crowd that I was okay, and proceeded to skate nonstop for another 20 minutes.

As I prepared to go home I noticed I couldn’t fully bend down to take my skate off because my shoulders were stiff. I decided to just move slower, gently easing my hands towards my boots. It was only when I started rolling up my jeans above my ankles that I realized something felt different. I rolled my pants leg all the way up to my knee and that’s when I noticed my knee had swollen to twice its size. My knee was unrecognizable to me, my body felt foreign, but the pain felt very familiar.  

Pain is a feeling closely associated with power. The discomfort you feel when you become aware of your own pain is due to recognizing:
  •  You are under an undesired control
  •  You feel powerless to change the circumstance

In the moment, the pain seems purposeless but very powerful. It evokes a desire to fight or flight. You can either conquer it quickly or escape it quickly, but the impulse is never to endure.
Those who chose flight aren’t cowards in my eyes, neither is the one who chooses to fight, brave. They are both logical, though myopic, reactions aimed at survival. In every human relationship where pain has been experienced, these same fight or flight mechanisms are manifested. Some people assert a domineering identity and demand compliance from others so that their authority no longer feels threatened. Some people want to fight on purpose so that they can prove who the more powerful person is and hold that over the losers head. Some get silent, walk away, or altogether end the relationship. There are many possible outcomes but ultimately people instinctively want to survive which ironically is what causes more pain because it seems like there isn’t enough power for everyone.

My body has survived myriad pains and it has only been in slowing down that I was able to notice what was really happening. My injury prone body has undergone constant unaddressed stress that became a normalized way of existing for me. My high threshold for pain caused delayed responsiveness even in critical moments. I used to judge myself harshly for these impulses. "Am I arrogant for not asking for help immediately? Am I a coward? Am I called to permanently burden all of these pains? Why do I keep on reliving the same type of traumatic experiences? What’s wrong with me?" I felt powerless. I felt weak. 
God, however, showed me the issue wasn’t in being weak. The solution wasn’t in judging myself, as a matter of fact, I had all together misjudged the situation.

I know why you run away, and I know why you come back.

The moment God said this was honestly life-changing. Here I was ruminating on all that I had done, fighting myself looking for the power to change my circumstances when all I needed to do was slow down. Here I was judging myself for “running away” from God, feeling all types of guilt and helplessness and God met me with compassion.

For the One to know why I do what I do means you’ve been there while I’ve done it and didn’t fight me or flee from me during that time. He being unruled by time, slows us down when our impulses tell us to react immediately. He opens our eyes to the patterns and the motivations that sustain them and invites us to surrender instead of fighting for power. Why? Because God’s love always chooses to endure and that endurance provides an everlasting power that we cannot find on our own. With God, we are not required to be a slave to our pain. He never fights us nor flees us. He never leaves nor forsakes us even though he knows why we do so to him. His love endures, and He will walk with us as we painfully learn to live life in His unfailing love. (Deuteronomy 31:6)    

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Would the World be Safer and Kinder If we Had Cities of Refuge?

The amazing thing about reading and studying the Bible is that the old becomes new. Always. I can't tell you how many times in my life I've read the Bible, but it is amazing to me that each time there's a new application, new insight, or new conviction. I think this happens because the Bible is a practical book for aspects of life infused with Spirit-filled writers who were seeking just like we are. While sometimes we are looking for something that appeals to a specific situation, we soon learn that it is the reader who has to learn to view life differently and recognize the Bible's practical application to most if not all situations. So we're being transformed as we read.

Currently, I'm reading the book of Joshua and as you can tell from recent posts there are many insights to be gained from reading this book. Joshua is the leader who led the Israelites into the Promised Land and as such Joshua details their conquests and how the land is divided up between the twelve tribes. Of special significance is that the tribe of Levi does not receive any land because they were to be priests to the Lord and overseers of the tabernacles and its rites because only the Levites could carry and set up the tabernacle. (Numbers 2:5-13) As the Levites were to have no territorial domain allocated to them like the other tribes in the conquest of Canaan, they were to be distributed throughout the land in certain cities appropriated to their use. Part of their inheritance consisted of forty-eight cities spread throughout the land (Numbers 35:6-7). Of these forty-eight cities, six were designated as cities of refuge. The cities were Kedesh, Shechem, Hebron, Bezer, Romath, and Golan (Joshua 20:7-8)(

The cities of refuge were in place for what we know today as manslaughter; the attacker could flee to a City of Refuge and be free of retribution from the victim's family because the Law permitted life for a life in the case of deliberate murder.  But since this was not deliberate, the attacker had an opportunity to live, plead his case, and eventually be returned to his family.

The institution of the cities of refuge, together with the rules prescribed for the guidance of those who sought an asylum within their walls, was an important provision, for securing justice as well as mercy.

What were the rules?

  • If you did the unspeakable - you had 6 choices. Your job was to get to the nearest one. BTW I learned that the routes to these cities were always clear. There were no roadblocks in escaping to one of these cities.
  • At the gate, the murderer stated his business. What brought you here? The attacker told their story to the elders of the city.
  • The elders then welcomed the attacker into the city and gave him a place that he may dwell among them.
  • If the attacker was pursued by an avenger (for e.g. the victim's family) the attacker was protected in the city. The avenger was not allowed in.
  • Once the heat wore off, at some point the attacker stood before the congregation for judgment. If he left the City of Refuge he forfeited all protection.
  • Once the High priest died, the attacker could return to his home city (with no fear of retribution) because the priest had anointed him since he was now a citizen of the city. The murderer was no longer viewed as a murderer. (Joshua 20:1-6) The High Priest bore the attacker's guilt; this was established in the Law and was recognized and acknowledged by the Israelites.

What struck me as I read about the cities of refuge was that God thought about everything; grace and mercy were built into the law. What we consider the worse crime - taking of another life, allowed for refuge and forgiveness. Imagine what this would look like today - our prisons would not be overcrowded, the prison pipeline would be severely reduced, the mindset around the crimes would be different, refuge, redemption, and forgiveness would have real meaning for all of us who aren't perfect. Instead, in our attempts to do right we have thrown away individuals for lesser than manslaughter. This is grievous.

Interestingly, the surprising thing when we look through the scriptures is that we can find no actual example recorded of someone actually using the cities of refuge. A city of refuge was available just in case an act of murder was committed unwittingly. We all needed a way out...just in case. The creation and designation of these cities were an act of grace. We all have a way out - God surely became that way out for all of us. 

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Romans 3:23 [NLT]

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Romans 5:6 [NLT]

May His thinking permeate our thoughts so that we can exercise His wisdom in governing our lives and our land.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Fasting Without Praying is Just Starvation

When our church announced that we were to fast corporately at the beginning of the year, I was genuinely excited. There was a time in my life when my relationship with God superseded anything else. I felt so close and so intimate with Him, that my life seemed purposeful. I knew how to pray and what to say and I could see the effectiveness of my prayers. The fruits of my spiritual walk were evident in my life - I was not distracted by common things and  I did not assume or take on the values of the world; as a matter of fact they were so uncommon to me that conversations with those from other walks of life were eye-opening. But there was a joy to my life that punctuated everything. So when I thought of fasting, I hearkened back to this time and hoped that the act of fasting would slowly bring me back to this place.

The whole purpose of fasting is to bring us closer to God by denying ourselves. The stated goal of our fast was, "To hear Him regarding those things that we need direction on, individually and collectively, while drawing closer to Him; to arrest our appetite for worldly things and to experience Him in a deeper way."

I have a friend who is Muslim; Muslims observe Ramadan - a time of strict fasting from sun up to sunset. She asked me, "why don't we fast like Jesus did - 40 days and 40 nights, drinking only water?" Besides the fact that it's not medically recommended, I honestly don't know.

I do know that if Jesus (and a couple of others in the Bible) could do it, He could give us the strength to fast for 40 days like He did. I also can ascertain that if I were only drinking water, there would be no denying my total reliance on Jesus. Every day of that 40 day period would be an intense spiritual experience.

I approached the fast with expectation, hopeful for a spiritual re-awakening. Instead of drinking only water, we only ate fruit, vegetables, legumes and water for 21 days. (Daniel 10:1-21)

Fasting is a process where for the first few days you are out of sorts because of the physical changes but also getting comfortable in the middle because your body has adjusted. This is the temptation in fasting - thinking you've got the hang of it while not doing anything to enhance your spiritual walk. If you just change your diet while doing all the things you normally would, you are not fasting, you've made a lifestyle change. This fasting is rejected by God. (Isaiah 58:1-5)

During the fast, each time I thought I was hungry, instead of eating I prayed, I read my Bible, I meditated on a verse, or I was still in the presence of God. I limited the things I normally would do and reduced social engagements.

Initially, I spent a lot of time thinking about food simply because we did this together as a family and I was more concerned about everyone's belly but my own. Eventually, I was OK with eating the same thing most days with little variety, because the point was not about the food but about drawing closer to God.

I learned:

  • I have way too many distractions in my life - TV, computer, shopping for things I don't need. Besides buying groceries, I bought nothing else during the fast.(I ignored all of those end of year clearance deals!!!)
  • You never outgrow family devotions - this was a time of fellowship and sharing; a time of being open with each other; a time of reconnection. Because of the fast we looked forward to having this time daily and made every effort to do so even if we were apart.
  • Children are able to fast successfully also - I was inspired and encouraged by the Little One's attitude to fasting. Understanding the principle and goal of fasting she took it as seriously as we did. She took her lunch to school daily, followed the dietary guidelines, and shared with others what she was doing.
  • God's grace is sufficient - initially, I wondered if I could fast for 21 days. God imprinted on my heart that I was not alone, to take it one step at a time with me, to trust Him and He'll carry me through. When I got frustrated near the end, I remembered that God's grace was sufficient.
  • This was a time for change - during my prayer times, I was forced to repent for things that I should not have done, to seek forgiveness and receive it, and to know that I could be changed because of Him.
  • Praying was more deliberate, intentional and intense - with no distractions, it became easier to pray for others, to pray for our nation, our leaders, our church, my family, my marriage, my professional life - in essence, any and everything that was important to me.
  • I want more - I was having a conversation with someone during my fast and his words have resonated and stayed with me. He said the first time he fasted, he told no one. Fasting changed his life and after fasting, he said he never wanted to go back to who he was before he started fasting. This is my biggest lesson and my hardest struggle. 

My excitement has not diminished; after a mountaintop experience, there's always a letdown when you return to the valley. In all of this, I've learned that I can harness the power that is available to me and use it to live a purposeful, meaningful life. As John Piper says, "Christian fasting, at its root, is the hunger of a homesickness for God."

Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. James 4:8 [NLT]
If you've never fasted, I would encourage you to do so. It may be helpful initially to do so with your church just because of the accountability factor. When you fast, don't focus on your denial, instead focus on your deepening relationship with God during this time. What has been your experience with fasting?

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Frustration That Leads to Tears

I had been trying to fix a particular problem for what seemed like a very long time. I researched it, tried different solutions, worked with a support team and even called in the experts, all to no avail. I even prayed. It seemed like all of these solutions were missing the source, the root cause and so the problem persisted. I kept a brave face on. I kept trying. I'd take one step forward only to be stopped dead in my tracks - two steps back. Today, I reached my breaking point and I cried out of sheer frustration.

This problem was impacting my ability to work, to be productive. This problem was consuming me to the point where I felt I was going crazy. When tears rolled down my face, I was in disbelief because some part of me could not believe that the frustration of this unresolved problem had led me to this point.

I felt raw. I felt broken. I felt undone. Right in this moment, I prayed again. Praying is simply talking to God so I had an internal conversation with God where I expressed my disbelief and frustration. Somehow in that moment I also received peace and clarity. At that moment, I knew that this problem was no longer going to get the best of me. I finally had peace.

So I re-grouped, put my thinking cap back on and this time attacked the problem from a vantage point of victory. And finally this time, I was able to try the one thing that was overlooked to resolve the problem.

Have you ever felt like that? Have you used up all of your strength trying to resolve a problem with no resolution? Did the car stop working and you have no idea how to fix it? Did your microwave bite the dust? Is your landlord not doing what he's supposed to? Did your teenager seemingly turn into a monster overnight? Did a relationship unfold differently than you anticipated? Perhaps you need to become raw, broken and undone and take all of that to Jesus.

In all of this, I was never alone. It almost seemed trivial to pray about this - but it wasn't the problem per se, it was what the problem was doing to me. The problem was stealing my joy; today I recognized that and said "no more" in my brokenness.

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. 1 Peter 5:7 [NLT]

Don't let your problems get the best of you instead let the Best Person give you strength, clarity, and peace to handle all your problems.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Women Who Knew Their Worth

Ancient Israel was a kinship-based society, with kinship defined through the patriline (i.e. inheritance was through the male), so that both genealogies and rights of inheritance were, with only a very few exceptions (e.g., Num. 27:1–11; 36:1–12), traced through patrilineal lines of descent. (Ackerman)

Not only was marriage the norm in ancient Israel, for both men and women, the norm within marriage was for women to bear children. Sons, in particular, were important for maintaining a father’s lineage within ancient Israel’s system of patrilineal descent and for transmitting through the generations the landholdings that every Israelite family claimed perpetually to hold as its inalienable patrimony. (Ackerman)

With the above in mind, it is important to note two instances where women asked and claimed their inheritance. The first instance was Caleb’s daughter, Achsah who was given to her cousin in marriage as a reward for capturing some land. The scripture doesn’t indicate what prompted her, but she went to Caleb and asked for a land with springs – and Caleb gave her the upper and nether springs. Caleb’s daughter probably knew of the promise of land to Caleb and his descendants. The land she and her husband received was probably not adequate enough for farming. She needed access to water so that her land could produce and be fertile. There was nothing wrong with asking – so she asked and got what she requested and then some. It seems that the Bible celebrates her “pushiness” or moxie since this story is told twice in the exact manner – Judges 1:12-15 and Joshua 15:16-19.

Then there was the great grandson of Manasseh – Zelophehad (bet you never heard of him), who had no sons but five daughters. Manasseh was Joseph’s son and he and his brother Ephraim were included in the 12 tribes of Israel. When the land was being parceled out, these five sisters said to Joshua, “The Lord commanded Moses to give us an inheritance among our brethren.” This was the second time these women spoke up and this time it was to re-affirm what they had already accomplished. Because they recognized that the law made no provision for inheritance if a man did not have a son, they brought their case before Moses. (Numbers 27:1-11) As a result, an adjustment was made to the law. So now at this point, Joshua could give them an inheritance for future generations. According to the commandment, Joshua gave them an inheritance. (Joshua 17:1-6) These women might have been overlooked if they had not spoken up and the law would not have been changed.

Here’s what we can learn from all of these women:
  •     These women knew the traditions and laws of the land; they were knowledgeable.
  •     They were determined.
  •     They understood what they were entitled to.
  •     They weren’t afraid to ask and did nothing wrong by asking.
  •     They received what they were asking for.

As a woman, don’t let society's laws, rules, traditions or practices dictate your worth. You are worthwhile because God made you and you are made in the image of God. Marches are nice; I didn’t feel compelled to participate because to me the motive seemed reactionary and ultimately marching wouldn’t change my worth. It’s more important to know who you are regardless of the circumstances around you. This knowledge should center you and give you wisdom on how to act.

Scripture never discounts the female intellect, downplays the talents and abilities of women, or discourages the right use of women's spiritual gifts. But whenever the Bible expressly talks about the marks of an excellent woman, the stress is always on feminine virtue. The most significant women in Scripture were influential not because of their careers, but because of their character. The message these women collectively give is not about "gender equality;" it's about true feminine excellence. And that is always exemplified in moral and spiritual qualities rather than by social standing, wealth, or physical appearance. (McArthur)

As women, know your worth. If you’re confused by all the messages around you, start with the Bible. God created you (warts and all) in his image and you are worthwhile in His eyes. In His kingdom, women are not afterthoughts or appendages. You have equal value with men and full rights to all of His benefits.

And in all the land were no women found so fair as the daughters of Job: and their father gave them inheritance among their brethren. Job 42:15 [KJV]
How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them! Psalms 139:17 [KJV]

Do you know your worth in God's eyes?  Are you claiming what God has for you?