To Be Honest

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TBH, as my daughter’s middle school friend say, it’s been a while since I dug down deep into the Old Testament (OT). Since writing the Bible study on Zechariah a few years ago, I’ve had my head down in the books of the New Testament (NT). Consequently, this journey from beginning to end in the Bible for 2015 has already been quite a journey. Especially during this time of year (Easter and Lent) my focus is usually on the Gospel’s and Christ’s journey to the cross. So, it’s been very unusual to be the in books of Leviticus, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua. But, God has open my eyes and heart to a deeper appreciation for a Savior who took my place on the cross through the reminder of what things looked like for those who lived and worshipped before Christ’s amazing sacrifice on the cross.

As I approached this text, I was quickly reminded of how many rules, rules, rules God’s first followers had to  keep track of and monitor. Honestly, I might have been able to remember and follow it all if I had my iPhone 😉 ringing with constant reminders, but those stone tablets and memory were all they had to keep track of the 613 commandments/law (also called the “Torah” or “Law of Moses”). Honestly, we can hardly handle the 10 commandments. Can you  imagine 613?

Many of us are familiar with the guidelines from Leviticus 11 on what to eat and not eat, but did you know they had guidelines (and go into GREAT detail) on how to deal with scabs, burns, hair loss, and even mildew outbreaks (Leviticus 13 & 14). This is just the beginning. As you can imagine, there are many other rules listed for things related to sacrifices, sex, semen, pregnancy, etc. too. I’ll let you dive into some of the others on your own. It boils down to this, God revealed Himself to Moses to present a covenant to His people.  Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey.” Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” Exodus 24

God offered His people a covenant of protection, provision and prosperity IF they obeyed His commands as they set out towards the land He promised them.

My point this Easter is this ~ not only did Jesus come and die on a criminal’s cross to cover all of our sins, He came to be the ultimate sacrifice and a new beginning for His people. As he sat with the disciples to have the Last Supper Jesus expressed, “This cup is the new covenant written in my blood, blood poured out for you.” Luke 22:20

Jesus was the final and ultimate sacrifice. The blood He shed was the beginning of a NEW covenant between God and His people. Don’t get me wrong, we still have important guidelines and laws to follow as Christians (10 Commandments, Exodus 20), but God sent His son to wipe away the old covenant that was focused on rules, laws and commands. Christ’s death signified a new covenant between God and His children. One not based on the letter of law, but of the Holy Spirit. A Spirit full of grace, unconditional love and a desire for a personal relationship with each of us.

He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 2 Corinthians 3:6

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 4All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  Matthew 22:37-44

I pray you will look at Easter in a whole new way this year too. May our eyes be ever on the cross and our hearts always seeking our Lord and Savior. A very happy and blessed Easter to all of you.

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Covenants and Stones

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One thing is for sure, you can discover some odd things when you read the Old Testament (OT). Today I want to talk about one odd thing and one beautiful thing that stood out to me as I was reading through Genesis. It’s amazing how you can read through a book of the Bible and miss something over and over again until God opens your eyes to it or how you can read something and understand it in a new way. That is what happened to me with this odd discovery. Let’s start there.

He said to the senior servant in his household, the one in charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh. I want you to swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am living, but will go to my country and my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac.” Genesis 24:2-4

Wait? What? Did you see it? Here it is again:

When the time drew near for Israel to die, he called for his son Joseph and said to him, “If I have found favor in your eyes, put your hand under my thigh and promise that you will show me kindness and faithfulness. Do not bury me in Egypt,  Genesis 47:29

“Put your hand under my thigh and promise” I have to admit it didn’t catch my attention in Genesis 24, but when it was repeated in Genesis 47 I went back to take a look and did a little research. It seemed strange to me. We  raise our right hand when swearing these days, but apparently, swearing on ones testicles (thigh/loins) was common in OT times. There are a few different schools of thought on why they did this, but the most common explanation was that that thighs (or loins) were considered a source of prosperity. Think about how important it was for God’s people to multiply and increase their numbers (with children) in early Biblical times. Although we are taught in the new testament “Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned.” James 5:12 swearing an oath was common and accepted and practiced in the OT.

Stone Markers were another interesting concept that repeated itself and stood out to me during my reading in Genesis.

Although I had noted this ritual before, it seemed to have a deeper impact on me as I read it this time. From Genesis 28 – 35 we see how Jacob uses stone markers to record important events, milestones and covenants.

In Genesis 28:10-22 after God comes to Jacob in a dream he says, “When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” (v.16) and then “Early in the morning Jacob took the stone that was near his head and set it up as a marker. He poured oil on top of it and named the place Bethel,[a] though previously the city was named Luz. ” (v.18-19).

In Genesis 31:13 God even says to Jacob, “I am the God of Bethel, where you poured oil on the stone marker and made a solemn vow to Me. Get up, leave this land, and return to your native land.’”

When Jacob and Laban made a covenant to end a dispute in Genesis 31:44-46 Jacob said, “Come now, let’s make a covenant, you and I. Let it be a witness between the two of us.” 45 So Jacob picked out a stone and set it up as a marker. 46 Then Jacob said to his relatives, “Gather stones.” And they took stones and made a mound, then ate there by the mound.

and again in Genesis 35:14 when God spoke to Jacob, “he [Jacob] set up a marker at the place where He had spoken to him—a stone marker. He poured a drink offering on it and anointed it with oil.” 

I know that’s a lot of verses, but I really wanted you to see the pattern. Jacob uses these stones or stone mounds to signify or proclaim a memory. As I think back on my life, I can think of many times where I would have placed a stone marker because I felt His presence was close, He helped me overcome an obstacle that had hindered living my life for His glory or even the mending of a relationship that seemed like it could never be restored.

As we close today, I hope you will sit and reflect back on the moments in your life that you feel are worthy of a stone marker. Maybe even write them down on a paper to keep inside your Bible and continue to add to them as the years go by because as Jacob said so beautifully, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” (Genesis 28:16)

The Year of REMAIN

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 remain

Remain (v.): to be left when the other parts are gone or have been used; to be something that still needs to be done, dealt with, etc.; to stay in the same place or with the same person or group : to stay after others have gone

As much as I enjoyed researching Heaven over the past few months, I discovered something important about myself. Maybe I knew it, but didn’t realize it – or just forgot.

I’m not a researcher in the research and report sense. I prefer to discover and report. I like to document the thoughts and emotions that ebb and flow inside me as scriptures wash over my soul. What is God teaching me at this moment in His text? What does He desire for me to know? To trust in? To understand? These are the thoughts, questions and experiences that pull me back to scripture over and over again.

As I go forward through the rest of 2015, you will see my blogs return to this format. As I have mentioned in previous posts (thanks to my dear friend, mentor, coach and now adopted family mentor) I’m reading the HCSB Chronological Bible this year. So, as I make my way on this journey from Genesis to Revelation I’m going to share my thoughts, feelings and discoveries of the things that I had forgotten, overlooked or never considered. Some are obvious but need revisiting and other are so strange and curious they need further investigation.

For about 9 years (give or take) in place of New Year’s resolutions, I’ve been praying about and choosing a word to dwell on over the 12 months we call a year. I’ve written about this many times and shared what my word was, but haven’t in some time. As I studied 1st, 2nd and 3rd John this November and December the word “remain” kept coming up. It stuck in my heart and mind and so it is the word I have chosen for 2015. I even did an art project with my daughter and incorporated my word to keep in my kitchen window for the year (see above). I tell you this because often I don’t know why God has necessarily placed the word on my heart until after the year begins or I look back. His provisions never cease to make my heart grow for stronger for Him.

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. John 15:14

Now I see that “remain” was for me to remember this:

I need to remain in who I am in Christ, remain in His word for truth and growth, remain in His presence to gain peace and understanding as I consider new paths and ministries, remain with the gifts He has given me and don’t try to be anyone else or more than I need to.

I know it’s mid-March, but it isn’t to late. Is there a word on your heart? A calling for peace, forgiveness, love, passion, clarity, hope . . . . ?  Maybe you will join me and choose a word to dwell on. Maybe “dwell” is the word you need this year. Maybe you feel led to do more than just dwell, but take action. Please read about RiverCross. I’ve had the opportunity to meet, get to know Cindy and learn more about her heart and passion for the world’s most vulnerable children. I’m now partnering with her in prayer and by giving 10% of all book sales and event fees to help her in this mission field she has been called to.

Zambia-Cindy

 

The issue of vulnerable children is a huge one, an overwhelming one. There are somewhere in the neighborhood of 153 million orphans in the world. As much as I’d like to think that we could bring all these children into families, it’s just not going to happen. Can we really make a difference? I believe we can.

If we want to help the largest number of children, our best re- source is their caregivers. Many orphanages around the world hire loving caregivers to be- come “mamas” for these children. They provide the children food, shelter, school, and often even share the love of Christ with them. Great, right? But these caregivers are not equipped to help the children with what may be their most serious issue: Trauma.

This may be tough to hear, but it’s important for you to know. Experts tell us that the overwhelming majority of orphans and vulnerable children have been sexually exploited. As you can imagine, this trauma hurts the children so deeply that their hearts are closed to the love of God.

These children need caregivers who are equipped to help them heal so that their hearts will be open to the hope of Christ.  Up to now any training for these caregivers has been through printed communication. But 70% of these caregivers are story-centric. They learn best through stories, songs, dramatizations rather than through books, pamphlets, , and Powerpoint presentations. So literate training methods are simply not effective. The result? The caregivers are unequipped to be the bridge of healing and hope the that children need.

Here’s where we come in. My friend, Cindy Finley has recently become the Associate Director for RiverCross, a new ministry of TransWorld Radio. With RiverCross, she is developing resources to equip care- givers to become a bridge for healing and hope. These re- sources not only respect oral culture, but use storytelling for training.

In May, 2014, Cindy traveled to Zambia to see the inaugural project, Holding Esther, in action. She saw nearly 100 African caregivers immersed in the beauty of the story and then emerge to engage with each other and the material. She watched as they were led in small group discussion by African facilitators and then actively participated in large group discussions. And she listened as African directors told me “The Holding Esther program has the potential to change orphan care across our country.”

I’m guessing that you’re like me. You care about social justice. You want to make a difference. But, you’ve wondered what you can do that will really help. I am convinced that through RiverCross, we truly can make a difference. We can build bridges of healing, bridges of hope for the world’s most vulnerable children.

And so … I’d like to invite you to join Cindy’s Partnership Team.

Her Partnership Team is comprised of people who want to champion the cause of the world’s most vulnerable children. They are using their time, talent, and treasure to leverage their re- sources to make a difference.

Partners join one or more teams:

Prayer Team –Pray for RiverCross, as well as for Cindy and her family. You will receive monthly updates also be invited to participate in monthly prayer gatherings in NC.

Connection Team –Share her work with RiverCross across your sphere of influence. Collaborate with Cindy to share the cause, build connection, and create community.

Giving Team –Invest financially in Cindy’s work with RiverCross by giving monthly or through a stand-alone gift. Financial partners are essential if we are going to advance the cause of RiverCross. You can easily make your contribution online.

To join a team, go to the link above and partner with Cindy and I in building bridges of healing, bridges of hope for the world’s most vulnerable children.

Heaven Revealed ~ Death Experiences & Heaven

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This is the 10th and final blog in my Heaven Revealed series. This has been an eye opening series for me. It’s been exciting to look at the scriptures from a Heavenly perspective and research ideas I had never considered. We can’t rely on what humans say, but we can count on every word of the Bible. Always!

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

This week I want to close by reflecting on what the Bible says people like Lazarus experienced after they died and came back to life. Just in case you aren’t familiar with this story, I’ll give you a little background (John 11). Lazarus (who was the brother of the Mary who poured oil on Jesus’s feet and wiped it with her hair) gets very sick. Mary & Martha run to Jesus and beg Him to rush to them so He can save Lazarus, but Jesus delays and Lazarus dies.

Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” 40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” John 11:38-44

Lazarus never tells us about seeing the face of God, a light, or anything. He didn’t just die for a few minutes either, he was dead for four days and not a word is mentioned in the Bible of what he experienced or saw. I have to believe that if God wanted us to know about what we saw after death he would have had Lazarus’s story (someone very close to Jesus’s heart) documented in scripture.

Lazarus wasn’t the only one brought back from the dead.  Jesus also raised the widow’s son at Nain (Luke 7:11-17) and the daughter of Jairus. (Luke 8:40-55) He healed many more, but raised 3 from the dead. Interestingly enough, we don’t hear a single word from any of them about what they saw or experienced after death. My conclusion is this (from a Biblical perspective).

The only things we truly know about Heaven are: 1) things we learn from those who received visions about Heaven from God and documented them in scripture and 2) from Jesus’s Himself when He walked this Earth. We don’t hear from anyone who died and was brought back to life by Jesus about what Heaven was like. Why???????? I wish I knew. And so we ask,

“What about all those stories from those who have had near death experiences, say they met God, saw a light and other relatives who had died before?” Again, I don’t know. Honestly, no one does. Those stories bring so many people (including me) hope and comfort, but shouldn’t the promises from God Himself (through scripture) be enough for us? Wouldn’t He document through scripture through those He brought back to life if He wanted us to know or thought it was relevant to our faith and walk with Christ? So many things to consider. That’s the beauty of scripture. Often we are left with many more questions after we read and that’s good because it will continue to grow our faith and return us to scripture to seek answers.

I’ve discovered a lot of news truths and answers through my research on Heaven, but there will always be mysteries and secrets this side of Heaven. That is where faith comes in handy!

But in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.” Revelation 10:7 

STAY TUNED! I’ve completed the Heaven Series, but next week I will unveil thoughts about my upcoming blogs. If I haven’t said so lately, THANK YOU so much for reading this blog. You are a blessing.

On a Heaven related note: I wanted to share this:

February 8th marked 3 years since our family lost our sweet friend Ella Newmiller at the age of 8. I don’t have all the answers to our questions about Heaven, but I know with certainly this sweet girl is with our Heavenly Father dancing and singing away. I look forward to the day I can hug her once again and see her smiling face. In the meantime, we help her family and Chick-fil-A raise money for pediatric brain tumor research each year by participating in the Ellabration 5K. I’ve attached a video you can watch to learn more about Ella, the Newmillers and CFA’s efforts to help raise awareness and money so no more families have to endure what Ella did and her family does.    

As stated in the Newmillers post last year, “We feel the best way to honor Ella is to try to prevent what happened to her, and all she had to endure, from happening to other children. One way we are blessed to do this is through Ella’s Race, which raises money for the Cure Starts Now and the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation. If you are local, please join us in walking, running or volunteering in memory of our sweet girl…”

You can register for the race by clicking here ~ Ella’s Race.  I hope to see you there.

 

 

 

Heaven Revealed ~ Will we be married or marry?

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This is the 9th blog in my Heaven Revealed series. After being asked about Heaven on several occasions it inspired me to dig deeper into the scriptures to find out the answers to questions that I may have thought about as a child, but hadn’t considered until recently asked. This week we are going to explore what scripture says being married in Heaven.

This one is without a doubt one of the clearest of all answers about Heaven from the scriptures.

23 That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 24 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. 26 The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. 27 Finally, the woman died. 28 Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?” 29 Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. 30 At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 31 But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, Matthew 22:23-31

There will not be marriage as we know it. This makes many people sad. Those who were married for years and years or those who lost a spouse way to early often  mourn the idea that they won’t have their marriage in Heaven too. It’s difficult for us to imagine, but it will be much better. What always brings me comfort is remembering that our eternal home is not like this temporary one. The things that are important to us here we will never think of when in Heaven and if we do it won’t be in the same way. Things will be different (Thank God for that). There is no sadness or pain. We will feel contentment and peace together eternally in ways we can’t imagine with our human brains. All we need in our eternal life will be provided. It will be perfectly complete in every way.

Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready. Revelation 19:7

Marriage will be when God returns and claims all of His believers to give us a new life, an eternal life. A life with new meaning and everlasting joy. A one-on-one relationship with our eternal Father. The relationship He craves to have with us now and doesn’t want to wait for.  Don’t wait. Will you meet Him there today in scripture and prayer? Don’t wait until you have it all together or things are “just right” because they never will be in this life. If you will seek Him, He will take you “as is” and begin to mold you into the one He has always desired for you to be.