Thanksgiving: What would Jesus do?

By Erika Rizkallah

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday for many reasons, but mostly because it reminds me of my dad. He was an amazing cook and at each celebration he tried to outdo his efforts from the previous year.

In addition to the traditional turkey with stuffing, his artfully set table was laden with food for a variety of tastes. However, the best part of the day was receiving company. Our dinner wasn’t limited to family only. My dad made it a point to invite a hodgepodge of interesting people who had no place else to go.

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After dessert, my brother and I were sent to the kitchen for dish duty (washing by hand), but mostly I did it myself. I loved to eavesdrop on the grown-up conversations and learn a bit about the lives of our guests.

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I can’t count how many stories I heard about estranged and hurting families.

Dad died 26 years ago, shortly before his favorite holiday. It felt weird to sit at the table without him, and yet we were comforted by carrying on the tradition of an open home for others.

The holidays are joyful times for many, but can be miserable for the lonely and those separated from family.

Jesus was mindful of this. Banqueting was a popular ritual for wealthy ancient Romans. It was an honor to be invited and the host would produce a lavish display for his guests, who lounged on couches. The next banquet host would reciprocate and try to outdo him at the same time – a kind of competitive dining experience.

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One time Jesus went to such a dinner and told his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do they might invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luke 14:12

Most of us will gather with family and friends this year – myself included – giving thanks to God for all his blessings. But wouldn’t it be awesome to try to include some of those people he mentioned at our feasts? What an awesome way to show God’s love to those who need it most.

Your Turn: Are you planning to invite someone special to share your holiday meal?

 

Persistence in the midst of resistance

By Erika Rizkallah

Well, so much for blogging every day. In a recent post I wrote about resistance and it got the better of me last week. I’m in the midst of a bad fibro flare and though I wanted to write, I couldn’t.

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The skin on my head was so excruciating even my hair hurt. My face swelled up and I had to “wear” a cold pack. Worst of all, I couldn’t think of anything but the pain.

I was also scheduled to go away for the weekend for a five-year reunion with some of my best friends and I rested for several days so I could go – and I did!

So, it’s back to the drawing writing board for me. In the words of B.F. Skinner, “A failure is not always a mistake, it may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances. The real mistake is to stop trying.”

 

Alert about a new “IRS” phone scam

By Erika Rizkallah

Hello friends! Today I’m going to write about an important phone call I just received. It was a message left yesterday on my cell phone from “the IRS” informing me that they were going to file a lawsuit against me. I was directed to call the number to get information about my case file.

The timing was interesting for two reasons: First, I’d just gotten a large check from the IRS that same day(!) and second, a friend of mine received the same call last week except from a live person She actually does have a case with the IRS and was making progress payments. She was terrified.

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The aggressive caller wanted her to pay the entire balance immediately. Strangely, the amount they said she owed was just a few dollars off from her actual debt. She was distraught. They caught her off guard, early in the morning and when she asked questions and for time to check her records they threatened to send officers to her door. She asked to speak to her case worker or a supervisor and they got more aggressive, even telling her that she needed to jump in her car, go to the bank and send the money by Western Union.

He was actually going to stay on the phone with her while she made the transactions.

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She told them to hang on for a minute so she could think. She got her car keys and was headed out when she realized that everyone she’d been speaking to had a foreign accent. She didn’t give any information but went on to the IRS website and it was there that she learned about this scam.

I wanted to make people aware that this is happening and is apparently effective. According to the IRS website, so far “4,550 victims have collectively paid twenty three million dollars as a result of this scam.” When I got the message on my phone I Googled the number and sure enough, many others got the same call and wrote about their experiences.

Please let your elderly friends and neighbors know this is happening, as they are a primary target and may not use the internet. These scumbags are also threatening some people with deportation and use other tactics to terrorize and trap the unwary.

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If we all join together and talk about it, we can help our fellow citizens.

In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak, who ware caught in the schemes he devices. Psalm 10:2

Now is the time for joy

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” Matthew 11:4-5

One morning I read about what it meant to be “blind” in Old Testament times. Back then, being blind was fairly common. The sun, desert sand and wind inflamed the eyes and the blind were some of the most helpless members of society. Helping the blind and lame was the sign of a righteous Israelite.

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When I was little “helping a blind man or old lady across the street” was considered a good deed!

In later Old Testament times, blindness was a sign you were cursed by God and considered sinful or disobedient. This was the culture in which Jesus lived. Giving sight to the blind was a messianic sign, so when he healed people’s eyes, it was a statement. He was saying:

am here!”

This awes me. God has put us on this planet “post-Jesus” and what an excellent thing! We can praise God and shout for joy that this is the time in which we live. Although this world is still filled with violence, wickedness and sin, we have been bought back.

           We’re the redeemed.

Here’s what the prophet says in Isaiah 35:1-6…

The desert and the parched land will be glad;

  the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.

Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;

  it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.

The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,

  the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;

they will see the glory of the Lord, 

  the splendor of our God.

Strengthen the feeble hands,

  steady the knees that give way;

say to those with fearful hearts,

  “Be strong, do not fear;

your God will come,

  he will come with vengeance;

with divine retribution

  he will come to save you.”

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened

  and the ears of the deaf unstopped.

Then will the lame leap like a deer,

  and the mute tongue shout for joy.

Water will gush forth in the wilderness

  and streams in the desert.

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Wow. This is for us! We who believe in Jesus, should be filled with joy, but it’s easy to let the troubles of this world blind us. I’ve been guilty of this myself, but now my eyes are opened – I was blind but now I see.

Your Turn: What (if anything) have you been blind to before?

Good advice for the angry

By Erika Rizkallah

During my bridal shower – twenty years ago – my mother passed around a journal and asked the ladies to jot a note or write some marital advice. Among the blessings and prayers was the popular suggestion to “never go to bed angry.”

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Many people are surprised to learn this principle comes from the Bible. In context the whole passage is about the Christian life in general. To be exact, the passage reads: Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need. Ephesians 4:25-28.

As you can see, the verse about anger is sandwiched between lying and stealing. But it still makes good advice for soon to be newlyweds. However, it’s not one my husband and I have always been able to apply. Sometimes we go to bed angry and sometimes for no good reason at all – like last week.

For three whole days we didn’t speak to one another except in casual (if not comfortable) conversation, and then only because we had to.

Let’s just say it was his fault.

The highlighted quote about anger comes from the Old Testament in Psalm 4:4 which reads: Tremble and do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. The “tremble” part means in your anger, which makes sense because when we’re really angry, we shake with it.

Sometimes quiet introspection is good when we’re arguing. It allows us to step back and think about why we love one another in the first place. It also helps us not say things (sometimes) that are sinful and hurt the other party.

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              “In your anger do not sin.”

So if you’re giving advice at a shower or in a doozy of a fight with your spouse, remember Psalm 4:4. The world – and our marriages – will be better and a whole lot quieter.

Walking in obedience to God’s leading

By Erika Rizkallah

More wisdom from old books for this Saturday night. The short excerpt is from Daily Strength for Daily Needs by Mary W. Tileston which I found at an estate sale. I just love old books filled with nuggets of truth — especially when they cost fifty cents!

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Daily Strength for Daily Needs

We mustn’t be in a hurry to fix and choose our own lot; we must wait to be guided. We are led on, like the little children, by a way that we know not. It is a vain thought to flee from the work that God appoints us, for the sake of finding a greater blessing to our own souls; as if we could choose for ourselves where we shall find the fulness of the Divine Presence, instead of seeking it where alone it is to be found, in loving obedience. ~ George Eliot

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          walking like the little children

I must admit I’m not used to seeing fulness spelled without a double “L” so I looked it up to make sure it was correct. The strength of one of the definitions got my attention.

Fullness: The state of being complete or whole.

I picture Jesus walking toward Golgotha (the site of his crucifixion) and staggering under the weight of his cross. The thought of it – being obedient like that – makes me want to take off. Then I realize Jesus was not only walking to the place of his death, but toward the fullness of the Divine Presence.

If I call myself a disciple I must allow myself to be guided, even when every fiber of my being says flee.

Your Turn: How hard or easy is it for you to wait for God’s leading?

Walking on The Way of Holiness: Joy of the Redeemed

By Erika Rizkallah

This morning I woke up in tremendous pain (more than usual) and couldn’t move. My husband rushed to get my medication and I stayed in bed waiting for it to kick in. For those of you who know me, I live with a rare pain disease that doctors say will never go away.

Good man that he is, he brought me coffee and my Bible study tools. I lay in bed, mulling over the thought that today, I’d remain bedridden. I hate these kind of days; I’m used to them, but it’s Friday and I had shopping plans!

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Somehow in my study I turned to Isaiah 35. Isaiah is one of my favorite Old Testament books and his name means “The Lord saves” or “The Lord is Savior.” It’s filled with prophecies about the Messiah and was written by a man who answered God’s call and became a prophet to kings. More than that, Isaiah’s writing is filled with gorgeous imagery and hope, as well as warning.

Isaiah 35 is subtitled “Joy of the Redeemed.” As followers of Christ, we are people of redemption and I highly suggest you read this short chapter. The last few verses talk about the highway called The Way of Holiness. Here’s what it says:

No lion will be there, nor will any ferocious beast get up on it; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the Lord will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

As I read, gladness and gratitude overtook me and though I sigh, my spirit is filled with joy. I can move now – although with difficulty – but I know that one day I will run along that highway, dancing and singing with gladness!

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Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. Hebrews 12:12

Words of Wisdom

By Erika Rizkallah

Sometimes the best thing you’ve heard today was written by someone from another era. Here are some words of wisdom from the great Charles H. Spurgeon:

Dear believer, do you understand that God may take away your comforts and privileges in order to make you a stronger Christian? Do you see why the Lord always trains His soldiers not by allowing them to lie on beds of ease but by calling them to difficult marches and service? He makes them wade through streams, swim across rivers, climb steep mountains, and walk many long marches carrying heavy backpacks of sorrow.

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This is how He develops soldiers – not by dressing them up in fine uniforms to strut at the gates of the barracks or to appear as handsome gentlemen to those who are strolling through the park. No, God knows that soldiers can only be made in battle and are not developed in times of peace. We may be able to grow the raw materials of which soldiers are made, but turning them into true warriors requires the education brought about by the smell of gunpowder and by fighting in the midst of flying bullets and exploding bombs, not by living through pleasant and peaceful times.

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So, dear Christian, could this account for your situation? Is the Lord uncovering your gifts and causing them to grow? Is He developing in you the qualities of a soldier by shoving you into the heat of the battle? Should you not then use every gift and weapon He has given you to become a conqueror?

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Your Turn: Is any of this true for you, dear Christian?

5 Tips for Conquering Procrastination (aka Resistance)

By Erika Rizkallah

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5 tips for conquering procrastination

Yesterday I was talking with a shrink (that’s what he calls himself) about procrastination. I was listening in on an open conversation he was having with a family member and as soon as he said the word my ears pricked up. I struggle with procrastination and he told us it’s really a symptom of anxiety.

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He said if it were laziness we would be fully lazy – we wouldn’t do anything at all. But if it’s procrastination it’s a matter of choosing to do something other than the thing we’re avoiding. I think there’s some truth to that and it got me thinking about  Steven Pressfield’s book, The War of Art.

It’s a great book for people of a creative nature. He talks about resistance being an impersonal but powerful force that immediately appears as soon as we delve into the creative.

While it’s secular in nature, it speaks to me and I turn to it as as way to shake the grip of procrastination from my spirit. Here are 5 of my tips to help you conquer this inevitability.

Tip #1 – Be prepared: There are always things in life that will make us anxious. Whether it’s a task, conversation or event, rest assured, resistance will come. Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” This is a good time to run the “what if” scenarios through our minds. We can ask things like, What if my computer crashes? or What if the boss doesn’t like my presentation? By thinking through things that could thwart our efforts, we’re preparing ourselves for success.

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           Think through problems

Tip # 2 – Pray for God’s strength: We’re simply human beings, only flesh and bone. We are inherently weak, but when we ask God for strength to persevere, we’re accessing his power. He’s generous and he loves to give us gifts.

Tip # 3 – Face the obstacle head on: Yes, there may be resistance but we don’t help ourselves by avoiding it, we just delay the inevitable. Or worse, live with regret.

Face obstacles head on!

Face obstacles head on!

Tip # 4 – Get an accountability partner: Grab a friend and ask for help. Ask her to help you stay on top of the issue by calling, e-mailing or standing with you as you reach for your goal.

Tip # 5 Stand firm: At the end of procrastination is a gift waiting to be opened. In his struggle to preach the gospel, the apostle Paul suffered beatings, hunger, shipwrecks, sleepless nights, and more. It’s likely we won’t suffer physically, but if we do, we’re in great company.

Your Turn: Can you share tips for conquering procrastination? What tip will you use from my list?