Boating with Jesus

By Erika Rizkallah

Yesterday I had lunch with Kathy, a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time. As we settled into our seats at Panera, a woman rushed up to us.

“I saw you sitting here and I just had to pop over and say hello,” she gushed. “You’re a hard woman to get in touch with, always so busy.”

Emily introduced herself to me and apologized for interrupting our conversation. I didn’t mind. Kathy runs a successful children’s theatre program and though we both moved to town at the same time, it seems like she knows everyone.

Emily asked several questions about the program and Kathy directed her to the website to get the information she needed. Kathy said, “It’s all on my Facebook page. We just updated it.” Then the discussion turned to social media and they talked and talked.

I said, “I’m hardly ever on social media so I’ll have to check out the page too.”

“Oh, you’re lucky,” Emily said. “It’s better to stay away from it or you can get sucked in.”

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I explained that I needed to be on it more – though I don’t like to – because if I’m not, the world passes you by; people rarely reach out to me. We share so much through platforms and devices now, I’ve become disconnected. My nephew broke his arm last month and I didn’t know because I wasn’t on Facebook.

Before she left Emily said, “It’s nice to meet you.” I thought she was talking to me but it quickly became apparent she’d never met Kathy in person — she’d only “seen” her online.

Her words, “You’re lucky” made me pause. Luck has nothing to do with it, intentionality does.

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It reminds me of a passage in Mark 3. Jesus has just pissed off the Pharisees after healing a man on the Sabbath, against their religious law. He withdrew to the lake and large crowds followed him.

Because of the crowd he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him. Mark 3:9

Though needed and followed by the masses, Jesus deliberately withdrew. He kept his distance, not allowing the crowd to press into him. We often see him withdrawing to quiet places and spending time with God in solitude. We often see him getting into a boat.

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Like Jesus, we too need to get away from the crowds for a time, even if they’re virtual. Then we come back better grounded in reality and stronger.

Is the world pressing in on you? Do you need to spend more face time with your friends and take a break from a demanding crowd?

It’s ok to give yourself permission and press the “off” button for as long as you need.

Just tell them you have a boat ready and a date with the friend who loves you the most!

 

Cry out to God & He’ll stand by you

Something amazing happened yesterday.

Before I go into it, I have to backtrack a little. In my morning quiet time as I studied a section in the book of Acts, I stumbled upon this verse: The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome. Acts 23:11

Paul was in a sticky situation. He’d just been pulled away from an angry Jewish assembly of Pharisees and Sadducees who were arguing about him. To protect him and discover the cause of the uproar, a Roman commander took him away by force to their barracks.

Now read the verse again. Do you see it? It says “the Lord stood near Paul.”

So many thoughts went through my mind and it made me wonder – how often does the Lord stand by us without our knowledge? How many times has he held my family and me up without us realizing it?

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It sparked a new fire for me in the realm of praying for my kids. I said, “Show me Lord, that you’re standing near me. I need to see you and know you are with me just as you were with Paul.”

I admit that sometimes I feel weak asking God for things like this. I DO have faith of course, but it still makes me feel “needy” which is silly because of course I’m needy. Psalm 72:12 says, For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He loves when we cry out and express our needs. But still . . .

Anyway, later that night I was working in the kitchen and my 19-year-old daughter walks in with cupcakes. She puts them on the counter and just stands there. So I go back to what I’m working on and all of a sudden she says, “Can I have a hug?”

This. Never. Happens.

I can see she’s about to burst into tears so I jump up and wrap her in my arms and just hold her. Minutes pass and she says, “I need you to pray for my friends.”

So we do. Right then and there I got the opportunity to pray for my prodigal daughter and her lost friends.

God stood near.

I know He was wrapping himself around us because I could feel his presence so powerfully. I’m living proof that all we need to do is ask and cry out to him. He will hold us up.

Your Turn: What are you needy for? I challenge you to ask, stay alert and standby as he answers your prayer.

Love and lies: Have you gotten sucked into a gossip triangle?

Three weeks ago, my 17-year old daughter was the object of a severe bullying attack by several of her best friends.

She considers these kids her family and so do we. We love them like family, minister to them when the need arises and eat hundreds of pizzas.

They are all Christians doing ministry together.

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My beautiful girl (in blue) doing what she loves the most! None of these kids are involved in the situation.

Have you ever been hurt by people you’ve shared everything with?

If so, you know the pain and suffering she’s enduring – WE are enduring. When one member of God’s family hurts, we all do.

Gossip is an age-old problem and our situation began with an “innocent lie” (no such thing) between a guy and girl. My daughter took part in the lie in a misguided attempt to spare someone’s feelings. Then someone lied to another person, and the offended party learned about it through gossip.

It was the spark that lit a wildfire of lies, accusations and slander. Despite her confession and begging forgiveness, her name and reputation is ruined (for now).

According to the Bible, gossip is a sin and causes all kinds of strife. In fact the Apostle Paul writes about it in his letter to the Corinthians. He says, “For I am afraid that when I come I won’t like what I find, and you won’t like my response. I am afraid that I will find quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorderly behavior.” 2 Corinthians 12:20

She got caught up in the middle of a gossip triangle that sucked her in and spiraled out of control.

The Gossip Triangle

Life is full of hard lessons and while attempts at forgiveness and restoration are finally being made, the damage is permanent.

Yesterday in my quiet time, I read from My Utmost For His Highest and the wisdom is a perfect fit. The author, Oswald Chambers says, “Jesus Christ never trusted human nature, yet He was never cynical nor suspicious, because He had absolute trust in what He could do for human nature.”

In my next post, I’ll write about the lessons we’ve learned from this fiasco. I hope it helps you keep your kids from being sucked into a gossip triangle.

With love and peace, Erika

Putting on the new self: Are you dressed with new life?

This weekend I went on a women’s retreat in the gorgeous countryside of Middleburg, Virginia. Seventy women from the church I used to attend gathered together for a time of worship and discipleship under the guidance of a seasoned speaker.

I went because I felt “called” to go. Although I had to give up a weekend with my family and an opportunity to attend a writer’s conference, I submitted to God’s leading.

Boy was I rewarded! I came away refreshed and renewed in my spirit in several ways.

The highlight of the retreat was a walk with two of my best friends. We had free time and went on an adventure in the woods surrounding the property. One of my friends – who hates nature by the way – was attacked by all manner of flying insects. We laughed so hard I peed my pants, but did we turn back? Of course not . . . we were having too much fun laughing at her!

So we trudged on, despite the stifling heat and barrels of energy it took to make our way to the bottom of a ravine. We marveled at God’s majesty of creation and the work he’d done in our lives since the last time we “retreated” together.

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Our God is good. He promises to renew and reward us through his son, our savior, Jesus Christ.

As we walked back up the ravine we entered into a time of confession. I told them my sins. I’ve been lying. “Little white lies” told not to hurt someone else, but to make myself look better. “Little white lies” are common in our society; as my son says, “everyone does it mom.” But any type of lie still separates us from God, because He is pure and holy.

Today in my quiet time I came upon Colossians 3:10 and as I read, a picture formed in my mind. So I created a graphic to share with you. Look at it (below) and notice the difference between the two selves. Notice the contrast between the “old self” and the “new self” – the deadness on the left and life on the right.

Old Self

We are always being renewed and made into the image of our creator who always wants life for us.

Is there anything you’d previously taken off that you’ve since put back on?

If so, I urge you to repent. Repent is a word we don’t use much anymore, but it simply means to turn away from something and turn to God. As James 5:16 says: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.

Girlfriends, Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em: 5 Ways to be a great friend!

For women, friendships are the most important relationships we have. But too often I meet women who have very few (if any) strong female relationships. The reasons are many and varied. Have you heard any of these?

“I don’t get along with most women.”

“I’ve been stabbed in the back way too many times.”

“I have nothing in common with girly, ultra-feminine types.”

“Women are too shallow and catty.”

Why do you think this is?

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Today my daughter and I sat together on our porch; I was reading a book and she was scrolling through her phone. At one point she says, “Ugh. I feel sorry for the generation of women coming up.”

“How come?” I asked.

“I’m watching a fight between three girls on Instagram. Two 19-year olds and a 16-year old. The 16-year old – who has a baby by the way – says, ‘The joke’s on you bitches. I had sex with both your boyfriends.’ No one has self respect anymore.”

I thank God my daughter was disturbed by this, but I’ve seen similar rants from women my own age played out in social media. I think some of the fault lies with us. After all, it’s up to the older generations to teach the younger ones.

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Time and again I’ve preached about the value of having good girlfriends to my girls and oh have they tried! But they’ve been been let down and gotten caught up in the gossipy, back-stabbing, competitive girl culture common today.

They already feel like giving up.

As an older woman, I’m committed to training and teaching girls of the next generation. So here’s my attempt at giving advice when it comes to females. To be good friends we have to . . .

Listen. Listening is hard and takes practice – lots and lots of practice. The next time you’re out with a girlfriend, try not talking about yourself. Not even once. Focus solely on her.

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Pay Attention. We live such busy lives it’s hard not to focus on ourselves and our troubles, but when we do this we miss out on another person’s perspective. Her point of view can open up whole new worlds to us.

Celebrate. Our friends are special and deserve to be celebrated simply for who they are. Try buying flowers or a special gift for your bestie “just because.”

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Share. This is one of our first and most important life skills. We’re supposed to learn how to do it in preschool but it always bears repeating. Got an old skirt or piece of jewelry you don’t wear anymore? Try passing it along to a friend who doesn’t often get to shop for little luxuries.

Love. Jesus said it best: “…love your neighbor as yourself.“(Mark 12:33) Our girlfriends are our neighbors and our sisters in Christ. The best way to love one another is by spending quality time, meeting each others needs and treating one another kindly.

What a gift it is to love and be loved! What a better world we’d have if we invested as much time in one another as we do in our entertainment or work.

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What if our work on this earth is to love each other?

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Jesus (John 15:13)

Mary and Elizabeth: Bearing fruit for the kingdom

In case my header for this post didn’t clue you in, I’m still thinking about fruit . . . the spiritual kind of course.

Jesus’s mother, Mary, had a cousin named Elizabeth who lived about 60 miles away in the hill country of Judea. Elizabeth was married to Zechariah, a priest. The Bible says they were upright in the sight of God and observed all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly. (Luke 1:5-6)

Yet, Elizabeth was barren. Being unable to conceive meant she was disgraced and cursed in the eyes of her community. I can only imagine how painful it must have been for this faithful couple.

When Elizabeth was very old – well past the point of childbearing – God answered their prayer and Elizabeth got pregnant. Tradition says that Elizabeth and Zechariah were in their 90’s when they were blessed.

Talk about God’s timing!

Mary learned of Elizabeth’s pregnancy when the angel Gabriel visited her with an astonishing announcement. He told her she would conceive God’s son by the Holy Spirit and Mary, an unwed virgin was mystified by the news. The angel comforted her with these words:

“Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”

Mary had to see this for herself.

The Bible says: At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” (Luke 1:39-44)

The actual words Elizabeth uses in part of verse 42 is “. . . and blessed is the fruit of your belly.”

Elizabeth’s baby John (aka John The Baptist) leaped for joy over the fruit in Mary’s belly. How awesome is that! Justin's fruit

We are to be fruit carriers. We’re to bear it within us and share it with the world. Often it takes awhile to come to fruition. Do you know what the old Middle English definition of fruition is?

Enjoyment!

Are you like me . . . waiting to actually see some fruit? Do you feel like you’ll be too old to enjoy it?

Don’t despair. It’s coming in God’s timing and in His way!

I’m encouraged by Mary and Elizabeth’s story, it proves that fruit production is ultimately God’s business. When we faithfully trust in him, His plans come to fruition.

Your turn: What are you trusting and waiting on God for?

Friends are like pancakes

Friends are like pancakes.

Making the first one is hardest and sometimes has to be tossed (or in this case eaten).

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They come in all kinds of shapes

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colors and sizes

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and sometimes they even come with little ones.

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The thing they all require is attention, patience and often, sacrifice.

I’ve been struggling in the friendship area lately. Keeping old friends and making new ones in this season of my life is difficult. I find myself unable and unwilling (sometimes) to give attention to those who don’t give at least the same level of care and attention back to me.

And I know that for the most part, this is wrong. Proverbs 17:17 says: A friend loves at all times and a brother is born for a time of adversity. 

My New Year’s resolution is to take the attention, patience and sacrifice necessary to reconnect with some old friends, and make new ones. Hopefully, I’ll make some new sisters in the process.

If I’ve neglected our friendship over the past year, I apologize. And if we haven’t met yet, then I’ll try not to disappoint you.

What about you? How do you feel about your friendships…or pancakes?