Priority Planning with Jesus

And he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” Luke 6:5

Where does Jesus fit in the priorities of your life? Is he in first place or is he more of an afterthought?

hurry-2119711_1920Honestly, depending on the circumstances, I sometimes squeeze him in wherever. It’s the wrong thing to do because I find that when he’s in first place, I experience peace.

Today I read the story about Jesus and his disciples, who were caught picking grain on the Sabbath by religious leaders (Luke 6:1-5). The last line of the passage took on new meaning for me. Knowing that Jesus is lord of the Sabbath is a game changer.

What does it mean exactly? To know, we have to dig deeply into the words lord and Sabbath.

The original Greek meanings are as follows:*

Lord is kyrios (pronounced koo-re-ohs) and Sabbath is sabbaton (pronounced sahb-baht-own).

Lord means one who exercises supernatural authority over mankind — Lord, Ruler, One who commands.

Sabbath is a period of seven days, a week.

Many Christians observe a “Sabbath day,” a day of worship and rest from work. We gather with other believers to sing, pray, serve, and learn about God.  We rest from work after the pattern of God’s creation of the world.

pair-3798371_1920Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. Genesis 2:1-3

The Sabbath was a holy day for Jews and the Pharisees strictly observed it. Many activities were forbidden and when Jesus and his followers picked the grain, the Pharisees considered it a form of work. Basically, Jesus was snacking.

I love how he fired back at his harassers with scripture. Read Luke 6:1-5 for the full picture. Jesus put these legalists in their place.

1 Colossians 1:15 -17 tells us: Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see — such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him. He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together.

The leaders really didn’t understand to whom they were speaking. I get it. Sometimes I forget too.

Jesus is Lord. He’s the One who commands. He’s Lord of the Sabbath. This means he is Lord over the whole week.

What’s the significance for us? When we plan our days according to the commands of our commander, we put them in proper order. Jesus hammered a fundamental principle into the minds of his followers. He challenged them to align their thinking and behavior with God’s ultimate standard.

love-3388626_1920He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”  John 13:34

If we filter all we do and say through this principle, we will literally change the world.

How can you align your weekly plans with Jesus’ command?

*Louw, Johannes P, and Eugene A Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains. United Bible Societies, 1988.

 

A life changing Bible verse

A number of people close to me struggle with anxiety. At times, it’s severe. Furrowed brows, hammering hearts, and full-on panic attacks are common. It’s hard to watch, hard to feel helpless, especially since I’ve experienced these emotions myself.

A long time ago, especially when I was a young mother, I worried a lot too. Having small children can heighten the emotions that twist like tornados through our minds. Suddenly, everything is dangerous and anything is possible. What if we can’t feed them? What if I lose my job and our company goes under? The “what ifs” drove me nuts and drove my actions. But then God led me to a Bible verse that changed everything and put a stop to all the spinning:

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matt 6:33

Jesus knows a thing or two about worry. He often spoke to his followers about the things that tend to make humans anxious.

Matthew 4:18 tells the story of Jesus calling his first followers, the brothers Simon Peter and Andrew. He had lots to teach them and as they traveled through Galilee, great crowds followed. Matthew 4:18-7:29 is rich with instruction about the way Christians should live.

But the key for me was found in Matthew 6:33, and specifically in the word, first. Jesus tells us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. First, as defined in the Greek, means first in a series involving time, space, or set. We’re familiar with the concept of being in first place, or first in line or first in our class — it’s an order of priority.

Jesus tells us that before we worry about everything else, whether that be nourishment, clothing, or where we’ll live, we need to make God first. Easy to say, but harder to do right? It’s hard to think straight when you’re worried about being hungry or thirsty.

But Jesus doesn’t leave us without answers. After he explained the way to live, he explained the why. The answer is simple — God cares for us.

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He said, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” Matt 6:26-32

The Gentiles he spoke about were those who didn’t believe in God. We are not to be like those who have no faith. We have a heavenly Father who knows exactly what we need, when we need it.

Put him to the test. Trust him and see what happens when he gets put into his rightful position.

Once I rearranged my priorities everything changed. He’s poured out unbelievable blessings on me and my family. But it only works if you work it!

What actions can you take to put God in first place, in every area of your life?

A merciful miracle story

By Erika Rizkallah

Have you ever heard the phrase: Be careful what you pray for?

It’s often said after something dreadful or amazing has happened, and my case is no different.

A few weeks ago, on Father’s Day to be exact, my family decided to take an evening boat ride. It also happened to be my son’s 16th birthday and he wanted to ride our jetski instead. He’s experienced and has his boating license so we thought nothing of it.

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We decided to go to one of the many waterfront restaurants for dinner but they were all packed. The sun began to set and beautiful streaks of pinks and oranges blazed against the sky — it was quite magical.

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Then the dolphins began to appear but my daughter and I kept missing them. Each time my husband slowed the boat they’d disappear beneath the water. Dolphins are as common as squirrels here and normally we wouldn’t stop to see them, but my photographer daughter wanted to get a sunset shot.

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After a fruitless search we turned the boat and sped home, happy and hungry. A few minutes later, my husband yelled, “Dolphin!” and pulled the throttle. We heard a horrendous crunching noise and were thrown forward.

It took a minute to realize what happened and I was stunned. My daughter and husband started screaming in fear but from my vantage point I could see the problem.

My son, still on the jetski, was wedged vertically between the engine and the roof.

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We went into crisis mode. We yelled at him to jump off the roof and so he did, landing in the water. The current was strong and even though he had a life vest on he’d had a bit of a shock. A boat pulled up and offered to bring him in.

By this time a crowd had gathered to help, ask questions and stare. People began taking pictures of the astonishing sight. We called a tow boat and on the agonizingly long ride home — with us sitting in the back of our boat – the reality sank in.

In my quiet time that morning, I had foolishly prayed, Lord, show me your glory.

He not only showed me, but everyone else! Hundreds of pictures were taken by gawkers. We appeared on a well-known Instagram boating account with thousands of views.

The next day, we were on the news and the story appeared in headlines across the country. Reporters called the Fish and Wildlife Department trying to get interviews. Our response was “No comment.”

Until now.

Anyone can see that this was a perfectly timed miracle. Consider the speed of the boat and the velocity of the jetski combined with the lift of the wake and position of the engines and roof. Any variation in these factors could have proved deadly, but no one was hurt.

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As believers, we’re called to report on the mercy of God and the daily miracles he provides us. We’re to shout his praise and glory from the rooftops and sing out with joy.

I haven’t stopped thanking him for what he did that day but I won’t ask to see his glory again. That was enough for me!

Your turn: Do you have any miracle stories you can share?

 

 

What’s missing in your walk with Jesus?

By Erika Rizkallah

One of the most well known stories in the New Testament begins in Mark 10:17. It’s the story of the rich young ruler.

As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a young man ran up to him, threw himself at his feet and said, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

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The first thing Jesus points out is his error. He asks, “Why do you call me good? No one is good — except God alone.”

I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the response he expected. After all, he was rich, young and a ruler. He would have been used to people kowtowing to him.

His had the correct approach. First of all, he ran up to Jesus — something a dignified and respected man would never do in that culture. Then he threw himself at Jesus’ feet, another unusual action for a man in his position.

It was a declaration of worship and I believe he really wanted to know the answer to his question.

But Jesus often does and says the unexpected.

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Jesus responded, “You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’

The ruler declared, “Teacher, all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

I love the next sentence. The Bible says Jesus looked at him and loved him. This story is often told and preached in pulpits all over the world . . . with the love part left out.

“One thing you lack,” said Jesus. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

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At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

I always feel for the guy when I hear this story. Here was a person who seemingly had it all: youth, wealth and power and yet, he walks away from the conversation in a state of sadness and uncertainty.

Jesus used the episode as a teaching moment for his disciples. He says, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

This flips the disciples out — they’re shocked and amazed — because during that time, it was thought that wealth and power were signs of blessing from God. A guarantee of gaining entrance to Heaven.

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Sometimes we come to Jesus asking deep questions and don’t get the expected answers. But maybe that’s the point.

Only he knows what we truly lack. Only he knows what hinders our faith walk.

But like the rich young ruler, we first have to be brave enough to ask the question.

How about you? What questions have you asked Jesus lately?

 

 

He believes we can fly

By Erika Rizkallah 

Yesterday morning during my quiet time with God, my feral cat Moo Moo, began to bark. These were strange sounds coming from a kitty who’s named for a cow and meows like a mouse.

I looked up to see him standing on his hind legs on the back of my sitting room chair. He swiped furiously at something in the corner of a casement window. He’s a weird dude, but this was unusual behavior, even for him.

My big burly guy has a teeny-tiny girly voice except when he’s “hunting” indoors  — he’s terrified of the outside.

I got up to look and noticed a bee hovering near the top of my leaky window. It was a sunny and windy day so I figured I’d do him (and me) a favor and send him on his way.

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I popped open the window to give him plenty of room to fly. Instead, he flattened his wings and clung to the glass. I waited, thinking surely it’s a better option than death by cat, but he didn’t seem to agree.

So then I grabbed a magazine and gave him a gentle push, but he clung to the magazine. I helped him further by shaking the magazine into the wind, and instead of flying, he seemed to fall.

I yelled, What’s the problem you dumb bee? You’re in your element. God gave you wings!

Just then, a small still voice spoke into my spirit, Look who’s talking. You’re in your element. I gave you gifts. I gave you wings and yet you cling and refuse to pursue the purpose I have in mind for you. 

God. Smacked.

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Can you relate? Do you feel like God’s been calling you to something more and yet you choose to bide your time, waiting in fear or apprehension?

Sometimes he uses the pressure of an enemy or a gentle wind to shake us out of complacency. Sometimes he pushes us out of the window himself.

I wanted to share my lesson with you today because I feel like someone needs to hear it.

Our Heavenly Father created us with purpose and a plan to fill this broken world with love and light. He’s the only one who truly knows what we’re capable of, and he’ll do whatever it takes to push us toward the goal.

He won’t let us fall — he believes we can fly.

 

 

 

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!

 

Sharing the hope of Christ

By Erika Rizkallah

The other day my son and I drove one of his buddies home from school. I got the chance to listen in on an interesting conversation. His friend, Matt, is part of a growing movement of Millennials who believe the earth is flat.

Shocked, I struggled to keep my mouth shut and just listen, but I had to butt in.

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“Matt, do you seriously think the earth is flat or are you joking?” I asked.

“Yes ma’am, I do. I’ve spent months researching it and there’s compelling evidence out there that proves the earth is not round.”

“No mom!” my son shouted, “Don’t get him started — he’ll never stop talking about it.”

Let me first say that Matt is a super smart kid, very respectful and a self-described  “super hard-core Christian.”

And my son was right, once he got going, he didn’t want to stop. I expressed my skepticism and he had answers (good ones!) for every challenge I issued. In fact, a few of his questions made me really think. I admit to doing a little research of my own when I got home.

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He said, “How can you be certain we landed on the moon? Did you see it yourself? No, you were told about it in school and you accepted it as truth. Do you know that most pictures of earth are computer generated models? And what about the fake picture of the moon walk?

He told me he wasn’t just going to accept what the government told him about the world without researching it first. He also said his tactics sometimes got him in trouble with school administrators.

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While I don’t share his views, they’re popular with a group of people known as the Flat Earthers — an organization founded centuries ago by The Flat Earth Society.

His diligence and unbridled passion about the subject reminded me of the Apostle Peter’s exhortation in 1 Peter 3:15: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” 

Matt taught me a lesson that day — I need to be equally prepared and courageous enough to share the hope of Christ with others. I must be willing to gently argue my case and tell my story to skeptics.

Maybe my efforts will pay off and help someone dig deeper into the message about His love for them.

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How about you? Kids say the darnedest things! What lessons about God have you learned from them?

 

 

 

 

Returning God’s grace

By Erika Rizkallah

The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas, and established it on the waters. Psalm 24:1-2

For the past couple of years my rhythm has been off. To say I’ve not been myself is an understatement.

I don’t like it one bit but I’ve had to make necessary adjustments to guard my home. I’ve been raising teenagers and they like to stay up late. So I’ve stayed up late to watch over and guide them.

Trouble often seeks us out in darkness.

Today I woke up at 4:00 a.m. (4:30 used to be my sweet spot) and I had the pleasure of watching the sun rise above the ocean. Sea birds are especially busy in the mornings. Pelicans glide inches over the water, gulls cackle and circle above and ducks fly in formation.

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As I watched the sky turn orange, saturating the world in a peachy glow I prayed, this all belongs to you God. Everything we see and take pleasure in on this earth is yours.

How blessed we are to be beneficiaries of God’s amazing grace. How blessed we are to watch him work — to daily enjoy his creation and be part of it!

I wonder if he feels the same way about me when I rise in the morning?

I think so. I think he looks at each one of us as a vessel filled with the dawn of possibility. I bet when we stretch and scratch and begin the day’s work, we’re no less beautiful than the sea birds just doing their thing.

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Let’s be filled with wonder and gratitude each morning. Let’s try to live in a manner that pleases him and returns the grace.

Good morning!

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God — this is your true and proper worship. Romans 12:1

Be strange. Be weird. Be a blessing.

By Erika Rizkallah

I was watching Fox News the other day and happened to see the story about a group of Evangelical church leaders praying over President Trump. Maybe you saw it too.

Erin Burnett, a CNN news anchor, did a segment on it and said, “all these people sort of touching him” was “very strange.” I guess to people unfamiliar with Christianity, the picture may indeed seem strange. However, it’s a basic doctrine of our faith and is called “laying hands” on someone.

The use of hands in forms of worship and prayer is not unusual in many cultures and religions. But I wonder how many “influencers” would object or comment negatively on them . . .

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worship-2289770_1920In Christianity there are no less than 29 passages of scripture on this practice, which has a long history spanning both the Old and New Testaments. It can signify separation of a person or groups of people for a specific task:

And you shall bring the Levites before the tent of meeting and assemble the whole congregation of the people of Israel. When you bring the Levites before the LORD, the people of Israel shall lay their hands on the Levites, and Aaron shall offer the Levites before the LORD as a wave offering from the people of Israel, that they may do the service of the LORD. Numbers 8:9-11

It can also signify blessing, as was done by Jesus when parents brought their children to him:

Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And he laid his hands on them and went away. Matthew 19:13-15

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It’s a practice also used in healing, reassurance and comfort. I’ve had many hands layed on me over the years and I’ve layed hands on many others.

I’ve experienced healing, reassurance and comfort and am glad our President is a willing recipient of prayer. Even though some folks think it’s “weird.”

One of my favorite scriptures about this is found in Matthew 9:18:

As he was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.”

The ruler – an important and powerful man – didn’t let his pride or position get in the way of doing all he could to save his daughter.  As a result, she was raised to life.

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There will always be mockers – people who sneer at our faith and belittle our practices. Jesus told us to expect it. But you never know. A skeptic may also turn to us in a time of need, accept a prayer and a hand of reassurance that all will be well.

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. Colossians 2:9-10

So . . . Be Strange. Be weird. Be a blessing!

 

The cure for spiritual teenagers

By Erika Rizkallah

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

I have three children; two adult daughters and a 15-year-old son. It feels like I’ve been in this stage of parenting forever. And I do mean forever!

Teen girls are difficult but raising my son is harder because our thought processes are completely different.

I mean, why would you do this when I told you not to . . ?

 

Most days I dread waking him up. It sounds awful but I’m just being honest. He’s my baby and our tight-knit bond is unraveling. I know his need for independence is a good and healthy thing. But I’m often nostalgic for the good old days when he wasn’t embarrassed of me and I wasn’t irritated by him.  

Some weeks are tougher than others and this is one of those weeks. When I came across the Romans 8:28 verse this morning, I reflected on this question:

           Who doesn’t want good things?

The gentle me said, “Everyone. We all want good things.” angel-640996_1920 

But my inner cynic shoved her aside and snapped, My kid doesn’t want good things, otherwise he wouldn’t be such a pain in the butt. (I named that voice – I call her The Commander).

She looks like this . . . 

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The Commander is mean and she lies. A lot.

My son does want good things. He just thinks his wants are the good things and my wants are irrelevant. He’s obstinate and acting his age – he’s excelling in rebelling.

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I loathe rebellion. It annoys and frustrates me because I know my want is greater. For example:

He wants to drink soda all day.

        I want his teeth to stay in his mouth.

He wants to stay up late at night.

        I want him to be ready and alert for school.

He wants to take Driver’s Ed.

        I want him to obey house rules before road rules.

But the more I think about it, I realize that unless we’ve spent years walking with Jesus, we grownups can also act like self-involved spiritual teenagers.

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God loves us no matter our age or stage but his wants are always higher.

Always.

Jesus is our standard and pattern for living. He was devoted to Our Father’s purpose and plans for his life. He was obedient in every word and deed. The same obedience is required from us despite our wants and it’s not easy. 

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He said, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” John 14:21

Obedience often has negative connotations in our culture unless it pertains to children or animals. In Biblical terms it’s not demeaning. It’s a yielding of self and when we offer ourselves we receive much more. We receive his love and look at those last few words . . . he shows himself to us.   

We can learn from his example and pattern our lives after his. This is called discipleship and not only benefits us, it changes the world. 

Obedience is the antidote for the harmful effects of sin. When we keep our hearts focused on loving and serving God, our perspective changes. Those harmful desires that trap and keep us in spiritual bondage begin to melt away.

Parents wanting good things for their children won’t allow them to wallow in immaturity.  We want them to live full lives and that’s what God wants for us. As disciples, we’ll be drawn ever higher, ever deeper, and ever richer into the fullness of Christ.

 

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His death on the cross gives us strength to keep walking forward. He gives us hope as we push through the squirmy emotions and resentful attitudes we encounter from ourselves and others.

He’s working all things for good!