Feel like you don’t have much to offer?

When I was growing up, one of the most popular tunes on the radio was a song called Stand By Your Man, co-written and recorded by Tammy Wynette. Though it contains only 128 words and was written in 15 minutes, it’s sparked debate and controversy for years.

No one predicted the surprising results this scant and quickly written song produced; Tammy catapulted to fame and it remains one of country music’s Top hits 50 years later.

I’ve been married to the same guy for 24 years and consider myself fortunate. He’s a business owner and we have a great life despite many ups and downs. Long ago, God told me he’d provide for me through my husband and I’ve accepted his promise gratefully.

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But it’s difficult at times, especially in this day and age when we voraciously compare ourselves to others. Though I’ve worked off and on through the years and have my own online business, I’m not “self-supporting.” When I fill out paperwork, I put “Not Applicable” under the employment section. One time at a doctor’s office, the receptionist shouted across the room, “Are you still unemployed?”

These questions make me cringe — I hate labels. I’m independent and was the main breadwinner in our family for several years before I quit work to take care of my children. In my hometown near Washington D.C., women would ask, “What do you do for a living?” When I explained I was a stay-at-home mom, they often discreetly drifted off looking for someone more interesting to talk to.

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True story.

The bulk of my work goes unseen and uncompensated. I’m not what the world considers “successful,” but I know I am. So does my family and most importantly, so does my God.

Still, sometimes I want the sacrifices I’ve made to be seen and dare I say, celebrated.

It reminds me of the Bible story known as the widow’s offering. One day, Jesus was teaching in the temple and he sat down across from where people were putting in their required offerings.

Mark 12:41-44 says: Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. 

Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything — all she had to live on.” 

Sometimes women at any stage of life can feel like our offerings are meager. On low  strength and energy days, the only fuel I have is knowing that Jesus sees me. He accepts my small offerings and he loves it.

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He sees and loves you as well. No offering is too small to make a huge difference in the world and for his kingdom.

Sometimes I wonder what happened to the widow. I know God provided for her because it’s one of his promises. He’s close to the poor, the oppressed, those who feel small.

The lesson was so important that he called his disciples over to witness it. The story is told in the books of Mark and Luke; the nameless woman is still held up as an example over 2,000 years later.

That’s incredible . . . and so are you!

 

 

 

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!

 

 

Peace, Prosperity & Politics

By Erika Rizkallah

I grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. My parents worked in the Capitol – one in the Senate and one in the House of Representatives – though neither were politicians. They worked grueling hours for Congress and I grew resentful about the way our government treated its workers.

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Politics was the news in our town. Other than that, we just got doom and gloom reports of crime and death in what was then “the murder capital of the world.” What I remember most was a having a sense of overwhelming fear. Almost every thought and decision was filtered through a lens of anxiety.

I felt like a captive.

Many of my friends thrived on political discourse but I hated it. I didn’t want to hear or talk about it so I stopped watching the news.

I learned the “behind the scenes” truth from my parents. Though our politicians fought and filibustered on television, many were backroom buddies. The powerful and power-hungry dined and drank together in posh clubs, away from the C-Span cameras.

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When I turned 40, God called me to a new place – hours away from the ladder climbing and clamor. It’s my personal “Promised Land” and the home I’d always longed for.

Ironically, I’m a political junkie now. I guess it’s woven into the fabric of my life. However, I’m no longer anxious or fearful about the state of our country or world. I believe making it a better place is up to us.

It’s the duty of those who believe in Christ, to be salt and light. To help create reform. We’re able to create positive changes because we have true power.

We have the Holy Spirit.

I’m halfway through the book of Jeremiah and it reminded me being a captive. Jeremiah warned people for years that if they didn’t reform their ways, they’d be exiled to Babylon. But they didn’t listen and were sent to live in a land with a new ruler, customs and language.

 

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In the midst of their servitude to King Nebuchadnezzar, God gave them instructions for living through a letter sent by the prophet Jeremiah. He said, “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper . . .”  Jeremiah 29:5-7

I love the phrase . . . Build houses and settle down.

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It conveys a sense of peace in frightening circumstances. Though their rebellion resulted in captivity, God still comforted them. He always has a purpose and plan for his people.

The letter also said, “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. “ v. 29:11

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We often hear the prosperity part without the following verses:

“Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” v. 29:12-14

I believe his declarations. His gracious promise of peace and prosperity. He’s for us no matter the political posturing or predicaments.

When we seek him with all our heart and seek the peace and prosperity of our cities, he will listen and we will be found by him.

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Oh what a reason for rejoicing and wonder!

How about you: Are you seeking?

 

 

Ringing Out the Old: 3 things to leave behind us in the new year

By Erika Rizkallah

Goodbye 2016. I’m not sad to see you go!fireworks-1759

The lessons and difficulties won’t soon be forgotten. I learned a lot – and I’m thankful for that – but I won’t make the same mistakes this year.

I’ll ring in the new year quietly working the Christmas puzzle I started yesterday, eating Mexican food and hitting the hay. Right after I let my son shoot his paintball gun into the midnight sky.

Some of you will gather with friends, dance your heads off and watch the ball drop in Times Square.

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Our family tradition is to kiss one another at midnight. Sometimes we watch the worldwide celebrations on television. And sometimes, we mumble the words (we remember) of the song, Auld Lang Syne . . . but I have no idea why.

I don’t even know what it means!

So today I looked it up and it’s not at all what I thought it was. Reader’s Digest has a good article about the origins. And an informative post from the Scotland website provides the full lyrics in case we want to sing along. In English the words translate, “old long since.”

Truthfully, I’ve always thought it was about leaving things behind – hence the title of this post. So as far as these three things are concerned, let’s give them a farewell kiss . . .

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Sin – Sin separates us from God. He won’t tolerate it because it’s against his nature. He is holy. Let’s separate ourselves from it!

Despair – I’ve had my fill of despairing people this year. It may come across as mean-spirited but that’s not my intent. Never have I encountered as many dismal souls as I have this year. Despair doesn’t belong in Christ followers. Let’s toss it out!

Deceit – I’m no stranger to the power of deceit. As I reflect on 2016 I see how the enemy’s lies crept into my spirit and mind, like a lion waiting to devour. I’m sure I’m not the only one. Let’s shoot that sucker in the heart!

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Auld Lang Syne is actually an ancient Scottish reunion song . . . and a good song to drink to. It’s about friendship, a sense of belonging and thinking about days gone by. 

I think it’s an apt metaphor for the here and now.

In the end, when Christ comes again, we’ll be reunited with Jesus and all the other believers – past and present. We’ll sit down at a banquet together with a cup of wine in hand (both hands for me) and toast the days gone by.

We’ll say goodbye to the old earth, the old ways and the old life. We’ll celebrate the new life and catch up with old friends.

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What a lovely picture of heaven!

But make no mistake, we’ll find ourselves weeping and filled with anguish if we don’t renounce sin, despair and deceit now. We’ll never make it into God’s kingdom with those burdens in our spirit.

Let’s do the work.

There’s one glorious celebration ahead!

Happy New Year and God bless you friends!

 

 

Christmas Offerings:5 tips for living a life dedicated to God

 

By Erika Rizkallah

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1-2

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For many, New Year’s Eve is the day to leave the things of the past behind and start fresh. But for me this process begins on Christmas Eve.

December 24 is my “Dedication Day” and is the most important day of the year to me. It’s become sort of a ritual over the last seven years. It happened like this: In 2009, I left my old life in the D.C. area behind to follow God to a new place.

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It was a big deal because not only did I leave family and friends, I left my job in ministry. I’d been on staff at a church when I heard the Lord tell me to GO. It didn’t make sense to me then and it certainly didn’t make sense to my boss.

My family and friends were also skeptical. After all, why would God send me to an unfamiliar place when I was succeeding where I was? Especially when I had no idea what I was going to do!

But go I did.

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That leap of faith has rewarded me in ways I can’t express. However, I went through a tremendous identity crisis with buckets of tears and confusion. I didn’t know how to just “be”. . . without a home, career or support system. Ironically, He sent me to North Carolina whose state motto is: Esse Quam Videri which means To be, rather than to seem.

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Isn’t God wonderful?!

He sent me here for that purpose. To be my authentic self – his daughter in Christ.

After a period of loneliness and settling in, I had a “moment” with Him I’ll never forget. I was in the bedroom of my rental home praying about the year ahead. I said, “Okay Lord, I followed you here. I’m waiting for my new assignment.” I didn’t hear anything. So I thought, Well, I’ll just serve you in whatever thing you place in my path.

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In that moment, I was filled – and I mean filled – with a sense of overwhelming joy. I literally danced! I carried that joy into the new year and I served my “old self” off.

Since then, I’ve rededicated myself to the Lord – to his plans and purposes for me – each Christmas Eve.

If this sounds like a welcome adventure to you, here are five tips to help get started . . .

Pray – All conversation with God begins and ends in prayer. Ask him to reveal His will for you in the upcoming year. He’s kind and generous and wants to lead us to authentic life in Him.

Remember – What is it about the current year you want to revisit or leave behind? Remembering needs to be done in a place of solitude with plenty of time set aside.

Listen – Bend your ear toward Him, keeping in mind His voice is often soft. You may not hear anything immediately but when you do make sure to write it down!

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Commit – With a heart intent on heeding his will, devote yourself to the task ahead. Even just “being” is hard work and requires trust, perseverance and faithfulness.

Obey – Obedience isn’t a word we like to hear or practice in our culture but it’s a requirement for all God’s children. You may need to clear your schedule, distance yourself from toxic people or learn to say no to good things so you can say yes to better ones.

That first year of service wasn’t always butterflies and jellybeans. I served in obscurity, behind the scenes on every occasion. I scrubbed toilets, ran errands, served meals and babysat the neighbor’s kids.

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But through obedience, I experienced overarching peace and clarity. Best of all, my relationship with our Heavenly Father and His son, Jesus, deepened my faith and soothed my soul.

How about you: What offering can you give to Jesus this year? 

 

 

Election 2016 – A reason to celebrate!

By Erika Rizkallah

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”   Abraham Lincoln

Today is election day and what a day for rejoicing and celebration ! In a few hours all the haranguing and caustic rhetoric will end.

I know that’s unlikely. In reality there will be plenty of rhetoric and accusations to last the rest of the year. But at least the tv ads and fake political texts will cease.

That alone gives us reason to celebrate!

Did you know that the quote from Abraham Lincoln came directly from Jesus? Lincoln used it in a political speech about ending slavery in 1858. By his own admission he wanted a frame of reference that (at that time) everyone could understand.

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In Jesus’ case, the statement was in reference to driving out demons. People brought a demon-possessed man to Jesus who was both blind and mute and Jesus healed him. The Pharisees witnessing the miracle said that Jesus healed the man through the power of demons. This judgment call obviously made no sense.

Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.” Matthew 12:25

Friends, this is still true today. There’s an enemy at work trying desperately to divide our country, our states and our homes. He wants us to hate instead of love each other.

And no, this isn’t a political statement about any candidate. As Christians we are called to be at peace with our fellow humans whenever and wherever possible.

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We’re also called to respect authority and to understand that whomever becomes President of the United States is placed there by God.

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men – the testimony given in its proper time. 1 Timothy 2:1-6

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. Romans 13:1-2

So whatever happens, let’s heed the apostle Paul’s message and live out our faith in all godliness and holiness. And let’s intercede for our leaders in prayers and thanksgiving.

That’s the end of my PSA . . . I’m off to the voting booth!

 

Picking proverbs for a push

By Erika Rizkallah

Each morning before I begin the day’s work in my home I pick a proverb to motivate me. Nurturing our nest requires loads of daily drudgery; I can’t do it all under my own power  (too boring).

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Bless our nest.

When I say I “pick” a proverb, I mean I open my Bible to the book of Proverbs, close my eyes and rummage through the pages. Then I point my finger and poke a verse. Whatever I land on is my daily inspiration to write at the top of my to-do list.

Sometimes they don’t make sense to my modern mind so I dig around, unearthing the hidden treasure. Yesterday my verse was A lazy man does not roast his game, but the diligent man prizes his possessions. Proverbs 12:27

Because I’d dug up that one before I already knew it was about being wasteful. But you sure wouldn’t know  by looking at it! In the Old Testament, “diligent” means energetically or devotedly.

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So I pondered the meaning, trying to figure out how to make it work for me. Everything we have – all our possessions and the money to buy them – comes from the hand of God. Believers are called to cultivate an attitude of thankfulness and stewardship, caring for the gifts God gives.

Now there’s something I can focus on! Still, the verse didn’t come to life until later in the day.

Grocery shopping is drudgery to me but my husband loves it. I usually give him our list, but he was sick yesterday so I had to do it.

I was at the checkout counter with a full cart of necessities when I spied the magic words BUY ONE GET ONE FREE. It’s on that rack retailers position near the register to lure us with seasonal must-haves. And this was something I needed – a grill lighter. So I grabbed the only one left. I raced around checking the other racks but they were empty also.

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Oh well, one is all I really need, I thought. The proverb zipped through my mind and I wrestled while the cashier rung up the rest of my order . . .

It’s no big deal.  You don’t need two grill lighters. Just let it go.

But it’s $ 5.49! I’m throwing away money my husband works hard for.

Not really, you’re just passing up a BOGO. It’s just a trick to get you to buy more. Don’t fall for it; you’re in a hurry and there’s a line at customer service.

The lazy woman does not wait in line for a rain check, but the diligent woman . . .

Ugh.

In under three minutes I had my rain check. Incidentally, the silver-haired woman in line with me did the same thing with her BOGO. I bet she didn’t consider wrestling with her lazy spirit.

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Proverbs has much to offer us, so that’s my challenge for you. Poke a proverb for yourself and see if God uses it to teach you a little lesson. At the very least, you’ll gain instant wisdom from the ancient saints who went before us.

Follow your dreams or your mission?

By Erika Rizkallah

Follow your dreams.

In our individualistic culture we’re bombarded with the idea. All forms of media fill our heads with bucket lists and the notoriety of easy celebrity.

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I admit I’ve been fascinated with following my dreams since I was a kid. I was convinced I could be so many things: a model, a marine biologist an Egyptologist . . .

It didn’t matter I was too short and plain for modeling, or that I was afraid of fish and  hated sand. Those careers appealed to me. Then the reality that I lacked certain skills became obvious and I settled for the unglamorous job of working in human resources.

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Until recently I pursued some other dreams but chronic illness, aging and parenting issues edged them out, making them seem frivolous. I struggle with that – after all, aren’t we supposed to follow our dreams?

I wonder if it’s a modern construct. If it’s part of Paul’s warning about the last days, People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God . . . 3 Timothy 1-5

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So I looked to the Bible for wisdom. I found nothing about following dreams. I looked to Jesus’ life and wondered about his dreams. Was he content with his carpentry career?  Did he talk to his buddies about it?

Then it hit me. We were his dream of the future.

He focused ceaselessly on God’s purpose, not veering from his mission. Mark 1:21-39 offers a clue. He taught with authority in the Capernaum synagogue and dramatically drove a demon out of a man. Later he went to Peter’s house and found his mother-in-law suffering with a high fever. Jesus healed her and that evening the people brought him all the sick and demon-possessed. The Bible says, the whole town gathered at the door and Jesus healed many and drove out many demons.

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Early the next morning he left the house and went to pray in a solitary place. Peter and his friends found him saying, “Everyone is looking for you!” Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons. 

He was so focused on his mission that he left the comfort of Peter’s home and the certainty of local celebrity to spread God’s good news to others in the region.

We benefit as a result of his obedience and in turn, his dreams for us (and himself) came true. It seems to me that when we follow God’s purpose for our lives, somehow they intersect.

What about you? Do you find God’s purpose and your dreams are in sync? Please share and tell us how!

 

Unexpected Enemies

By Erika Rizkallah

A couple of days ago I wrote about the Orlando shootings and prayer. In a comment to a reader I mentioned that one of Jesus’ commands is to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. And then I thought, I’m so glad there are no enemies in my life.

Then, bam! All of a sudden I have one.

Don’t you just hate that?

Someone I began to care for deeply, betrayed and hurt one of my family members. His pride and inflated ego caused him to do and say some things that can never be undone. Though I’m not at liberty to discuss, I know it’s an opportunity to practice the command I mentioned to someone else.

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But I don’t want to. I don’t want to stretch and grow this way. I don’t want to encourage my family members to do the same because they’re not ready to forgive. It’s difficult because the unrepentant culprit is eaten up by his own need for vengeance. I don’t want to take the high road because it doesn’t seem fair.

I suppose that’s the point. Did you know many of Jesus’ commands were appalling to the hearers of his day? After all, the Israelites followed a tradition of law codes recorded thousands of years before.

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Jesus’s words flipped everything upside down; they cut straight to the heart of humanity. He was known for his phrase, “You have heard it said . . . but I tell you.” Whenever we read it we know he’s shattering the status quo. We know he expects something different of his people.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Matthew 5:38-39

In the ancient world, striking someone was considered more of an insult than a beat down. Jesus was a reformer encouraging his followers to lay down their natural rights to retribution. If I’m a disciple I must submit to his authority and do the same. I will but I still don’t want to and that’s ok.

I’ll get there eventually.

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It’s funny because today someone told me that my enemy said, “Miss Erika is the nicest lady I’ve ever met.” But it’s not me, it’s Him living inside me. Because of that I can trust Him to change this guy’s heart – and mine as well.

How about you? Do you find it hard to love your enemies?

 

 

 

The one word standing between you and your dreams.

By Erika Rizkallah

Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. Psalm 37:4-6

Years ago when I was thinking about my life plans and goals, this verse shone like the noonday sun on my dreams. After all, who doesn’t want God to give us the desires of our heart?

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Certainly not me, I want it all! I want the full life Jesus wants for me and I must say He’s done it. He has given me the desires I desired and even ones I didn’t know about. But first I noticed three things were required of me:

Delight – To delight means to take great pleasure in him. I first needed to get to a place of joy in him, to take great pleasure in his presence and in his word. I achieved that by devoting my life and spending quiet time with him each and every day.

Commit – Next, I determined to commit my way to him. This means I decided to make his cause my cause. I needed to obey his requirements and plan for my life – not choosing my own path, but seeking to know his will for me in Christ.

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Trust – Trusting in someone we can’t see is difficult but our God is the living God. When we spend time in his word and prayer and then follow Christ’s lead, he hears and makes himself known to us. We obey and see him working everywhere. Trust then follows.

When I was in second grade my teacher introduced me to other worlds and cultures through studying two countries: Japan and Ghana. I loved my lessons and decided to be a world traveler so I could see places with my own eyes. Pippi Longstocking was my adventure hero and I wanted to be just like her.

The answer to my 7-year-old heart’s desire came much later, but now I do travel the world. I want to share my experiences with you through my writing. I want you to know that God is waiting for you to delight, commit and trust in him.

Sometimes there’s only one word standing between you and your dreams. That one word is . . .

YES!

Your turn: What desires are hiding in your heart? Do you believe he wants them for you as much as you do?