Pursuing peace and quiet

By Erika Rizkallah

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The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures,

he leads me beside quiet waters,

he restores my soul.

Psalm 23:1-3

What pictures come to mind when you think about the words peace and quiet?

Try closing your eyes and pondering for a moment. Go ahead, I’m waiting.

These are a few images that come to my mind:

landscape-photo-2930249_1920I don’t fish so I’m not sure why this is.

canola-fields-1911392_1920I’m not a farmer, but whenever I see rolling hills and fields, my spirit sighs and settles.

snow-3084740_1920  Maybe I’ve read one too many fairy tales, but this makes my heart happy!

The moments I savor and crave most are those when my home or yard is still. The house is silent and I’m alone. No groan of lawnmowers chewing up the grass, horns honking, or people whining.

Silence energizes and the sounds of nature refresh our souls. And yet, what a nosy and noisy world we live in.

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Sometimes I imagine what it was like before God created mankind. But of course, mankind what just what he had in mind. The Bible teaches us that after he created the world, he made Adam out of the dust. He created Eve out of Adam’s rib — flesh of his flesh, bone of his bone.

He placed them in a garden and walked with them and all was well for awhile.

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I think that original beauty and silence is sorely lacking today. I believe we need to find our way back and snatch up as much of it as we can. But silence is scary for a lot of people these days.

How can we hear the Holy Spirit’s whispers if our ears are crammed with noise and our homes rife with strife?

How can we commune with the creator if we stuff our lives with the busyness of the world?

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What do you think? Do you have enough quiet time in your life? Do you make getting alone with God (or yourself) a priority? Do you fear what you might hear?

God loves when we seek him in this way. He loves to whisper into our spirit and he delights in our attempts to hear him.

In 1 Timothy 2:2 the apostle Paul gives instructions for worship and prayer. He asks that we pray for our leaders “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

This is worth pursuing.

Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. James 3:18

 

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

Faith and impatience: A new view of Sarah

Once a year (usually in early fall) I read the Bible straight through. I try to  finish before the year is over, but since I’m behind in everything I got started late. Even still, each time I do this I understand more about Christianity and the history from which it springs.

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Have you ever read something in the Bible that changes the way you think about what you’ve been taught? I sure hope so! The Bible acts as a truth detective and is filled with events and stories of people. It provides us life changing examples of what it means to be faithful to God.

One such story is about Abraham and his wife, Sarah. Abraham was known as the father of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims. His narratives are woven throughout the Old and New Testaments. Before God changed their names they were known as Abram and Sarai. God told him he would be the “father of many nations.”

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Because Sarai couldn’t have children, she gave Abram to her servant, Hagar, and they had a son, Ishmael. Later, when she was 90 and Abram was 100, Sarai gave birth to Isaac who superseded Ishmael as the legitimate son. There’s a story about Sarai and Hagar fighting – with Abraham stuck between them – and you can find it in Genesis 21:1-20.

Because I like to switch up translations and versions, this year I decided to use the Archaeological Study Bible. In it I discovered something new – something that changed my thinking about what I’d been taught by well meaning church leaders.

While Abraham is held up as a model of faithfulness for believing God’s promise about a son being born to him, Sarah is often not. She’s portrayed as less faithful because in her impatience, she initiated the arrangement with Hagar and “gave her” to Abraham in order to build a family through her. Not only that, when the original promise was made, she laughed.

What woman wouldn’t? After all, her womb was dead to begin with and trust me, there are physical signs and stages an older woman endures that assured her of this fact.

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After waiting ten years for that promise to materialize she took matters into her own hands, so to speak. Abraham was a willing partner in this scheme but still – if only she’d been faithful like him . . .

But this is what I learned about the Mesopotamian culture they were living in at the time: “Laws from ancient Mesopotamia provide various interesting parallels to the Genesis stories. In particular, numerous regulations illustrate the marriage and inheritance issues found in the accounts of the patriarchs. For example: Just as Sarai procured an heir for Abram through her maid (Ge 16; cf. ch 30), the Sumerian laws of Ur-Nammu … allowed a husband to take a concubine after waiting in vain for his primary wife to bear children. As in Sarai’s case, the primary wife might even have initiated the arrangement.”

It goes on to explain inheritance and disinheritance rights which Abraham eventually used after divine intervention (Gen 21:8-13).

So was Sarai really impatient and unbelieving or was she simply availing herself of the cultural laws and traditions in which she lived? After all, her husband didn’t disagree to the use of a young Egyptian maidservant. On this point, I’ve frequently heard, “and what man would?” (insert guffaw).

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I highlight this story as an example for us today. In order to be truly informed, we need to read and teach the Bible in context of the time and place in which the characters lived. Then maybe we won’t be so quick to misjudge and characterize people from our modern (and still male dominated) viewpoints.

Your Turn: I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts in this matter. Does this change your previously held views of Sarai?

 

 

 

Quiet Time Musings: The Difficulty of the Christian Life

Last night a friend and I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning discussing the Christian life. We lamented the fact that being obedient to God’s calling and will for believers is challenging. Here are some of the questions we asked:

Why is it so hard to be obedient?

Why does God allow certain things to happen in our lives even though we’re wholeheartedly trying to follow Him?

Why do we not do the things we know are right and instead, do what we know is wrong?

We both went to bed pondering. In fact, I assumed I’d be faced with a sleepless night if I continued to think about it – fortunately I was wrong and slept like a baby.

In my quiet time this morning God gifted me with an answer through the day’s devotional reading in My Utmost For His Highest. The scripture was this: Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Matthew 7:13-14

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The author, Oswald Chambers says, “If we are going to live as disciples of Jesus, we have to remember that all noble things are difficult. The Christian life is gloriously difficult, but the difficulty of it does not make us faint and cave in, it rouses us up to overcome.”

I often forget Jesus’ words . . . Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me (follow me), he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24 emphasis mine

Jesus’ cross was heavy. In fact, it was so heavy that when he stumbled beneath the weight of it, the Roman guards called another man to help him carry it to the road leading to the place of his crucifixion.

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Our crosses are heavy too. In order to carry it we have to have Jesus’ help. And with his help, we too can overcome.

Are you struggling under a heavy load right now? As Jesus frequently reminded his disciples, Take courage! He is with you.

Your Turn: My challenge for you today is to find a friend. Speak aloud your needs, confess your sin and ask for prayer as you struggle to journey through the narrow gate.