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!

 

 

God still does miracles. Do you believe?

For you make me glad by your deeds, O Lord; I sing for joy at the works of your hands. How great are your works, O Lord, how profound your thoughts! Psalm 92:4-5

Do you believe God still does miracles?

I ask because in this day and age, many don’t. Even Christians. Over the years I’ve heard some influential preachers say the time for miracles is over.

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As if God chose to bless only those living in the first century.

I don’t believe it. The story I’m about to tell you is long overdue because, frankly, I didn’t know how to explain it.

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I also wasn’t sure about the “whys.” I’m a “why?” kind of girl; I spend chunks of time ruminating about the reasoning behind things and events.

In this case, I now know why.

Earlier this year I read a friend’s status update about Facebook having a type of automatic spam filter. I didn’t know this. When she accessed it, she discovered scores of hidden messages. Most were spam, but some were from friends and were several years old.

I was intrigued and decided to check it out. My results were much the same. Nigerian princes wanting to deposit millions into my bank account if I gave them access.

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People offering to help me with my erectile dysfunction, which I, um . . . do not struggle with.

There were also legitimate ones dating as far back as 2012 which were actually important. I had to apologize to several people for not responding. However, one in particular caught my attention because the subject line mentioned my maiden name.

That name is intentionally left off my profile so people can NOT find me.

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Now I’m going to pause for a moment to give you a quick backstory. My beloved father died in 1989, and although I was his next of kin, his ashes were divided. His partner, Charlie, got the bulk of them and I have some in a small box. Charlie and I lost touch and the whereabouts of my dad’s ashes were a mystery.

Deep inside, I’ve carried resentment about it. Not much, but a bit because my grandmother wanted my portion to be buried with her. She doesn’t approve of cremation and wanted him to have a proper burial.

Reading the “spam” message has enlarged my ideas about the universe and shrunk the distance between God in heaven and on earth.

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It came from a young woman I didn’t know existed – Charlie’s granddaughter. She told me she and her father had been searching for me for years. When Facebook became popular she decided to give it a shot.

She had my father’s ashes.

The box they’re in was passed down through her family for 25 years (long after Charlie died) in hopes of returning them to me.

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Mind blown!

For the past several months, I’ve had them in a place of honor in my home. They were a daily reminder of God’s faithfulness.

They’re proof that His love bridges the gap between space and time to answer even our unspoken prayers.

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Now they’re gone again.

A few weeks ago my aunt called saying my grandmother was on the verge of death. Emergency surgery was scheduled for the next day and she wanted me to send the ashes to be buried with her.

I hopped on a plane, lugging the box with me and praying I’d make it in time. I wanted her to know her son was with her.

God answered those prayers too; she made it through surgery. When she came to she told my aunt that God was with her during the surgery. She said she couldn’t see him but she could feel him. This is a HUGE deal – my grandma isn’t (wasn’t) a believer.

Before I gave them to her, my aunt took pictures so I’d have memories of this sacred event.

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Friends, He does answer prayer. Even today. Even the unspoken ones.

 

 

 

 

Finding family faith

By Erika Rizkallah

Almost every night after my family goes to sleep, I spend an hour or two working on genealogy. I’ve had an Ancestry.com account for several years.  It’s amazing to piece together what’s becoming a massive family tree. It’s thrilling to see their names. Among the common ones we have the standouts: Nimrod, Commander, Dilemma, Ransom and Content.

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I’ve found ancestors as far back as the 1500’s. Sometimes I’m just doing gritty research like digging through census records and wills. But often I stumble upon stories in books written decades later.

I didn’t grow up in a family of faith. My great-grandmother was a Christian and poured into me as much as she could through letters. Though she didn’t get to see the fruit of her labor in her lifetime, it did produce fruit. Both in my own family and the families I served as a children’s minister.

I think understanding where you come from is important work. In the Bible, we see name after name recorded for posterity. As I dig for my family members I discover a rich history of faith.

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My ancestors came over as colonists seeking religious freedom. Some of the men fought against “the savages” we now call Native Americans ( ironic). And sometimes they were killed or taken captive because they were peace loving pacifists. There’s a story  about a man named Robert, who lived alone on his farm in Maine . . .

“One time, just at night, he was cooking his supper when the Indians burst in upon him, and seizing him, said, ‘Now, Robert, quick you go to Canada.’ He answered, ‘Well, if I must, I must.’ He begged that he might cook and eat his supper, when he took up his line of march for that distant country.” Robert was taken multiple times to Canada but always managed to get home.

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I come from a long line of immigrants who fought in the Revolution as patriots – because they believed in America. They were hard working dreamers who knew this bountiful land offered them the opportunity to worship Christ on their terms. Many became leading citizens of their new country and established towns and community churches. The women, served at home, “keeping house,” caring for community members and fighting when necessary.

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I’m proud of my heritage. I’m amazed that I’ll get to meet my relatives in Heaven.

But whether your ancestors landed in Plymouth or sailed in at Ellis Island, the idea of worshiping freely is an integral part of the American dream. It’s worth fighting for.

I wonder what history will say about our generation of Christians. As Jesus said, “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Your turn: Do you record the stories of the faithful in your family?

 

 

 

 

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.

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?

 

 

 

A View From Above

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Jesus (Matt 7:1-2)

One of the main reasons I write is to get things off my chest (insert snarky comment).

I was washing dishes a minute ago and my view from the window is a top down look into my neighbor’s backyard and pool. That’s when I saw “the guy.”

Uh oh.

Because I thought, if the guy is there, that means the girl is somewhere nearby. It looked like he was alone and for that I breathed a sigh of relief. All of a sudden – whoopsie daisy – there she was, bending over to pick something up in front of him – and in front of me. In her red bikini, the bottoms of which happen to be a thong.

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It’s 60 degrees outside.

I’m in a sweatshirt and pants, but I think . . . well it is sunny over there. Maybe she’s hot. Oh she’s hot alright. She’s also blond and sports an enormous set of boobs.

And again, I breathed a sigh of relief because my husband’s not around and so far she’s managed to keep her top on. I say so far because that isn’t always the case. Both my hubby and my assistant have gotten a glimpse of her abundant gifts. For some reason the pair now watch my neighbor’s dog on Tuesday mornings.

I admit, my mind races with all sorts of scenarios, seeing as how he’s never needed this before. As the thoughts swirl around my brain the tone with which I process them gets snarkier and my imagination darker.

Then the Holy Spirit rescues me and I step back from the window and let them do their thing, which appears to be heating up by the minute. Do not judge Erika. Also, do not yell any unkind words at them from your window.

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They obviously don’t know (or care) they’re being watched from above, but I’m aware God’s watching me. He’s got a keen eye on my behavior. Will I take his command not to judge into my heart?

Yes. Because I don’t want that measure poured back onto my head. Judgment belongs to Him alone.

So I pray for them and am thankful my son’s eyes are focused on his violent video games.

Your Turn: It’s almost Thanksgiving, so what are you thankful for today?