Marriage and a wife’s self-esteem

By Erika Rizkallah

Recently, I had an enlightening discussion with a gentleman in my writer’s critique group. He’s a man dedicated to God and is writing a book that will help other men.

He submitted a devotion about marriage – an analogy based on his time spent hiking the Appalachian Trail. His piece promoted perseverance and commitment and offered help to husbands using four Biblical principles. Well written and informative, our small group (all women) thoroughly enjoyed it.

hiking-1318457_1920

However, I told him one sentence “tweaked” my spirit.

“Tweaked?” he asked.

“Yeah, you know. Pricked? Tugged at?”

He just smiled.

Has that ever happened to you? Where you read something and you think Hmm I’m not sure about this or maybe, I’m not sure I agree with that statement. 

The passage spoke about how husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church. This is correct and true. But then he wrote something like, “A wife draws her self-esteem from her husband.”

angry-2191104_1920

Those were the words that tweaked my spirit.

I politely questioned the statement saying, “I definitely do not get my self-esteem from my husband because he is imperfect. My self-esteem comes from Jesus Christ and who He says I am.”

He replied that his sentence is a biblical truth stated in Ephesians 5:33.

Our group got into an honest discussion about love and respect – what wives and husbands need (which coincidentally) is the title of a popular Christian book written by Dr. Emmerson Eggerichs. The book is widely read within the church.

We talked openly about our marriages and what we desired from our spouse. I learned something in our discussion. We all have different ideas about this issue. Ideas influenced by where we live, our life experiences, various teachers, and cultures.

nature-1790142_1920

But nowhere in the Bible can I find any reference to a spouse’s self-esteem coming from their partner. Ephesians 5:33 states: However, each one of you must also love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Love and respect are Biblical commands and I don’t believe they’re mutually exclusive. My husband and I desire both things from one another and the practice of this has made our 23-year marriage strong and healthy.

I’m writing about this for two reasons:

The first is to illustrate how important it is to know what the Bible says, so we’re not influenced by merely human ideas. The second is so that when we seek esteem, we turn to Christ for validation. I love what the Apostle Paul has to say about us:

From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ Acts 17:26-28.

Your Turn: Has your self-esteem been influenced by other people’s ideas? If so, how?

 

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.

capitol-720677

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.

bar-872161_1920

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.

 

intolerance-1980609_1280

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.

deserted-ruins-176906_1920

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

tree-189158_1920

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.

audience-868074_1920

Oh what a reason for rejoicing and wonder!

How about you: Are you seeking?

 

 

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

hands-1044882_1920

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.

beach-woman-1149088_1920

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.

walk-664898_1920

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.

young-422332_1920

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.

ballet-2

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!

writing-923882_1920

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.

boys-1149665_1920

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.

256px-abraham_lincoln_small

 

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.

flag-seagull

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).

Bless our next

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.

bread-1460402

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.

retro-1291745

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.

men-83501

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.

mountain lake 1

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.

secretary-338561_1920

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

fall-163496

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.

constant-63613

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!

 

5 Benefits of Having a Clear Conscience

By Erika Rizkallah

Five benefits meme

The other day I took my dog, Titan, for a walk on our dock. Generally he hates this because he’s a big chicken. He’s afraid of the dark and wind but he seemed eager this day. He pulled me up the ramp, through the gazebo and toward the water. So I went with it.

I thought, well you’re not such a fraidy cat after all. We walked a short while and he stopped;  I gazed at the water and took a few cleansing breaths of salty air. Then he started pulling me back toward the house. Ah, the wind! I thought.

When we got to the gazebo I saw something out of the corner of my eye and pulled on the leash. He stopped and stoically faced forward.

IMG_0701

“Titan!” I barked. He just looked at me.

IMG_0699

Then he turned forward again as if I couldn’t see him; he knows not to pick up bones.

He has a conscience . . . a guilty one.

Having a clear conscience is a gift of peace. The idea of having a clear conscience before God is woven throughout the Old and New Testaments. Interchangeable words are “heart” and “mind.” According to the New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis “. . . the words have a dominant metaphorical use in reference to the center of human psychical and spiritual life, to the entire inner life of a person.”

Here are five benefits of having a clear conscience straight from the Bible. For the full stories read the scripture references. Since it’s a longer than normal post I’d suggest pouring a cup of coffee and reading it as a mini study.

God keeps us from sinning against him – Read Genesis 20:1-18 – When Abraham was traveling in the region of the Negev he told people that his wife, Sarah, was his sister. One day Abimelech, the king of the land sent for Sarah and took her. Nice huh? But God came to him in a dream and told him she was married woman. Now Abimelech hadn’t touched her so he appealed to God and claimed his innocence. He said, “I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands.” Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her.”

lamb-1081380_1920

We are freed from burdens – Read 1 Samuel 25 1-34 – While David (before he was king) hid in the desert from King Saul, he watched the flocks of a rich jerk named Nabal. At shearing time it was customary for the owner of the flocks to feed the shepherds protecting them. But Nabal refused and offended David, so he came tearing down the hills bent on revenge. Nabal’s wife, Abigail, was a smart lady and rode out to meet him with gifts of food and drink. She humbled herself, called him master and said, “When the Lord has done for my master every good thing he promised concerning him and has appointed him leader over Israel, my master will not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself.” Abigail’s humility and quick thinking saved scores of lives that day.

The New Testament idea of conscience changes a bit as it’s influenced by Greek and Roman thought. As the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology explains, “The avoidance of a bad, accusing conscience is worth aspiring after, yet it is even more important to have a good conscience that confirms the correspondence of faith and life.” and “The Pastoral Letters lay great emphasis on a good conscience.” In short, it’s a rule of conduct applying to us today.

centurion

Our conscience confirms our duty before God – Read Acts 22:1-23:11 – The Apostle Paul gave his testimony about Christ before a hostile crowd in Jerusalem. Things got so violent that the Romans arrested him and the next day he was brought before the Sanhedrin to find out why he was being accused by the Jews. The Bible says, Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.” He was struck by those next to him for saying this and another violent dispute broke out. He was then taken away by force at the order of the Roman commander, but this time for his safety. But listen to this amazing sentence: The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome. The Lord himself stood by Paul that night!

We have knowledge of right and wrong – Read Romans 13:1 – Like Jiminy Cricket in the Pinocchio story says, “Always let your conscience be your guide.” Paul preached a lot about doing the right thing. In his letter to the Romans he wrote about submitting to the authorities, how it was the right thing to do (even though the Romans were known for their brutality). He writes, Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.

heart-700141_1920

We have love – Read 1 Timothy 1:1-5 – When Paul went into Macedonia, he urged Timothy to stay in Ephesus to take care of men teaching false doctrines. It was Timothy’s job to command them to stop and instead do God’s work. Paul wrote, The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. The combination of a pure heart, a good conscience and sincere faith produces love.

I know when my conscience is clear I feel at peace with God, but it requires vigilance on my part. Right now, I’m working on some things that need cleaning up in my own life. How about you? Which of the five benefits applies to you right now?

 

 

Called to struggle

By Erika Rizkallah

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6:12

Out of the darkness comes light. Do you believe this?

Whenever a mass killing streams across news headlines I try not to spend too much time in front of the television. It doesn’t matter if it’s in the form of a natural disaster or at the hands of a psychopath.

It’s too painful and I tend to absorb the energy of those who’ve suffered and lost.

However, the Orlando attack resonated with me; it could have been me in that bar. I don’t go to bars now (because I’m sober) but a long time ago, I frequented gay bars in my old hometown. It was the best place for a young woman to dance the night away without being hit on by sloshed and groping men.

Last night I forced myself to listen to the many survivor stories and I can’t get two of them out of my head.

The first was about a guy who’d made it out unharmed. On the way, he found a man who’d been shot three times – one was a life-threatening shot in the back. He helped him to a waiting police car for transport to the hospital. The officer had him shove his shirt in the bullet wound and instructed him to bear hug the guy all the way to the hospital. It was a human tourniquet and would help keep him from bleeding to death. Bloody and hugging the injured man, the good Samaritan said, “Can I pray for you?” He then cried out to God on the man’s behalf and comforted him, telling him everything would be alright.

carrying-296959_1280

He silently begged God that his words would be true. His prayer was answered.

The next story was told by a man hiding in a bathroom stall with others when the shooter came in. He says they begged him not to shoot. The killer laughed and sprayed bullets. The survivor told the reporter the laughter sounded satisfied. It was a laugh unlike any he’d ever heard before.

He then went on to say, “It sounded like it came from another world.”

I don’t doubt it. The Bible clearly states that our world is increasingly evil. Because of this, we’re called to struggle.

We are called to strenuously resist our own evil inclinations and fight against the forces of darkness. We’re called to struggle in prayer.

praying-1319101_1280

Prayer is our weapon. Faith is our shield. His word is our sword.

Today will you pick up your weapons and fight with me?

 

Home Sweet Home

I started packing up our house for renovation in late October and now – six months later – it’s almost finished. I moved back in two weeks ago and have been buried under boxes ever since.

Sometimes we’re placed in situations that make normal rhythms of life grind to a halt. Everything gets tossed into a box and packed away until the time is right for bringing it out again. And when we do, it feels like Christmas. Or a little like the Christmases my brother and I used to enjoy.

When we learned that Santa’s gifts really came from our parents, we’d search for their (really lame) hiding places. When we found them we’d slowly peel back the tape and take a quick peek under the wrapping paper to see if we got what we wanted. Later, of course we’d have to act surprised.

IMG_0480

Gifting myself with some HomeGoods goodies

This is what unboxing a home is like. Although I’d labeled the boxes well, I’m sometimes surprised to find what’s in them. And after months of cooking in a microwave and washing my dishes in the basement bathtub, I find I don’t need (or want) as many things as I have. So now . . . more sorting and donating. Pure drudgery.

But it’s worth it.

Our house was almost completely updated and I feel like a bride setting up her new home after the wedding. So exciting! Through this process God brought us some unexpected gifts – treasures hidden in the heavens: our family grew closer, our patience and resolve got stronger and our gratitude is overflowing.

On the other hand, sacrificing my writing time to create a homelike environment in the midst of chaos is something I hope I never have to do again. For me, writing is like coming home. It’s comforting, nourishes my soul and gives me a chance to sit down.

So glad to be back. So glad to be home!