Will you win an award or a reward?

Winter is the time for snuggling under blankets, getting cozy in front of the fire, and . . . awards. Each year, powerful tastemakers in Hollywood celebrate the previous year’s success by staging elaborate award ceremonies.

The star-studded events are glamorous – women shine in (mostly) gorgeous gowns and men are decked out in tuxedos. Average folks like you and me, can’t walk the red carpet or sit in the same room with the swanky set.

However, you can go to Vanity Fair’s After Party for the paltry sum of forty grand.

I gave up watching these shows when they got too political, but I do enjoy looking at the gowns online. The other day I listened to a guy being interviewed on the radio who’s well-known for picking Golden Globe winners.

As I did, a thought popped into my head: I will never ever receive an award like this. No one is nominating me for anything. I’m not particularly talented and I’ll never get a Lifetime Achievement award, unless they start giving them out for laundry. I won’t have a star on my dressing room door and no golden statuettes will sit on my shelves.

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But I’m ok with that because I’m a star in God’s eyes, and so are you!

As believers, we have something much more valuable – we have Jesus himself. We’re members of God’s family, the Holy Spirit dwells in us and we have eternal salvation through Christ.

Ephesians 1:3 tells us exactly how “gifted” we are: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. 

Read that again. In Christ, we have every spiritual blessing available in the heavenly realm and we have direct access to the God of the universe.

How amazing is that?

So as we trudge through the winter months – hiding those few extra pounds underneath bulky sweaters – take some time to meditate on God’s promises.

The glitz and glam splashed across our screens is temporal. God doesn’t tally up our achievements or pick winners from a select group of people. Shiny baubles and swag bags are meaningless objects in the grand scheme of life.

We are already stellar as far as He’s concerned and our reward is stored up for us in heaven.

One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: “Power belongs to you, God, and with you, Lord, is unfailing love”; and, You reward everyone according to what they have done.” Psalm 62:11-12

 

 

Feeling worried about the year ahead?

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Deuteronomy 31:8

I’m watching the dawn break as I write this morning. My view, which faces the Atlantic Ocean (and is blocked by homes in front of me), is not the one I’m used to. It’s usually beautiful to watch the great ball of sun rising above oceanfront rooftops.

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But today, the sky is dim with low-hanging gray clouds and the light doesn’t bounce off the water in the canal.

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What a difference a day makes.

As I look forward to the year ahead, it’s almost impossible not to look back. 2018 was incredibly busy and filled with unexpected obstacles and life-changing milestones. The biggest challenge was moving my two daughters to different cities, and the planning and logistics required to make it happen.

I didn’t expect that my two biggest champions would leave home this year. Now, it’s just me and the boys, and it’s been a difficult adjustment to say the least.

Like many, we’ve also struggled with all sorts of grief and joy. I suspect 2019 will be filled with much of the same, but I’m not worried and you shouldn’t be either.

The world we live in is filled with chaos. Political divisiveness, global warfare and countless pundits and prognosticators suggest impending disaster. They encourage us to be quivering cowards. They want us to fret, fear and feel hopeless because they think they know best and after all . . . misery loves company.

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I implore you not to join in their reindeer games! There is only One who truly knows the future.

When we try to remove God from all forms of society, society begins to spiral. We forget that God is on His throne and elevate “leaders” and philosophers to a position of omniscience. This is nothing but a form of idolatry. It has no place in the lives of believers.

And besides, fear tactics have been around for thousands of years.

Take a look at the words of Jeremiah in the Old Testament: Do not panic; don’t be afraid when you hear the first rumor of opposing forces. For rumors will keep coming year by year. Violence will erupt in the land as the leaders fight against each other. Jeremiah 51:46

Instead, let us remember that the Lord goes before us. Jesus invites us to rest in Him: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

Peter reminds us to give our concerns to Him: Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7

So let’s look forward to 2019 with anticipation and rejoicing. We serve a God who loves us, invites us into His family and goes before us in all things.

Happy New Year!

 

 

 

Easter is more than bunnies and baskets

By Erika Rizkallah

In a few days, millions of Christians will celebrate Easter — an observance of the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Savior of the world.

As a child, I didn’t know about Jesus. For me, Easter was all about the basket. For some reason my father hid the baskets from us.  My brother and I would jump out of bed and spend the morning searching for it.

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I suppose it was easier for a single dad to hide two baskets instead of a bunch of eggs, but it’s one of my fondest memories. I grew up in a non-religious home so we didn’t go to church and I didn’t realize the holiday had anything to do with Jesus.

It meant little more than the beginning of spring break, all fun and games!

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Now, Easter is ripe with meaning. Truthfully, I hate reading about most of the details surrounding the Easter story.

The way Jesus was treated before his death fills me with sadness. I can’t help but feel the agony of what he went through — the betrayal of Judas, the illegality of the trials and brutality of the crucifixion.

In my quiet time yesterday I learned something new and I thought I’d share it with you. But first I have to set the scene . . .

Jesus has already been accosted and arrested in the garden at Gethsemane. The chief priests handed him over to Pilate to be condemned to death and Peter has disowned him. He’s flogged within an inch of his life. Leather whips embedded with bits of bone and lead rip through skin and muscle.

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Then he’s taken into the Governor’s hall and surrounded by the whole company of soldiers. The Bible tells us that they stripped him, dressed him in a scarlet robe and pushed a crown of thorns onto his head. And then they mocked him and knelt in front of him, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” After that, they spit on him and beat him in the head repeatedly with a staff.

This part of the story saddens and repulses me. But what I didn’t know is that for the Roman soldiers, this was a popular game they played with condemned prisoners. There was an actual game board etched into the floor. They would roll the dice and move the “king” around the board while the troops mocked and abused him.

Talk about adding insult to injury.

And though at any time Jesus could have commanded more than twelve legions of angels to rescue him, he didn’t.

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He sacrificed himself and saved us. This is why we celebrate and commemorate his victory over death.

After the crucifixion the sky went dark and a tremendous earthquake shook the land. The only people standing near him were a centurion and a group of guards.

Matthew 27:54 says, When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!

It makes me wonder how they spent the rest of the day.

What grace our God has given us — let us never forget what Easter is truly about!

 

 

Sharing the hope of Christ

By Erika Rizkallah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Living with Chronic Pain – Rise and Go!

By Erika Rizkallah

“Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” Luke 17:19

In the passages of Luke 17, Jesus spoke to his disciples about temptation, sin and forgiveness. He told them that if a brother sinned against them seven times and repented seven times, they must forgive him. This would be a hard pill for anyone to swallow — sometimes it’s hard to forgive even once.

His disciples urged him to increase their faith. He explained that if they have faith as small as a mustard seed they can command a mulberry tree to uproot and plant itself in the sea. And the tree would obey!

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Is Jesus simply using hyperbole? I think not. I think he’s trying to teach them that faith — even a small amount — is powerful and they have more authority than they realize. I think he’s also teaching them that the increase of faith is their responsibility.

It requires action. The tree will uproot and plant itself if they command it, but it won’t do it on its own.

At this time, they’re heading to Jerusalem, passing between Samaria and Galilee. Ten lepers met them as they entered a village. By law, lepers were considered unclean and outcasts from society. These men, standing at a distance, begged Jesus to have mercy and heal them.

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He called out and told them to go show themselves to the priest, a requirement for anyone healed of disease. So they left and were healed as they went along.

Think about that for a minute. Jesus didn’t actually touch the men, he told them to go and they did. I think this object lesson showed the disciples two important things:

They had the power to command and faith requires action.

Notice that all ten men left believing they’d be healed and declared clean.

However, there’s another important facet of the story. Before they got to the priest, one man came back, fell to his knees before Jesus and thanked him. Before, he stood at a distance, and after, he sat at Jesus’ feet.

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Jesus said, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

The foreigner was a Samaritan — a hated enemy of the Jews.

Living with chronic pain can make us feel like lepers. Sometimes we feel like outcasts standing on the fringes of life, unwelcome and alone. Jesus doesn’t see us that way. In fact, I think he wants us to understand that even small faith is powerful.

I’m commanding my pain to plant itself somewhere else.

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We can live with anticipation of knowing that at any time, Jesus can appear and send us on the journey to healing.

So rise, start journeying and don’t forget to praise God!

 

The Secular and the Sacred: Is one more important than the other?

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Do you ever wonder if what you’re doing in the world – whether it be running a business, homeschooling children, or bandaging a friend’s paper cut – is making a difference in the world?

I do. All the time.

I’m constantly criticizing myself or listening to the critic in my head tell me I’m small potatoes. That I have nothing, nada, zilch to offer. And worse, I’m running out of time and if I don’t do something soon then . . .

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I don’t think I’m alone in this. I think secretly many women struggle with similar thoughts. Maybe they’ve even occurred to you?

But really, what’s the worst that could happen? We’d become “irrelevant?” (as my teenage boy likes to say). We’d leave no legacy? Or be forgotten?

I was reminded of this at an estate sale I went to last weekend. I was rummaging through stuff in a Mid-century modern home that was like a time capsule. I even took a picture of their linoleum . . .

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They don’t make it like this anymore . . . thank God.

Anyway, the owner of the company and I were marveling at the goodies the homeowners curated. I mean this stuff would make even top-tier interior designers wet their pants – I know I almost did. Especially over these . . .

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#vintagecameras   Follow me on Instagram @ springbythesea

Another customer chimed in, “You know I was talking to my daughter about a Dean Martin record I picked up and she didn’t even know who he was!”

Is he irrelevant? My kids would say, “definitely,” but I disagree. In his day he was known as the “King of Cool.” And he may be gone, but his music and movies touched millions of people, set the stage for romance and gave people someone to look up to.

His audience was considered secular, but he wasn’t secular to Jesus – in whom all things were created.  Our Jesus, who also isn’t irrelevant. He’s God Incarnate . . . God in the flesh.

And as for being small potatoes, there’s nothing wrong that. Our world is made better by those who choose to serve on the sidelines. And by those being served on the sideboards . . . they’re particularly yummy fried. And very much appreciated in my home!

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Small potatoes. Yummy!

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!

 

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?