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!

 

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.

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!

 

5 Benefits of Having a Clear Conscience

By Erika Rizkallah

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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.

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

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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?

 

 

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?

 

 

 

Ghost stories at midnight

By Erika Rizkallah

It’s one o’clock in the morning and I’m sitting in my living room surrounded by very loud teenage boys. We started telling ghost stories a half an hour ago and now everyone’s afraid to go to bed.

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Except me. I’d love to go to bed, but I can’t until I know everyone’s safely “tucked in” for the night.

Things have changed a lot for me over the past couple of years. When my oldest daughter was that age I came to the realization that our best conversations happen at night.

I’m not sure what it is. Maybe they’re a little more open and vulnerable – or I’m more approachable somehow. Maybe it’s because their circadian rhythm is the exact opposite of mine. At any rate, I learned that if I made myself available and sat quietly doing my own thing, they’d mosey on over and start telling me stories.

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I bet Jesus was that kind of guy. We know people were drawn to him. Great crowds would follow him and he would sit down on some mountainside or take a walk at the water’s edge. We know that he taught, preached and spoke in parables.

But I bet he was a great listener and a compassionate friend.

As a parent I strive to be like him. I wish I knew what was in my children’s hearts (most of the time). I wish I could get my message across in a way they’d be more open to hearing – in the daytime as well as the night.

If you’re a parent of teens and young adults, never underestimate how important your availability is to them. Always remember that they need you now just as much as they did in the early years. Make it a point to stay up late with them, tell them ghost stories and God stories and occasionally have cookies and milk at midnight.

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The payoff is well worth the next day’s tiredness.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.                                      Galatians 6:9

 

 

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?

 

Thanksgiving: What would Jesus do?

By Erika Rizkallah

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday for many reasons, but mostly because it reminds me of my dad. He was an amazing cook and at each celebration he tried to outdo his efforts from the previous year.

In addition to the traditional turkey with stuffing, his artfully set table was laden with food for a variety of tastes. However, the best part of the day was receiving company. Our dinner wasn’t limited to family only. My dad made it a point to invite a hodgepodge of interesting people who had no place else to go.

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After dessert, my brother and I were sent to the kitchen for dish duty (washing by hand), but mostly I did it myself. I loved to eavesdrop on the grown-up conversations and learn a bit about the lives of our guests.

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I can’t count how many stories I heard about estranged and hurting families.

Dad died 26 years ago, shortly before his favorite holiday. It felt weird to sit at the table without him, and yet we were comforted by carrying on the tradition of an open home for others.

The holidays are joyful times for many, but can be miserable for the lonely and those separated from family.

Jesus was mindful of this. Banqueting was a popular ritual for wealthy ancient Romans. It was an honor to be invited and the host would produce a lavish display for his guests, who lounged on couches. The next banquet host would reciprocate and try to outdo him at the same time – a kind of competitive dining experience.

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One time Jesus went to such a dinner and told his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do they might invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luke 14:12

Most of us will gather with family and friends this year – myself included – giving thanks to God for all his blessings. But wouldn’t it be awesome to try to include some of those people he mentioned at our feasts? What an awesome way to show God’s love to those who need it most.

Your Turn: Are you planning to invite someone special to share your holiday meal?