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This and that

July 28, 2014

IMG_4003I hope you are all enjoying the summer as much as I am. But where did July go? (Tiger figures the squirrels took it.) There are definitely not enough days in this beautiful season. At least not in Michigan. Then again, it is nice to see the seasons change. Perhaps that is part of what keeps life interesting.

I’ve been keeping busy with various projects these past few weeks. Last week, I decided my decluttering desire had taken too long a hiatus, so I organized some clutter (which I hope to get rid of!) in one of the bedrooms. At least now we can close the closet doors! In the process of going through things, I ran across some of my son’s books – yes, we still have quite a bit of things belonging to the sons that don’t live here anymore. But sometimes those things can prove to be treasures, as I discovered in some of the books he did not have room to take with him.

One was The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller. I have been reading Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering by the same author, so the book immediately intrigued me. It’s actually a short book, and I read it in two days. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. Keller takes a look at the parable of the prodigal son or as some called it the two lost sons. It is well worth the read especially if you want to truly understand what this whole message of salvation (the gospel – or good news) of the Bible and the Messiah’s coming is all about.

I’ve also finished a first draft on the Egyptian Princess (not the actual title) novella, which I’m in the middle of re-reading and tweaking as I go.

Less than a month now – 3 weeks – until the release of The Desert Princess (Ebook Shorts) (The Loves of King Solomon Book #1)! I can’t wait to share Naamah’s story with you! I hope you enjoy my switch to 1st person and can step into her life as we begin our journey into the world of King Solomon.

IMG_4010On a personal front, I began a new diet plan this month, not so much to lose weight (although with an upcoming wedding, that would be a plus), but to discover what foods might trigger some health issues I’ve had. The book/diet I’m following (The Plan: Eliminate the Surprising “Healthy” Foods That Are Making You Fat–and Lose Weight Fast is one I dabbled in before and found some tasty recipes. Thought I’d share a picture of a meal I made last week. Spicy apricot chipotle chicken on a bed of greens, zucchini and onions with orange oil and Manchego cheese, and carrot/beet salad. I have to say with almost every meal, I feel like I’m sitting down to eat at a restaurant! I never cook with such color and presentation on my own.

I also discovered some interesting information on pain – particularly dealing with what I would call tendonitis in my elbow. I discovered that much of the pain can be relieved by massaging the muscles in the arm. And resting the area as much as possible. If you’re interested, here’s one of the sites with more information. I can say that I’ve been working the tight muscles and trigger points and my right elbow is much improved. So perhaps there is something to this theory.

Hubby just told me there are some new hints on the upcoming season of Downton Abbey! He gave me the link. Enjoy!

Next month there will be some big specials (one-day only) for a few of my books. If you want to keep up on such news, please sign up for my newsletter. I’ve got the newsletters for the specials ready to go on the appropriate sale dates, and hope to post on Facebook and Twitter, but I might not get them posted here as we have some upcoming vacation and edits on Rahab waiting in the wings.

Until next time…enjoy your summer!

by jill at 2:48 pm in

The Proper Response to Miracles

July 19, 2014

Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent.

Korazim Ruins 9 (WinCE)

What word stands out to you when you read this verse?

For me, it was that last phrase–”because they did not repent.” What should have caused the people in these towns to repent? Normally, we would think it would be His teaching, but here it links repentance to His miracles.

Jesus denounced the cities where he had performed some pretty might deeds because they did not see the purpose behind the miracles. Previously, He’d told John the Baptist’s disciples to tell John, “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” Those are some pretty amazing feats. Even today we are not able to heal in such a way as Jesus did. And we certainly can’t raise the dead.

Korazim Ruins 6But the people in those towns didn’t respond to those miracles the way they should have. Jesus didn’t just come to heal their diseases. The healing had a reason. Often times Jesus would heal someone and then tell them NOT to spread the news around. Sometimes He would tell them to go show themselves to the priests, in keeping with the Law. I always thought He just didn’t want more crowds or to start an uproar among the people because of the miracles. But after reading this verse, I wonder.

Perhaps the reason Jesus warned people not to spread the news of His miracles is because that wasn’t the reaction the miracles were supposed to invoke. The miracles were supposed to show people His power, to show them the Father, to give them reason to believe He was their Messiah. So why did He denounce these cities because they didn’t repent?

Because if you look back at the Old Testament, when people encountered God, they feared they would die. They fell on their knees and repented in dust and ashes. To glimpse God was terrifying and awe-inducing. The miracles performed in Egypt brought terror to the Egyptians. It should have done the same for the Israelites, but so often they grumbled and complained about the desert conditions or lack of their favorite foods. They missed the glory of what God did to bring them out of slavery. And a whole generation died in the wilderness because they missed the purpose of the miracles. They needed repentance too. It is the message Jesus preached everywhere He went. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Korazim Synagogue 6 (WinCE)It is the message the prophets of old preached to Israel at various times in their history. And it is still a relevant message for us today.

In Matthew 11, where that verse caught my attention, Jesus did not stop there. His rebuke went on to say:

“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

Korazim Ruins 14Sodom was a pretty wicked city, and not just for sexual reasons. The Bible describes her as “arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.”

And yet Jesus condemned Capernaum, his hometown, as in worse condition than Sodom.

When we visited Israel in 2008, our guide took us to Chorazin (Korazim). The pictures I’ve posted here are from the ruins of that town. From what I recall of our guide’s comments, the place has never been rebuilt. I think the same is true for Bethsaida and Capernaum, but don’t quote me on that.

The truth is, when Jesus cursed a city, a building, a fig tree, there was no stopping that curse. It didn’t always happen right away. By God’s great mercy, He still waits for people to repent. But after months, years of preaching, doing miracle after miracle until the crowds wanted to crown Him king, (yet for all the wrong reasons), He let them follow the path of their choosing.

Korazim Ruins 18He won’t force us to follow Him.

Jesus preached repentance, (and still does through His people), but He doesn’t force us to obey His words. He wants us to come to Him by faith, recognizing who He is, and who we are by comparison.

Those cities loved the miracles. (Who wouldn’t?) But they didn’t get the reason behind them. They didn’t see that God had come to live among them. And when we are in the presence of God, we should have a sense of His power, kneel in awe, recognize that His is worthy of our worship, our obedience.

The fate of those cities is a sobering lesson, meant to teach us not to skip the meaning behind their downfall.

Selah~

by jill at 12:08 pm in ,

Go and learn what this means…

July 16, 2014

Mt. of Beautitudes 2Imagine how the Pharisees, the most learned men regarding the Scriptures of their day, felt when Jesus told them to “Go and learn what this means…” The setting was a meal. Jesus had just called Matthew, a tax collector to follow Him, and he did. Then Jesus went to Matthew’s house to eat and Matthew invited his tax collector friends to join them.

I’m not exactly sure how uninvited guests (the Pharisees) could walk by someone’s house back then, see them dining with company, and just walk in and start asking questions, but that is what they apparently did. They didn’t question Jesus himself. They went to His disciples, wondering why their master ate with “publicans and sinners”.

I wonder if they expected Jesus to be the one to answer that question. But Jesus heard and answered. It was His answer that made me pause as I was reading the account today.

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:12-13)

Korazim Synagogue Moses' SeatThe part in bold was a quote from Hosea 6:6, a verse with which the Pharisees would have been familiar. And yet, Jesus told them to “Go and learn what this means…” They may have known the verse, might have even memorized it and could read the whole passage with flourish in their synagogues, but they missed the meaning.

I wonder how often I miss the meaning of what God wants to teach me.

Earlier in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus said, ““Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

In other words, they knew how to sacrifice, how to do the good works they thought God required. As a woman once said to me, “After all I’ve done for Him, He better let me in.” As if heaven was something deserved or earned.

The Pharisees knew all about sacrifices. And yet Jesus told them, “Go and learn what this means…I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” Hosea translates mercy “steadfast love”. Love and mercy show themselves in works – doing for other people as we would have them do for us. Maybe we would like people to prophesy over us, cast a demon out of someone we love, or do mighty, powerful works in Jesus’ name. And Jesus isn’t saying those are bad things.

He’s pointing out that all the sacrifices and works in the world don’t matter if the heart isn’t right. To do God’s will is to know the One He sent to earth, His Son. The Pharisees should have recognized Him by the miracles, by the prophesies He fulfilled, but they were caught up in all the works, the sacrifices, the lengthy prayers in the marketplace, the tithe they were so careful to get right. They knew how to do the right things, but for all the wrong reasons. Just like the people Jesus talked about earlier when He said not everyone who calls Him Lord, knows Him.

Go and learn what this means…I desire steadfast love…I desire mercy…

Come and know Him. That’s what He wants us to learn.

Selah~

by jill at 11:36 am in ,

Underestimated Power

July 15, 2014

Shores of Sea of Galilee3Have you ever been in the presence of a truly powerful person? Did you recognize their power or did they hold such subtle power that it was nearly invisible?

I’ve met people who think they have power. Men and women who like to control situations or people who they feel are beneath them. But I’ve never physically met a truly powerful person except through the pages of Scripture.

I happened to be reading in Matthew this week and several times a single word here or there has made me pause. Today there were two scenes that grabbed me with that “whoa!” Stop. Think about this a minute. Both had to do with frightening violence.

Violence comes in many forms. We hear a lot about violent weather, violent people, violent ideologies these days. Some accidents are violent and sudden, and there is no reasonable explanation for them other than “accident.”

Other sudden furious storms are acts of nature, or acts of God, totally out of the control of any person on earth no matter how strong, how much power they wield. Hurricanes and tornadoes and tsunamis can wipe out entire towns. Years ago, Pompeii was destroyed by a sudden volcanic eruption.

That’s the kind of setting Matthew 8 gives us. Jesus and his disciples had gotten into a boat and were headed across the Sea of Galilee to the other side when this sudden furious storm nearly overpowered the boat. The disciples, seasoned fishermen, were truly afraid of this storm. They’d spent their lives on this sea and they knew how unpredictable it could be, but I wonder if this storm wasn’t worse than any they had seen because they were certain they were about to drown.

Sea of Galilee boatYet Jesus was asleep through the worst of it. I can barely sleep on a plane let alone a rocky boat! That’s trust. And something far more.

The disciples shook Jesus awake with something like, “Don’t you care if we drown?”

Jesus rebuked their lack of faith and told the winds and waves to be still. Just like that. A few words and the whole storm calmed. I don’t know about you, but I have never been able to tell the wind to die down let alone quit. I don’t have faith enough to move a mountain into the sea. The best I could do is duck low and pray hard.

But Jesus spoke and violence ceased.

If that had been the only example of His power, it would have been enough for me. But the next scene shows them on the other side of the lake. They climb onto the bank and wind up in one of the most dangerous areas in the region. Kind of like going to a gang-controlled area of a city where you are lucky to come out alive. No one passed this area in safety. Why?

Two demon-possessed men blocked the path. They didn’t have guns or knives, in fact, the strongest men of the area had tried to chain them in the tombs, but they just broke the chains. (I’m combining more than one account of the story from the gospels.) Whatever the details, these guys weren’t the type you wanted to mess with. In fact, I would bet most people would walk clear around the town just to avoid this section. “No one could pass that way.”

Jesus didn’t seem to think this a problem because He was headed that very direction. And what do you think happened? The demons were afraid of Jesus. They begged Him not to torment them before the time – apparently very aware that they would be tormented at some point in the future for their evil ways.

What struck me with both accounts was that violence happens. Violent storms of life can happen so suddenly even the bravest among us can grow terrified (like the fishermen). Violent people can make life downright scary (just look at the world – they’re everywhere). And yet…Jesus slept through the storm. And He cast the demons out of the two men, restoring them to wholeness.

That’s power. Every time Jesus healed the sick or oppressed, every time He fed the hungry or raised the dead, He showed power far greater than we could ever imagine. Understated and underestimated. And I think we still look at Jesus today and don’t really see the power He kept under such perfect control.

We see His meekness. We see His submission in allowing evil to triumph over Him with whips and thorns and nails. And even those of us who believe He rose again and defeated death don’t really understand what kind of power that took to do such a thing.

If you’ve ever been to a funeral, ever looked into the face of a beloved relative or friend whose soul has left them, you know that all the prayers in the world will not revive them. Death is beyond our realm. We are powerless against its violence.

Just as we are powerless against every type of violence we face in our world today, be they sudden storms that destroy our homes or men who steal our very lives. But Jesus…

With Jesus at their side, the disciples grew calm. “Who is this that even the winds and waves obey Him?” And we don’t hear a peep from them when faced with those violent demon-possessed men. By then, they’d seen too much perhaps? I think I’d still be in awe of that sudden calm after the storm.

And I think that’s the lesson I’m learning when these kinds of things pop out at me in Scripture. We live in a violent world, and by everything I’m seeing, it’s not getting better. There is much we could fear.

But there is One who has power over the fearsome future. There is One whose simple presence can send demons trembling, whose words can calm storms. Whose command can raise the dead.

His power is underestimated. But His power is also wrapped in unimaginable love.

He is worthy of our trust.

Selah~

 

by jill at 11:59 am in ,

The true meaning of love

July 13, 2014

images-59Not a day goes by that I do not hear of something tragic, devastating, frightening, or evil happening in our world. Daily rockets find their way between Gaza and Israel. Armies from Russia threaten invasion into the Ukraine. A man kills the family of his ex-wife, execution style. A youth opens fire on a school full of little children. Suicide bombers sacrifice their lives to take the lives of strangers. All in the name of…what?

Certainly not love.

Vitriolic hatred spews from the lips of one side against the other. While some pray for peace, others pray for the annihilation of their enemies. Bitterness fills the comments sections of blog posts. Hatred, tyranny, and the love of self rules over kindness, over love.

I was thinking how frustrating it can be to talk to someone whose spirit is so bitter. If we don’t agree with another person’s life choices, that doesn’t mean we have to hate them. Every person has the right to choose how they wish to live. They might choose to believe something different than I do. They may choose to follow a lifestyle that is different than what I consider moral. They may choose a path that does not even come close to similarity to mine. They have that right to choose. God gave us that right of choice when He made us.

By the very nature of choice, that means we aren’t always going to agree. And that’s okay. You don’t have to agree with my beliefs. Your beliefs are between you and God. Disagreement is not hatred. At least it doesn’t have to be.

Unfortunately, too often it turns into just that, to the point of such bitter hatred that we wish ill, or even evil upon another. Wars are fought over such hatred. Kidnappings, murder, torture, unfeeling, uncaring apathy and more, stem from the workings of a bitter heart.

The exact opposite of what it truly means to love.

images-60Jesus came into just such a world as the one we live in now. The ancient Romans had perfected the art of torture, and Jesus suffered untold agony at their hands. But before that moment, and even from the cross where He hung looking down on those who hated Him, He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He taught His disciples, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you…pray for those who persecute you.”

What would happen if instead of cursing, we blessed? Instead of seeking vengeance on those who hate us, we did good to them? Offered a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name? Prayed for those who are seeking to persecute others?

Every religion in the world has had its moments of vengeful conquest over others. In the name of our God who is Love and Just, many have dealt out anger and hate. If vengeance is due to anyone of us, God is the one who will handle it. That is not our job. Hating our neighbor is not our calling. Seeking the ill will or harm of someone who chooses a different path than we do, is not what Jesus commanded of His followers.

He said to make disciples. He said to preach the good news of the kingdom. He said to keep the commandments – the greatest of which is:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

To love God above all else means we will also love others above ourselves. And love does not breed fear. Perfect love casts out fear. Perfect love laid down His life for His friends.

That’s the truest meaning of love.

Shouldn’t we go and do likewise?

Selah~

by jill at 6:20 pm in ,