March On!

 

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When they heard the blast of the trumpet, the people gave a great shout, and the wall collapsed.

 Joshua 6:20

The siege of Jericho would have been something to see.

Can’t you just picture it? Armed forces taking the lead followed by the priests with the Ark of the Covenant hoisted onto their shoulders, trumpets blasting as they stepped out with purpose in obedience to the Lord.

The story of the walls tumbling down is made even more fantastic when you consider these were some of the very “walls that reached up to the sky” spoken of in Deuteronomy 1:28. These walls, along with the ‘giants’ who lived within them, brought much fear and discouragement to the Israelites. They had no idea how they would defeat such a strong and seemingly impenetrable fortress. These people of Deuteronomy could not find the faith to trust God and march out with purpose. Instead their feet would be found wandering in the desert working on putting their trust in God.

But here in Joshua, a new generation has appeared. Their trek through the wilderness has produced the desired result. This time, the Israelites marched out in unity and confidently followed the Lord’s instruction. The result: success and complete victory. That’s what following God’s commands produces. You can rely on it.

This story makes me wonder.

If we just had the strength and courage to follow His instructions, what would happen? What obstacles could we overcome? How would the world change, personally and globally, if we trusted God’s ways of grace and obeyed His command of loving our neighbors? [Matthew 22:36-40] If we were united and marched together in God’s plan, then what? Hope would be found, that’s what. The walls of suffering, injustice, and oppression would lie in a heap of smoldering ash. And we, along with the rest of the world, would be changed for the good. We would see that God’s strategies work and only need to be put into practice to bring victory and success.

What keeps us from stepping forward to march out?

Are the walls of despair too high to overcome or the fear of the ‘giants’ too big to overthrow? Trust God’s instruction. Put His love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control into practice. These qualities of God’s character make a lot of noise. In fact, they will shake those negatives of fear, despair and oppression turning them into rubble. Take action and bring some walls down.

The world is waiting.

Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.  For the Lord Most High is awesome, the great King over all the earth [for] the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.

Psalm 47:12 Psalm 33:11

In Need of a Scapegoat?

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So, if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

John 8:36 ESV

Bring in the goats!

Wait. . . What?  Right in the middle of the ‘Schedule of Atonement Sacrifices’ found in the book Leviticus, God has placed a pair of goats.  [See the description stating in Leviticus 16:7 here.]  One was to be sacrificed for the sin of the people while the other’s purpose was to complete the atonement process by symbolically carrying the sin far away.

Can you just picture it? A goat is piled with all their wrong doings. Then, it was forced out into the wilderness never to be seen again. What a great illustration of what happens to our sin when we confess it to God—it disappears.

Just one small problem.

First, we must do the confessing part. All too often we come up with a variety of excuses for why we just can’t do the right thing. We don’t want to go against the flow of popular thinking, too tired, it didn’t seem so bad at the moment, or I just wanted what I wanted (probably the most truthful one of the bunch).

We fall into the game of blaming others or our circumstances, and we place our bad decisions onto them, trying to free our own conscience of guilt. We comfort ourselves saying, “It wasn’t really my fault. If it hadn’t been for. . . I wouldn’t have been forced to . . .”  In reality, our sin is still with us to be repeated over and over because we have convinced ourselves we aren’t really doing anything bad. It’s that other guy’s fault. Even when we think the sin has shifted off us, it never really departs. It lingers and festers, eventually becoming disease to our souls causing us to feel hopeless, worthless and devastated.

This is where we find the true. . .

SCAPEGOAT

God has a plan when it comes to freeing us from sin. When Jesus took on the sin of the world, He not only paid the price with his life, but he also removed it, taking it away ‘into the wilderness’ far from sight. It’s gone.

But how can we get to this place of being free of our sins?  We need to quit blaming other people or things for our bad behavior, and face the facts that WE did wrong and confess it to God. If we own our sin, then we also have the power to release it to the Lord who will then carry it away.

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1 8-9 ESV

There are two synonyms in the English language for scapegoat that caused me to pause. The first,

FALL GUY

This is someone who takes that blame for crimes he had no part in. Jesus certainly fits this definition. What He did was no small thing. When I envision the sign declaring His one ‘crime’—being King of the Jews— nailed to the top of His cross at His crucifixion, I see something different. The sign above His head has been replaced with the list of my sins so numerous a parchment scroll runs down to the ground and away into the distance. His willingness to take the blame for my wrongdoing is not an easy thing to comprehend.

Then, there is the term—

WHIPPING BOY

This one really gets to me. For you who may not know the term whipping boy comes from a practice in the English court during the 15th and 16th century. It assigned a young boy to a monarch’s son to take the punishment when the prince misbehaved. How would you like to have that job? It is a heartbreaking realization that Jesus has taken on that role in my life. As usual, God has done what He always does and has flipped everything upside down to challenge our perspective. Roles have been reversed and the King’s Son has not only taken the blame, He has taken beating for us as well.

When was the last time. . .

you considered the full measure of what God’s plan of atonement means? Have you accepted that you are completely forgiven, or have you held on to bits of your sin because you didn’t really know how to rid yourself of them? God has thought of everything to bring you total deliverance. Whether it is the carrying away, taking the blame, or enduring our punishment, Jesus’ work on the cross has covered it all. Release your sin to the One who can remove it and take it into the wilderness to be seen no more.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

Psalm 103:11-12

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Making Memories

This week has been full of making memories with my girls in Oklahoma.

We have made good use of our short time. There has been some sightseeing, a little shopping, cooking of good food, and talking, talking, talking. It has been so much fun.

Up until just a couple of years ago, my daughters all lived near us. We did a lot of life together. But the need to find work relocated two of them, along with their husbands and our grandchildren. I miss the days when we could just drop by and spend time together. Now we must be intentional with the time we set aside for visiting and make the most of each occasion.

I often wonder why we are not more like this in all our relationships.

I suppose it is because we think we’ll have time to get together as soon as things calm down. Most of us know that a slower life is a joke. The truth is, we will be waiting for a long time for that to happen. And when things actually do get slower, our neglected friendships will be long dead and buried.

This concept applies to the relationship we have with Jesus, too. First, let me say that He will never be neglectful of us. But our lack of being intentional and making the most of our time with Him will hurt our relationship. We cannot make memories with Him, or anybody for that matter, without interaction. As I consider this, yet another childhood song is worming its way into my mind [See Built Up to see me humming another song.]

The more we get together, together, together, the more we get together the happier we’ll be.

There is much truth in those lyrics if we apply them to our relationship with Jesus. Perhaps we should replace happier with more joyful, but either way it all comes out blessed.

As a Bible study leader I often hear, “My life is busy. I don’t have time to do homework.” Fair enough. I get it. I have been there. In fact, some weeks I am still there. There are days, sometimes several in a row, I don’t get to sit down with Jesus and look into His Word. I’m not perfect when it comes to my commitment to study my Bible every day. Busyness is in my life, too. But I want you to notice the underlined phrase above—get to.

It was not always that way.

Had to was more like it. I felt pressured to conform to the idea that a good Christian rises early each and every day to start it off with prayer and Bible reading. Anything less was failure. On considering that sentence, a statement comes to mind— “THAT’S A LIE FROM THE PIT OF HELL!”

[Sorry for yelling. This is one lie that really ticks me off!]

When we fall into that kind of mindset, we find ourselves meeting a task instead of developing a relationship. When the chore isn’t finished, we feel like we’ve failed. The point of prayer and Bible study is getting to know Jesus by spending time with Him. If we miss that, well. . .we miss out on so much. The whole reason Jesus lived and died was to bring us back into a relationship that had been lost, not impose a checklist to be completed.

I sometimes think about what we will take with us from this world into the next.

I believe our memories of relationships will get to come along for the ride. The people we have known and/or have influenced our lives are part of who we are after all. We don’t go anywhere without them. The more we spend time with them often equals greater impact, good or bad. Why, then, wouldn’t we be intentional with the good ones and make time for the thing that lasts an eternity, especially when it comes to Jesus?

 What can you do to be intentional in meeting up with Jesus this week? The time you spend interacting with Him through His words and your prayers will be worth remembering. I’m quite sure that the more you get together the happier, joyful, and blessed you’ll be.


Are you wondering what good things we cooked while we were visiting?

Lots of great stuff, but one thing that usually shows up on the table when we get together is Beef Enchiladas. I learned this easy recipe when the church we attended would sell these enchiladas to raise funds for an outreach to Mexico. We liked them so much we have continued to enjoy them all these years later. They also bring back the memory of doing something pretty special with a group of people who wanted to do good in the world by serving others. Ever since then, I have had an ongoing love affair with serving the people of Mexico. See Hope Under Construction and For Goodness Sake to find out more of what I’m up to and the ministry I serve with there.

Beef Enchiladas

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ pounds lean ground beef
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 large can of red enchilada sauce or 1 recipe of homemade
  • 10 6-inch flour tortillas
  • 1 ½ cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • Sliced black olives
  • Toppings—sour cream, sliced green onions, etc.

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 375°F. Spray 13×9-inch (3-quart) baking dish or pan with cooking spray.
  2. In 10-inch nonstick skillet, cook beef and onions over medium-high heat 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thoroughly cooked; drain. Stir in 1/2 cup of the enchilada sauce to season meat mixture.
  3. Spread additional 1/2 cup of the enchilada sauce evenly in baking dish. Spoon about 1/4 cup beef mixture down center of each tortilla; sprinkle with 1 tablespoon cheese. Wrap tortillas tightly around filling, placing seam side down in baking dish. Top with remaining enchilada sauce. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and sliced olives.
  4. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
  5. ENJOY!

This is an excellent dish to make for a someone who needs a little pick-me-up and a visit from a friend.

Make some memories.

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My daughters, Genevieve and Elena, and I at The Pioneer Woman Mercantile. A very fun day. We even met Lad Drummond.

 

Eaten Alive

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Jonah is a story for our times.

More than the Big Fish Eats Man story we learned as children, this tale has little to do with the fish, but everything with being eaten alive. If you are not familiar with tale of Jonah, you can find this short story here. It’s a quick read but packs a punch when considering today’s current events.

As peek into Jonah’s life, we realize he was being consumed on several fronts. Disobedience, hatred and anger have taken the large bites. But before we are too harsh on this man, perhaps we run a mile in his shoes.

As the story opens,

Jonah has received his next mission. Like many people, Jonah wished the message had gone into his junk mail, and he responded like many of us do with, “I’ll do anything you say, God, but don’t send me to . . .” Fear takes over. Excuses start to rise. Everyone has their own specifics on why they can follow God anywhere but there. Jonah’s? He admits he simply does not agree with what God was doing. His running was a way of showing his disgust with God’s plan. Death rather than compliance with God’s will was preferable to Jonah. He even confronts God saying,

“Oh, LORD, this is just what I thought would happen when I was in my own country. This is what I tried to prevent by attempting to escape to Tarshish! – because I knew that you are gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in mercy, and one who relents concerning threatened judgment.

Jonah 4:2

Jonah is one crazy dude. . .

challenging God about His kindness and compassion. But, this is where we must be careful lest we become like him. Like our friend, we all love the benevolent God, especially when it comes to our own sin or short comings. But then, there are times we want God to show the just part of His character and get on with avenging our enemies. “Take those guys out!” rings from our lips when someone has done us wrong or threatens our security. This ‘giving them a second chance’ You have in mind, God. . .well, let’s not and call it good.

But, that is not how God operates. His good often times does not resemble our idea of good. His good sees the bigger picture, the greatest outcome, the most eternal value. Ours? We tend to get hung up on comfort. Yep, comfort. Sacrifice and suffering are far from our thoughts. We just want peace and quiet as we wile away the hours in blissful contentment basking in the glory of our Lord that our Christian life promises us. Can you hear the birds twittering?

This is the place Jonah may have gone wrong. Commissioned to be God’s voice often has its pit falls, especially when His voice does not line up with our sensibilities. Jonah actually admits at the beginning of the story he is “a Hebrew and he fears the Lord, the God of heaven who created the sea and dry land.”  [Jonah 1:9]

Really?!

What we see here from Jonah is lip service. He says one thing but his actions tell us a different story. He does not fear the Lord. In fact, in the story he does his best to undermine God’s mission. He thinks his way is best. AND he’d rather die than do what God commanded. That’s a bit extreme, don’t ya think?

But, how much do our lives resemble this man Jonah? Do we call ourselves Christians, yet don’t act like Christ? Do we hate what God does not? Do we intentionally choose our way over His? I heard it said recently from a friend many of the atheists she knew were better ‘Christians’ than those who claimed to follow Christ. Ouch! That is a very telling statement. The thing is, the same was true in Jonah’s story.

I don’t want that to be true about my life. I want to be exactly what following Christ means. I want Jesus in my actions and words. I want what He values to be what I value most. I want to live for Him and not die wishing I done more to make a difference.

In the last bit of the story, God gives Jonah a bit of respite from the hot sun. A vine grows up to shade this man’s head, giving him a measure of comfort and causing gladness in Jonah’s heart. But alas, in the morning, a worm comes and eats away the vine and along with it, Jonah’s happiness.

In the end,

Jonah is so consumed with anger his life has become a walking death. I don’t know about you, but that is not my idea of a satisfactory existence. If I am to be eaten alive, may it be by generosity and compassion. God’s mercy towards me shouldn’t stop with me. I need to act it out in my own life. That way, I can demonstrate what loving God and acting in obedience truly looks like. And from there ‘loving my neighbors’ is not a huge leap. The ‘love God, love your neighbor’ combination is a world changer. So, with that in mind, unlike Jonah I’ll be running in God’s direction. Wanna join me?


I came across a cool resource that will further explain the book of Jonah called The Bible Project. Take a trip over to see what they have. Check out the link here.

Don’t Give Up!

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Ethan showed up at just the right time.

The group of adults sat staring at the sandy haired eight-year-old who barged into their meeting. They had just finished praying with their last words being, “Is there a word from God from anyone?” Little did they know it would be Ethan’s job to deliver it. He told the grown-ups he had a story to tell them.

As he took his seat in the circle, he told the group they would first need some background. He was from Ukraine. Not from THE Ukraine as some say. The correct way was just Ukraine according to the people of his country.  Ethan was completely at ease with the people watching him. He went on boldly giving the description of the parks he played at in his city.  Once he finished setting the stage, he launched into his story. He told the grown-ups listening it was about not giving up.

“One day, I went to the park with my mother and sister. I took my Nerf gun with me to play with. I shot the dart into the air, and then ran to the place I knew it had landed. When I got there, I was surprised it was not where I thought it was. I started to look everywhere for it. I asked my mom and sister if they would help me. We looked and looked until the dart was found. That’s my story about not giving up.”

As quickly as he had arrived, Ethan jumped up and ran from the room. He had spotted his dad through the window, but his simple story had impacted the group who needed the message—Don’t give up.

Two points were evident in the small boy’s story.

One—

Don’t quit when you’re faced with the unexpected. Keep going. There will be reward in sticking with it.

And the other—

Ask for help. The people around us are great assets, providing strength when things get tough.

The two together—perseverance and humility— make a formula for success.

But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.

1 Chronicles 15:7

 

 

Hope Under Consruction

We sat on the floor of the newly constructed tiny house eating fried chicken legs. This was the first meal this little home would see. In a collaboration with families from California and a minister in Mexico, a young family would move from their cardboard hut to a house with screens on the windows to keep the flies out and a floor that didn’t turn to mud when it rained. It was an occasion to celebrate, the chicken along with tortillas and fresh salsa—our feast.
The day started early as we pulled up to the dirt lot where the house would be built. In anticipation of the new home that would stand in that location, red geraniums had been planted bring a pop of joy to the otherwise drab landscape.

Once decided where the house would stand, a frenzy of hammering and painting mixed with conversations in broken Spanglish and the laughter that comes with it began. The whole process became the conduit for two cultures to come together. And, as the house went up, so did hope for a better life.

When noontime drew near, more friends and family arrived to witness the ‘house-raising’ and prepare a meal for its workers. The ‘kitchen’ in which the chicken was cooked that day was an open fire in the yard. This was where all the cooking happened for this family, and they were experts in dealing with open flame, creating chicken that was crispy, moist, and delicious. Every bite was savored, leaving nothing but the empty bowl at the end of the meal.

The experience of working side-by-side would change communities both sides of the border. The house, as great a thing as it was, was not the star of the day. Relationships were built with each nail that was hammered. Memories were created, and when looking back, they would be listed as some of the best.

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We have always held to the hope, the belief,the conviction that there is a better life, a better world, beyond the horizon.

Franklin D. Roosevelt


I have included some recipes for your enjoyment just in case you would like to recreate our celebration feast. It was delicious.

Fried Chicken

The fried chicken served on this day was literally just chicken fried in oil over the open flame. No flour dredge. No nothing. But, YES on delicious.

 Not keen on boiling oil over an open fire? ‘Yikes’ is all I have to say!

Simply bake or grill your chicken with a little seasoning for a yummy outcome.

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Pico de Gallo

  •  1 onion, finely chopped
  • 4 ripe plum tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
  • 2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely chopped
  • ½ cup fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped
  • freshly squeezed lime juice to taste
  • salt to taste

Combine ingredients and chill for an hour.

Flour Tortillas

This a new recipe I tried using a food processor and a tortilla press.

  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ cup hot water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  1.  Place all ingredients into food processor. Pulse several times until a soft dough ball is formed.
  2. Remove, cover, and let rest for 20 minutes.
  3. Divide into eight pieces.
  4. Press each piece between parchment paper with tortilla press. Reposition a quarter turn and press again.
  5. Cook over medium heat in lightly oiled skillet about 1 minute each side, or until lightly browned.

Enjoy!

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For more on this great ministry along with videos of house builds and ways you can get involved, see Hands of Mercy website.

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Built Up

 

The pile driver with its steady thump, thump, thump sounded throughout the China Town neighborhood as it drove the huge steel beams deep into the earth. Building was happening on a steep hillside. Bedrock would need to be reached if the structure built above was going to stand on its precarious perch. Even though the beams would never be seen by the people who would live above them, they would provide strength and stability to those who inhabited the apartments. If the earth decided to shake as it quite often does in Southern California, the structure would stand firm thanks to its ‘roots’ beneath the surface.

This first stage of building is an important one. The builders would have to go down before they could be built up. It would make all the difference in the ability of the structure to stand. Without the bedrock supporting its feet, the homes above would find themselves on shaky ground.

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.

Matthew 7:24-25

Jesus points out this wise building practice in Matthew 7, when He speaks of a house built on the rock that can stand up against the stormy winds and waves. Not so, for those who choose to just build on top of the sand He says. That would result in a disastrous outcome, to say the least. Even though Jesus is talking about our spiritual life in the passage, we get the picture. The sweet little Sunday school song about structural integrity sung by children and adults alike, reminds us that the foolish man’s house fell FLAT! Not how most want their lives to go.

And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

Matthew 7:26-27

What’s the key to standing tall in the midst of the storms of life? Hearing the words of Jesus plays a large part in our foundation, but there is more to it than listening. In Matthew 7:24 and then again in verse 26, Jesus points out the fact that both the wise and the foolish have heard the same information. It is only when we put His words into practice that we are wise. Our trust in the words of Jesus is only evidenced in our actions. When we choose to operate according to His words, we secure a firm footing on the Rock. From there our lives can be built up into something that will endure.

So, what words are Jesus talking about? This passage comes at the tail end of what is known as The Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7, a doctrine of sorts for the Jesus follower. His teaching reveals not only things to believe, but more importantly, what to do. He gives guidance on conducting ourselves not just in our actions, but He also includes our minds and hearts, such as— “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” [Matthew 5:28]—or don’t just love your neighbor but “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” [Matthew 5:44]

Jesus takes things to a new level that includes our whole selves—mind, body and spirit— because He is concerned with the source of our actions. He covers many topics such as anger, unfaithfulness, honesty, forgiveness, helping the needy, prayer and fasting, what to value in life, discontentment, and making comparisons. He gets right down to the core of things. He doesn’t want our conduct to be for show. He wants good character to be at the base of it all.

Why is it so important that we build on the values He speaks of in His sermon?

 

The obvious comes in the very beginning of His statements to His listeners. Jesus says in Matthew 5:14,

“You are the light of the world.
A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.”

 

I’m not certain that the hill He speaks of is a rock, but I think we can see the meaning. When we build our lives on Jesus and His standard of living, others can’t help but take notice. Our lives will be a shining example of God’s ways at work, but only if we build our foundation by His specifications. It will anchor us to something strong and unshakable.

It’s much like that apartment building clinging to the side of the hill in China Town. It sits with its feet on the bedrock, rising up to offer shelter for families who live within its walls. It matters what we build our lives on, too. We must firmly affix our feet—our lives—to the Rock, making His words our actions. It is the only thing that will prove our structural integrity as we stand tall with our lives supported by Him.

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