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Stay thirsty, my friends!

Last spring I became more intentional about my drinking. We’ve all heard that we should drink lots of water each day, but what if we’re not thirsty? I finally took to heart the good reasons to hydrate, thirteen of which are listed in this article. Here’s how I did it. Each morning, I filled a pitcher with cold water, added some fruit and a sprig of parsley or a basil leaf, and set the pitcher on my kitchen counter for the day. No matter what else I drank during the day, my goal was to empty the pitcher.

 

During the summer, the infused water was welcome refreshment and my pitcher emptied easily. Now, with colder temperatures and less outdoor activity, I’ve continued with my good health habit (I really do feel better), but find the water a bit less appealing. I might prefer a hot chocolate, tea, or coffee in the afternoon, but choose the better option.

In last week’s post, I shared two things that I’ve chosen to prioritize during the December days leading up to  Christmas. One was to seek and to serve Jesus Christ who for me is the reason for the season. I’m seeking Him by continuing my daily morning habit of reading from the Bible and also reading a free downloadable Advent devotional from John Piper. Throughout the days, I’m trying to be intentional about noticing God’s answers to my prayers and ways in which I can serve Him by blessings others. These practices refresh my soul.

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At times, I get distracted by the “shiny things” of the season. When that happens, I end up feeling thirsty. My thirst might manifest itself in the form of impatience, grumpiness, or discontent. I could say with the ancient writer of Psalm 42, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”

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Jesus spoke of living water, saying to the people of his day, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” The account in the gospel of John goes on to explain what “living water” Jesus spoke of.  He meant the Holy Spirit that came to believers after Jesus returned to the Father in heaven (John 7:37-39). Jesus knew what it felt like to be physically thirsty. After walking through the dry land of Samaria one day, he stopped at a well and asked a woman there for a drink. John’s account of the story doesn’t say that she drew the water for him, but I envision him with a cup in his hand when he says to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13,14)

Yes, our bodies need lots of water to function well. But, our souls also need life-giving water. If this season of celebration finds you with plenty of food, drink, and shiny things, and yet you still feel unsatisfied, maybe you’re thirsty for the the gift of God (John 4:10). Will you seek Jesus Christ with me? You might begin by reading the story of his life from the gospel of Luke, which includes the familiar telling of Jesus’s birth – the Christmas story.

My title “Stay thirsty, my friends!” may remind you of an advertising campaign featuring the most interesting man in the world. Who could be more interesting than the Son of God, sent from Heaven to Earth as a baby boy to seek and to save what was lost? His mission seemed to have failed as he suffered a criminal’s death on a Roman cross. Interestingly, that is exactly how it was accomplished! And the One who was resurrected after three days in the grave is the One who offers water that wells up to eternal life.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Matthew 5:6 (words of Jesus)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Christmas Comes Early

Last week I expressed my desire to fully enjoy November before plunging into Christmas festivities, while acknowledging that many are already partaking in decorating and seasonal music. Well…things have changed a bit. The beautiful fall leaves have been falling. Santa arrived at our mall (presumably so families can have photos taken for Christmas cards). And, I have attended a Christmas production complete with a performance of The Christmas Song.

Let me explain. While I was a senior at Upper Sandusky High School, my government teacher used a few class hours to show us the 1946 movie It’s A Wonderful Life starring Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey. Mr. Baker told us that while the movie didn’t have anything to do with government, it had everything to do with life. The heartwarming story made an emotional impact on me (and explained why older students had spoken of a swimming pool under the gym floor). It’s a Wonderful Life has remained my favorite movie through the decades.

As the second weekend of November approached, I noticed a promotion in our newspaper for a college production of Merry Christmas, George Bailey. My husband read the story of how the students were to present a live radio performance of the adaptation of It’s a Wonderful Life and agreed that it would be worth our time to see it. Was it ever! The young adults did an excellent job of voice acting the various characters and creating old fashioned sound effects with such things as a box of corn starch and a carousel of playing cards. Students took turns playing the piano, adding a live soundtrack. The program was a joy to watch and did justice to the movie that I’ve loved for so long.

Franciscan University is located in Steubenville, Ohio. Tickets are $4.

I won’t assume that everyone has seen It’s a Wonderful Life, or that you know where the movie originated (I didn’t). Movie director Frank Capra based the production on Philip Van Doren Stern’s short story, The Greatest Gift. The story and movie give us glimpses into the life of a man who dreams of accomplishing large things in glamorous places, but is consigned to remain in his hometown running his father’s Savings and Loan. The villain is a rich, selfish man who seeks to run the S&L out of business and own the town. At his lowest point, George Bailey (the dreamer) believes that he is worth more dead than alive and considers suicide. I’ll save a little something for those who haven’t seen the movie and just say that an angel* jumps into George’s life and works to convince him that life is the greatest gift, and that George’s humble life has been very successful. In fact, many lives had been saved or positively affected by George’s self-sacrificing actions. Cue the happy ending – and more Christmas music.

Christmas sneaked in a little early again last evening. As Dave and I watched our local news report, a story was told of Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes being given early to 250 kids who lost their homes and school two months ago during Hurricane Irma. The joyful sounds and smiles of the kids opening the boxes were amazing. You can see pictures here. And then the story got better. The boxes were packed and provided by a church in Texas where Hurricane Harvey had destroyed the pastor’s home. Noting that Pastor Mark Brumbelow and his wife are experiencing their own difficulty, the interviewer asked him about the ambitious Shoebox project. He told her that “You feel better when you help someone else.” He has discovered that it’s a wonderful life when you give.

Perhaps you have an opportunity this week to pack an OCC Shoebox. We did. I rounded up school supplies, hygiene items and books. My husband got involved by deflating a soccer ball and fitting it and a pump into each box. If you’d like to give a box, but can’t get out to shop, you can pack and pay for a box online.

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*Clarence (Angel Second Class) is an entertaining character in It’s a Wonderful Life who wears funny clothes because he’s behind the times, having died many years earlier. He accepts his assignment from Heaven to help George in his distress and succeeds in showing George the value of his life. I, for one, am grateful to God that He does send his angels as ministering spirits to believers in Jesus. (Hebrews 1:14) I remember thinking early in life that people become angels after they die and go to Heaven. However, the Bible makes it clear that angels are separate creations than humans. Luke 20:36 says that in some ways, we will be like the angels, but elsewhere we are taught that our bodies will be raised and glorified to be like the imperishable body of Jesus. You can read more about this at https://www.gotquestions.org/become-angels.html.

I’m even more grateful to God for His Son who dived into the sinful world as a baby to show us an incomprehensible love by dying in our place and reconciling us to our Father God. That truth makes my life worth living and secures the greatest gift, eternal life with God.

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2 Books That Clarify The Bible

Have you ever felt intimidated by the Bible – by its length, its language, its antiquity, its message? I sure have! The Bible is not a simple book. It is not quickly read or easily understood.

I was very young when I first heard stories from the Bible. They had happy endings where the good guys win with the help of God (David and Goliath, Gideon and the Midianites, Joshua and the battle of Jericho). I learned songs like “Jesus Loves Me. This I know for the Bible tells me so.” and The B-I-B-L-E. Yes, that’s the book for me. I stand alone on the Word of God The B-I-B-L-E.” When I got older and started reading Scripture myself, I found it pretty daunting. I would resolve to start on the first page of Genesis and read it every day. Genesis and Exodus held my attention if I got through the genealogies and the description of the Tabernacle, but I would never make it through Leviticus – too weird and seemingly irrelevant.

Even though I have now loved and studied the Bible for decades, I sometimes pick it up and sigh as I consider how lengthy it is and how little I really know about it. During the past fifteen years, I’ve had the opportunity to not only be in Bible study classes, but to lead other women into the Bible’s many pages and topics.

Two years ago, I found Max Anders’ book, 30 Days to Understanding The Bible.

30 Days to Understanding the Bible - By: Max Anders Anders admits that he used to be frustrated with the Bible, seeing it as “a series of unrelated stories put together in random order.” In his desire to understand it, he divided the sixty-six books of the Bible into kinds and placed them on a timeline. He then divided the history/story-line contained in the Bible into twelve eras. A key figure and relevant location were attached to each era (Creation-Adam-Eden). Once the twelve eras are covered, the book addresses the main doctrines of the Bible. This blogger is particularly impressed that Anders was able to include a 1000 Word Summary of the Bible in the Appendices!

I was so excited about what I learned from 30 Days to Understanding The Bible that I led a group of women through what Anders calls the Arc of Bible History and will repeat the nine-week class this fall. Women who are near East Richland Evangelical Friends Church, St. Clairsville, Ohio are welcome to join me on Wednesdays at 6 p.m. beginning September 6, 2017. We will come away with a clearer picture of what the Bible is about, how it fits together, and how it relates to us. Since learning Anders’ key to the Bible story-line, I can place events from Scripture into the appropriate era, adding context and understanding. Placing geographical locations on a mental map helps me visualize movement of people through the Middle East and know which bodies of water play into the accounts. The history of God’s people comes to life.

I’m aware that many struggle with Old Testament biblical accounts of massacres and slavery, as well as the lists of quirky laws in Leviticus. The second book I’m recommending is an Ollie’s Bargain Outlet find. Author Paul Copan addresses the ethical questions of the Old Testament in Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God. Copan contends that we should not gloss over the difficult portions of Scripture and he is thorough in addressing the criticisms of skeptics. With an understanding of the cultures of the time periods, he explains common Middle Eastern war language of the day and God’s progression from calling Abraham and later giving his law through Moses to completing his plan of salvation through his son Jesus Christ.

Not unlike Anders, Copan has identified the bigger picture of God’s dealings with people over the course of history. 30 Days to Understanding The Bible provides a chronological framework for putting people, places, and events in order. Is God a Moral Monster? recognizes that creator God has met men and women where they are in each time period to show them how to improve morally, how to be reconciled to himself through Jesus, and ultimately to be part of the coming Kingdom where “no social or racial discrimination will exist; swords will be beaten into plowshares; and Peace will reign.”

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. Psalm 119:105

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Concerning The Shack

By the time I read William Paul Young’s The Shack nearly a decade ago, criticisms had been voiced concerning the content of the novel.  At the same time, some Christians were saying that they loved the book and that everyone should read it.  I was curious.  While I don’t read many novels, I added it to my summer reading list.

As I headed out onto my deck with The Shack, I picked up a notepad and pencil so I could jot down inaccurate representations of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ if I noticed any.  The tale Young told drew me in and I kept turning pages despite the emotional difficulty of the tragic story.  Nearly half of the book sets up the protagonist’s encounter with God.  I was 101 pages in when some statements made by the character representing God started sounding unusual to me.  I suspect, though, that had I not been intentionally attentive to the theology of the book (there is some), I might have read past some Biblical inaccuracy and taken it for creative writing.

The female representation of father God had already been revealed, so I put that aside and continued to document dialogue between Mack and the members of the Trinity that seemed to contradict God’s revelation of himself in the Bible. By page 184, I had noted thirteen suspicious statements.  The most troubling to me related to authority (not God’s intent), God’s punishment of sin (not necessary), and the way(s) to salvation. And then there was the strangeness of Mack’s encounter with the Holy Spirit character, another woman who teaches him about fractals (?) and, if I remember correctly, introduces him to Sophia, a personification of God’s wisdom.

I’m taking some time to think and write about The Shack because a movie version will release later this week.  People are picking up the book again and, I fear, are embracing an attractive, but deceptive picture and description of God and His ways. I checked out what the folks at Got Questions had to say about The Shack. I appreciate the respectful way inquirers’ questions are addressed and the biblical references that are provided with each statement made.  In this case, Young is commended for his good intentions in writing about the love of God, however his confused theology is refuted by Scripture.  I hope you’ll read this Got Questions article if you’re planning to see the movie.

I then dug a little further into what has been said about The Shack and who has been saying it.  I found interesting information on the Lighthouse Trails Research website which links “fractal theory” to New Age teaching.  The researcher describes Young’s writing as “New Age thought and Eastern Mysticism interspersed with some Christian terms”.

My husband read the novel and, as I did to some degree at the time, dismissed it as fiction.  Got Questions makes a good point though, saying, “if you’re going to have God as a character in your fiction, then you must deal with God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture.  By using the Trinity as characters, The Shack is clearly indicating that it’s talking about the God of Christianity.”  Reviewer Tim Challies stated, “Despite the great amount of poor theology, my greatest concern is probably this one:  the book has a quietly subversive quality to it.  Young seems set on undermining orthodox Christianity.”

Our challenge as believers in Jesus Christ is to know what the Bible reveals as truth and to keep alert to the subtle lies that have sought to undermine God’s word since Eve was deceived in the Garden of Eden.  It’s not an easy task, but truth is worth pursuing and defending.  I can only recommend one book that everyone should read – the Bible.

 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,  and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  Ephesians 6:13-17

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