“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” Mark Twain

Jewish Holiday: Passover

We are, at this very moment, in the middle of one of the better known Jewish holidays - the weeklong celebration of Passover. This year's celebration began Monday night, March 25, and continues through April 2. (Just a note - though Jesus and his disciples celebrated Passover during Holy Week, and this year the holiday does coincide with Easter, this is not always the case)

First, you might want to check out this post about the Hebrew calendar (which is quite different from the one we all follow).  Get it? Good.

Passover, which commemorates the Israelites' departure from Egypt as described in the book of Exodus (Specifically Exodus 5-14), is celebrated for seven days, from the 14th of the Hebrew month of Nisan until the 21st.

The regulations for this holiday are expressed several times in the Old Testament - the first time in Exodus 12:14-20. The main one is that nothing leavened is to be eaten - or even found in the home - during the entire weeklong celebration. Observant Jews will thoroughly clean their homes, attempting to remove every crumb of bread, cracker, cake, etc to follow the commands of Exodus 12:15.
Photo credit

The formal Passover meal is called a Seder (which, in Hebrew, means "order."). Generally, at least with my family as I grew up, there would be two of these each Passover, and they were quite elaborate and structured (the meal isn't called "order" for nothing!). The Seder instructions can be found in a book called a Haggadah ("telling" in Hebrew). Jews considered reading through the Haggadah as a fulfillment of the Lord's command to tell their children what happened during the Exodus from Egypt (Exodus 13:8).

The Four Questions.. in Hebrew

and English (I have NEVER heard it sung in English, FYI - just thought you would want to understand)

Some of the Seder highlights include drinking four cups of wine (or grape juice if you're little :D), the youngest member of the family's recitation of the Four Questions, spilling a bit of said wine ten times - once for each of the ten plagues, opening the door for Elijah, and MUCH singing. There is also, on the table, a cup of wine for Elijah (this is in reference to the Messiah as mentioned in Malachi 4:5), a Seder plate with many symbolic items on it, and a stack of three pieces of matza.

In all honesty, it could easily take me an entire week of posts - long ones - to cover this holiday and all the traditions, symbolism, and such. So, I'm just giving you a few highlights here. Please check out the links I have included for more information - or ask in the comments if something in particular intrigues you. I'd be glad to answer. (There are also MANY messianic implications in this holiday. Amazing stuff)

And, for MORE of your listening pleasure - a favorite song from the end of the Seder, called Chad Gadya (One Little Goat)- click on the title to see the lyrics - in English and Hebrew.

  What about Passover most interested you? Any questions?

Scripture Stories: Timeless Truths

Preparing for Passover - and the Lord

On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?” Matthew 26:17 NIV

Tonight, several of my family members, as well as Jews around the world, will begin the celebration of one of the better-known Jewish holidays - the festival of Passover. This seven day and seven night holiday celebrates the Israelites' exodus from Egypt, described in the OT book of Exodus.

I will be doing a post later this week about the holiday itself, which is rich with tradition, ceremony, and ritual - some directly from the Bible, some not. But as I read through the Exodus account earlier this year, and thought about my Jewish friends and family preparing for this weeklong festival, something new struck me.

photo credit: ohad* via photopin cc
The holiday of Passover is all about preparation - and it has been since the very first one. From God's command to Moses for the Israelites to choose a lamb a good four days ahead of time to slaughter and mark their doors with (Exodus 12:3-7), to the disciples' preparation of the upper room for the Last Supper (which was, of course, a Passover meal - Matthew 26:17-19), to some observant Jews who spend a week or more cleaning their home beforehand, removing every bit of leaven of any kind from the premises (Exodus 12:15), preparing for this time is crucial to celebrating.

And shouldn't this be the case for everything - but especially anything related to the Lord? If the Israelites hadn't slaughtered the lamb, they not only would have not been taken from Egypt, their firstborn would have died. If my Jewish relatives do not remove the leaven from their homes beforehand, they will be disobeying the Lord - and could inadvertently eat something forbidden during Passover week.

And, if we don't prepare our hearts and minds for our meetings with the Lord - whether they be time in His Word, prayer, a church service, or Easter Sunday - how can we expect to bless or be blessed? Preparation is key to our relationship with Him.

Passover begins tonight - and Easter in less than a week. Have YOU prepared?


 We're discussing this here, and at Living by Grace on Facebook. Won't you join us?

Scripture Stories: Timeless Truths

How Wide is Your Path?

Come join me at Jewels of Encouragement today, where I'm talking about the path the Lord is putting us on. Sometimes it feels like a thin line - but He promises to help us. Are you on a Tightrope or a 2x4?

Scripture Stories: Timeless Truths

For Your Own Good

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good? Deuteronomy 10:12-13 NIV

 I will often say that my favorite book of the Bible is whichever one I happen to be reading. There is so much richness in God's Word that I find blessings and a message I need in every book.

So, when I tell you how much I am loving my current trek through Deuteronomy, and how it very well could be my favorite book of the Old Testament, you might want to consider my track record. But even if it isn't my favorite next week, the amazing verses, and message from the Father, continue to bless.

His Words never return void. His instruction is always best. His commands are for our own good.

Yet sometimes I don't believe it.

There are moments in by Bible reading (more often, it seems, in the Pentateuch) when I come across a  rule or commandment that seems completely arbitrary.
  • Why are we not to boil a goat in its mother's milk? (Exodus 36:24b)
  • What is wrong with weaving clothing of two different types of material? (Leviticus 19:19b)
  • Why were the Israelites to wear tassels on their garments? (Numbers 15:38)
I don't know the answers to these questions - and many others. And even if these particular rules were for those before the Cross only (as many argue) - it doesn't make the asking any less important or relevant. Why?

When my kids were babies, I did several things to them that, in their opinion (if they had been mature enough to HAVE opinions, of course), were likely arbitrary - or even nasty.
  • I  took them to the doctor - and let strangers poke them with needles multiple times.
  • I forced them to stay in a cage (aka crib) for hours against their will.
  • I (gasp) wiped their noses.
  • I wouldn't allow them to crawl across the street to get that cool ball that rolled away.
By their understanding, I was guilty of cruel and unusual punishment - at the minimum. They could not comprehend my adult understanding of these decisions. To them, I was mean, maybe selfish, and almost definitely exasperating. But I knew their frustrations - and mine - would be worth it in the end, because I was doing these things for their own good.

Sometimes, I wonder the very same things about some of God's instruction as my kids probably did (and likely sometimes still do!) about mne. Why this trial, God? Why must I be without ___? I don't see any possible way this will benefit anyone.

But I do not have the mind of God. I cannot see how these rules or circumstances help me - or anyone else. But just because I do not see it doesn't mean it isn't true. In fact - it most definitely IS true. Because God never does anything arbitrarily - and all things WILL work out for good (Romans 8:28).

Even if I can't see it, I can trust that it is so. Because He loves me, and will never leave or forsake me.
We're discussing this here, and at Living by Grace on Facebook. Won't you join us?

Scripture Stories: Timeless Truths

Graphics courtesy of Christians Unite

The Fight

The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still. Exodus 14:14 NIV 

 Are you fighting needlessly? Perhaps. Check out my Internet Cafe post today.

Scripture Stories: Timeless Truths

Introducing Balak: Trying to Manipulate The Lord

When I was pondering my next Bible character biography, one particular story wouldn't leave my mind. It can be found in Numbers 22-24: the story of Balaam and Balak. And there's more than one interesting prospect in those three chapters.

Balaam is perhaps the obvious choice, but a lot has been written on him. And, to be honest, I even considered (albeit briefly) the donkey. But, for this readthrough anyway, the character who grabbed me was Balak.

Balak, son of Zippor, was a Moabite king whose story is told in the three chapters in Numbers mentioned above. He is also mentioned in Joshua 24:9, Judges 11:25, Micah 6:5, and Revelation 2:14.

Balak and his people, the Moabites, were frightened of the Israelites, who had just set up camp on their plains. (Numbers 22:1)
Now Balak son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites,and Moab was terrified because there were so many people. Indeed, Moab was filled with dread because of the Israelites....So Balak son of Zippor, who was king of Moab at that time, sent messengers to summon Balaam son of Beor, who was at Pethor, near the Euphrates River, in his native land. Numbers 22:2-5
And the message he sent? Curse the Israelites so that he, and the Moabites, would have a fighting chance against them.

Balaam refused a number of times, until he finally agreed to at least meet Balak (the donkey thing is in the story at this point - always makes me laugh!).

So, the men prepared seven altars, and offered a bull and a ram on each. Balaam promises to tell Balak exactly what God tells him - but makes no promises as to the content. And, of course, Balak is disappointed when, instead of cursing these people, Balaam blesses them.
 Balak said to Balaam, “What have you done to me? I brought you to curse my enemies, but you have done nothing but bless them!”
He answered, “Must I not speak what the Lord puts in my mouth?” Numbers 23:11-12
But, apparently, Balak didn't quite get the message. Maybe it wasn't the people who deserved the blessing. Maybe, he thought, it was God's point of view. So, Balak asked the prophet to  move to another location - not just once, but twice. "Perhaps," Balak said. "it will please God to let you curse them for me from there." (Numbers 23:27)

But it never was. Each time - and a few times after that,  Balaam blessed Balak's enemies instead of cursing them.

Seems silly, doesn't it? Why, we ask, would this man think that looking at people from different perspectives might garner a different reaction from the Lord?

But don't we do the same thing? We ask God for something, and we sense his answer. But we don't like it - so we ask again, another way. He closes a door for us, and we try to pry it open with our own power. He tells us to go, but we ask Him if we can do something else.

Balak did eventually stop asking. He accepted that he couldn't manipulate the God of the Hebrews.

Have you?

Do you attempt to manipulate the Lord to do what you want? Do you need to give up your Balak-like tendencies? I do :)

Scripture Stories: Timeless Truths

My News (In Case You Didn't Hear... :)

Excuse me if this is a repeat for some of you (cuz I posted this all over Facebook and Twitter, and on the FaithWriters boards, and in an email), but I just HAVE TO make sure everybody knows my EXCITING news.

Many of you know I've been working on my  nonfiction book about God's work in our family for several years - and that I submitted it to the One Hope Nonfiction Contest at Write Integrity Press.

Well, yesterday, they announced that I WON THE CONTEST!

I still have some work to do on the manuscript, but, God willing, it looks like my book is gonna be PUBLISHED!

I'm totally twitterpated (LOVE that word - that has nothing to do with Twitter LOL), and amazingly thankful for all of YOU, my blog readers/friends/encouragers/rear kickers/cheerleaders. I never could have gotten this far without you. (and I'm not gonna make it to the end without ya either - so don't stop now! ;))

Okay - now to get BACK TO WORK :)

Scripture Stories: Timeless Truths

What Asking Can Do

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. Matthew 7:7

He was from the tribe of Manasseh, and he had himself a quiver full of children. Five of them, to be exact. He was redeemed from Egypt and, just like almost everyone else who left there, he died before the Israelites crossed into the Promised Land. And, just like nearly everybody else, he had the promise of passing down his allotment of land to his progeny.

But for HIS children, it was a little more complicated. You see, they lived in a patriarchal society, and these kids weren’t…well…patriarchs. Zelophehad’s five children were all daughters. And according to their society, land was passed on to sons. So, as far as they could see, Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah were out of luck. Their father’s legacy—the promise of his ancestral lands in the Land of Promise—died with him.
Not them, of course - Photo credit

But these women were not ready to let that happen. They decided to approach the leadership about it.

I can’t imagine that this sort of thing happened very often, even less so with women. But they were willing to step out in faith before Moses and the elders for the sake of their father’s name.
They approached the entrance to the Tent of Meeting and stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the leaders and the whole assembly, and said, "Our father died in the desert. He was not among Korah's followers, who banded together against the LORD, but he died for his own sin and left no sons. Why should our father's name disappear from his clan because he had no son? Give us property among our father's relatives." Numbers 27:1b-4
If I had been one of those women, I probably wouldn’t have done a thing. Afraid of confrontation, I would have just melted into the background and let things be the way they were. Women don’t get land, I’d be thinking. No big deal.

And I would have been rewarded with exactly what I asked for: nothing.

But these women knew in their heart that the land should be theirs. And they approached with their petition, and it was heard.
So Moses brought their case before the LORD and the LORD said to him, "What Zelophehad's daughters are saying is right. You must certainly give them property as an inheritance among their father's relatives and turn their father's inheritance over to them. "Say to the Israelites, 'If a man dies and leaves no son, turn his inheritance over to his daughter. If he has no daughter, give his inheritance to his brothers. If he has no brothers, give his inheritance to his father's brothers. If his father had no brothers, give his inheritance to the nearest relative in his clan, that he may possess it. This is to be a legal requirement for the Israelites, as the LORD commanded Moses.' " Numbers 27:5-11
So these women stepping forward in faith changed not only their own lives, but that of many others. This request made it into the Law, and was an ordinance for the Israelites for all time.

Do you ask like Zelophehad’s daughters? Or do you act like I do, and avoid confrontation? Have you ever wondered what blessings you are missing because you neglect to come boldly before Him?

There are some requests that the Lord will only grant if we ask. Yet, sometimes we are too afraid, embarrassed, or proud to make that request.

And those five daughters were not disappointed that they approached Moses. Their father’s land WAS distributed to them once they arrived in the Promised Land.
Now Zelophehad son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Makir, the son of Manasseh, had no sons but only daughters, whose names were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah. They went to Eleazar the priest, Joshua son of Nun, and the leaders and said, "The LORD commanded Moses to give us an inheritance among our brothers." So Joshua gave them an inheritance along with the brothers of their father, according to the LORD's command. Joshua 17:3-4
And you won’t be disappointed either.

Heavenly Father, Help us to approach You boldly with our requests, no matter how daunting it may seem. We so want to have what You have to give us, Lord. Give us the wisdom to ask in Your will, and give us trust and faith that You will fulfill it, no matter how long we may need to wait. In Jesus’ name I ask this. Amen
We're discussing this here, and at Living by Grace on Facebook. Won't you join us? 
Scripture Stories: Timeless Truths

Some Constants in Ever-Changing March

They say if you don't like the weather in Michigan, just wait five minutes, because it will change. In March this is even more likely. There's a ninety-five degree difference between the record high and record low in Grand Rapids this month.

The Barn Door
But some things don't change in March - including some of my favorite foods, which show up this month. Be sure to stop by the Barn Door and see what they are - and why I consider March one of the sweetest months of the year - no matter the weather.

Scripture Stories: Timeless Truths

Introducing Miriam: Just Like Us

As I come closer to the end of the Pentateuch in my chronological Bible reading for 2013(I'll be done with Deuteronomy in about two weeks), some of my favorite characters are beginning to disappear off the pages. One of them (who, in my Bible reading anyway, died earlier this week) is a very real person to me. She had her highlights and her lowlights. Very human. And aren't those the characters we can relate to best?

Miriam, older sister of Moses and Aaron, first appears in God's Word (unnamed at this point) in the second chapter of Exodus, and appears throughout the action of the Pentateuch until her death in Numbers 20:1, just before the Israelites entered the Promised Land (and only a handful of verses before her brother Aaron - Numbers 20:28).

Miriam is likely most well-known for her role in her brother Moses's "adoption" by an Egyptian princess and his return to their mother Jochebed (see my Bible character biography of Jochebed for more thoughts on that), at least for a time. It was Miriam who stood watch over her brother's papyrus basket. It was she who approached the Egyptian princess and offered to get a wet nurse for her brother. It was Miriam who reunited her mother with Moses and allowed her to nurse and raise him despite the pharaoh's edict.

But that isn't her only appearance in the narrative. Miriam also led the Israelite women in a song of deliverance after the Red Sea crossing (Exodus 15:20-21). She was the first named prophetess in the Bible (also in those same verses).

But she was not perfect - just like you and me. In Numbers 12, she and Aaron began to speak against Moses. Apparently, they complained about his Cushite wife and felt a bit jealous for all the attention and recognition their younger brother was getting.  And the Lord heard them (Numbers 12:2) and disciplined them for it.

God chastised them for speaking against His friend Moses (Numbers 12:6-9), and once He left, Miriam had been given leprosy. It was only through Aaron and Moses's pleas that she was healed.

Some characters in the Bible seem larger than life - almost too perfect. I can't always relate to those characters. Miriam is NOT one of them. She had her good days and her bad. She saved her brother, celebrated with her people, and gave in to good old-fashioned sibling rivalry.

Just Like Us.

Do you feel like you need to be perfect? How can Miriam help you remember it's okay to make mistakes?

Scripture Stories: Timeless Truths

The Complaint Department

So Moses said to the Lord, "Why have You afflicted Your servant? And why have I not found favor in Your sight, that You have laid the burden of all these people on me?" Numbers 11:11

"The complaint department is on the fourth floor, opposite the credit department." My dad, when he was tired of listening to us kvetch.

Do everything without grumbling or arguing. Philippians 2:14

 As I read through the Bible chronologically this year, I'm seeing things I didn't notice the last time through. And one that has stuck out to me, especially the last couple days, is how much complaining the Israelites did - especially in the last few chapters I've read (Numbers 11-14). And it came at what seems to be the most unlikely time.

Just before this, they'd spent close to a year at Mount Sinai, learning more and more about the Lord and His plan for them. And now, after what likely felt like a VERY long wait, they had broken camp, left Sinai, and were headed for the Promised Land.
First, the people were tired of manna, so they complained. And the Lord gave them quail - more than they could handle.

Next, it was Aaron and Miriam, kvetching that Moses was getting all the attention. And the Lord gave Miriam leprosy - then took it away at Moses' bidding.

And just after that? The twelve spies checked out the land God promised them - and ten of them whined and complained about those they needed to conquer to get the land. The result? Forty years of wandering in the desert.

And it all comes from lack of gratitude. The Israelites had been freed from slavery, saved from their captors, given God's Word, been selected as the Lord's chosen people, and many, many other things too numerous to mention. And instead of looking at what they had - they focused on what they didn't.

I don't know about you, but I can relate. Big time. Especially over the past few weeks. My blessings abound, but still I complain. I have so very much, yet all I can think about is what I lack. It's downright shameful.

Thank You, Lord, for showing me how much my heart imitates the children of Israel - those folks I shake my head at, and ask how they could possibly complain among their blessings. How indeed?

Count your blessings, not your deprivations. Quit your complaining, and remember all you have to be thankful for.
We're discussing this here, and at Living by Grace on Facebook. Won't you join us?

Scripture Stories: Timeless Truths

New Up The Road - a Goals/Progress Update

NO way have two months already gone by in 2013.

And, I'm pleased to say, they have been QUITE productive ones - and full of excitement! First - just a bit of fun news to share.

Lord willing, I'm going to a "big-time" Christian writing conference this year! A couple dear online writing friends have made it financially possible for me to attend the writing conference of my choice - and I have chosen the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference, held outside Asheville, North Carolina Sunday, May 19-Thursday, May 23. The lineup looks WONDERFUL, the center looks amazing and RELAXING, and I can't wait.

And since I'm going, I need to get my writing into gear - cuz the more I have done BEFORE I leave, the more, I think, I can benefit.

SOO - back to the main topic. How did I do on my goals this month? Well, let's see.

Here they are, straight from last month's goals/progress post:
  • Post, on topic, two to three times a week on my blog (with at least 2/3 of it fresh content) - this does NOT include "teaser" posts to other places I blog.
  • Finish steps seven (character charts), eight (list of all the scenes I'll need), and nine (narrative description of the story) of Snowflake for Handmaiden to a Princess.
  • Be finished with lecture seven of Margie Lawson's lecture packet Defeat Self-Defeating Behaviors, and started lecture eight.
Well, not including "teaser" posts, I posted eight times on my blog last month, though one of the posts (my goals/progress) was off-topic. So I didn't QUITE make that goal, but it's okay. VERY close! And only one of those posts wasn't fresh content.

I can give a loud, excited, nervous YES to my second goal. I JUST finished step nine of snowflake yesterday morning - and all that's left is the rough draft. WOW.

And for the Margie class? The folks I'm working with needed to skip a week because of life stuff, so we're a lesson behind. But still on track!

So, I'm generally pleased with how the month went. And I'm officially getting ready for conference (which means SERIOUS writing!). So...it's March goals time!
  • Post, on topic, at least twice a week to my blog (with 2/3 of it fresh content) - this does not count teaser posts to other blogs I post to.
  • Write a minimum of 40,000 words in Handmaiden to a Princess
  • Be done with ALL the lectures in Margie Lawson's Defeat Self-Defeating Behaviors.
  • Try to at least read the emails/lessons  in Ane Mulligan's free ACFW Course on Motivation, Goal, and Conflict.
 So, there you go. I'm going to need to buckle down, but, with some motivation and God's help, I'm sure I can do it. Thanks for cheering me on!

How are you doing with your goals?

Scripture Stories: Timeless Truths

My One Word: 2016 and 2017

Most who know me know I am a very goal-oriented person (in fact, I already shared my goal wrap-up for 2016 and my new ones for 2017 on this...