"Amazing Grace: Not just a Hymn at the Israeli Government Press Office's Christian Media Summit" Published: Times of Israel October 29, 2018

Christian media from 140 nations 
     Media professionals representing an estimated reach of 1 billion Christians-from Korea to Indonesia, Kenya to Finland, US to UK and Australia to Philippines-all arrived with a deep interest, a desire to learn more, and unwavering support for Israel. The welcoming warmth expressed by Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, President Reuven Rivlin, and GPO Director Nitzan Chen were evident from the moment they stood at their respective podiums in different venues.
      The summit also included addresses by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Jerusalem’s mayor Nir Barkat, and many leading experts and panelists. Four day-long tour options highlighting Israel’s culture, economy, agriculture, or visit to Judea and Samaria filled the schedule. They planned our days together with excellence and education. I’m a Christian Zionist and have traveled to Israel many times. Each time, I learn more about this small nation and its citizens who teem with vibrancy and celebrate life despite the ever-present shadows of terror. This trip was no exception. Three moments stood out as pictures of the clear-cut friendships between Jewish leaders and their Christian media guests. 
     On our first night, the GPO welcomed us with a Gala feast, music, dance, and remarks from PM Netanyahu and Ambassador Friedman. Nitzan Chen as emcee declared, “We need Christian media because we know that you love us from the bottom of your hearts.” The Prime Minister commented, “You are ambassadors of truth; not merely the greatest ambassadors that Israel has in the world,you’re champions of truth. You're standing up for Israel and we stand up for you.” 
     The first moment happened when the Prime Minister pulled up a chair after his remarks at the Gala and sat down on the stage to listen to Ambassador Friedman’s greetings. It was as if he was saying, “I’m among friends, I can relax.”  
     The second moment occurred at President Rivlin’s residence a few days later after we ate lunch on the lush, beautiful grounds. While we awaited the President’s arrival to speak to us, Nitzan suggested we sing several Jewish songs. He asked author Norma Zager from the Beverly Hills Jewish community to lead out in Jewish songs. Then he looked around asking for Christian songs. I sang professionally in my younger days and found myself popping up to lead our Christian media to sing “Amazing Grace.” It was the first hymn that entered my mind since it's like the national anthem of the world. Nitzan later told me, “It’s the first time a hymn has been sung in the President’s home.” A precious moment indeed!  It’s estimated that this hymn is sung 10 million times a year!
     The third moment also took place at President Rivlin’s residence. Jerry Johnson, CEO of National Religious Broadcasters made inspiring remarks which represented all of us in the room. National Religious Broadcasters (NRB), an American organization, is the largest Christian media organization in the world. Johnson thanked President Rivlin for speaking up for religious minorities in Israel, including Christians and then read NRB’s 2018 Resolution supporting Israel.  President Rivlin had spoken earlier about his 8-generation family of Jerusalemites who first arrived in 1809. Jerry referenced Rivlin’s father’s love of poetry and went on to recite a portion of the poem, “Jerusalem.”  All of us in the room could identify with the poem composed by William Blake.  “Bring me my bow of burning gold; bring me my arrows of desire; bring me my spear; O clouds unfold! Bring me my chariot of fire! We shall not cease from battle strife, nor shall the sword sleep in our hand, ‘til we have built Jerusalem in this fair and pleasant land.” 
     The three moments I described are a far cry from the distrust between our two communities over the centuries. I’ve been directly involved in the pro-Israel Christian movement for almost twenty years and have observed a loosening of caution and a building of trust which has grown exponentially. During the Second Intifada, when tourism tanked amidst the terror, enough Christian groups decided to come to Israel anyway. Anecdotally, I think it meant something to Israelis that we came as friends to stand with friends in a crisis. 
     A few years later in 2005 the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) initiated outreach to the Christian community. As a result, when Christians began attending AIPAC’s annual Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. to help build relationships with members of congress, the Jewish community was surprised to see us. And even a little cautious. When they learned that we cared about bipartisan work with Congress to strengthen the US-Israel relationship, understandable caution grew into many close relationships over the last 13 years. Christians United for Israel came along in 2006 displaying the commitment of its Christian members with its numerous “Nights to Honor Israel” all over America. I often comment when speaking to the Christian community that God has given us a second chance to demonstrate our goodwill and commitment to the Jewish people.

     The synergy that continues to develop between Jews and pro-Israel evangelicals is timely. Increased threats against Israel- born of hatred and intransigence- have given our Christian community opportunities to add actions to our heartfelt prayers. I daresay thousands of large and small organizations, ministries, and individuals are part of a tapestry of help to Israel. We are indeed stronger together. 

      And the hymn “Amazing Grace?” Here’s the historic back story. When slave ship Captain John Newton penned the hymn “Amazing Grace” in 1772, his words in the first line conveyed a powerful message of sorrow and repentance for his heinous wrongs against African peoples. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” When GPO Director Nitzan Chen requested a Christian song from the 180 media professionals gathered at President Rivlin’s home on October 16, the hymn took its place as an emblem of unity symbolizing a Christian community dedicated to reversing history’s horrific anti-Semitism. Blending both Jewish and Christian songs reflected the ripened warmth and strength between the two faith communities. 
     Like John Newton whose life took a transformational turn against evil, God has given the Christian community an opportunity to turn the tide of the past with prayers matched with actions to express our love and commitment to the Jewish homeland and the Jewish community worldwide.

Small Beginnings

President Teddy Roosevelt
   I love history and minored in it when I attended college. In films and books, I enjoy documentaries, biographies, and autobiographies of people who changed the world in a compelling way. I highly regard past and present history as a valuable resource to provide context for current events.  
     Recently I researched a few famous inventors and ran across Italian-born Guglielmo Marconi.(1874-1937) Beginning in the early 1890s, he began experimenting in his attic drawing on previous research from other scientists who had not considered the possibilities of using it to enhance communications. His experiments finally led him to invent wireless technology.
      His first transatlantic transmission gained success 1903. It was former President Teddy Roosevelt (September 14, 1901 – March 4, 1909) who helped Marconi make history when he sent the first transatlantic wireless telegram message from America. Its recipient; Britain’s King Edward VII. 
   Here are the messages:
"In taking advantage of the wonderful triumph of scientific research and ingenuity, which has been achieved in perfecting a system of wireless telegraphy, I extend on behalf of the American People most cordial greetings and good wishes to you and to all the people of the British Empire."  THEODORE ROOSEVELT Wellfleet, Massachusetts Jan. 19, 1903
     Response from England's King Edward VII:Jan.19, 1903  "I thank you most sincerely for the kind message which I have just received from you, through Marconi's trans-Atlantic wireless telegraphy. I sincerely reciprocate in the name of the British Empire the cordial greetings and friendly sentiment expressed by you on behalf of the American nation, I heartily wish you and your country every possible prosperity."  
Marconi with his wireless equipment

Are you struggling with small beginnings?  Here is scriptural advice: Zechariah 4:10  "Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.""It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and threw into his own garden; and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches.”
   Even though he won a Nobel prize in Physics in 1909, Marconi, in his wildest, most brilliant dreams, could not have imagined today’s wireless capabilities. I wonder though how often Marconi felt frustration about his invention in his decade of trial and error? Did he question himself? Lose heart? Consider giving up? Yet, know that he was indeed persistent because he eventually enjoyed a success which was world-changing. 
     What can we draw from this historic moment more one hundred and fifteen years ago? Many of us have either founded businesses, ministries, organizations, or churches. Days and even months and years passed by and we wondered, "Will this work? How do we survive financially? Are we on the right track?" 
     We also face the same questions in our personal lives. Maybe we are dealing with overcoming a circumstance or sin and we are not progressing quickly. Even falling. And often. Maybe we are trying to have consistent Bible study and we are missing weeks in a row. A marriage needs repair and we are frustrated. Two steps forward. One step back.
     Take a moment to reflect on a baby’s first steps. A baby is not an expert with first steps. They fall. Wobble. Cry. And yet, they keep their adventure alive struggling to stand up. God has placed within us an innate sense of drive. A baby finally walks and becomes the rip-roaring toddlers we love and chase after until we are exhausted. It’s a process. Step by step. Like Marconi. Like every great undertaking, invention, project, life skill and relationship.  Luke 13:19  "It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and threw into his own garden ; and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches."  #TakeHeartTreesGrow

The Divine GPS

     When I was in elementary school, my Daddy taught me how to read a road map and to calculate the best routes from town to town and state to state. It has served me well since he taught me such a useful skill, especially when I got my South Carolina driver’s license the day I turned 14! Yes! In those days, 14-year-olds could get their day license. As a teenager, I felt the exhilaration of liberation!
Hungary/Romania Road sign
Photo Credit:Romania-Insider 2013
     My husband grew up in the south Bronx. New Yorkers'   massive public transportation system made car ownership  un-necessary. I serve as the official navigator and often drive.  One of Paul's nicknames for me is a “human compass.” My greatest achievement occurred when we drove from Switzerland to Romania in 1991 with a road map, trying to decipher signs in other languages and confusing roads. We didn’t make one wrong turn. My husband was amazed. That was in 1991 before Global Positioning Systems became fully available to the public in 1995.
     Most of us now rely on some sort of GPS using Google, WAZE, or built-in navigation. Often though, when Paul and I are on a road trip nothing substitutes for a consultation with my Atlas road maps! I enjoy looking at the bigger picture and the colorful maps.
     As in all amazingly astounding inventions, ideas, creations, and guidance, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob created the first GPS. He led the enslaved children of Israel out of Egypt after 400 years; leading them into their previous territory that had likely changed drastically after 70 Israelites migrated to Egypt under Joseph’s rule. His heavenly GPS took the form of fire and cloud. An organic way to implement directions! He WAS the GPS. By day, they turned toward the cloud and by night the fire. Exodus 13:21 describes it this way: “By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.” NIV
     Exodus 13:22 reiterates the cloud and fire combination: “Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.” The Israelites’ ancient journey informs our walk with the Lord in our modern-day world. If the Jewish people trusted the cloud and the fire, the Presence of God, they stayed on the correct route. When they whined, complained, and transgressed deciding that they could not trust God’s direction, their lives fell apart. They even wanted to go back to Egypt rather than follow the pillar of cloud and fire. Instructive for us!
     When we keep our eyes on God for direction, we remain in the best place possible. Rocks and ruts may fill the road but the right direction is Ever Present. Looking to Him, His word and His counsel sustains us just as He sustained the children of Israel for 40 long years. Sometimes, even our fancy GPS systems are confusing.

Yet, the Lord never fails us. Day and night, let’s continue to look to Him, our true GPS!

Love and Unity Hand in Hand

     Our world is desperate for love. When the body of Christ works in unity, others are drawn to His love. Yet, when the world sees discord and division within the Christian community, our light flickers and sometimes goes out.
     The antidote for discord and division is choosing to focus on the essentials. Every other facet of our faith flows from two facts of history: The Lord Jesus Christ died on the tree for our sins and three days later, rose up from the grave. That is the bedrock of what Jesus said about His mission on earth. It's what His disciples highlighted as they preached the Good News near and far after His Ascension. Paul  said in 1 Corinthians 2:2 "that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures."
     When we set our minds on the essentials asking the Lord for His Holy Spirit’s aid, our unity is enhanced. The lyrics of a familiar hymn written in the 1960s by Fr. Peter Scholtes says in part, …” We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord, And we pray that our unity will one day be restored, And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, Yes, they'll know we are Christians by our love.” His song was inspired by what Rabbi Jesus said to His first-century Jewish disciples in John 13:35,  “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
     Love makes unity possible and reflects the parts of a whole like instruments in an orchestra. And just like an orchestra practices their unity in many rehearsals prior to their concerts, we in the Christian community must practice unity to express God’s love to a world that needs it.
Photo Credit: Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
     Achieving unity is a process. We must be intentional, allowing each other to express our own special purpose by following the model of a well-tuned orchestra. Imagine yourself as an instrument in an orchestra. Would unity be achieved in the following scenario? What if the violin said to the cello, you must look like me! Or the clarinet said to the piano, your notes must sound exactly like mine. Should the flute say to the cymbals, play musical notes like I do? Of course not because there are four distinct groups of related musical instruments; woodwinds, brass, percussion, and strings. Yet, they all read from the same sheet music.
     A full-size or philharmonic orchestra has 50 to 100 musicians. Like every orchestra, beautiful music requires a skillful conductor. The conductor is familiar with every instrument, knows every note of the musical score and gives the exact timing and entrance of each instrument. For example, the conductor knows when one instrument must play softer and when another has missed a cue all the while understanding that each instrument is necessary for the composition. Under his careful direction, unity and harmony blend. Looking to their conductor, members of the orchestra learn respect for the part each instrument must convey including their own.
     In the body of Christ, composed of many denominations, we have a Heavenly Maestro Who wants to unify us so that we may express His love to the world. Like the four sections of an orchestra, we are diverse and each has a part to play. And similar to an orchestra reading the same sheet music, we read the Bible. Using the same “biblical sheet music” a world looking for love will find it when we are “one in the Spirit and one in the Lord.”
     Practicing unity to strengthen our expressions of the Lord’s love is beneficial to us too!  Psalm 133:1 says it best. “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! “


     We hear a lot about “fake news” today but it is not a new phenomenon. I'm not in the habit of “looking around every corner” for satan but evidence abounds signaling his destructive activities on earth from the beginning of time. While it's certainly far better for a believer to gaze on our genuine Jesus than a counterfeit who likes to pose as an angel of light, discernment is key.
     Evil abounds in so many forms and that's not fake news. But fake news manifests in another form. It's the lies that the enemy of our souls whispers into our minds or assaults in our emotions. 
Real and Fake Money.jpg     That fake news goes something like this:
You are not loved. You have no worth. You'll never make it. Forget being a success. You're a failure. You’ll never get over the trauma or pain you've experienced. You won't ever find fulfillment. You blew it. Just give up. God won't accept you. You're too bad. I could add many more fake news headlines from this voice of condemnation. 
     Identifying the enemy’s fake news is an important skill for believers. Be on the lookout for fake news. The most effective tool is to read and meditate on what God thinks about you in scripture. One of my favorites is Romans 5:8 (NIV)…But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
     In the same chapter, we find another treasured truth: Romans 8:38-39 …” For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
     After many years of following the Lord, the mystery of His love grows sweeter and I remain astonished at these truths. The Bible is packed with verses which are available to us to build a bulwark within ourselves to fight off the fake news with God’s good news. I encourage you to create your own list of good news verses to help you navigate life’s rocky roads.

Passion Governed by Wisdom

     We're living in an election season where passions enliven conversations. Passions can easily transition into incivility, unkindness, and downright confrontational conflict.  We have passions about, for example, what the Lord places on our hearts, pursuing lifelong interests, parenting, professions, goals etc.
     Yet, when encountering injustice or mistreatment, this definition of passion can come into play: "a strong and barely controllable emotion.”  I easily identify with this definition since it is challenging to control emotion while simultaneously believing in something I view as important. And as a parent, I have marched into situations as a "Mama Bear" where I was defending my children. Now in my seventh decade of life, I remain an activist with strong opinions. I have grown to appreciate and embrace as best I can that my passions must be governed by wisdom. Wisdom requires self-control. I can't access self-control unless I ask for the power of the Holy Spirit.
     The bible gives signposts, warnings, and promises:
• Proverbs 29:11 “Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end.”  Wise people will aim toward calm while simultaneously expressing passion about what or who they value.
• Proverbs 3:13 “Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding.”  It’s good to be reminded that blessings come when we find wisdom.
• James 1:19-20 “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”  This verse is also instructive.  Take note of these words HUMAN ANGER. Human anger will lead to name calling, abusive conversation, and yes, fights, murders, and wars. 
     Another kind of anger is RIGHTEOUS ANGER. Its definition is “a reactive emotion of anger over mistreatment, insult, or malice of another.” It rests on divine or moral law where anger rises up during unjust, mean, or unworthy situations.
     Our best example for righteous anger- also called indignation- is Jesus Himself. This story is told in all four gospels. Matthew 21:12-13 “Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” He said to them,“ ‘My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”
     Scripture went on to say in John 2:13-16, “And making a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And He poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And He told those who sold the pigeons, "Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade."  It was clear that Jesus was defending His Father in heaven and was angry that the house of prayer had been overtaken by buying, selling, and commerce. The Temple’s purpose had been subverted from holy into profane. Religious leaders of the day had allowed the Temple to become a place of greed rather than glorifying God.
Photo Credit: The Word in Pictures
     In modern times, Martin Luther King and Mahatma Ghandi displayed righteous anger-in civil and gentle ways- for just causes where others had suffered mistreatment. They displayed passion governed by wisdom!
     I found a quote by St. Thomas Aquinas, (1225-1274) who was a venerated theologian, jurist, and Italian Dominican Friar. Here’s his viewpoint articulated in his Summa Theologiae: “He that is angry without cause, shall be in danger; but he that is angry with cause, shall not be in danger: for without anger, teaching will be useless, judgments unstable, crimes unchecked.” His conclusion was that “to be angry is therefore not always evil.”
In summation, “Be angry but do not sin.” Ephesians 4:26

Treasured Things

My Mom's Evening Bag
     During hurricane season, when we lived along the coast of South Carolina, I kept a few boxes handy filled with irreplaceable mementoes and pictures in case the Governor ordered us to evacuate. When hurricane season ended, I put these little treasures back on shelves where I could enjoy seeing them. Some of my treasured things included my childhood choir pins, baby pictures of my children, a small porcelain 80-90-year-old statue my mother gave my grandmother, one of our wedding pictures from 1977, my mother’s evening bag for dressy occasions, and a photo of my parents taken on one of their train trips to New York City in the 1940s.
     Not one of these sentimental things has any value over $20 I’m sure! Yet, when I look at them, they evoke tender, precious memories of loved ones and my childhood.   How do my simple treasures relate to our Heavenly Father?  In Deuteronomy 14:2 we read about God persistently teaching His detailed list of instructions to create the early culture of the Jewish people. Right in the middle of all these minute details about marriage, sacrifices, laws, and every aspect of life, Moses makes a rather startling statement to God’s Jewish people: “Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the LORD has chosen you to be his treasured possession.”  This is such an affectionate, powerful statement during a busy, task oriented “day at the office” attempting to organize 12 tribes of almost a million people.
My Church Choir Pins
     While we know that God fashioned the Jewish people and culture as His vessels to transmit His laws, scriptures, and ultimately His Beloved Son through them, we also know that God made an additional provision.  The Old Testament royally sets the table for us non-Jews (Gentiles) when we embrace the concept of our adoption in the New Testament. We are adopted into the tribe! We don’t replace His Jewish people, the people of His eternal covenant, but we do partake of the privilege of being grafted in to the ancient Olive tree of Judaism. Judaism is the root of our Christian DNA.
     While my sentimental treasures don’t have a high monetary value, God places a high value on us! I don’t even comprehend it quite honestly. Yet, when I  think of my small treasures, it does serve to remind me of how the Lord views us. We are so highly treasured by God the Father that He sent His beloved, one and only Son, to redeem us from the pawnshop of sin and darkness.  Whether we think of ourselves as treasures or not, that’s God’s viewpoint of us.  Difficult to comprehend, but oh so joyous when we glimpse the truth of God’s limitless, lavish love. We are HIS treasures.
     What are some of your treasures? When you think of them, remember YOU are a treasure in God’s eyes.


Circa 1981
     My husband and I lived on Hilton Head Island, SC the first eight years of our marriage. When we first moved there, we described ourselves as a poet and singer looking for creativity inspired by beauty. We found it on this idyllic South Carolina barrier island. 
     In 1976, only one stoplight interfered with the island’s population of 6,000.  We shopped at the only grocery store, the iconic Piggly Wiggly. Everyone knew everyone and we lived “a wonderful life.” We slept at night to the sound of waves washing in from the Atlantic Ocean and roamed the beach with our amazing German Shepherd “Moondance.” We slogged in the pluff mud’s unique perfume harvesting oysters, and steamed them outdoors over wood fires. 
     Several years later, I opened a singing telegram company. Singing telegrams were popular back in the 70s and 80s. The island’s population grew and so did my business, Southern Onion Singing Telegram and Balloon Company. My singing characters were quite popular:  Scarlett O’Southern, a tuxedoed troubadour, Curley the Clown, and the “wildly” popular Gloria Gorilla. 

Gloria Gorilla
     I became quite adept at loping into a restaurant announcing myself with a kazoo, locating the birthday or anniversary recipient, and belting out an acapella song. The gorilla suit was so real looking, it frightened guests in restaurants so I quickly solved the problem by asking a friend to make a pink tutu. I topped it off with a pink ribbon on the mask and sported a pink T-shirt that proclaimed, “Ape for you.” Gloria Gorilla was famous on Hilton Head and restaurants sold more drinks and food because the songs made everyone so happy. 
      The songs were not just an ordinary “Happy Birthday to you,” but an original song set to a familiar tune, and totally personalized for the recipient. I found that almost always no one had ever had a song written just for them. When they ordered a singing telegram, loved ones and friends secretly provided the information beforehand. With my handy, now tattered Rhyming Dictionary, I created an original song. Recipients laughed, cried, and especially loved the gorilla hugs dispensed by Gloria.  Pictures captured all the excitement. 
     The concept of “personalized” really held great meaning.  An anniversary or birthday song lit up a recipient’s eyes as the crooner-whether a gorilla, clown or southern belle- sang about their college, birthplace, favorite color, hobbies, children, spouse, and so on. I learned that many islanders framed the copy of their song which was presented after the serenade. Having a personalized song or any other personalized gift  is special to most of us.

     And God Himself is the Designer of Personalization.  Psalm 139:13-16 beautifully describes it this way: For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
     Think of it!  God has created billions, maybe trillions, of unique human beings. He personalized each one of us with appearances, talents, abilities, interests, and ethnicities.  Then He designed a redemptive plan available to everyone He ever created. He offers us a Gift and the freedom to either accept or reject it.  Isaiah 49:16 describes this magnificent gift with a profound personalized message which bespeaks of Jesus, our sacrificial Savior: “See, I have written your name on the palms of My hands.”   
     While God the Father offers us the same magnificent Gift of His 
Scarlett O'Southern 
beloved Son, we encounter the Lord in many unique ways that God personalizes to reach into our hearts and introduce Himself. It may be a friend, a book, a pamphlet, a dream, or a crisis which awakens us to Him.God allowed me to see the importance of personalization and the impact on people through my  silly singing telegram company. But more significantly, it opened up for me a new understanding of God’s love and His personalized design for every one of us.  I hope that you too will embrace more of His PERSONAL interest in you! 
                 And remember, God has composed a life song just for you!

Crushed in Gethsemane

     In Jesus’ time, the Mount of Olives was a manufacturing location to produce olive oil. In olive groves scattered all over Israel, huge ancient stone olive presses crushed the harvested olives. The pulp eventually underwent enough crushing so that refined oil emptied into clay jars to use in cooking, anointing, and Temple lights. I’ve seen one of the huge olive presses discovered in various parts of Israel. Their size and crushing methods portrayed their effectiveness!
     The Christian community is well-versed in the fact that Jesus prayed in anguish and wept tears of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to His betrayal and arrest. Yet, His geographical location on the Mount of Olives is rich with physical and spiritual symbolism for us today. Even the word “Gethsemane” itself means “olive oil” in Hebrew and Aramaic.
     Jesus’ agony in Gethsemane was a process of crushing His will as He prayed to His Father in Heaven, “Not My will but Thine be done.” While we know the magnificent outcome of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, the process was excruciating. It is instructive however for us today in our lives.  We cannot in any way compare ourselves to Jesus’ sacrificial death on the tree to pay our debt of sin. But we can draw perspective from His crushing. Sorrows befall us in life and some seem insurmountable. The death of a child, parent or spouse. Terminal illness or divorce. Loss of income. Betrayal. Depression. An endless list.  
     Scripture is replete with stories of sorrow and problems which seem to have no good outcome either. For example, Joseph in the pit- then prison- could not have imagined he’d later be the Prime Minister for Egypt’s Pharaoh. A devout Jew, the apostle Paul-imprisoned and beaten-endured to become the most well-known missionary in the ancient world carrying the good news to the non-Jewish world. Today, the nation of Israel is an example too. Crushed for thousands of years with deportation, anti-Semitism, violence, and death they have harnessed centuries of crushing and endurance to create a thriving ancestral homeland which blesses the world with their innovations. 
     Jesus’ crushing in Gethsemane was dark, painful, and later unbearable on the tree. Yet His crushing for our sins became the oil of salvation for all of us who accept His sacrificial gift of eternal life.  What is crushing you in your Gethsemane? When we look to our Lord Jesus and cry out for His help, He walks us though whatever is crushing us. Counting on Him, we find hope and solutions.
     The lesson and the outcome: Like harvested olives crushed into precious olive oil, our crushing can turn into beauty and usefulness in the comforting Hands of our Lord. Then we can fully embrace 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 (NIV) 
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.”

Only One Name, Only One Verse

In my walk with the Lord, I’ve discovered that one verse can sustain me in times of crisis or challenge. Most of us have chosen what we call “life verses.” Mine is Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me.” This verse has repeatedly exhorted and encouraged me when times were tough. And every verse in my favorite, Psalm 23, is a stand-alone verse. I’ve also learned that speaking out only the name of Jesus is enough to fill me with peace and assurance.
     The most vivid moment for me happened years ago in Romania when doors opened for adoptions. We were among many couples from the west searching to adopt a child. We prayed for months prior to our trip to Romania drawing her name from scripture. The Lord assured us that we would discover our baby daughter with His help and the help of our faithful Romanian translator. In Romania, following many leads, inquiries, and dead ends, we almost gave up hope in despair and frustration. Finally, in the late morning on the last week day before our scheduled departure via car and plane, we met-in the arms of her birth mother-a tiny infant wrapped like a papoose in a cigarette-smoke filled Romania courthouse. 
     I looked into her doll-like face asking myself, “Is this her Lord? What should we do?” We learned that her birth mother lived in a small house with 13 people on $25 a month. She knew her baby daughter would not thrive and wanted a better life for her. 
     My husband Paul fell instantly in love with her. Yet, my cautious nature swept in filling my mind with fear. My husband wisely suggested that I walk down the hall and pray because the decision was almost immediate to set a court date to move forward with adoption procedures. I found myself staring out of a tall second-story courthouse window with my life flashing in front of my eyes. Is this our daughter? What should we do? I couldn’t even pray or repeat a bible verse. All I could muster was saying “Jesus” over and over and over. My husband came to my side a few minutes later. “Arlene, what’s your decision? I don’t want to pressure you but time’s run out.” Looking at him, I asked, “Paul, are you convinced that this is our daughter?” 
     The Lord assured me that my answer rested in Paul's joyous reminder. “Arlene, for months we’ve prayed and prepared for a newborn daughter. We chose a name from scripture. We’ve run across other children, but they weren’t newborns. And here she is on our last day to search before we have to take our return flight home.”
     We walked back to the brave, sacrificial birth mother. Through our translator, she agreed to sign the legal papers and appear before the Romanian court in a few days. She began unwrapping our precious baby’s white blanket, white clothing, and took off her tiny white crocheted cap. She only weighed four pounds, four ounces at 28 days old. Our translator explained that the clothes were borrowed! Fortunately, our almost three- year old son was with us and we covered his baby sister in his small rain jacket. Later, we excitedly dressed her in the tiny clothes we brought from the states.
     Yes, be encouraged. God’s words in His scripture are life-giving. And sometimes only saying the name of Jesus is more than enough.


The Three A's Authority, Advocate, Advisor

     The Trinity is a weighty mystery that’s generated study, discussion, and controversy for centuries.  It’s a fantastical story yet replete with truth. God the Father came to earth clothed in flesh as our Jewish Jesus. He experienced our emotions. He walked the dusty roads. He hugged children. He cooked and ate fish. He enjoyed dinner with friends. He liked wedding celebrations. He got angry. He felt sadness, grief, and exhaustion.  He exhibited mercy and gentleness. 
     Yet He cried out and prayed to another aspect of His being? The Father. And promised His disciples the Holy Spirit after He left this earth?  I’m not a theologian and don’t truly understand how all this works but I do believe that the God-head is composed of three parts of the same nature. Here’s my attempt at trying to decode this wonderful mystery. The Father exerts the role of AUTHORITY, the Son, the ADVOCATE, and the Spirit, the ADVISOR.  These roles carry out three functions originating from the God-head, the Trinity; One in the same.
     The Father, representing Authority, is the Alpha and Omega. He is Infinite and knows and created absolutely everything. God the Father is far beyond the Library of Congress, the CIA, or any other human institution of authority and information.  The data He knows far, far exceeds the vast world wide web. He is the great I AM.
    The Son, our Advocate, both divine and human, is our perfect attorney.  He talks with the Father. He pleads our cases from the context of living on earth for 33 years. When we need a defense in front of a Perfect God- a Judge Who is so Holy that He cannot look upon any evil- Jesus, our Advocate, stands in the heavenly courtroom. Jesus did not have to take the rigorous LSAT for Harvard Law School, one of the most prestigious in the world. He didn’t clerk for a Supreme Court Judge. Since He is divine and human, He partakes of the vastness of the Father, the SUPREME SUPREME. The truth is that when the Supreme Judge looks upon Jesus, He doesn’t see austere black robes. He sees Jesus clothed in the blood red robes of sacrifice which cover our sins when we profess His sacrifice and Kingship. 
   The Holy Spirit- sent as an Advisor after Jesus’ ascension to Heaven- provides comfort and constant companionship for us; an Advisor Who serves as a Vessel, a conduit, from our Authority and Advocate. I liken our Advisor to a beautifully formed piece of pottery Who draws water from the fresh fountains of our Authority and Advocate, then pours sparkling droplets into our minds, hearts, and souls. 
     Growing up in a big Baptist church, we didn’t hear much about the Holy Spirit. The name of Jesus was mentioned countless times in many ways. God the Father came in second. This isn’t a criticism, since I grew up in the 1940s, 50s, and 60’s during a time when the Holy Spirit wasn’t spotlighted in all denominations.  Finally, in the early 1970’s the “renewal” movement swept through the church and introduced millions of Christians to the third part of what we call the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.
     The word “trinity” isn’t mentioned in the Bible but various verses refer to the Trinity which is the Godhead, ONE God in three different forms. Matthew 28:19 quotes Jesus saying, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit . . .”  Christianity IS a monotheistic faith. The prayer, "Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” found in Deuteronomy 6:5, makes that clear.  In Judaism, it’s called the Shema and is recited twice daily as a cornerstone of prayer among observant Jews.
     Authority. Advocate. Advisor.  I thank you, Lord, for expressing Yourself in these three ways…extravagant modes of communication to provide everything possible to help us experience Your lavish love and redemption.   The splendid bow on this unfathomable gift is Your provision of scriptures. When the Lord graciously answered my prayer to come and live in my life, He breathed vitality into the pages of the Bible.  

Jesus cooking supper on the 
shores of the Galilee
     Note: The photo of Jesus cooking for His disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee appears in my family Bible published in 1944. My grandmother gave it to my mother. It’s called The Inspirational Bible ©1944 published by John A. Dickson Publishing Company

Life's Broken Pieces

     Our small Anglican church hosts a tent each Saturday morning at our local farmer’s market where we offer a free cup of delicious Rwandan coffee to shoppers. It’s a way for us to introduce our ministry work with Rwandan coffee farmers. Each week located next to us is a beautiful collection of pottery for sale. Not only is the pottery for sale but a potter actually makes pottery right there in the tent. 

     One recent Saturday our pastor was serving coffee from our tent when he heard a crash. Looking to his right, he saw that one of their display tables had crashed. The artisan pottery lay scattered on the ground in hundreds of broken pieces of all sizes and colors. Imagine what the potter felt as she looked at the scene. 
     Our pastor and other vendors rushed to help. They carefully picked up each piece doing their best to match pieces and pile the broken shards together. Yet, it would be impossible to make each bowl or cup or plate whole again. As our pastor related the story he went on to say that he asked the potter for some of the broken pieces. I like the idea he suggested that our small church might symbolically create something out of the brokenness.  To create something new.  It reminded me that fresh beauty can come from brokenness.
     Life is sometimes like what the potter experienced. A crash, an unexpected collapse, a broken relationship, broken dreams. Breakage of all kinds. It’s in these times that help and friendship are so necessary from a stranger or a friend. The help and concern of others is a gift from God that I have gratefully experienced in the shattering events of my own life. 

     While the potter's crashing table and broken pieces were public, sometimes we hide life’s brokenness hoping no one will notice. Hiding our hurts though creates a recipe for isolation. Sometimes we must press through and find a trusted friend to help us, if possible, put the pieces together again.  The potter was so grateful for the help and concern expressed last weekend.  After she rebuilds, she will set up her tent again and use her hands to create beautiful objects. 
     And that’s what we must do in brokenness. Use the brokenness in our own lives to help others. And draw from God’s comfort accepting the help from others in our own times of need.  We must spin the potter’s wheel of life once again to live another day in the reality of God’s mercy and grace. 

The Christmas Shepherds, Levitical Priests for Their Bethlehem Flocks

S hepherds and sheep hold a prominent place in the Bible. The most famous are the Christmas shepherds!   I s it possible that Mary birthed ...