The Blog Challenge

This blog was many months in the making. You might think that means it’s going to be brilliant, but you’d be wrong.

It started last November when a friend sent me a blog challenge. Considering my severe lack of regular blogging, this challenge was needed desperately. Unfortunately, she didn’t give me a deadline. So the challenge sat in my inbox along with several hundred other “to-do someday soon items.” Which reminds me of a great poster I saw today: Each week contains seven days, none of which are called “someday.”

Hence, several months later, it was still sitting in my inbox when I sat down to my Thursday writing session and the severe temptation to nap instead.

“I will let myself nap if I write for one hour,” I said.

Then I procrastinated nearly 30 minutes trying to find the email that contained the ancient blog challenge. This left me 30 minutes to write a blog containing the words cactus, friend, hike and a reference to Psalm 42:1.

Done.

I’m pretty sure this wasn’t what she had in mind, but I’m telling you, naptime is calling something fierce. You might even say that as the deer pants for streams of water, so my eyelids pant for sleep.

That, in case you missed it, was a bonus reference to Psalm 42:1. The proper translation goes more like this: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.” And I have perfectly and unwittingly just demonstrated my personal struggle with this verse. Let’s explore.

I’m more familiar with the well-watered deer of the deep woods or prosperous farmland, but I can picture a desert deer panting in the shade of a cactus. I can feel the dryness on the tongue, the burning of the sun, the blowing of a scorching wind. I’ve lugged enough bottles of water on dusty hikes to appreciate how sweet those cooling streams can be. So I can appreciate this image and the deep need and longing that is being depicted here.

The conviction comes in the rest of the passage. When I consider the things I long for deeply in my life.

I long for friendship. I long for love. I pant after peace and rest. This makes me question where I place God. Do I chase down time with God as dearly as I chase down time with friends and family? Do I crave time with Him as deeply as I crave time with a good book, or a good friend, or even a good bowl of ice cream?

I do, I realize, but only after all the other longings have left me wanting. When relationships let me down. When I hunger and thirst again. When I realize that even sleep doesn’t truly bring rest. Then I start craving for God to come and piece me back together.

Jesus knew what He was saying when He said “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst” (John 4:13).

There are temporal needs in this world that can be met in temporal ways. We need water. We need food. We need friendship. But our deepest needs are not met by a reliance on the things we crave. They are met through a recognition of and a relationship with the One through whom these blessings flow. The difference is like repeatedly asking for a glass of water instead of asking for the wellspring.

I need to recognize amidst my scattered needs that there is an all-surpassing need that girds my pursuits. I need to recognize my longing for God. Then I need to spend time reading my Bible, praying, walking alone, or inviting God in for a bowl of ice cream. (I’ll help Him eat His.)

I need to recognize within my longing for that nap, that there is also a deeper longing for true rest.  Both are important.

Which reminds me, I’m well past my hour of writing, and still in need of that nap.

Advertisements

Undebatable

I love to participate in a good debate. When I’m in the right mood, the topic doesn’t even matter.  Like the other day when I somehow ended up in a heated discussion over Spam and the definition of the word tangent. I launched into an elaborate discourse that wove intricate circles through miles of linguistic terrain in a manner sure to baffle even the most adept navigator. I was rather pleased with my performance, but despite the maze of rabbit holes I repeatedly laid down, my friend kept coming back to the one tiny flaw in my otherwise airtight opening statement.

I think that means she won, but I won’t ever tell her that.

Truth is hard to argue with, but that doesn’t stop me – or many others – from trying. In today’s culture it’s very much in vogue to not only argue with truth, but to argue whether truth even exists. As the saying goes, if you ask five experts the same question, you’re likely to get at least seven different answers.

Jesus said something very different. He claimed not only to speak truth, but to be truth (John 14:6).

People of His day tried to joust with Him, too. There was the time when spies were sent to verbally trap Him by asking whether it was right to pay taxes to Caesar. Jesus saw through that ploy, giving them a succinct answer that ended the discussion and amazed everyone within hearing (Luke 20).

Another time the Jews demanded that Jesus tell them plainly whether He was the Messiah, but Jesus wasn’t interested in fruitless, insincere discussions. Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe.” (John 10:25)

Jesus carried himself different from other men. He did not speak like the other teachers spoke; He spoke as one who had authority. He did not debate to prove His points or to enjoy the thrill of the verbal competition. He spoke to spread the message of truth to those who would receive it.

“I am the way, the truth, and the life,” Jesus said. “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

There were critics in Jesus’ day who debated who He was, just as there are critics today. But Jesus has never been interested in a debate simply for the sake of a debate.

Instead, Jesus engages with those who come with sincere questions and with those who come to test all things to see if they are true. He is willing to answer questions, explain parables, and provide evidence. To the doubting Thomases, to the Nicodemuses, and to the large crowds of today, Jesus still speaks through the words recorded in the Bible. These words were written that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing we may have life in His name (John 20:31).

You can try to debate it, but you might be better served to simply listen, question, and consider.

“I did tell you,” Jesus said.

 

Break Time

 DawnToDusk

This post originally appeared at: http://www.inspireafire.com/break-time
And yes, that moon photo is one I took recently on a drive through IA. Isn’t it amazing?

I was walking through the Wal-Mart parking lot when three individuals stepped out of their separate cars. They unknowingly fell into step with each other and headed toward the entrance. I watched in amazement as they reached out their left arms with the precision of synchronized swimmers. They moved like extensions of the same organism: first extending, then bending, then bringing their cell phones to their ears.

I don’t think any of them noticed the others. I wouldn’t have noticed them either, except for once I was not on my cell phone. I was not talking with a friend, checking messages, or otherwise engaged. I was simply walking my dog on a shortcut through the parking lot and toward our favorite park. As I went, I realized it had been a long time since I had simply walked and looked – I mean really looked – around me.

computers

All of this convenience, and yet…

There was a time when walking my dog was how I sorted through my day, just me and God and the occasional squirrel who rudely interrupted my ruminating by dashing a fluffy tail under my dog’s nose. There was a time I could say hello to the Wal*Mart greeter without him wondering if I was talking to him or the person on the other end of the line.The convenience of phones not tethered to walls means that I can squeeze in my verbal correspondence almost anyplace. With the advent of smart phones, I can even squeeze in my written correspondence while waiting in line or sitting on a park bench when I should, perhaps, be watching the sunset instead. All of this convenience allows me to connect with those whom I otherwise could never find the time to connect with. And yet…

Somewhere along the line my schedule got a little tighter. I joined this group, then that group, and worked late “just occasionally.” I volunteered for this, signed up for that, and was recruited into oh-but-you’d-be-so-good-at-this!

All of it was important. Most of it was fun. None of it could be dropped. Except of course, it could.

I’m not even sure how it happened, but it was gradual. I didn’t sign up for the next session. I stepped down for a term. I didn’t renew my membership. And suddenly I found myself walking freely across a parking lot, watching the ballet of the synchronized cell phone users and thinking: Sometimes freedom in Christ means giving Him the freedom to act in my life.

sunset road

Freedom means giving God room to act in our lives.

It’s a stunning thought, but I can hinder my own freedom by not giving God the necessary space to act in my life. When I have every minute of every day packed with activities, I am blocking God’s plans. Oh sure, God can and will use the activities I am part of, but I’m talking about that dawn to dusk treadmill that has me running so hard I might not even notice God is there. Heaven forbid He suggest I put my cell phone down and say hello to the cashier. I don’t have time for that!

It’s easier than I realized to become a slave to a schedule of my own creation. And there is more freedom than I ever imagined in letting it go… even for a short time.

It won’t be long before my little cushions of time get filled again. I’ll sign back up for this and return once more to that. But in the meantime, I am pierced by this probing question: How might God have used that time I filled with classes, sports teams, even church activities? While I am free to do as I choose, will I be even freer if I leave a little space for God to do as He chooses?

I’m taking a little break to find out.

MeOnBreak

 

On the Road to Success

We were on the road to Success.

Literally, I mean. We were driving along route 62 East across Arkansas when we crossed a junction with a township sign pointing to Success. This prompted the conjecture you might expect: How many people do you suppose live in Success? How long does it take to get there, and is Success hard to find?

Before long, we had pulled a U-turn (legally, of course) and were on the road to Success.

Road Sign to Success
Turn here for Success! (Photo by Janet Beagle)

This prompted a great deal of conversation on – you guessed it – success.

“What’s your definition of success?” my friend asked.

“Well, my interview answer is to be in a position where I can constantly learn new things.”

“And your non-interview answer?”

“Probably the same thing,” I admitted.

“I don’t think we can ever really be successful. Success is like this perfect ideal we strive for but never really achieve,” my friend commented.

We talked about work and whether work-in-progress could be deemed successful or whether an event needed to be completed before it could be labelled. We talked about relationships and successful people. We talked about the difference between success and contentment or success and happiness. We concluded that success was not an easy word to define. Apart from being a very small town in Arkansas.

Despite our meandering conversation, it turned out Success was only a few minutes from where we had started. (And to think we almost missed it!) Very few people live in Success – only 180 according to the population sign. It seemed like a nice enough place, but for us, Success was fleeting. We had miles to go before we slept, so we captured a few photos on the edge of town, and then continued on our way. I wonder how often the Successians look out their windows to see crazy tourists snapping pictures of their population sign?

In the weeks since I’ve returned from our detour, I’ve often pondered the term. So often “success” is associated with fame, monetary wealth, prestige, or power. In today’s culture, it seems to be obtained in a winner-take-all rush for the top with little regard to the methods used to get there. Yet the Bible gives us a very different definition. “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” (Joshua 1:8) In God’s design, we become successful when we follow His commandments, not the whims of the world. Again and again the history of Israel shows us how generations who were obedient to God thrived, and how those who turned away from God were overthrown. In God’s design, success is not a location to drive through and snap pictures; it is a way of life walking in obedience with Him. It is a journey we take with Him securely at our side.

Town of Success Sign
You never know when God might take you on a detour through Success. (Photo by Janet Beagle)

I encountered my favorite definition of success just the other day embedded in one of those email forwards I usually delete. In it, a little girl asked her grandmother for her definition.

“Success,” she replied, “is when you look back at your life and the memories make you smile.”

What kind of memories are you building? Are they the kind that will bring a smile to both your and God’s face? It is a new day and a new opportunity to start your journey. Take the time to reach out to others, to work hard, to spend time with those you love. Listen to God’s guiding voice. He may just send you on a little detour through Success.

This blog was originally posted May 10, 2016 at http://www.inspireafire.com/on-the-road-to-success/. 

Green Blessings

In celebration of St. Patrick’s Day I had the brilliant idea of taking a picture of every green thing I saw today. I quickly learned 2 things:

  1. I apparently really like the color green, because there are a lot of green things in my apartment, and
  2. God has blessed me with many wonderful things that happen to be green.

Here are some examples:

daffodils

Daffodils! It was still dark on our morning walk, but I know even in the dark that these brave flowers have some green beneath that yellow blossom. Like the birds that sing before sunrise, this early flower lets us know that good things are coming soon!

 

SewagePipe

Okay, so I’ll admit I wasn’t quite as excited to see this sewage pipe as I was the daffodils, but let’s face it. I do like indoor plumbing. (And for that matter, I like heat and hot water and electricity, too.) I’m also grateful for all the utility workers that recently put this in. That’s certainly outside my skill set.

 

doingwellsticker

This sticker greets me every time I enter my apartment. It reminds me of friends, and that no matter what I might be facing, I’m doing okay!

 

Leash

Even my dog’s leash is green. And what can I say about that? I love long walks and soft fur and the friends I have made through various canine activities. This green leash has connected more than me and my dog all these years – it has connected me to many wonderful friends and adventures!

 

dish soap

I also have a green dishtowel and green mop and green toilet brush. I can’t say that I particularly enjoy using these items, but I do always appreciate the result!

 

ovenmitts

Ahh, oven mitts. We may not live on bread alone, but a nice warm loaf that’s still fresh and crusty from the oven is a blessing I’m not going to pass up. That scent that lingers in the air… I think I can smell it…

 

addressbook

For those of you in the electronic generation, this is a paper version of your smartphone’s contact list. It comes in handy when your battery dies. I’m grateful for a handy way to organize important addresses, and most of all for all the people that fill this book.

 

safetyshower

I pass by several labs on the way to my office, and I couldn’t help but pause today at these brilliant green signs. May God shower us all with the safety of his presence today and always.

I could go on, but I think it’s your turn. What green things are all around you? You may be surprised just how many green blessings God gives you today… and every day.

He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside waters of rest (Psalm 23:2).

Think Light

I was reminded the other morning of a time when I was little and hiking through a meadow of snow with my mother. The snow was deep – at least a couple feet – but had formed a top crust hard enough to sometimes stay afloat. Especially for someone as little and quick as me.

“Think light!” I called as I ran ahead, giggling.

I didn’t stop to consider that my mother was twice my height, or that my boot print barely filled half of hers. I knew only that if I imagined I was as light as the wind and stretched my mittens far out from my sides then I could run across the top of the snow. But if I stamped my feet and hung my head and concentrated on being heavy, then I broke through with a satisfying crunch. The powdery snow underneath would swallow my legs until I was practically sitting in the snow, even though I was also still standing. I repeated my light and heavy game all the way across the meadow, calling to my mother who seemed, no matter how hard she tried, to repeatedly be sinking to her knees.

“Think light!” I encouraged her again.

And then (to my now adult amazement), she did. She rose up out of the snow with a giant leap and came running across the top. Two, three, four steps before the crust gave way and she sank back down, both of us laughing.

I was reminded of that time just recently as my dog and I made our way across the snow covered yard on our morning walk. The crust was just thick enough for her to bound along on top, while every one of my footfalls cracked through. She bowed and pirouetted and bounced back and forth, not understanding why I labored so slowly. She knew nothing of the fact that she was less than half my size. Or that her paw print barely filled half of my boot print. More importantly, she knew nothing of how weighed down I was with sleepiness, with the pile of work that awaited me, with the thoughts that ran incessantly through my head.  She knew only that the stars were still out and the air was crisp and quiet. She knew that if she jumped hard enough she could crash through the snow in a pillowy poof. Most importantly, she knew if she was light and quick on her feet, she could dance spinning circles around me, tongue hanging out and laughing eyes clearly coaxing me on. I could almost hear her say, “Think light!”

How easy it is for our foot steps to feel so heavy. And how much I needed the reminder that it is possible to raise up out of the wallow and run lightly on the surface. If I just start thinking a little lighter.

“Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” Jesus said. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

God promises that his burden is light, which means when it starts to feel heavy, I’m focusing in the wrong direction. Just like that crusty snow, as soon as I start looking down, I feel myself struggling through knee-deep mire. The good news is that it is possible to shift my attention outward and upward. Like the mittened hands of that little girl of my memories, I can feel myself being lifted up. I need only to remember to lift my head and my hands. To focus my attention outward. To call out to help another. And to think light.

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. (Isaiah 26:3)

The Great Cheese Inquisition

Every once in a while when I am studying something in my Bible, I get distracted and go off on an interesting tangent. (Actually, this happens frequently.) The other day as I was looking up references to the Ten Commandments (more on that later, maybe), I came across 1 Samuel 17:18, which in the English Standard Version (ESV) states: Also take these ten cheeses to the commander…

And it suddenly struck me that I had never noticed the word cheese before. (As you may recall, I am a big fan of cheese, so this was a significant discovery for me.) This led me to wonder, how often is cheese mentioned in the Bible?

A simple enough question, though not so simple an answer. There is, for example, the fact that different translations may not always translate the original languages the same way. And even within the same translation, original languages that may be translated as “cheese” in one instance may in fact be translated differently in another instance. Thus began a rather serious tangent. Also known as The Great Cheese Inquisition. (With thanks to BlueLetterBible.com for their handy online tools of interrogation.)

First stop, the Cheese of First Samuel.

The Hebrew word used for cheese in 1 Samuel 17:18 is “chalab.” This word is most commonly translated as milk (44 times in mot versions). But it is only translated as cheese this one time in the whole Bible.

Further investigation shows why this translation is different. It’s not only that translators decided that taking ten cheeses made more sense than taking ten milks. There is another word in the original Hebrew that gets lost in translation. The full phrase is “chariyts chalab” – cuts of milk. Hence the interpretation that what David carried to the commanding officers was cheese. It would, after all, be rather difficult to cut milk in its liquid form. (As an aside, the word “chariyts” only appears two other times with the word iron instead of milk and is commonly translated as “harrows of iron.”)

This explained the mysterious 10 cheeses of 1 Samuel, and I learned that this particular usage exists no place else in the Bible, but were there other references to cheese using different Hebrew words? Yes!

The Cheese of Second Samuel.

In 2 Samuel 17:29, when David is fleeing from Absalom, some supporters brought “honey and curds and sheep and cheese from the herd, for David and the people with him to eat, for they said, “The people are hungry and weary and thirsty in the wilderness.”

The Hebrew word translated here as cheese is “shaphah.” This is the only time this Hebrew word appears in the Bible. The meaning is somewhat dubious, but it comes from a root meaning “to scrape off” or “to cleanse.” According to the Targum, which I don’t know too much about except that it is an Aramaic translation and commentary of the Hebrew Bible written a long time ago, the meaning of cheese comes about from the idea of filtering and cleansing from dregs during the process of making the cheese and separating it from the whey.

So that’s two cheeses down, both single appearances.

The Cheese of Job.

Our third and final cheese appears in Job 10:10, “Did you not pour me out like milk and curdle me like cheese?” Here the word translated as cheese is “gĕbinah,” and this, too, is the only place in the Bible this Hebrew word is used. The word is more literally curdled milk. Cottage cheese, anyone?

The Quasi-Cheese: Curds & Butter

A more common word than “cheese” is “curds” or “butter” – both of which are translations of the Hebrew word “chem’ah.” Curds is the more common ESV translation, while the KJV always translates this word as butter. This word appears 10 times in the original Hebrew texts. Another word (machama’ah) is commonly translated as “butter” and used negatively in Psalm 55: “His speech was smooth as butter, yet war was in his heart.”

Interestingly, cheese, curds, nor butter appear in the New Testament.

Closing Cheese Statements

So in summary, the word “cheese” appears just three times in the Old Testament, each time represented by a different Hebrew word. A more common word can be translated as curds. This suggests there was something different about each of these cheeses. To determine exactly what is different, you probably need to be an ancient languages scholar or a master cheesemaker (or both), but that doesn’t prevent me from speculating.

First, David was a shepherd, which probably means that his cheese came from the sheep he tended. Our second cheese expressly states it is a “cheese from the herd,” which is a reference to cattle (and yes, I checked that assumption against the original language). So the second cheese would have been made from the milk of cows or oxen. Our third cheese is more literally curdled milk, and while there is no indication of animal, the picture for me at least is of a softer, moldable cheese. Finally, the curds are the most popular cheese-like item mentioned. This suggests a more common and raw form of cheese, similar to the cheese curds of today.

So there you have it. A blogful of three cheeses and some potential cheese curds. The Great Cheese Inquisition rests its case.