Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Dance of Israel by Jenna Vick Silliman

I watched Christlyn from across the church. She raised her hands, bruised from 23 years of kidney dialysis. She lifted her eyes heavenward, swayed to the music, and she moved her feet too. Sometimes she made hand motions like sign language. Back in her corner she worshiped the Lord Jesus and she didn’t care what anyone thought. It didn't bother her if she was different than everyone else. Sometimes she twirled around with her hands raised. I think that’s the part that really got me. I was amazed. She was dancing over there!

I was drawn to Christlyn. I was drawn to the dance of Israel.

I said to her, “Teach me everything you know.”

We began to meet together and soon others began to join us. Christlyn introduced us to Messianic Circle Dancing. We watched videos and we learned the steps and the motions and the patterns of dance passed down through the generations. We met and prayed together also. I was told on several occasions by different people that I was a Miriam leading the women in dance. Christlyn gave me her tambourine. After years of kidney dialysis she was too weak to use it anymore. On Sundays the elders saw us over in Christlyn’s corner. They were amazed. We were dancing over there!

We dance a dance of  love and adoration of our Lord and King, Jesus the Messiah, Yeshua. We danced the dance of Israel.

Christlyn and I also love pretty, colorful, clothing and especially like to dance in twirly skirts. I admired Christlyn’s clothing and began to visit thrift stores to find more twirly skirts to dance in like her—the more colorful and the more twirly the better. I now have over 50 of them—all on a rack in the corner of my room with Christlyn's tambourine hung up on the wall. Each morning I pray about what to wear. I don’t care what people think and don’t care what is in fashion. I wear my colorful, twirly skirts almost every day.  One of my favorites is royal blue and white—the colors of Israel.

As it says in Scripture: "But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and the circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter..." (See Romans 2:29.)

Now I am like Ruth. I say to the people of Israel, “Your people are my people.” I know now that the Bible says we believing believers are grafted into the nation of Israel (See Romans 11:24.) and that we are together in Spirit and we are the Bride of Christ in love with our Groom, Jesus Christ. 

The elders called me into the office. I was scared. It was too much like getting called into the principal’s office when you got into trouble in school. I don’t know how I knew what that felt like, because it had never happened to me. I was a good girl I was. But now at age 51 I had crossed a line or something—I danced in church! Like my mentor, Christlyn, people are drawn to me when I worship Jesus with dance. People are moved even more when several worship dance in unity. It is heavenly. I was scared they were going to make us stop.

They didn't want to give Israel credit. They didn't want to be a Messianic church. They didn't mind if I worshiped with dance, or people worshiped with dance with me, but they said we are New Creations and we have a New Culture of the New Covenant, no longer Jews and Gentiles, but "One New Man" as it says in Ephesians 2:15. They said we had to drop the word Israeli off of what we were doing. Israeli Circle Dancing was now to be called Circle Dancing. They encouraged me to teach a class. They took out a couple rows of folding chairs to give us more room to dance. Sometimes I danced with a blue and silver flag. Sometimes I danced alone. Many times we formed a circle and danced in worship together. Even though we didn't call it that, we knew we danced the dance of Israel.

I taught a seven week class, every Friday night, on worship dancing. All different kinds of people came to my class, young and old, boys and girls, lots of women and even a couple of men—different ones each week. Christlyn, sometimes too weak to dance after kidney dialysis, would sway to the music and do the hand motions and twirl once in a while. She did her own thing and she loved the Lord. Her gratitude to Him and love for Him makes her dance. She and I have that in common too.

Christlyn shared at our women's meeting how we dancers are like Hephzibah. God rejoices over us and we give Him joy when we dance in worship. Hephzibah means, “My delight is in her.” Her brightness is like a stunning sunrise to the Lord. In the Amplified Bible it says she is exceedingly beautiful to Him. (See Isaiah 62:1-4 Amp.) He delights in us when we delight in Him and dance for Him.

I will never forget asking our women’s prayer group leader, Marsha Earline, what she thought of me and what I shared one Sunday. It was a short testimony about worshiping like King David—wild and free. She said, “Jenna, you are a burning torch.”

For a while I felt unnerved by my jealousy of Israel. What a beautiful, rich heritage and what gorgeous, meaningful feasts and festivals, and what awesome celebrations full of dance—and they all belong to Israel! One day I cried out to God and said, “It’s not fair, Lord! Israel has all this and we just sit still in church in dark, boring clothes and listen to the worship team and to sermons. I wish I had Jewish heritage.” He said right back to me, “It is all yours, Jenna.” Wow! What a delight to know I am a part of Israel the beloved to the Messiah. I too am the apple of His eye. It is amazing. My dance is the dance of Israel!

We pray for the awakening of the Royal Bride, Israel, the New Jerusalem.

Christlyn lives an hour away with friends that care for her—she battles with late stages of kidney disease. She has already lived twenty years longer than most people with her condition. I don’t see her very often anymore. When I do, I dance for her. She mostly dances on the inside now. Sometimes she is in so much pain that she whimpers in pain just to lift her arms. She still moves her hands, she still lifts her eyes to heaven, and her feet shuffle around on the floor--even though she is too weak to stand. As I dance and twirl in my colorful skirts, she dances vicariously through me. Once in a while our eyes meet and she nods in approval.

She and I have had dreams of visiting a large Messianic church, called Beit Tikvah, two hours away, near Seattle. They dance for the Jewish feast days! Christlyn talks about this dream every time we get together. She wants me to experience dancing in circles within circles within circles of Messianic worship dancers. (Some day I will dance in Israel.) It is on Christlyn's “bucket list” so we HAVE to go. Then she will have completed my request to teach me everything she knows. She says, “Jenna, it is amazing. They dance the dance of Israel.”

Christlyn called me for my birthday last week. As a gift she is paying fee for the Beit Tikvah Passover Seder which will be followed by about four hours of Israeli Circle Dancing. On Tuesday, March 26th we are going! Isn’t it amazing? Christlyn and I will wear blue and white and dance the dance of Israel!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

New Covenant: Jesus died for Israel and the Rest of Us

I don't claim to be an expert on the current State of Israel. This is an issue that gets people hot under the collar. I am not trying to stir up anyone's political or even theological juices. What excites me is the Living Word, and if you look there, you will find truth!

This week’s topic is about Israel. Tony C’s post yesterday reflects my own searching over the hot button issue of modern-day Israel. Many evangelical Christians are strongly asserting that we “must” support Israel’s claim to its lands in Palestine since in the Bible they are referred to as God’s chosen people and He gave them the land. Meanwhile, there are others (mainly left-wing, politically) who emphatically believe Israel has no right to Palestine, and consistently blame Israel for the violence in that area.

When I read the history of the Israelites, which you can find in the Old Testament, I have no doubt that God blessed the people of Israel and covenanted with them to lead them, provide for them and fellowship with them.  If you doubt the Bible, Israel’s history is well documented in the annals of other contemporaneous kingdoms.  One of my absolute favorite classes in seminary was Dr. Carol Kaminski’s Survey of the Old Testament. Another is Dr. Gordon Hugenberger’s “Messiah in the Old Testament.” 

Dr. Kaminski, through use of her amazing tool, CASKET EMPTY, explains the chronological history of Old Testament Israel, something that is difficult to figure out if you attempt to read the OT in order (the books are primarily in length order, not in chronological order). Dr. Hugenberger, on the other hand, unveiled for blind eyes that the plan for the Savior Jesus is evident even from the Garden of Eden.

Those were exciting classes for me! I finally understood what the deal was with all those kings, why the nation divided, and why Israel was consistently taken captive in the years after the nation divided: SIN and REBELLION. I mentioned the covenant earlier: a covenant goes both ways: God said he would do such and such, and Israel promised to do such and such. The problem was that Israel consistently broke the covenant over hundreds of years. They would turn back to God when things got too harsh and then rebel as their hearts again grew hard.

That is why Jesus is decrying the disobedience and murderous hearts of a covenantal people: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! Look, your house is left to you desolate.”

Jesus died for all the world, both Jew and Gentile, for every nation and every people group (John 3:16).  The New Covenant spoken of by the OT prophet Jeremiah (chapter 31) came to fruition through the death and resurrection of Jesus: “I am the way, the truth and the life, and no one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6). I believe salvation, desperately needed by each one of us to free us from the chains of darkness and death, is for all who look on that cross and believe.

Only God’s love can transform Israel, Palestine and the rest of this planet, one person at a time. So, when I am tempted to think I know God's mind about the Palestinian people, or the Muslims, or the Jews, or Americans for that matter, I am reminded of my own penchant for hatred or ignorance or misunderstanding, and I must return to the words of Jesus: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:43-48).

Image of green door in the old city Zefat, from

Monday, February 25, 2013

Is Israel Today the Same Israel of Jesus? By Tony C

Have you ever been to the Holy Land? Do you have an opinion either way on the position of Israel's relationship to Christianity? This week your Kingdom Bloggers will be exploring the topic of Israel and what personal connection, if any, each of us has to the nation.

Once again, I might be using my current position of picking weekly topics for Kingdom Bloggers a bit selfishly. Israel has been a topic of great interest to me over the past year. While I feel I have a good grasp on the political issues surrounding our close ally, the deeply rooted evangelical support for the state still somewhat baffles me.

I have several relatives who have travelled to the Holy Land. Of course, that was in days long ago when tensions and violence were no where near current levels in the country. Each one of them has related a tremendous spiritual experience being in the same areas that Jesus walked 2,000 years ago. I get that.

Where the ground gets a little shaking for me is the seemingly blind allegiance evangelical Christians have for the nation/state. My Sunday School class just finished a series in the books of Joshua and Judges, so I understand the biblical history and the significance of Israel in God's overall plan of salvation. But is the nation of Israel today the same Israel spoken about in God's word?

I'm not so sure and here's why. The Children of Israel were chosen by God, and despite tremendous efforts in disobedience, and were to be the bloodline from where Jesus would be born. Mission completed. But the same descendants of Judah that joined Jesus' ministry are also the same descendants that demanded His crucifixion. What gives?

The connection and continuation between the Old and New Testament or unmistakable and undeniable. I clearly see and understand that. Where I get a bit clouded is the comparison to the nation of Israel of the Old Testament, the Jews of the New Testament, and the current make up of the country of modern day Israel.

According to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, the population in 2011 was 75.4% Jewish, 20.6% Arab, and 2.1% Christian. That means, by definition, that 96% of the nation does not believe that Jesus Christ came and died for the sins of the world. Adding to the confusion is an additional statistic that shows only 65% of those claiming to be Jewish also state a belief in God. Now what gives?

While my quest for more understanding on the connection between God's covenant with Abraham and the modern day state of Israel is far from over (if there actually is a connection), I will still lean for now on the words of Paul in Romans:

It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their (the Jews) spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things.  

The is no denying Jesus was forthcoming about His Jewish heritage, and I completely understand why. God endured great long suffering with His chosen people, and they obviously hold a special place in His heart. Jesus came to minister to the Jews, but He died for all of mankind. I don't, however, buy the argument of Pat Robertson and some other Evangelical Christian talking heads who frequently quote the scripture from John 4:22 as contemporary support for Israel when Jesus tells the woman at the well ...salvation is from the Jews.

First, Jesus is clearly speaking of His role in God's plan of salvation for all and the fact that He is a Jew. Eternal life would not be found in the Samaritans or any Gentiles for that matter.

Second, are the Jews Jesus refers to in this passage the same self-identifying Jews of today's Israel? Honestly, I don't know, but I will continue to study while I support Israel for the obvious political reasons I do understand.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Can Truth Be Found in Fiction? by Linda Maynard

This week on Kingdom Bloggers, we are discussing favorite Contemporary Christian Author and Books.

Four authors came to mind, Francine Rivers, Bodie Theone, Liz Curtis Higgs and Jill Austin.

Francine writes fiction, Bodie, along with her husband Brock writes Historical fiction, Liz writes both fiction and nonfiction and Jill, nonfiction, fiction and allegories.

What surprises me about liking their books is the fact that I do like fiction writing. I will tell you why that surprises me. For so many years, all that I would read was nonfiction, with practically no interest in fiction. But with these authors and others, I have broadened my repertoire.

 I see that fiction books are not much different than the parables that Jesus taught. They use the power of imagination to open up our minds to truth and the Word of God.

Perhaps the number one book from this group of authors would be Francine River’s Book, “Redeeming Love”. I think I have read it three times and just received another copy to replace the one I gave away.

It is a story based on the book of Hosea, which is of course about the Lord’s steadfast Love of His Bride, the Church. (Each and every believer)

I liken this book’s influence similar to listening to a song. With a song, barriers of fear and a misunderstanding of the Lord’s steadfast faithfulness to His bride can be demolished. Listening to a song and it having a powerful effect of us is because the words and/or the tune are like an arrow that pierces the deepest parts of our heart.

I mentioned in a previous blog, that my life scripture, which I go to, again and again is Hebrews 13:5…”I will NEVER leave you or forsake you”

“Redeeming Love” emphasizes this type of love. Michael Hosea, one of the main characters is based on Hosea (who represents the Lord). Michael Hosea and his unwavering love for his wife Gomer is exemplified clearly in the book. Gomer’s character is called, Angel and she represents us, the Bride of Christ.

The story take place in the 1850’s during the Gold Rush,

 What first attracted me to Francine as an author?  It was her testimony.

She had been brought up in a religious home, received Jesus into her heart as a child and yet He did not become Lord in her life, until she was well into adulthood, with a husband and three children.

Previously she had a very successful career in the secular book market, being a romance author, for almost ten years. She received many accolades and awards during that time.

When she returned to the Lord, she laid down her writing for a season, as she realized that it had become an idol to her.

In church, she sat under good expository teaching that explained the historical context of what the scriptures were saying. She became seeped in the Word of God.

Redeeming Love was the first novel she wrote, after the Lord became number one in her life.

I like that Francine writes fiction for reasons beyond imagination. She always has a Biblical theme in mind when she writes.

In her own words, she “uses her writing to draw closer to the Lord and that through her work, she might worship and praise Jesus for all He has done and is doing in her life.”

And we know that the bread that we have been given like she has, is the very thing we now have to distribute to the world.

I would recommend visiting her website to get a sense of her style, what she writes and how she has been given a gift of being able to revamp a talent, now to be used for the glory of God.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Great Books for Thinking About Faith

This week on Kingdom Bloggers, we are talking about contemporary authors. I decided to recommend some authors who stimulate thinking about issues of faith, theology, and our unique journeys of belief. We need to think more and react less! For a scriptural reference on this, read The Epistle of James, chapter 3. I am also a great believer in humor and the healing power of laughter! 

Carolyn Custis James, Half the Church, When Life and Beliefs CollideBook of Ruth, Lost Women of the Bible
I have been a fan of Carolyn's since I heard her speak at a conference in 2005 encouraging the crowd to encourage women to step up to the plate in ministry and careers.  In Half the Church, she offers a healthy discussion of why men and women should be partnering in ministry, in marriage, in life, in business, etc., instead of...well, dwelling on much of the division we have known for years. The other main issue in this book is the call to rescue our global sisters from sexual trafficking, prostitution, and abuse--and giving them a reason to trust and to live: Jesus Christ, and the fellowship of believers who care enough to do something about this crisis. I wrote a six-week study based on Half the Church for my 2012 summertime “Stories on the Porch” I host for women (no offense to men; my porch can only fit so many J), and it stimulated great discussion and challenged our thinking.  Carolyn's other books are excellent as well, and highly recommended.

 Philip Yancey, Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church.
    This is one of the most important books on faith I have read, and I wish I had known about it ten years ago when it was first published. Back then, I had an aversion to reading contemporary Christian authors for a few reasons, including the relentless marketing of the “same-old same-old” stuff, a growing unsettling about authors of a certain gender, type and age telling me how to think, what to believe, etc., and zero free time raising three young children.
       The funny thing is, Yancey is exactly one of those authors I avoided, certain he had nothing original or pertinent to say to me. So, my own stubbornness and assumptions got in the way of “listening” to him.
     The book is comprised of 13 chapters, each focusing on a person who profoundly impacted Yancey’s faith (usually in times of doubt and struggle) through personal engagement, research or studying the writings and life of past authors/thinkers (persons like Martin Luther King, G. K. Chesterton, Ghandi, Annie Dillard, Dr. Paul Brand). Soul Survivor will challenge and convict believers about their understanding of some prominent Christians, and will hopefully remind us that truly authentic Christians can love and serve Christ while also living flawed lives--because we all are flawed and broken, and in need of redemption. Yancey received a lot of hate mail over his early essays on Martin Luther King, C. Everett Koop, and Ghandi--most of it from evangelical Christians.
     Yancey survived a fundamentalist, racist, hypocritical church as he grew up, but his faith would have withered and died if not for the authentic, loving, sacrificial people God put in his path to challenge his own assumptions about the Church.
      The book also spoke to me because of its support of the power of art and literature (novels, poems, stories) to draw people to Christ.

No doubt some of the content of this honest memoir will bug (read: offend) some people, but this book is not about theology. It is about the personal journey of a woman raised as a Mennonite who left faith behind for 25 years, but who could not escape God’s whisper of love to her. Janzen is an English professor, and her spot-on storytelling and wit are treasures.   Her previous memoir, Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, should probably be read first (which I have not done yet!).  A friend gave the second one to me as a gift, so I plunged ahead--no regrets! J

Monday, February 18, 2013

Francis Chan...Getting Back to the Basics by Tony C

Hope everyone had a Spirit-filled weekend of worship for an almighty God! This week the writers of Kingdom Bloggers are sharing our favorite contemporary book or author. Since we don't collaborate on our post other than sharing a common weekly theme, it should be interesting to see if any of us cross paths when it comes to this subject matter.

I would be remiss not to mention the impact that C.S. Lewis has had on my faith. Mere Christianity changed the very manner in which I think about my beliefs and started me on a quest to learn as much about apologetics as I possibly could learn.

However, my choice for this weeks topic is actually Francis Chan.

I've read two of Chan's books, Crazy Love and Erasing Hell, and his latest Multiply is in queue to read sometime this Spring. I enjoy his simplistic writing style and back-to-basics approach to key issue in the Christian faith.

To be completely transparent, I wasn't overly impressed with Crazy Love after first reading the book several years ago, but that wasn't a very fair initial reaction. I read the book during somewhat of a 'feeding-frenzy' for biblical commentary to try to satisfy a hunger for deeper theological context. Chan's book are not that, but he doesn't promote them as such either.

I've heard my new pastor (as of January 6) say several times from the pulpit that sometimes we make this thing called Christianity 'just too complicated.' He's right. If Jesus is to be the model for our ministry as we work for the Kingdom, I believe Chan gets that. His books are written in a language that's easily digested for either the non-believer or newcomer to the faith while challenging to the dogma that often starts clouding the clarity of the Good News for the long-time follower.

Francis Chan's books are excellent for age groups starting with teenager and going through the golden seniors of our churches. Both of the books I've read are perfect for opening dialogue and discussion. More importantly, Chan is true to the Bible on his subject matters while not watering down a point for the sake of compromise or political correctness.

If you're looking for a good read concerning the Christian faith, I don't think you can go wrong with Crazy Love. Just be sure to approach the book for what Chan intended. You will be blessed.

Friday, February 15, 2013

What’s a Pork Chop, Got to Do, Got To Do with It? by Linda Maynard



What's love got to do, got to do with it
What's love but a sweet old fashioned notion

Song by Tina Turner


There I go again, singing a song but changing the words. So far I am not making much sense, am I? Well, you know Tina Turner’s popular song sounds like she was confused about Love too.

A pork chop and pea soup I might add are what I want to talk about today.

What on earth DO they have to do with love?

While growing up, in a big family, my mother used to try all kinds of new economical recipes. Some were welcomed surprises. Others were, well, just surprises, even to her.

One day, she wanted to bless my soon to be husband, Marcel. She sometimes called him a Frenchie, but in a loving way. So, she wanted to make something that he would enjoy. She made pea soup. She used an old fashioned pressure cooker, which scared the daylights out of me, but she liked to cook with it, having a lot of success.

There was a little caveat to using the pressure cooker. You had to pay attention to the process and at the precise time that the steam started to spout, you had to get the weight onto the cover and lower the heat.

She must have been distracted. She panicked to get the top piece on, while trying to avoid burning herself with the steam. She was too late. The result was thick green pea soup that shot up like a geyser and all over her ceiling. It was thick enough to adhere to it, with enough water to have it form droplets. If you can piucture Carlsbad Caverns, you get the picturte.

So I am talking about pea’s soup, how on earth do pork chops fit into the picture?

One day, as we were gathered around the tables for supper and pork chops were the highlight of the meal. It was something that we rarely had and you could say we savored every morsel. My mom was ready to sit down, which always seemed to be late, because she was making sure everyone was taken care of. I think it was my oldest brother, who had already finished his pork chop and asked for another. Now, my dad would have received two but for us, it was usually one. In answer to the request though, my mom gave my brother her pork chop.

I was incredulous, I think in part by what I perceived as my brother’s selfishness and on the other hand, thinking my mother was a push over.  So I said to my mom, “I would never be able to do that!” She said, “Someday when you have children of your own, you will understand.”

I was not convinced.

A few years into my marriage, I dialed my mom’s phone number. I really don’t remember what I “gave” to one of my children, but I told her “Do you remember giving your pork chop up that day? Now I understand”

I guess you could say that pork chops became a symbol of the sacrificial giving, that I have come to know as part of love.

Have you too had time when you gave forgiveness, shown love, extended aid, fed the hungry, gave up your insistence to be right, as an act of sacrificial love?

Even writing about it, I can almost feel the cringe inside of me that I have felt during those decision making junctures. Human nature…which is our flesh…wants what it wants when it wants it. In some instances, we can rightfully say it I ours to have. What we give out of that place though, can feed another soul.

I told you pork chops have a lot to do with love.

I guess I am really not as confused as Tina Turner was.

“Tina” I must tell you… “LOVE has a LOT to do with it and it is NOT a second hand emotion.”


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Loving Words by Jenna Vick Silliman

Lately I’ve been thinking about how I want my words to be more loving and more life-giving. Looking in the Scripture we find hundreds and hundreds of Bible verses about what we say. Here are three ways to be more loving with our words.

The first is to think before we speak—to just slow down. I don’t want to rattle off any old words that come to my mind. Instead, why not think for a bit about what would be the most loving thing to say? If we really listen, and then take time to process what the person is communicating, we will have a much better response. “If anyone does not bridle his tongue, his religion is worthless.” (See James 1:26.)

I had a dream the other night that was quite unusual, so I wrote it down and prayed about what it might mean. Often God speaks to us in our dreams, so I didn’t want to miss what He had for me. I dreamed that as I walked around the upper balcony of a castle, I watched men practicing archery down below. They were missing the target over and over. Suddenly I vomited right into the face of one of the men. I hurried along, appalled at myself and then I did it again, and then a third time. Then I woke up. My impression was that God was giving me some gentle correction about how I “spew” my words over people and that they were missing the mark. I am a sensitive and intuitive person and I know if I slow down and take time to think before I speak, I can be much more loving and more of a blessing with what I say.

Secondly, is to live by this motto. “If you don’t have something good to say, don’t say anything at all.” Our words can be cruel. God wants us to be kind. Turn every negative around into a positive. There is always something bad to say about people, but we can choose to look at the positive things and to make comment on them instead. Quietness is preferable to a negative remark. If something negative is being discussed, we can be silent, we can change the subject, or say “Excuse me for a minute.” When my brother died many people shared at his memorial that he never said anything bad about anyone. That inspired me. I want to be like that!

A third way to be more loving with our words is to be thoughtful about what we say. The Bible says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” (See Proverbs 25:11.) I like to tell short testimonies or stories that are inspiring, encouraging, and give hope to people. I’m trying to give compliments to people more often too. To tell a struggling parent that you think they are an awesome mom or dad, may be just the encouragement they need to spur them on. I like to say “thank you” to teachers or someone who has helped me in some way. As I was leaving a folk dance class I said, “Thank you!” to one of the teachers. It came as a shock because no one had said thank you for about ten years! “Thank you”, “You’re awesome”, and “Good work” are all wonderful expressions to say often. Complaints are discouraging, but compliments are encouraging.

“A seed never looks like the plant. We often sow seeds into the lives of people, only to discover years later, that an orchard sprouted from our tiny investment. Never under estimate the value of a kind word, a compliment, or an act of generosity. Who knows what might be growing in the hearts of people because of you?” –Kris Vallotton

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Is There Love in the Church?

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

“God is teaching us how to love as Jesus loved.” A friend and I were in conversation about the concept of the family of God, and evidence of a deepening sense of community among us in Rochester. It comes at a cost: humility, vulnerability, facing conflict, trusting that God is at work.

If you have lived in a family, then you know that love and relationships can be messy. A pastor friend was recently preaching, “There will always be people in your life who are difficult, who you don’t like, or don’t like you--and those are just the people in your families!”  If you are part of a church, why assume it will be any different?

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

A frequent prayer when my children were growing up sounded like this: “Lord, I need to love these kids as you do! Help me!” It felt like failure--a sharp tongue, sarcasm, impatience, exasperation, fear--was present far more often than success (see the scripture above for a description of successful loving).

But as my friend said, we are learning. Present tense. We agreed that it is a journey, sometimes a scary, exciting one, that will not fully be reached until we reach the shores of eternity.

Love never fails... When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became an adult, I put the ways of childhood behind me.

Peter Scazzero, in his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality says, “You can’t have the true peace of Christ’s kingdom with lies and pretense. They must be exposed to the light and replaced with the truth. This is the mature, loving thing to do”  (p. 185). We are lying to ourselves if we think we or our churches have “arrived” or “have got this” when it comes to the Gospel, when it comes to loving others. We must be able to look at ourselves, our families, our communities with clear-eyed honesty if we are ever to experience the hope of change.

This is not easy! Who wants to admit to selfishness, hypocrisy, racist thoughts, hatred, vengeful thoughts, fear, jealousy? Yet, if we know and believe that God loves us--and others--deeply, unconditionally, then we can face the truth about our sins, our weaknesses (1 John 4:19), and repent and trust Him to change our hearts.

If your response to this is a cynical, "Yeah, right. Hearts can't change," consider the story of former Westboro Baptist member Megan Phelps-Roper, granddaughter of "church" founder Fred Phelps. She is facing the truth of who she was, and who her family still is, clear-eyed. To leave a life-long, learned mindset of hate, can be only a work of the Love of God, who desires to set us free (Romans 8:15).

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
                                                                        1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Image from Blackberry Cottage.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Some say there are no absolutes...but I beg to differ.

This was my very first blog post on Tony C Today back in 2008. It was in honor of my Valentine on a Monday back still rings true today. I love you Candice with all my heart.

Music is such an important part of most people's lives today. It can lift our spirits, mellow us out, fire us up, drag us down…it pretty much always invokes an emotional response when we listen on one level or another.

Today while driving home from work, I experienced one of those emotions in a major way. You see, I was driving along in my own little private world of thoughts and images, where the sky is always Dodger blue and the mailbox is only filled with birthday cards. Yeah, and you always have ice cream in the freezer that has never been opened before…any way…that's when Josh Groban's tenor voice filled my car with a very familiar song.

When I am down and oh my soul so weary
When troubles come and my heart burdens me
Then I am still and wait here in the silence
Until you come and sit a while with me

You raise me up so I can stand on mountains
You raise me to walk on stormy seas
I am strong when I am on your shoulders
You raise me up to more than I can be...

My eyes filled with tears as I drove along heading directly for the person that embodies that very song for me. She will be waiting for me, glad to see me once again…wait a minute…she? That's a Christian song about Jesus isn't it?

There was a very difficult time in my life when that precise thought, about that very song, confused me. You see, I was separated from her, but she, just like my Savior, stood by me and kept me strong, faithful and focused. I would hear Josh Groban and feel equally emotional about the lyrics that described what both meant to me. So much…so strong.

Guilt would then lead to prayer and study in God's word about why I was confusing the two, when one day in reading I came across Ephesians 5:25:

Husbands love your wives, just as Christ loved the church…

That's when I clearly came to the understanding that I'm supposed to love her, yes my beautiful wife and soul mate, just as strong as Jesus loves me…meaning only He comes before her in my heart and soul. A wonderful peace came over me. I felt that peace today again on the way home to be with her.

Marriage is an important bond to God. He gave us so much in His word about what He expects in our marriages. I'm so glad I have a marriage built on the foundation of God. I'm most appreciative He blessed me with a wonderful woman who is only second to Him. She lifts me up…just like Jesus.

My wish is that God blesses you, as He has me, with an amazing spouse….or maybe... He has already.


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Legacy of a Praying Grandma by Jenna Vick Silliman

My Grandma Gerry Vick delighted in the Lord and He delighted in giving her the desires of her heart. (See Psalm 37:4.) She was given the name Lois Geraldine Squires at birth. Therefore Timothy in the Bible and I have something in common—praying grandmothers named Lois. She has been with Jesus for over twenty years now, but she lived to be almost ninety years old and she was sharp and active and praying right up until the end of her life. 

I have many family pictures from Grandma and a set of bowls from her in my kitchen. I have part of her teacup collection, and in my cabinet I have the old family Bible from her side of the family which she passed down to me. It will go to our oldest son, Daniel. I also have her hope chest, which I have given to my daughter, Valerie.

I have her wedding portrait framed next to mine and my husband’s grandma—all in our wedding dresses. Both my husband’s grandmother and my grandma were thirteenth children in their families. In our family it gives us a funny feeling when we realize none of us would be here if our great-grandparents didn’t have thirteen children!

My whole life has been changed by a simple prayer my Grandma said daily. She developed a habit of reading God’s Word every day, but before she opened the good book, she prayed, “Dear Heavenly Father, please speak to me through Your Word.” Then she opened it up and read until something spoke to her heart. Now this is what I do—just about every day without fail.

Grandma prayed for me every day of my life. Grandma was a prayer warrior and she never, ever gave up. When she made up her mind to pray for something or someone she kept on praying every day. I wouldn’t be surprised if she was still praying up in heaven!

To live out Grandma’s legacy, I pray and pray and never, ever give up. I too delight myself in the Lord and know that He delights to grant me the desires of my heart. This morning, while still in bed, my husband, Cliff, and I took hands at 6 am and prayed for each of our children and their spouses. We also prayed for our “twinkles”. Our grandchildren are twinkles in our children’s eyes. Hahaha! We prayed about our lives, our needs, our dreams. Jesus said, “You have not because you ask not.” (See Luke 11:9.) Why not ask Him for our heart’s desires?

Thank you God for the legacy of a praying grandma!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Irish Grandmother

She waved her hand over the jewelry pieces. “Choose something.” We sat across from one another, at my mom’s oval table. Between us, lay necklaces, earrings, and pins. Remnants of a 84 year-old life brought 3,000 miles from a green island to a Connecticut kitchen.

My grandmother died twelve years ago today in Athenry, County Galway, Ireland (February 5, 2001). I know where I was when I heard the news (digging out our van from a blizzard in the early dark of winter). I can still see my eight-year old daughter, leaning out the door, phone in hand. It was the day before my mother’s birthday, Mary Curran’s third child of eleven, second daughter of eight girls. February is filled with the birthdays of Mary Curran’s daughters.

On February 8, my sisters and I joined my mother, her siblings and most of our cousins in the house where Mary Curran bore her children, and in the kitchen where all of her grandchildren, even the American ones, had shared meals, boiled water for tea, and been subjected to the humiliation of having a grandmother iron our underwear.

Mary Curran was a force of nature. She was elegant, tough, educated, demanding, generous, well-traveled, doted on by her children, feared and respected by us all. Make no mistake about it: she was a matriarch. She was the center of the family. She knew comfort, and she knew hardship. She loved God, her family and her country (which, despite a U.S. birth certificate, was Ireland).

When I was a child, she sometimes would refer to our family in the States as "Yanks" (which irked us) or would chide me about some nonsense I said or did, but then a day later, slip me some money to buy something nice for myself: “Don’t tell anyone.” Only many years later, did we cousins discover she did that with all of us: made us feel special, in on a secret with Grandma.

As a young adult, I was once sitting next to Grandma in church. I can’t remember if it was in Connecticut or County Galway. But I do remember my grandmother’s fervent worship in prayer. I could hear her telling the Lord how much she loved him. I was embarrassed, but I was moved. I knew then that my beloved, intimidating grandmother had a personal relationship with God.

My grandmother left behind a huge legacy of Irish, Irish-American and English relatives who enjoy (mostly) one another’s company. I did wonder if the deep ties she had established with extended family would sever in her absence. Her absence is still felt, but the family ties remain.

The jewelry on the table was not expensive or glamorous. But it was my grandmother’s, and I did want something that had belonged to her. It would be an ongoing tie to her life, our family history.  A silver pin caught my eye: it was an Irish coin made into a piece of elegant art. I caught my breath at the coin’s date: it was my birth year.

I pinned it on my jacket.

Monday, February 4, 2013

When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a Tony C

This week, your Kingdom Bloggers are posting about the legacy of a grandparent or even a great, grandparent. I've been picking the themes for each week (with the help of Linda, thanks!), and I have to be honest and admit this one is a little self-center on the timing. I look forward to the stories all week.

Mamaw's FB

My beloved grandmother passed away this week, and I'm honestly having a difficult time being sad about it...

Affectionately know by the Southern appellation of Mamaw, she was 98 years and almost 8 months old (months really matter at both ends of a person's life). Until the very end, she had lived a pretty healthy life and had a sharp mind too. But her body was tired. She had lost a lot of her hearing. Her heart and lungs were just tuckered out.

She passed with three of her four remaining children by her side while one rushed from Florida and was no doubt shortly joined by the one that went Home over 35 years ago after losing a battle with cancer. My sister had stayed with her that last night in the hospital and says she was alert yet very much aware her time to go was drawing near. She loved God for His mercy and grace. She knew Jesus...and today knows what He actually looks like.

I find it hard to be sad about Mamaw Cradic passing after she lived a long, blessed life. My memories are quite fond and drift back to a time when playing ball in her front yard was a weekly (daily in the summer) ritual for my cousins and other neighborhood kids. Some would come from up to a mile away leaving moms that only worried if their child would return with torn or badly stained clothes. A few teeth were also left in her yard from games of tackle football. We didn't need Title IX to make play fair and equal for the girls because they participated in all the games too.

Mamaw Cradic could remember dates and lineages to the very end. I can't help but laugh because that skill has abandoned my generation and beyond as we are bombarded daily with useless and unnecessary information at scales never before known in human history. In her time, weddings mattered. Birth and death dates mattered. Events were measured and marked by the impact they made on families. If only we could recapture that focus today and forsake our narcissistic driven culture of how does that really affect me?

Mamaw Cradic was my last living grandparent. My mom's father passed when she was still but a child. I have faded but loving memories of her mother who past when I was only 5. My dad's father passed the year my oldest daughter was born in 1995. She had the opportunity to spend time recently with Mamaw Cradic. Something teenagers today have gotten away from doing... no... something we all have gotten away from doing. It's not fair to point an accusatory finger at a generation that only follows the lead we've provided for them.

My middle daughter will be hard pressed to remember much about Mamaw Cradic, and the two-year old...well...she will see pictures of herself with her great, grandmother. I will make sure of that fact along with telling all three of them stories about each of their ancestors who have already gone Home. If their legacies die, I will have no one to blame but me.

Spend time with your living loved ones this weekend. Share and listen to stories about your roots.

There's not a better education available anywhere else in the world.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The End of the Never Ending Story by Lin Maynard

I am going to be real and admit something about the Book of Revelation that really appealed to me.

It’s not actually written IN the book, it is about the author of the Book.

John, who was exiled to the Island of Patmos, was an original apostle. However, he is the ONLY one who did not die a martyr’s death.

When I realized that, I signed up on the dotted line for his type of natural death. I told the Lord “I don’t think I am martyr material.”

Since then I’ve reconsidered. I don’t say this lightly or without consideration, but I now pray that I would be willing to die a martyr’s death for my faith. I cannot imagine ever denying the Lord who has been my all and given me His all.

I won’t fool you with some bravado stance, because I am not that fearless, but that is my desire. Yielding to the Lord and trusting Him seems to be a better than picking my manner of death, as if from a menu.

Ok, now that’s taken care of. Now, for the content of the Book.

I know some people who, when they begin reading a book, actually read the ending first. I find it rather curious. Why spoil the buildup and the suspense?

Well, if one does read the end of this Book, we know it ends well.

It does end emphatically with the Lord Himself saying that He is coming soon! In the last Chapter, the Lord says it three times. THAT is good glad and glorious news! It should fill us with Hope.

In that same Chapter, the Bride of Christ, (which is all believers), responds to Jesus’ declarations, with the Spirit saying, “Come!”

It may be hard for some to wrap their minds around the fact that we are His Bride (perhaps even more so for the guys). The fact calls us to go beyond our analytical thinking into a faith filled response.

Our Lord is passionate towards us. He died for us. He has never left us or forsaken us. He is for us when others are against us. He protects us. He gives us a hope and a future. He is our best cheerleader and comforter and encourager. He IS the Lover of our Souls.

I love to go to weddings. Even though I am way beyond the age of getting married, WAIT!!! I AM married (sorry Hon!). I still like to look at Bridal Books, the gowns, the flowers and the decorations. I know the Marriage Supper of the Lamb will be more spectacular than any earthly wedding could ever be

I had a funny thought. The rage for weddings these days are destination weddings. There is not a more perfect destination and there is not a wedding planner alive who can rival the scenery, the ambience or the promised perfection of the day that the Lord has planned.

Lastly, as I read the beginning of Revelation, in preparation to writing this, I was struck with something I hadn’t considered before.

The Lord speaks to the Seven Churches, which I believe relate to the church of today, He speaks like a loving Father would. For all but one, He mentions their strengths, and again for all but one, He speaks of their weaknesses.

Isn’t that just like a Father to encourage us with what we do right, while at the same time pointing out where we need to improve? It’s clear and concise. It has the tone of “I love you, you please me, but these are the places that need your attention”

It’s a case of “Father REALLY knows best”

I know have highlighted a lot of things that I have some understanding of. I join many of you who have read the jarring, weird and disturbing parts and shake my head and say “Huh???”

I wonder what John thought as he saw what he saw and then penned it?

Perhaps “OK folks, I am just here reporting as an eyewitness!”

Consider this. We too have things that we DO know about the Lord through our relationship with Him that would cause some to, “they are really weird” (remember, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is like foolishness unto man)

Virgin birth?

Need for a Savior?

Jesus died on the cross for our sins?

Throw all that in the Noah’s Ark, Jonah in the whale, the Walls of Jericho falling down and the Red Sea etc...

In the end….

and at the end…

I ask...

 “Do I trust the promises of God?”

"Do I trust the One who promised?"