What’s In a Name

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“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Romeo and Juliet, Act II. Scene II

Really? Is not a name important? If you called a rose “fetid” would it smell as sweet?

In the ancient Hebrew culture, a person’s name, or “shem,” was significant. It told of the person’s character: of his birth or some future hope. God often changed a person’s name after His call came into their life.

Take Paul for example:

His given name was Saul, which means “desired” or “asked for” in Hebrew. It was changed to Paul – which means “small” or “little” in Greek – after his conversion. The bold and dangerous Pharisee was sent in humility to witness to the Gentiles of Greece.

And then there was Peter, whose name was Simon (meaning “he has heard”). His name was changed by Jesus to Peter – meaning “rock or stone.” It was upon his faith that Jesus was the Christ that the Church was built.

Was it not Jacob (“heel holder” or “supplanter”) who stole Esau’s (Esau means “hairy”) birthright, and thus, supplanting Esau, by tricking Isaac into blessing him instead of his elder brother.

It was as though by calling a child by a particular name, one could predict the future character of the person the babe would grow to be. And so, as I began my journey through the Hills of Ephraim that I took great pains to name the characters within my novel according to their given purpose.

Each name has a specific meaning in relation to their role in the telling of this epic tale.

There is Nagad, the haunted protagonist, whose name means “messenger” in Hebrew. His story reaches us through the warfare in his life, both physical and spiritual, as he works through old hurts to find how he measures into Yahweh’s plans.

His foil, Ekwesh, is a Philistine struggling with the same issues of faith as his counterpart. His name is found in writings describing the Sea Peoples of old, and the ancient Greek warriors such as Homer’s Achaeans in the Iliad.

Tiphcar (“captain” in Hebrew), his very name denotes strength and leadership, is captain of the Israelite forces. He is a pillar of courage on which the young conscript, Nagad, can lean.

And so the characters enter into the midst of the story, each bringing a message to the reader by the name they bear.

So what is in a name? Join the story and see what message the characters have for you.

THE STONE OF EBENEZER

Spring 2015

~ Susan

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Finding Joy in the Absence of Happiness

Happiness…People are always looking for happiness. But happiness is fleeting. Happiness is conditional. It is in response to what is occurring in our lives that makes us happy. Let’s face it, sometimes there is nothing to be happy about.

Joy is what we should seek. Joy comes from within. It is constant. Even in the worst of situations, when there is no happiness to be found, we can experience joy.

Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.” John 15:11

But how does one obtain joy?tumblr_m4avwpwxhL1r1o6z3o1_500

Philippians chapter four gives us a look at how we, as Christians, can have joy in the absence of happiness.

Look at verses four through five:

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”

So the first thing we must do is to rejoice always! Not just when we feel good about life, but in every situation. Not an easy thing to do! Sometimes, we just want to feel sorry for ourselves, to pout. Sometimes we want to wallow in our grief. I know, I have been there. But Paul tells us to rejoice anyway.

Next, we are instructed to let our gentleness be evident to all. Our gentleness….not our impatience, or roughness, or sharp tongued better than thou attitude. When I am happy, no problem. But what happens when I am mad, or sad? Can I still maintain an air of gentleness, meekness, and patience? Ah, that is the challenge.

Let me get this straight, Paul says we are to rejoice even when we don’t fell like rejoicing, and be kind when we don’t feel like being kind. How is that possible?

Moving on, verse six and seven give us more insight into this troubling guidance.

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

Do not be anxious about anything. Easy, right?

Let’s look deeper.

Take the word anxious. What do we know about that word?

The dictionary says that it is mental distress or to be greatly worried.

So verse six says – do not be anxious, or rather don’t worry. Even better – don’t worry about anything! Ever! How can we do that when there is so much to worry about?

Paul goes on to tell us how.

By prayer and supplication – wait. Supplication? What does that mean?

Supplication – humble prayer, entreaty, or petition

It just means to ask.

“You do not have because you do not ask.” James 4:2

So just ask. Ask God in every situation, no matter how big or how small, ask Him.

But there is a catch.

We are to ask Him with a thankful heart. Thanking Him even before we receive an answer.

Then what will happen?

Verse seven goes on to say that God will give us peace, peace greater than our understanding. This does not mean He gives us what we want, but whatever His answer, we will have peace.

This peace guards our hearts and minds.

Think of it this way- our heart is our soul. Our mind is our knowledge and feelings.

Why do we need to guard them?

The enemy is out there trying to make us afraid. Trying to make us doubt God. He will constantly try to make us stumble, to put bad thoughts in our minds – thoughts of self-doubt, depression, self-hate.

If we take everything to God, and give it all to Him, He gives us peace, and the devil has no power over our soul or our thoughts. But we have to obey God always and seek His will, not our own.

“You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” James 4:3

Okay, so we are to rejoice in every situation, be kind and gentle, and give all our worries to God. That is quite a list. But Paul gives us another step toward finding joy. Verse eight tells us to think upon only what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable. If anything can be found that is praiseworthy, dwell on that.

“The best memory is that which forgets nothing, but injuries. Write kindness in marble and write injuries in the dust.” Persian Proverb

If you do as you have learned from Paul, the God of peace will be with you. He will grant you peace. And where there is peace, there is found joy. Joy that permeates into your very being. Even in the face of trauma and trials, joy fills your heart with the peace that passes all understanding.

Lastly, Paul demonstrate to us this peace as he writes:

“For I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Philippians 4:11-12

Contentment in all situations, knowing that God is in control, that He supplies every need, and that He walks beside us through the fires of adversity.

And here in verse thirteen, Paul gives us the answer to how we can do what is necessary to obtain this joy beyond measure.

“I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.”

It is not by our strength, but through God’s strength that we are able to experience joy even in the dark valleys of life. No matter what disappointments or trials you must face, give it all to God. Let Him work it out in His way and in His time. Don’t hold on to your burden, but leave it at the cross. Then your heart will be open to experience true joy.

“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4: 19

~ Susan

I have faced dark days. On September 11, 2001, my father was killed by terrorists. In the aftermath that followed, my faith was shaken to its very foundation. Through it all, God has shown me His benevolent nature as He walked each step with me. Truly, there is joy in the Lord.

Join me as I share with you a message of hope: SILENT RESOLVE AND THE GOD WHO LET ME DOWN (a 9/11 story).

Press Toward the Goal

8170164_f260“Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.” Philippians 3:1

Philippians chapter three brings us a final word from Paul. Here the apostle exhorts us to rejoice in the Lord.

Then, a warning…beware of dogs, of evil doers, and the mutilation.

Dogs devour – in ancient Israel, dogs were not considered cute little pets, but scavengers that prey on the weak. As Christians, Paul implores us to watch out for those who would exert a harmful influence over us, to deceive us and lead us astray. Not every evil doer is obvious. Some manipulate the truth and cause us to stumble. So we need to know what the scriptures say so that we can discern when others teach things contrary to the word of God.

“For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” Philippians 3:3

Paul says we are the circumcision. Circumcision is a seal and sign that we are set apart for God’s use. Here the apostle speaks of a spiritual cutting away of our will. Fully surrendered, we are now instruments of God, completely submitted to His will, who worship the Lord in the Spirit and rejoice in our Savior, Jesus Christ. We have no confidence in our own flesh. All we are comes from the Father. We are nothing without Him.

Yet, if anyone would have confidence in the flesh, it was Paul. He was a Jew among Jews. Physically circumcised on the eighth day of his life, an Israelite by birth, from the tribe of Benjamin. He was a Pharisee, a Hebrew knowledgeable in the law. He had a burning desire to do God’s will, even to the point of persecuting the Church. In the eyes of his fellow Jews, he was blameless in his zeal. (verse 4-6)

All that Paul held as his great accomplishments on this earth were nothing. He had given up all thing for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ. Everything he thought was valuable was but rubbish, waste, trash, compared to the treasure he had obtained through Christ Jesus. He had surrendered all to gain Christ.

It was not by the righteous acts of the apostle that he found the Savior, but by his faith in Christ Jesus. It was not the law, but by Grace that he had been saved. And in so doing, Paul now knew Jesus and the power of His resurrection. He shared in the suffering of Christ, being conformed to His death – or rather, the world was crucified to him.

This message is for us as well. We no longer hold the world in us, but are transformed, resurrected to a new life in Christ Jesus. We risk it all, surrender everything, in order to gain this new way, this eternal life in Christ.

Yet, Paul says, even after all this, he has not obtained perfection. But he presses on so that he can grasp what Christ has set before him.

“Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14

My father once said, “Don’t let anyone or anything have dominion over you but God.”

How true a statement. No matter the past, whether it be a death, trauma, or a bad decision, do not let the past rule your future. Tragedy and trials shape us, but they do not have to define us. We are more than what has happened to us.

We cannot get discouraged by our mistakes, our failures. When we fail, we must pick ourselves up and continue on our journey. The goal is set before us. We must keep our eyes focused on the end game. We may not understand everything we face, but we should not look back. Reach forward to what lies ahead. Press on toward the goal. The prize waits.

Therefore, as you keep this in mind, walk in the light before you. You may only see a step ahead, but in faith take the next step. God will reveal what you need to know when you need to know it. Do not look at the light before others, only look upon your own. We cannot judge what other people do, or what knowledge they have obtained. That is between them and God. We must be mindful of our own light, and walk within our illumination. In this way we obtain peace with others, and grace with God.

Be careful who you set as your example. Christ is our pattern. Humans often fail, setting their minds on earthly things. Set Christ as the model for your life, for your conduct. He never fails. Remember, our citizenship is in heaven. Earth is not our home. And when Christ returns, we will be transformed to His glorious body!

“For He is able to subdue all things to Himself.”

So rejoice in the Lord, always, as you press toward the goal!

~ Susan

Are you struggling with difficulties and circumstances you do not understand? Are you wondering how God could allow bad things to happen? Have you suffered loss and are having trouble working through your grief? I have experienced these. Let me share with you a message of hope. SILENT RESOLVE AND THE GOD WHO LET ME DOWN (a 9/11 story), my true story of loss and resolution after the death of my father on September 11, 2001.

Humbled and Exalted: a Light Bearer for Christ

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Paul left us in verse one feeling a bit uneasy. If you recall, he spoke of our coming trouble, promising us that, indeed, we shall have affliction in this world. How wonderful that he did not leave off there. In Philippians chapter two, Paul begins by saying “therefore,” (or rather, because of this, what I have to say next refers to the fact that we are called to suffer with Christ) if we are to have any comfort, any consolation in Christ, in love, in fellowship of the Spirit, if we can find peace in affection and mercy, we must be like-minded, sharing the same love, united in humility, as with one mind, one motive. Nothing we do should be with selfish ambition or conceit. We must be humble, thinking of others more than ourselves. (verses 1-3)

“Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” Philippians 2:4

Paul tells us that we are to have the mind of Christ. So what mind does Christ have? He is equal to God, the Creator of all things, the Supreme Being who is exalted above all others. This Christ did not hesitate to lower Himself to our human form, our flawed and mortal flesh, to become a bondservant – bondservant? A slave, a person serving without payment, without reward for services rendered. Christ the Magnified became a slave in the likeness of a man. He is the epitome of humility, the most vivid example of how we should behave, to give freely of ourselves without the expectation of recognition or reward.

Yet, this humiliation was not the end of Christ’s selfless act. He went even further. Christ humbled Himself even to the point of death, and not just death, but the death of the cross.

The cross was reserved for the most-wicked of evil doers. The Romans used this form of punishment to humiliate the convicted, exhibiting the criminal naked before the public, opening them up to ridicule, as they suffered a slow and agonizing death. This is the death that Christ allowed Himself to experience, and for what? He took our place, so that we would not have to pay the penalty for our sins, if only we accept His gift.

Selflessness. Sacrifice. Humility of Heart. This is to be Christ-minded, and this is what we are called to be. And like Christ, we will be exalted for our willingness to give freely of ourselves.

Christ, because of His humility, is exalted by God. He has been given the name which is above every name, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (verse 11)

Paul continues with another “therefore.” Since this is how we should be, selfless and humble as Christ, we are to act as we should even when we are not being observed by others. We are to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.”

Wait – if salvation is free, why must we work out our salvation?

In other words, we are to learn the will of God in our lives ourselves. We cannot just follow blindly what others tell us to believe. The Holy Spirit is given to guide us into all knowledge and truth. We are to work through the scriptures to discover what God has to say to us. We are accountable for our own growth and development in the doctrines that guide our lives. Therefore, we are to work out our own salvation, or rather, our own walk with God.

And we are to do this with fear and trembling? Respect and reverence as is fitting for a subject to a Sovereign power. In other words, we are to be as serfs to a king, giving God our fealty, fidelity, and honor as we would the sovereign of any kingdom.

And as we do this, remember, it is God who will work in us so that we can discern His will. Through the Holy Spirit, He will give us power to do what pleases Him. (verse 13)

We must do everything we do without complaining and without debate. Wow! That is a tough one. But would it not be easier to do a task if we would hold our tongues and just do it? Even the most menial and difficult jobs we are required to do, we must accomplish without grumbling.

Why is this so important? Well, I know I do not like being around others that complain. How about you? But it is more than just that. Paul says that we are to be cheerful in our obedience that we “may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” (verse 15)

How does it speak of our relationship with Christ is we whine about everything in our lives? Is this the life that others will desire? If we are depressed and complaining every day, will we shine upon a troubled world a message of Hope? Certainly not!

If we are called to be selfless, how then can we complain? Is not complaining an act of selfishness? Are we not putting ourselves before other people? Therefore, to grumble about anything is to put ourselves first, and this, as we have seen, is contrary to the doctrine of Christ.

We are to be blameless and harmless as we hold fast the word of life. As we live in this world that does not see Christ, we are to latch on and never let go Christ’s gospel message. We are to display His teachings in our lives so that others will come to see Christ in us. Don’t let discontent and strife cause you to become a stumbling block, or a hindrance, to the world. If we do not stand firm in our actions, attitudes, and thoughts, our labor for Christ will be in vain. Others will remember our failures, not the triumphs. In all things, have a heart that is patient, rejoicing as we run the race, so that we can shine our light upon a world that is lost in the dark.

Let your light shine today!

~ Susan

Are you struggling with difficulties and circumstances you do not understand? Are you wondering how God could allow bad things to happen? Have you suffered loss and are having trouble working through your grief? I have experienced these. Let me share with you a message of hope. SILENT RESOLVE AND THE GOD WHO LET ME DOWN (a 9/11 story), my true story of loss and resolution after the death of my father on September 11, 2001.

A Good Work

I was reading in Philippians chapter one this morning when I found a jewel hidden within Paul’s greeting. While the Apostle is informing the Church at Philippi that he is always remembering them inphilippians prayer, he states that he is “confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (verse 6)

Now stop and think what this means. First, God has begun a good work in you. Something is happening to you, and it is good! It is not something that you have begun, but God has started it. It is His work and you are the recipient! Not only that, but He will see it through. This good work is a work in progress that will continue until the day Jesus returns. God will be there with you every step of the way, causing this good work to flourish and finally reach its potential before the end.

A little further down we read:

“And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (verse 9-11)

Let’s look at the word discernment. According to the dictionary, discernment is the ability to recognize or perceive clearly. In other words, to be able to see a situation and know what is really happening. So, Paul here wishes you to have discernment and knowledge, why? So that you can give your approval to those things which are excellent or right. In this way, you will know how to act or speak without offense to God or man. You will be filled with the fruits of righteousness which you can only receive by the work of Jesus Christ. Everything you do or say will be for the glory and praise of God.

As Paul writes these words to his fellow believers, he is in chains, arrested for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. He has a message he wants them to hear. All that has happened to him: the brutal treatment, the chains, the prison cell; all this has been for the furtherance of the gospel. (verse12) His evidence? The entire palace guard has come to see that Paul’s true chains are to Christ. And most of Paul’s fellow believers have been encouraged and are speaking boldly the gospel without fear. (verse 13-14)

What does this mean for you? Bad things happen to good people, things beyond our understanding. But you can be assured, that if you are in Christ, all that befalls you is for the furtherance of God’s good work. Whether you see the evidence or not, we know that all things work together for good according to His good purpose. (Romans 8:28)

What I find amazing is that here Paul is in prison for preaching the gospel, and yet this has encouraged others to speak more boldly God’s message, and to speak it without fear! Though some are preaching for selfish gain, most are spreading the gospel out of love. Either way, Paul rejoices that the word of God is being preached. (verse 15-18)

Nothing has changed for Paul. Even though he is in chains, he will speak boldly, unashamed of the gospel of Christ. He will be delivered from his suffering, whether by life or by death, and in all, his body will magnify – magnify? Rather, to praise Christ. (verse 19-20)

Then, Paul’s famous lines:

“For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (verse 21)

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This belief seems contrary to human nature. How can death be gain? Is not death loss? But here Paul clearly says, to die is gain. What does he mean by that? Well, Paul answers this question for us: to depart means to be with Christ. (verse 23)

But let us not gloss over the first part, for Paul is hard-pressed between the two. (verse 23) If he lives, he remains in the flesh, his labor for Christ will continue and fruit will be harvested. In other words, if Paul lives, he will continue to work for God: people will come to Christ and believers will grow. Paul does not know which he prefers – to continue working or to go to God. So he is hard-pressed? Stuck between two grinding stones; burdened with indecision. Should he stay or should he go? To go is better for him. His labor will be over and he will see Jesus face to face. But to stay is better for his fellow believers, to continue with them for their progress and joy of faith. Because they need him, he knows Christ will work it out so that he shall not die. (verse 22-26)

Then Paul advises that their (your) conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ. (verse 27) Good words, but what does it mean to be worthy of the gospel? I thought salvation was a free gift. When we become Christians, we are to be Christ-like in our conduct. Paul gives us a list: to stand fast, unmoving, in one spirit and one mind working for the faith of the gospel, and to be not afraid of those that oppose you. For your preaching confirms to them that they are headed to damnation and you are saved by God. (verse 28)

This is wonderful! Being a Christian frees us from trouble! Right?

Then comes verse 29-30.

“For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me.”

Wait – run that by me again. Did Paul say we are granted, or appointed, to suffer for His sake? Is there a cost to being a Christian? I believe there is, but remember:

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Christ has more power than your troubles. I have witnessed this in my own life.

And here is where chapter one comes to a close. Paul does not leave us feeling great, but he has more to say, three more chapters worth. But as I close this blog, don’t forget the jewel at the beginning of this section:

“Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6

Through it all, you are not alone.

Until next time, I am yours in Christ,

~ Susan

 

Are you struggling with difficulties and circumstances you do not understand? Are you wondering how God could allow bad things to happen? Have you suffered loss and are having trouble working through your grief? I have experienced these. Let me share with you a message of hope. SILENT RESOLVE AND THE GOD WHO LET ME DOWN (a 9/11 story), my true story of loss and resolution after the death of my father on September 11, 2001.