And Coming...

"She-Bear in the Beautiful Garden" is an allegory for children of all ages, written and illustrated by Ellen Gillette. Order from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or at

Monday, July 19, 2010

July 19, 2010 Getting to the Root of Things

Sh'ma Yis'ra'eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad.
which includes a musical presentation as well)

From time to time you may have heard someone speak on the need to have a “life verse,” a particular verse in the Bible that can be relied upon during times of need or stress or indecision. After a meeting where this was emphacized decades ago, I remember obediently praying later, using the “just close your eyes, turn to a page, and point” method of divine direction. Lo and behold, my finger rested on the very verse shown above. Deuteronomy 6:4-5:

4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

I thought, “Wow. I guess if I’m going to have a life verse, that pretty much sums it up.” If I could love God like that, everything else would fall into place….the key word being “if,” of course. The longer I am a Christian, the less I appear to understand about what love is, much less understanding God. As C.S. Lewis wrote, we continually travel “further up and further in.”

But perhaps you think I should have restricted my life-verse search to the New Testament. The old has passed away and all things are new, right? What Jesus says, in red print, no less, is of much more value to Christians than anything Moses might have said. Right?


When asked what the greatest commandment is, Jesus did quote this verse in Matthew 22:37, but believers of every denominational background would be wiser and richer in their Christian experience by embracing their Jewish roots. We were grafted in because of Jesus (see Romans 11), but we have not replaced the relationship God has with Israel.

Recently, our summer intern at Crossroads Church in Lillington, Charles Fiore, gave the message at Sunday services, using the Shema (or Shma or Sh’ma)…the first words of Deuteronomy 6 shown above, and the centerpiece of Jewish prayer. I had been part of a church that sang the verse regularly, and Charles’ message brought back many good memories.

Having been raised in the Methodist church, our family later joined a Presbyterian church. When a nondenominational home group arose from its congregation, our family was part of it. Throughout the group’s history (it eventually organized into a church), there was a strong emphasis on our ties to Israel and Judaism. I’m so grateful for that heritage.

Before we built our own building, we even met in the local synagogue, forging a relationship with the local Jewish community that went far beyond paying them rent for the use of their facility. We took part in their celebrations and festivals; a few of their members joined us for Sunday worship from time to time. Our church’s dance team included Jewish folk dance and the synagogue asked us to perform for them on several occasions. We also sent two young men to live on kibbutz (communal work facilities) in Israel. Church members who could afford to, made several trips to the Holy Land. We supported the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem. One woman, now passed away, began Nursing Mothers for Israel, an outreach that shipped clothing to Israel, based on Isaiah 49:23 (“Kings will be your foster fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers.”).

We do not need to take on the Jewish rules in order to accept our Jewish Messiah Jesus. Thank God! I don’t know about you, but it’s a full-time challenge for me to try and walk in the one commandment mentioned earlier. If I had to keep a kosher kitchen, I’d be in serious trouble! We are not better Christians or more spiritual or mature if we learn to pray in Hebrew or celebrate Jewish feasts. But if we, as new branches, want to know our God and King in all his fullness, we will get to know what…and who… he cherishes:

15 "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget, I will not forget you!
16 See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me. ( Isaiah 49:15-16)

Shalom. Peace.

Permission to reprint with acknowledgement of source.

Monday, July 5, 2010

July 5, 2010 Freedom!

He’s gotten into a lot of trouble lately with his big mouth, political views, and divorcing the mother of his five children, but Mel Gibson has made some excellent films over the years. The Passion, The Patriot—epic stories. How many of us would even recognize the names of William Wallace, Longshanks, or Robert the Bruce without Braveheart?

Wallace’s cry of “Freedom!” as he is being tortured and killed at the end (oops… if you’ve never seen it, don’t let that stop you!) never fails to stir me. The freedom of his country was worth everything for Wallace and those who fought alongside him, and everything is exactly what it cost. Wallace lost his wife and eventually, his life, but he motivated the peasant Scots to rise up against powerful England.

We just celebrated the 234th anniversary of our own country’s fight to free itself from England’s rule. In the eyes of Europe and much of the world, the United States is still relatively young, yet, we are a world leader. Our freedom from tyranny continues to inspire others. Our invitation to join us here (“Give us your tired, your poor…”) is still heard by “teeming masses yearning to breathe free.”

Freedom is a sacred gift. Not only freedom from oppression, but freedom from guilt. Not only freedom from slavery to land owners, but freedom from slavery to sin and selfishness. Galatians 5:1 tells us that “It is for freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Another translation says to “stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has set us free, and be not entangled again by the yoke of bondage.” (When I was much younger, we sang those words…the best way to memorize!)

Paul was writing to Christians who, having found freedom in Christ, were being told they must also be subject to the Law and live as Jews. The fact that not even the Jews could obey the 613 laws found there, to say nothing of the rabbinical interpretations that added yet more legalism, and that Jesus’ death on the cross of Calvary was for the express purpose of fulfilling the Law once and for all…these were details conveniently overlooked in the zeal to be righteous.

Looking back from 2010 we may be tempted to wonder how those early Christians--living at such an exciting period of history, walking and talking with the apostles, learning from those who knew Jesus personally--could be deceived into thinking they had to get circumcised in order to follow Jesus. Surely we wouldn’t fall into such traps. (Certainly not the men, anyway!) If we’re honest, however, we would acknowledge that the kind of folks who get their jollies creating burdens for others didn’t die out with the early Church.

When I was a little girl, there were churches in which all the women and girls wore gloves and hats. All the men wore suits. And they looked down on churches that required daily attendance at Mass or going to confession. Burdens.

I attend a vibrant, loving Baptist church, but I have known Baptists who didn’t believe there would be anyone but Baptists in heaven. There are Presbyterians who find charismatics too emotional to be sincere and charismatics who believe liturgical churches to be too cerebral to be spiritual. Denominational vs. non-denominational. High church vs. low. Traditional vs. non-traditional. Catholics and Protestants waged war in William Wallace’s day and the battle continues in parts of the world.

We’re bad about saying we’re free from the Law only to come up with a whole new set. Can you be a Christian and drink? Jesus did. Can you be a Christian and “smoke or chew or go out with girls who do”? Absolutely. Dedicated, committed Christians even get divorced, have affairs, say the F word, drive over the speed limit, go a whole day without reading the Bible, lie, cheat on their income tax returns, and much, much worse. Some of them even wear white shoes after Labor Day.

We are not just set free from, but also set free to…to what? To follow man’s thinking? No, rather we are now free to follow the very spirit of God, who will always lead us to live and operate in love: “You…were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13).

We have complete freedom to wear whatever we want to, eat whatever we want to, drink whatever we want to, say whatever we want to…but in love, we should use wisdom and discretion so that others are not hurt by our freedom.

Liberty, it has been said, is the freedom to restrict one’s self for the sake of others. That’s something to celebrate, and live out, every day of the year.

Permission to use with acknowledgement of source.