Divorce in Islam

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A few weeks ago, as I was quietly sitting down to a meal with my family, the discussion about women’s rights and Islam came up. The spirited discussion was heavily one-sided. The claims about how wonderful Islam was and how much women gained from the Quranic laws were being thrown around liberally.  Someone even made the comment that the Quran does not have any sayings about divorce, but that the divorce decrees and rules are all made by the Imams.

I couldn’t take it anymore…

I tried to sit in silence, but sometimes the unsubstantiated claims become too much to bear. I prayed quickly (“Lord Jesus, help me!”) and then said that I agreed that Mohammad put an end to female infanticide (killing baby girls because of the patriarchal society) but apart from that… nothing more. That’s when the whole table jumped on me. There were claims being made that Islam allows for women to openly divorce me (no, not true) and that women do have a choice when it comes to marriage (again, not according to the  Quran).  Another claim was that the “I Divorce You” statement said three times was also not in the Quran (yes, it is… see Al Baqarah verse 2:229-230). When I challenged that the Quran does indeed have rules about women and divorce, I was told “well, you read the translation – in Arabic, it’s different.”

Oh yeah… let’s play the translation card.

There is an entire Surah (Chapter) on Divorce! It’s called “Al Talaq.” The very first verse says :

“O Prophet, when you [Muslims] divorce women, divorce them for [the commencement of] their waiting period and keep count of the waiting period, and fear Allah , your Lord. Do not turn them out of their [husbands’] houses, nor should they [themselves] leave [during that period] unless they are committing a clear immorality. And those are the limits [set by] Allah . And whoever transgresses the limits of Allah has certainly wronged himself. You know not; perhaps Allah will bring about after that a [different] matter. (Al Talaq, 65:1)”

So… what is “the waiting period?” What is a “clear immorality?” Notice, that you don’t let them go and neither can they go of their own choice. If they leave = clear immorality! It’s a catch 22. There are women right here in Edmond, Oklahoma who are trying to help a Muslim woman leave her husband’s home because he has encouraged their young son to join in on the physical beatings she has received since the day they were married. She has suffered through this over the last 13 years. I met her 6 years ago, when the ladies from a church offered her a safe home. She told me then that she had no choice, but to return to him, since she was his property and rightfully belonged to him. Now, 6 years later, the beatings have doubled. There is NO HOPE.

Why then are Muslims, even cultural ones like my family, so quick to come to the defense of Islam and elevate it to the high levels as ones who not only support women’s rights, but PROTECT them?

The answer is: They haven’t really read the Quran. If they have read the Quran, they’ve read it in Arabic. If they’ve read it in Arabic, know that over 84% of the Muslim world doesn’t speak Arabic as their mother tongue. In other words, they have “read” and recited the Quran in Arabic (that’s the only way you are supposed to read it if you are a Muslim, by the way, for Arabic is considered to be the language of Heaven). If you read the Quran in a translated language, it is not exact because you are not reading it in Arabic. You cannot know what it says unless you read it the way it was given – in Arabic. The Muslims who don’t speak Arabic DO NOT actually understand what the heck it is they are reciting – in the Quran and also in their prayers.

The second piece of this mystery is the Hadith. The Hadith are traditions of the prophet that were used to explain confusing passages in the Quran. When I was a Muslim, I knew about the Hadith, but there was no access to it. The internet has brought the Hadith to everyone, but even now my family shrugs it off – they have the Quran and that’s all they need. They get traditions and Quranic verses confused all the time. Here is a good website where you can find more information on what traditions exist about Divorce and Women.

When I was a Muslim (and a pretty bad one at that), I tried to pray 5 times a day after 9/11. The prayers are all recited in Arabic. Did I mention that I was one of the 84% that didn’t speak Arabic? Yes, it’s true. I recited all my prayers in Arabic, knowing that I probably was not pronouncing the prayers correctly, so I would do extra rakats (for extra credit). This is the reality and truth for many Muslims around the world: Praying without knowing what you are saying, reading your holy book without knowing what it says and then claiming that you know what Islam is all about.

I hope this explanation helps with understanding why so many Muslims seem confused about what they believe in. I was one of those.

Here is a link to an excellent article by Pastor Mateen Elass titled

Fake News Headline #2: Muhammad Was a Champion of Women’s Rights!

Many Muslims have a heart for God. They are out there searching for answers and the truth. Islam is confusing. The writings in the Quran are confusing. They are praying for God to show them the way. Please pray that they will indeed find the WAY, the TRUTH and ultimately, the LIFE through Jesus Christ Our Lord!

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OVERFLOW!

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May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may OVERFLOW with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit ~ Romans 15:13

What does each day look like for you? Is there an overflow of love, joy, peace, goodness, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control? I can tell you that I had an extra piece of dessert today at lunchtime (yes, the cookie from Panera Bread was indeed forced upon me!) so the “self-control” part wasn’t looking too good today.

Does it seem like there is a parched desert instead of rivers of living waters emanating from you? Why is it that some people dwell in a state of calmness while others get irritated at the smallest of things?

I can answer that.

Since I have started the discipline of reading God’s Word in the Holy Bible on a daily basis, something is changing within me. There are reminders throughout the day that bring me back from the brink of anger, irritation, sadness and other things that want to move me out of my peace with Christ. For example, I had a meeting that got moved at the last minute, causing me to have a conflict with another and thus, lose income. I could have been furious at that, but instead chose to look at it as something that may instead have been a part of how today was supposed to be planned. Maybe it was for the best that I was already in one place and had to miss the other. Things happen for a reason. I have to trust that there is a bigger purpose from God and that He truly is involved in my daily work.

Christ said that He is the bread of life (John 6:48). Christ is also the Word of God (the Word became flesh and dwelt among us… John 1:14). The Word of God is how we can stay full in an empty world. How can you feed others and pour into them when you are starving yourself? If you do not feed daily on the Bible and take in what God says to you, then it is predicted that you will wither on the vine (John 15:4). Bible illiteracy is at an all-time high.

I am so amazed at Christians who tell me that they have read the Quran and when I ask them if they have read the Bible cover to cover, they sheepishly tell me “no!” We had a pastor who once told of his own testimony that when he was in seminary, reading the Bible was not mandatory. He felt convicted to start reading the Bible when he realized that he had read “The Lord of the Rings” by Tolkien more times than he had read the Bible. Since then, he took great care to read the bible cover to cover every year.

What’s going on? Why won’t Christians take the time to read? I have a few theories on this:

  1. Too busy – children’s sports, recitals, needs, wants, etc. and demands of work and life
  2. Too intimidating! Have you ever started at Genesis and tried to read the next few books? By the time most get to Numbers, their eyes glaze over and it ends there
  3. Too complex – there are more interesting things to read. Why not read a fictional book about the Bible instead?
  4. Takes too long – have you seen how big the Bible is?

Reading the Bible and making time to read are disciplines. It’s no different than going on a diet or exercising. You have to set realistic goals and try to stick to them. You have to be INTENTIONAL.

I started off trying to carve out a little Quiet Time at the end of my day to pray, read a verse, meditate and pray some more. I was already crocheting before bedtime, so this was not that hard to do. The next step was to actually crack open my Bible and start reading a passage or two to meditate upon. Again, not too difficult, once I placed my Bible by my yarn. Next, I decided to try to read the Bible daily for 30 days. Most professionals will tell you that it takes a minimum of 30 days to start a habit.

Guess what? The 30 days came & went. I was encouraged! 30 days turned into 90 days and now, I have been reading the Bible consistently for almost a year.By the way, “consistently” means that I may have skipped a day or two, but I don’t let that get me down or give up on the whole thing! I have made it through the entire old testament (which I had read before) and now am going through parts of the new. A good way to start your reading is NOT at the start.

RC Sproul recommends that you take 3 sections at a time. Start with Genesis, Psalms, and Luke. You will be amazed at how the 3 correlate! You don’t have to read entire chapters. Just a bit at a time. why-study-the-bible

As you start dusting off that Bible you got years ago as a gift (to yourself or from someone else), you will find that you will start to recall more and more of what Christ says. Some verses will jump out to you more than others and you will begin to think, dwell and examine God’s word. This is what “meditating” on God’s word means. It means to chew on it and think about it and roll it around in your head.

May the fountain of living water never dry up again in you. May you resemble the River Jordan that overflows with life, instead of the Dead Sea where everything ends and dies. May the waters that run through you water those who are also thirsting for peace, joy and eternal life. Christ says “… but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14). Amen!

 

 

What the Quran Says About Women

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When I share my testimony about how I was a cultural Muslim for 35 years before Christ found me, I am inevitably asked about women in Islam. I knew no different than what many say on the internet. I was taught from an early age that Mohammad did indeed exalt women, that “paradise is found beneath a mother’s feet,” and that his wives held prominent roles in his life. I was told that he saved women from the brutal Arabian culture that demeaned women and that I should be so thankful that I was born a Muslim woman.

When you Google the topic of Women in the Koran (also called Quran), you will get all kinds of different results. Many are justifications from Muslim scholars that tell you that Islam is indeed means peace (no, it means “to submit to the will of Allah”), that the verses in the Quran have been hijacked by the media to explain different things and I also found several articles that said something along the lines of “…if you only would read the Quran, you would know the truth about how much Prophet Mohammad exalted women.”

It never occurred to me to question any of this. I happily accepted these statements, I am inevitably asked about women in Islam. I knew no different than what many say on the internet. I was taught from an early age that Mohammad did indeed exalt women, that “paradise is found beneath a mother’s feet” as fact and often repeated them to others who dared to think that I was oppressed. I laughed at them! What utter nonsense! I never wore a hijab or a burqa, never saw my mom do that either. Now, granted, we spent most of our lives traveling from country to country and lived in Pakistan. Pakistan is lenient on women covering their faces. In big cities, no women I knew ever wore the veil.

As a Muslim who moved to the US, I held on to these opinions that now became facts in my mind. I never read the Quran, never thought to look up the statements to test their validity… until I became a Christian. When I accepted Christ, I truly felt like the scales fell off my eyes. The Bible says in Romans 3:10-12 ” As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” I was not seeking God. I was perfectly comfortable in my own opinions. The thirst for truth and knowledge drove me to check the validity of claims made in my previous life. What I found deeply disturbed me…

Most cultural Muslims know that they ought to read the Quran. Every Muslim’s home will have a copy of the Quran (I was given one when I got married). It is to be placed on the highest shelf in the home and is to be regarded with great care. Many Muslims (especially women) are ignorant of the fact that there is another book that Muslims use to understand the revelations given to Mohammad in the Quran. When Mohammad was given his revelations (or recitations = Quran = to recite), they were jotted down on random things – a piece of animal bone or skin, leaves, parchment (if they were lucky enough to have some on hand). They were later compiled as the Quran.

The other book is also a collection and is called the Hadith. The Hadith contains the traditions that Muslims use around the world. The best known is Sahih-Al-Bukhari, but there are two others in use as well. The Hadith was not mentioned in our home, nor did we have a copy of it. Women are pretty much kept ignorant of the fact that it exists as it is used primarily by men (although I have met Muslim men who don’t know anything about the Hadith either) and the Muslim leaders.

So… where to find the Hadith? That’s the beauty of technology today! You can easily get the Hadith online. So, I started with the chapter that gave me the most issues when I was a grown Muslim adult, who started reading the Quran after the events of 9/11… Surah Al/An-Nisa (“The Women”). The chapter has some disturbing things in it, such as you can beat your wife if she gets out of hand (Surah An-Nisa 4:34) as well as how many women you can marry (Surah An-Nisa 4:24-25). When I started to read the chapter, I thought I would get instructions on how to be a better Muslim woman. Instead, I found a “how to” manual written for men. The information got even worse and more explicit as I delved into the Hadith.

There is instruction in the Hadith that says how old a woman should be before you can consummate the marriage (tradition = 9 years old & menstruating, for this was the age of Aisha the favorite wife of Mohammad).  In addition, there is explicit sexual direction for men who want to use slave women for their own pleasure.

It’s disgusting and it gets deeper the more you look.

For me, it’s difficult to not have hard feelings about the treatment of women and how Muslims want to portray the religion as wonderful, emancipating, etc. There are half-truths buried deep in there, such as Mohammad did allow women to own property (the Arabian rules did not allow for that before) but that decree never made it to the Quran. The Quran does speak (Surah 81:8-9) against the common practice of female infanticide (women would bury their girl babies in the sand so they didn’t have to provide for them). There are a few things that help to ease the pain, but the evidence from the Quran and the Hadith point towards women not having an equal voice, an equal footing, nor an equality in the sight of God. Here’s an excellent article titled “Top 10 rules in the Quran that Oppress Women.” Another site with some disturbing videos (warning!) is Free Thought Nation.

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Freethoughtnation.com

With all this bad news. I want to share the GOOD NEWS of the Gospel. The Bible starts out with Genesis and showing equality in the way God created both male and female in His image (Genesis 5:1-2)Genesis 5:1-2). Jesus addresses women throughout the Gospels. He spoke directly to the Samaritan Woman at the Well (John 4), healing the bleeding woman in the Gospel of Matthew and calling her “daughter” – not half of a man, not unclean, not worth her testimony, but “daughter.”

May we remember that God created us equal, that we were made in His divine image and that we are created to love one another as He has loved us. Amen.

 

Doormat

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But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also ~Matthew 5:39

Such hard words to live by! It seems like lately, there is a sign on my face that says “Please be rude to me.” All I want to do is be rude right back and why not? There is a smug satisfaction in it! Makes me feel so good that I was able to “one up” someone’s nasty little remark. Yet, when I give in to my desire to be snarky, I have a small voice telling me that wasn’t very Christ-like. Takes all the joy out of it and I am instantly corrected.

Here’s the thing… there is scripture after scripture that tells those who truly belong to Christ that we are to be like Him. In fact, the term “Christian” means “belonging to Christ” as in slave ownership. The term was first used as “Christianos” in Acts 11:26 in Antioch “and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.”

So, if you are a Christian what are you supposed to do? Be a doormat and just let people walk all over you?

Not an easy question to answer because we insist on wanting control over EVERYTHING in our life. I find myself saying “I’m not ready to submit to this or that right now,” or “I don’t really care for this person and I am definitely better than them,” or even “I can’t make that sacrifice right now because no one is really watching to see what a great person I am!”

What if God actually has that in His plan for you? What if He is trying to teach you something about yourself and you are getting in your own way of spiritual development? Case in point: Our son got into trouble in High School about a week ago. This is the same thing he got pulled into the Vice Principal’s office last year in January. So a year later, my husband & I are dealing with the same thing. We realized very quickly that our punishment for him last time was not painful enough. This time, we are both sticking to our guns: no car, no phone, no video games. In fact, we have confiscated all of these things.

Yesterday, he wanted to take the car for something and he asked us. When something is painful, we tend to remember it more. It causes us to be disciplined and straightened out. Riding the bus in high school can be pretty humiliating and tough. He basically told us that he did not want that (and personally, I cannot blame him) and thought he should be able to drive now. We reminded him that the choice to disrespect & not obey our rules his own… not ours. Every choice comes with a consequence.

His dilemma got me thinking about God the Father and my response to Him. Do I deal with inconveniences for a few days as a martyr and then go back to tell Him “Hey… that’s just too much for me to bear!”? The honest answer is “yes.” The complaining adds more to my own fleshly desire to stay in my comfort zone and do something that I don’t want to do. It’s beneath my dignity.

Jesus took the beatings and punishment to the point of death and put aside His dignity. What on earth could make me feel that something was now beneath my own dignity? His life was poured out – literally! Why is it that if I am feeling discomfort for a few minutes, I have to go and complain or take offense to another? Why don’t I just suck it up and take it? That’s what the verse above is saying “Suck it up and take it. In fact, turn the other cheek so they can slap you again!” That is the cost of following the ONE and His path will bring you greater peace.

Why does turning the other cheek bring peace? The person who is doing the slapping will get tired of no response from you. They will move on to bigger and better things (for that’s how it goes). No reaction = no fun. Peace also comes from praying for your enemies. Sounds completely contradictory, but when we pray for those who are against us, it is our own self that is changing and bending towards God’s will. This is again, contrary to what our own flesh wants.

The Bible reminds us “I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” 1 Corinthians 15:50. May those be sobering words for us to remember when we want to get our own way, when we want to say that remark that’s on the tip of our tongue or when we want to be the king or queen of our castle.

Do this instead: stop for a few seconds, take a deep breath and breathe in the Holy Spirit. Let His peace that passes all understanding flow through you. Then, turn the other cheek and choose the eternal life that God gives you.

Wives, Submit to Your Husbands

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Discarded signs photo from Ben Ferguson CNN Commentator’s Facebook page

I know… them are fightin’ words! I can’t help it. I read the Bible and actually believe what it says. Before you jump all over me, just read a little bit further. I am about the last person who is submissive. I am known as an outspoken (some might even call me a loud-mouth) woman who knows her own mind. I have been so vocal in some cases to hurt people’s feelings. Many would say that I am just about the last person who should write even a sentence on this topic.

I want to tell you that ever since I understood, I mean REALLY understood the meaning of the word “SUBMIT,” I have been a changed person and have taken to heart what Ephesians 5:22 says. First, let’s start with the word “submit.” It’s taken as a dirty word. Say it to any woman and she will immediately turn her nose up at it. Women are head-strong. We don’t want to be beholding to anyone and certainly not any man. That’s the amazing thing about this. If we say this to women, we freak out. However, if we apply the word “submit” to Christ, any woman will tell you that His submission to God was a beautiful thing (and rightly so).

Christ submitted to the will of His Father all the way to a horrific death on the cross. He went willingly. He knew what He had to do and He did it… in submission to God. You cannot take this verse out of context and only a part of the verse – you need to know the whole thing. Anytime someone reads you a verse, you should automatically look at what comes before and what comes after. So, let’s take a look at the whole thing, including before & after Ephesians 5:22:

21Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

22Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her

Did you catch that?  The first part says EVERYONE should submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. That means we should allow other Christians to go ahead of us, not insist on our own rights and definitely give them the benefit of doubt in situations. Now for the hairy part.

If we are doing this with one another in the church, why are we not doing this for our own husbands? Paul also makes it a point to say do this as you do it for the Lord – in other words, do this out of reverence for God and His order. Do it out of a love for God the Father. Do it because you honor God… just the way Christ submitted to God and was tortured for our sins before He was placed upon the cross.

When we look at the verses in that frame of mind, it truly becomes a beautiful and God-honoring thing. He doesn’t want women to “check their brains at the door” or even be subjected to some brutal tyrant who abuses them. That’s not who God is and your husband shouldn’t be like that either because the next few lines address him!

Ephesians 5:25 says “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Husbands are asked to literally DIE for their wives, whereas we are simply asked to set aside our attitudes for a minute. Which one do you think is the bigger request? Why do we get our panties in a wad over this, then?

I was asked about the Women’s march yesterday from one of my family members. I told her “No, I am not interested in that type of a demonstration.” Ignoring my opinion, she went on to tell me that Madonna, of all people, was standing up for women and also dropping the f-bomb. This is not loving, caring or moving towards positive regard for women. How can it be?

The answers do not lie in what man tells us to do. They lie in God’s words and His established order. Everything that operates outside of that does not operate in perfect love. His directions for us is to submit to one another. I didn’t see that in the march. In fact, I see exactly the opposite… insist on your opinion and insist on stepping on men’s heads to grab what you want. That’s not love. That’s offensive.

Love comes from not insisting on your own rights, allowing people to go first in line, taking the smallest portion of what’s being offered to you. This is not easy to do. As I mentioned at the start of the blog, this is something I struggle with daily. I have to remind myself to submit to my husband. When he treats me with the love of Christ, though, it is really easy to do. That’s the whole secret that Paul lays out for us in Ephesians. If it was easy or natural for men to LOVE their wives, they would show us that love daily and not just on our anniversary or Valentine’s Day. If it was natural for women to SUBMIT, then we would not have a special line in the Bible, telling us to behave that way. It goes against our nature… that’s why we need supernatural help from God!

I chose the photo above to use for today’s blog. It’s a good reminder that after you’ve insisted upon your rights, there is debris and collateral damage left behind in your wake. If they truly cared for one another and for their views, then caring for their own community is the first step. Go out there and help another woman. Go volunteer in your local women’s shelter, Go & attend the new launch of the Community of Christian Business Women (our first meeting is Monday, January 30 from 6:00 to 7:00 pm!!!). Go & show love with your actions. Don’t just talk about your rights, trample on men, and then dump your sign in the streets. You’re not doing anyone any favors.

 

Looking Forward, No Looking Back

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The New Year brings anticipation for many and anxiety for others. What challenges will I face? What will the days bring? We used to stay up to watch the clock strike 12:00 am and celebrate the coming of the new day. Not anymore. There’s really no point to it. Technically, it’s already the New Year somewhere in the world… so just because the ball drops in New York which is still not midnight in Oklahoma or the big potato drops in Idaho, doesn’t really mean much to us anymore.

I have been talking to a few people about the incoming New Year and about children getting ready to graduate or other life’s changes. Many of them have spoken to me about it with anxiety written on their faces. There is a very strong desire to hold on to the past and simply ignore the future. We aren’t really supposed to look that far into the future, for Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:34 “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” I think this is why my attitude about the New Year is nonchalant. Everyday is a new day – why don’t we celebrate that? Why are Mondays the cause of so much grumbling? Isn’t that a new vista of opportunity?

Along with the New Year’s traditions, people sing the tune from 1788 called “Auld Lang Syne.” For many years, I didn’t realize that it was Scottish. I only thought it was sung by drunk people who were blurring the words together so they didn’t make any sense (yes, that still may be true). The song, translated in English talks about the days gone by and how old acquaintances should be remembered. When I contemplate the popularity of the song around New Year’s time, I am sure that people are thinking about past regrets and others that have slipped out of their lives.

There is definite sadness to that. There are many this year who have suffered, have lost loved ones and have dealt with hard times. I know that the anxiety for the New Year brings some to consider more of the same kind of things for their family and even more changes. That can make anyone apprehensive. Yet, the story of Lot’s wife comes into play here for me. There was something that captured my attention when I first read about this in Genesis. For those of you who may not be familiar, in Genesis 19, Lot (Abraham’s nephew) and his family are told to take their family and flee from the city of Sodom that was going to face utter destruction. In Genesis 19:26, there is one line “But his wife, from behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.” What in the world? Why would that happen to her and what made her look back – even though the angels had given firm instructions NOT to look back?

That’s the only line in that story – it doesn’t tell us much about her, what happened next or why she did it. The only explanation I could come up with were that she was still attached. Even though the city was evil in the sight of the Lord, she still liked her stuff. She still had friends there and maybe was thinking about her home and things (I can relate!). It wasn’t until I started to read more of the Bible and learn about what Jesus says about the cost of Discipleship with Him, that the story finally makes more sense. In Luke 9, Jesus tells a man to follow him. The exchange takes place like this:

59Then He said to another man, “Follow Me.”

“Lord,” the man replied, “first let me go and bury my father.”

60But Jesus told him, “Let the dead bury their own dead. You, however, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

61Still another said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first let me bid farewell to my family.”

62Then Jesus declared, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and then looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.

Think about it…there were people who saw Jesus face to face and told him “no, thanks.” They were tied to their family and to their things. They wanted to take their time and follow Jesus when they wanted to – not when He said to do it. In 1 John 2:15, the verse says “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.” Yikes… there is much I love in the world including my own family. This is a sticking point for many of us. What do you put first? Who do you put first? It’s easy to talk about following Jesus, but when push comes to shove, would you do it? Would you look back to the stuff you used to have? The buddies you used to go out with? The shows you used to watch on TV? How about your family? What if your family was not on board? There is a cost to following Christ. Are you ready to pay it? What if you don’t pay it?

The scriptures that bring all of this together are given to us in Luke .There is a price to pay now for following Christ and for walking with Him daily. People will look at you and call you “over-zealous” or even “over-religious.” Some may not have nice things to say at all or even laugh at you or react to you in anger. The truth is that tomorrow is not guaranteed to us. You can die today. We can plan for a whole New Year – think about the next 365 days, but none of that will matter. So what about today? Luke 17 says:

 30“It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. 31 On that day no one who is on the housetop, with possessions inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. 32 Remember Lot’s wife! 33 Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it. 34 I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. 35 Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.” [36]

Chilling thoughts. Not necessarily ones we want to think about on New Year’s Day with the clean up from last night’s celebrations. But Christ WILL come. It’s truth and a given. When He comes, where will you be? Will you go back to thinking about what you have or what you own? Will you be like Lot’s wife, and from the shelter of her husband, from behind him, look back towards destruction?

When you walk daily with Christ, you walk forward towards eternal life. There is a comfort and a peace that blankets you. There is a knowledge that whatever comes your way, you have a Savior who loves you and has died for you. He has taken on death so that when your time comes, you move from this physical state into another state of eternal glory. In the blink of an eye, you will be changed (1 Cor 15:52). From the lyrics of an amazing song by Horatio Spafford “It Is Well with My Soul:”

And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

~May that day come without fear or anxiety for you. May it truly be well with your soul. That is my New Year’s blessing and prayer for you.

The Christmas Tree

christ-on-the-cross

Christ on the Cross by Peter Paul Reubens  – 1627

We didn’t plan to start a small controversy. In fact, it was something born out of laziness and not wanting to take the extra effort. It started Thanksgiving weekend when I asked my family to get the Christmas tree down from the attic. At first, I was politely ignored as if I was the senile old aunt that says random things. When I persisted, I was met with sighs and whining about how much time and effort that would take to put up. I thought that putting up the Christmas tree was fun! I thought this was our tradition. I told my husband about it and he crinkled up his nose and said that it really was a lot of effort to get “that thing” down, figure out the burnt out lights, get the ornaments, etc. The final vote was to come from our ten year old daughter. It seems like she’s not getting a vote in the conversation. Here, I thought, is my ally!

When we asked her together about setting up the Christmas tree, she sat down in a chair with a long sigh and said “Oh! That was SO MUCH WORK! Mom, only you & I ended up doing ALL of it last year! Can we just not do it?” Well… there it was. No one wanted the tree up and no one was interested in getting it decorated. I went ahead and decorated our home for Christmas (after all, the other things don’t take up much time and I adore my Nativity sets!). At least it felt like Christmas in our home, even if a giant tree was missing.

At church that Sunday, there was silence when the group leaders asked if prayer was needed or if there was anything new in the group. I smiled and mentioned that we would not put up a Christmas tree this year. That caused a HUGE reaction! One woman puts up 19 (yes, count them… 19) Christmas trees in her house. In fact, she said she was getting rid of 4 of them this year – would I be offended if one of those trees ended up on my doorstep? The answer was “No, of course I would not be offended but if that was something she wanted to do, that’s alright with us.”

You see, it’s not about the tree.

It’s not about the ornaments.

It’s about an entirely different tree. It’s about the tree that Christ died upon so that all of us may live. Just as Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil in Genesis (Gen 2:17), and death entered the world -the second Adam came and died upon the wood of another tree at Calvary so that all may have eternal life through Him. Christ is the focus of Christmas. All other things distract us. The ornaments, the shining things (oh, how I love shining things!), the secular sayings (Happy Holidays, Season’s Greetings, etc) all detract from who Christ is and why we even celebrate Christmas in the first place.

I have shared with my Muslim friends and family that we will not have a Christmas tree. They also were appalled that me, a Christian, would not engage in the proper celebration. When I told them that the Christmas tree has nothing to do with Christ, it became an even more interesting conversation for Evangelism.

The world is confused about what Christmas is about. It’s about celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It’s about humbling ourselves and accepting what He has done for us through His sacrifice on the Cross.

As we get closer to the day we celebrate Christmas, may this be the truth we cling to. Amen.