Friday, February 25, 2011

Famine and abundance, death and life

            She wasn’t surprised when the dusty stranger asked for a drink of water and a piece of bread to eat. After all, she was down to her last day’s ration of flour and oil. She had been told in a dream that she would supply this man with food. It had better be today, for tomorrow there wouldn’t be any.
            The rainy season had come and gone—without a drop. Her little garden shriveled before the herbs and vegetables opened to the first leaves. The father of her son had been a fisherman in their seaside village of Zarephath, near the Mediterranean kingdom of Sidon. After he’d been lost at sea in a violent storm, the villagers had brought food and loaves of bread and helped for a while, but with the spreading famine, everyone was stretched thin. Buying food shipped in from foreign markets was beyond their means. Their principal god, Baal, was supposed to supply the earth with dew and rain, and make their livestock fruitful. But a prophet from Israel, Elijah, had threatened a drought, and it had become a reality.
            The widow and her son had barely survived on plain flour-and-oil flatbread for weeks. There were no more fish, for she had no means to buy them. Her firewood was used up, and, breathing hard in her weakness, she picked up sticks on the beach to build one last cooking fire. When she had an armload, she dragged herself back through the city gate, and there was the dusty stranger. He was lean, but muscled from walking, so he had escaped the worst of the famine.
            “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour and a little oil. I’m making a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die,” she responded to his request for food. They were already so weak and malnourished that death would come quickly.
            The stranger could see this for himself, but he said to her, “First make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For the God of Israel says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord gives rain on the land.’”
            The God of Israel. Not her god, Baal the lord of fertility and abundance, who seemed to have gone underground despite prayers and sacrifices. Whatever god Elijah called on, she didn’t care at this point. But the personal integrity of this woman, deep in the flesh and bones of every honorable person, demanded that she offer hospitality to strangers even at ultimate cost to herself.
            The widow didn’t skim off a little bit of flour and oil from the abundance of her pantry. She used the entire handful—all she had—for this crazy prophet. She gave until she had to trust in someone else’s god for sustenance.
            And sustain her, the God of Israel did. Every day the flour and oil were miraculously replenished. Perhaps as the drought worsened, the widow even supplied bread to her neighbors and extended family. And yes, Elijah the prophet. The man responsible for this drought and famine that had fallen not only on Israel, but all their neighbors as well.
            That’s another thing. The widow was harboring a fugitive from King Ahab and his queen, Jezebel, in her upper chamber. Perhaps there was a reward for his capture, or death for the person harboring him. But the unmarried prophet Elijah, the widow, and her son lived together as a family, sharing the food-gathering, fishing, foraging, and other chores, and the joys and pains of everyday life. Isaiah said years later, “God sets the lonely in families.” Even if the family is made up of unconventional components!
            Sometime during those three and a half years of famine, according to the story in 1 Kings 17:7-24, the woman’s son became ill and died. In her grief, the widow lashed out at her friend Elijah. Wasn’t it enough that Elijah had prayed for disaster on Canaan? Did he have to bring death with him? “What do you have against me, man of God?” she cried. “Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?”
            Elijah took the boy from her arms, carried him upstairs, and laid him on the bed. He prayed for the boy to live again, and God answered the prayer immediately.
            Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.” She had experienced God’s grace for herself, though she had heard it from Elijah over many months of evening talks.
            Hundreds of years later, Jesus said that this Phoenician woman had received a great honor. “There were many widows [here in] Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but a widow in Zarephath.” Luke 4:25-26
            Because of her openness and hospitality to a stranger, the widow and her son were sustained and renewed during the famine. Because she learned to trust God, everything that she feared: loneliness, starvation, her own and her child’s deaths, were answered with companionship, food in plenty, life and health. They were given to her because she gave all that she had. When she was emptied, she could be filled. When she was weak, she was made strong.
            In speaking of another single woman, Jesus said, “This poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth: but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” Mark 12:43
            Whether it’s a season of harvest, thanksgiving, and gift giving, or a season of recession, joblessness, and poverty, this is the time to bring a sacrifice of love and praise and service to God. Cast yourself upon him, as a child would on its father, and see the showers of blessing he’ll have to let go, to catch you in his arms! Your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom. 

This article by Christy K. Robinson was published in Loma Linda Campus Hill Communique, Sept/Oct 1998.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Four-Thousand-Year-Old Valentine

On Valentine’s Day, some of us went to parties, some out on dates, and others stayed home and watched reruns on television (not the romantic movies that would make them bitter and sad).
            A few days earlier, I had gone shopping for Valentine cards for my friends. I believe in sending the perfect card to each person, so I put some time in on the project. My favorite was a card that read something like this:
How would you like to spend your Valentine’s Day? 

___ With your head doused in honey, buried up to your neck in sand, next to a giant ant pile?
___ With me?

Obviously, the card recipient was out of his or her mind, because the inside of the card said, “OK, what if the ants were really big and they had fangs?”

            It seems pretty obvious that being eaten by ants wouldn’t be the optimum Valentine’s Day. And yet when God gives us a choice—Him or you-know-what, what do we pick?
            In Deuteronomy 28, the Lord sets forth blessings for those who obey Him, for those who are faithful in loving Him: prosperity, victory over enemies, a happy family, blessing on vocation, and even good weather. People would be known among the nations of the earth as belonging to the Lord, protected and favored by him.
            This is what the LORD Almighty says: “In those days ten people from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.’” Zech. 8:23
            What a promise for the spiritual children of Abraham!
            “However,” it says in Deut. 28:15. (You may be thinking there has to be a “but.” There’s always a “but.”) In this case, it says, However, if you do not obey the LORD your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you.
            When we read the list of calamities, we’re not talking about a month of rainy Mondays, here. This is hell. Without the Lord’s approval and protection, we put ourselves in the hands of Satan.
            Yet, in Deuteronomy 30, the Lord says, When you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul…then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you…
            Jeremiah 32:40-41: I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul.
            A few verses later, it says, I will bring health and healing to it; I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security… there will be heard once more the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom…  
            God was offering his people a choice. They could be covered in honey and set down next to an ant hill. Or they could choose him and all the health, prosperity, wealth, and rejoicing they could stand.
            See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction… This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life… Deuteronomy 30:15, 19, 20
            For Joshua, the only answer to the one he loved and trusted could be, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 25:15
            The people with him promised the same. But their actions spoke louder than words. They not only chose the ant hill, they chose the one with really big ants, the kind with fangs.
            The power of a positive Christian life is in your hands. “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.”
            Let your choice be the Lord. 

This article, written by Christy K. Robinson, was published in the ASM Bulletin, March 1988

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Kinsman Redeemer's Daughter

            This had been a very full day for Jesus. After a night being tossed in a violent storm on the lake of Galilee, he’d healed a demon-possessed man, crossed back over the lake, and began to teach and heal near his boyhood home. At the bidding of a synagogue ruler, he was on his way to raise a dead girl to life.
            But for one woman in the huge crowd which pressed in around Jesus, all of them wanting his attention, his words, his touch, this was a day for which she’d never stop praising God.
            She had been plagued with uterine bleeding for twelve years. She was severely anemic, pale, short of breath, and chronically exhausted. She’d been to doctors, trying every cure or incantation or diet or potion available for a price. Now she was not only in worse shape than when she began, she was destitute.
            In a world where women had no rights except through the men in their family, this woman seemed to be alone. She’d spent all of her money. There was no evidence of a husband, brother, or father to speak to Jesus for her. She had no kinsman redeemer, the guardian and savior of the clan.
            Furthermore, she was ritually unclean (Lev. 15:25, 31), considered on par with a filthy pig. What proper Jewish man would defile himself by touching her? Any law-abiding Jew would shun her. She was alone. No supportive family for her. She was untouchable, as badly off as the Samaritan left for dead by robbers. According to the Jewish Mishna Tamid, she or anyone she touched would have to stand at the eastern gate of the Temple in humiliation for their contraction of uncleanliness.
            Public opinion held that she was a sinful woman, who had contracted her ailment as a result of some grave error, because disease was an inevitable consequence of sin. (John 9:2)
            But on this day of days, this nameless, desperate woman met God. She wasn’t afraid to approach Jesus. She pushed through the crowd with all her strength. She crawled between the legs of the people who were crushing close to Jesus. She was trampled and dusty, her hands and feet and clothes kicked and trod upon, but she succeeded in reaching Jesus’ feet. She knew that if she only could touch his tassel, that symbol of his constant communication with the Father, that she would be healed.
           She closed her eyes, reached out her hand, and focused her heart and mind on God’s ability to create and renew.
            Suddenly, the earth stood still. There was no crowd, no noise, no social disfavor, no loneliness, no poverty, no—no pain! In wonder, she knew that she was free, different, strong, energetic. She was healed.
            Gradually, she became aware of a commotion. Jesus stopped the forward motion of the people with a question, and she came back to real life. She realized what she’d done: dared to touch a rabbi, to steal his power and to make him ceremonially unclean. This person on whom she’d placed all her hope, and now devotion and gratitude, was now subject to all of her humiliation and its penalties.
            She picked herself up, knowing what had happened, and in dread, trembling with fear, she fell at Jesus’ feet and his mercy. In her mute glance, she told him the whole truth of her alienation and shame, the rejection by her family and society because of an illness she couldn’t help, and her boldness in seeking help.
In the woman’s eyes, Jesus saw a reflection of his ancestress, Ruth the Moabite. “I am your servant,” Ruth had said to her employer, Boaz. “Spread the corner of your garment over me,” proposing an intimate, covenant relationship to him.
Boaz had replied, “The Lord bless you, my daughter... Don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask.”
Jesus said to the friendless woman kneeling before him now, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”
            Daughter. Daughter!
            And with Jesus’ word this woman was restored to the Children of Israel, the daughter of her Creator and Savior. She was honored, protected, cherished. She had a present and a future. No longer alone, no longer a woman without a name or family. Someone claimed her as a relation.
            That was more precious to her than her new health, for Jesus bid her “Go in peace,” as Boaz had given Ruth God's blessing over her life.
            For the first time, she had peace. True peace. She was loved, she was restored. She was a daughter who belonged to a people, and to God.

“As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.
“Who touched me?” Jesus asked.
When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.”
But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.”
Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”  Luke 8:42-48 NIV

Published in Women of Spirit magazine (early 1990s) and ASM Bulletin (Oct. 1988) 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Your Valentine

Hebrew literature put the crux of the poem, the pinnacle of thought, right in the middle of the composition. Here, in the middle of a month where we are inundated with messages about having a Significant Other (spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend--or you're nothing because no one thinks about only you), hear from God’s lips how He loves you.

This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. John 3:16 MSG.
Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you. I’ve called your name. You’re mine. When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you. When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down. When you’re between a rock and a hard place, it won’t be a dead end—Because I am GOD, your personal God, The Holy of Israel, your Savior. I paid a huge price for you…That’s how much I love you! I’d sell off the whole world to get you back, trade the creation just for you. So don’t be afraid: I’m with you. Isaiah 43:1-5 MSG.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8 NIV.
"Is not Ephraim my dear son, the child in whom I delight? … I still remember him. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I have great compassion for him,” declares the LORD. Jeremiah 31:20 NIV.
Jesus said, "The first in importance is, 'Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.' And here is the second: 'Love others as well as you love yourself.' There is no other commandment that ranks with these." Mark 12:28-30 MSG.
But the people you redeemed, you led in merciful love; You guided them under your protection to your holy pasture. Exodus 15:13 MSG.
There are so many more. Look up “love” in your concordance, and read your Valentine from your Savior. He can’t wait to take you in His arms and whisper sweet words in your heart.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Mortality. I’ve been thinking about mortality a lot, lately. Two cousins, an online friend I’ve never met, my aunt, and my father—all are battling cancer, and for some of them, it’s not the first bout. They’re experiencing pain from the disease, and from the surgeries to treat the cancer. The outcomes are by no means sure. It was so difficult to see my father, always so gentle, dependable, healthy and strong, in pain in the hospital bed. He's recovered from that cancer, but another, less virulent lurks inside him, and it's being treated.

Immortality. Some of my Christian friends believe that their family members and friends who have passed away are already in heaven, basking in the light and love of Jesus. Others believe their loved ones are sleeping in the grave until the Second Coming, and their next thought and sight is of their resurrected and living Lord. Some believe that this life is all we have, and there's no other existence. Some say that the spirit never dies, but hovers around the people and places it knew in life. (I prefer the biblical explanations.)

Friends say that they feel the presence or watch-care of their departed family members, and are comforted by the peace that passes understanding. And I can understand that, having had a similar feeling—but I think it’s because my mother is present in my DNA and in the training she gave me. The legacy that she left is who I’ve become and what influence I can provide to others. Mom taught me many of the creative arts, including music, literature and writing, visual art, and graphic design. Although my children are the furry, four-footed variety, I have the privilege of teaching hundreds of students over many years, about the pursuit of excellence that I received from my mother. 

 I played the organ and piano for the memorial service to Fred Black, a member of my church. I’d met him once or twice, and seven years ago, he called me at work to tell me that his uncle wrote the hymn, “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder.” He was a nice old guy, but I didn’t know him well. That’s my loss, as I discovered when his many friends and family members told anecdotes about the legacy of love, service, and excellence that Mr. Black left. But Mr. Black lives on through his descendants, the people he worked with, those he taught and fellowshipped with, and those he blessed as if he were serving Jesus Himself. Mr. Black will live again—forever. 

My uncle and aunt were a minister couple in Wisconsin (he a pastor, she a nurse), and not only did they adopt children to their family, but were involved in “green” endeavors in their community, being politically active, building homes for Habitat For Humanity, and ministering to their fellow retirees when they “snow-birded” in Arizona each winter. They died within a year of each other, with grace and dignity, surrounded by their children and many grandchildren. 

That is an amazing legacy. But a legacy doesn’t end. A legacy lives on in one form or many, for eternity. Sometimes, the legacy is property left in a will or trust, or the worn heirlooms that remind us of the hopes and dreams that have gone before us; but the legacy that’s remembered is the gift of the experience: the life well-lived, the teaching or discipline imparted, the marked-up family Bible with answers to prayer noted in the margins, the encouragement to keep on trying to your utmost in both failure and success.

Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, wrote about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, meant to build up Christian believers and multiply their numbers. Among the gifts were teaching, discernment, wisdom, healing, prophecy, languages, and others. But then Paul said we should earnestly desire the greatest gift of all: loving people the way God loves them. That is where the love of 1 Corinthians 13 comes from—it’s a gift from God. It’s not something we can “develop” or progress to. We can only receive a gift.

God has multiplied the gifts of the Spirit far beyond our wildest imaginings. Far into eternity. And we have forever to meet and greet our brothers and sisters, those who have gone before us, and those who will come after us. It will be the fulfillment of a legacy that began at the cross and continues today. 

We often think of great historical figures or biblical heroes (Abraham, Moses, Solomon, the prophets and apostles, the saints who've gone before us), when we read in Hebrews 12:1-3 :
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

What if, for future generations, we are among the great cloud of witnesses? What if we're rubbing elbows with those greats of Hebrews 11, the faith chapter? What legacy have we left behind for future generations? What sort of life are we living right now? The legacy may be invisible to us, and when we learn of it in heaven, we will be shocked at the seeming insignificance to us, and the great import to them. Something we do or something we leave behind can be an inspiration so that others will not grow weary or lose heart in their journey.

It puts mortality and immortality in a different light!


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