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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Virtual Book Tour: The Nightingale in the Garden by Rebecca Graf

About the Book:  Continue the tale from A Gift for a Mouse when Thomas sneaks to the Garden of Gethsemane to find out the rest of the story. He learns from the very bird that witnesses the strangest events that fateful night. He finds out how the man his grandfather had met really was betrayed and taken to be killed. The story was more than a story. It was a life changing experience for a small bird.

About the Author:  Rebecca Graf lives in Wisconsin with her husband and three children. She has written religious children stories, A Gift for a Mouse and The Nightingale in the Garden, as well as a novel, Deep Connections. She spends her days maintaining her websites, publishing books with her small publishing company she has partnered with a friend to start (Silver Tongue Press), and writing stories. Being trained as an accountant where creativity could land you in jail, she turned her creative spirit to writing or crocheting when the more hands on need calls to her.

You can find Rebecca all over the internet. She writes regularly for HubPages and other sites. You can read her authors blog Or you can follow tons of activity at A Book Lover's Library ( where she helps other authors spread the word about their works. The News in Books ( is another venture with a friend that pulls together announcements in the book world and shares them with followers. You'll never find this woman not being busy.

My Review:  As with the first book in the series, the author approaches a familiar Bible story from a unique point of view.  Picking up right where the first book left off, the author tells of Thomas' growing fascination with the story of the kind man his grandfather had met that memorable night so many years ago.  To get the first-hand account of what happened after the Last Supper, Thomas seeks out the nightingale who witnessed the events that followed in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Once again, the author is very general in her story-telling, which leads to numerous statements like "the man", "the men", "the leader", and so on.  After a while, it becomes confusing, especially to a young child, which is the age group for which this book is intended.  Likewise, some of the words and phrases are those of an adult and would be difficult for young ones to understand.  The book would work well as a story to read with your children, but not so much as a story for them to read for themselves.

As much as I love the premise of the book, I just couldn't get into the story.  It felt like eavesdropping between two characters, with one character doing the majority of the talking.  It just seemed to me like there was too much dialogue and not enough action to really keep children engaged in the story.  My opinion comes from my experience as both a kindergarten teacher and a writer and is not intended to cause offense to the author.  As always, I feel honor-bound to be completely honest in my reviews.

On the positive side, the illustrations were adorable and the Biblical facts within the story were correct and in no way watered down.  The author has the makings of a fantastic series with a very unique perspective.  Overall, I simply feel the books need a little tweaking. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Getting to Know God: Elohim Yakol

Then Nebuchadnezzar in his rage and fury commanded to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Then they brought these men before the king. Nebuchadnezzar spake and said unto them, Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, do not ye serve my gods, nor worship the golden image which I have set up? Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the image which I have made; well: but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands? Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up. - Daniel 3:13-18

Today's name is found in the midst of one of the most popular Bible stories of all times.  Nebuchadnezzar built an idol for all the people to bow down and worship, but the three Hebrew children wouldn't bow down.  They worshiped the one true God, and they weren't going to bow down to a false god, no matter the cost.  When Nebuchadnezzar brought them before him, they told him, in no uncertain terms, that they would not bow.  And in their declaration, we find another wonderful name of God:  Elohim Yakol, which means "God the most able."

Last night in church, the pastor read Jeremiah 32:27, Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh: is there any thing too hard for me?  Well, is it?  Is there anything that God can't handle?  Let's look at His track record.  He created the universe and everything in it.  He flooded the entire earth.  He parted the Red Sea.  He made the sun to stand still.  He walked on water.  He provided food where there was none.  He healed the sick.  He raised the dead.  He raised from the dead.  He saved those of us not worthy of His great love.  He is aware of everything and in control of everything.  So, what do you think?  Is anything too hard for God?  Absolutely not.  He is the God most able.  He is able to do anything He wants to do.

Notice the answer of the Hebrew children.  They basically told Nebuchadnezzar that God was able to deliver them, but then they went on to say, "But even if He doesn't, we're not going to bow."  Jeremiah 33:3 says, Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.  God said He would answer us, but He didn't say that the answer would be "yes", did He?  Was God able to deliver the three Hebrew children?  Absolutely.  But was it His will?  Obviously, it was because He did deliver them, but Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego understood that God would work things out accordingly to His plan, and they had enough faith to be at peace with that, no matter what the results would be.

So many times, we go to God with our problems, but we lack the faith that He can/will truly meet the need.  We know how we want Him to work things out, and when He doesn't come through like we expect Him too, we become discouraged and disappointed, and our faith weakens even more.  We need to understand God like the three Hebrew children understood Him.  God is able to solve any problem we may have.  We simply need to have faith that He will work it out in His own way and have peace that His way is best.  God promised to answer us, but even more than that, He promised to show us "great and mighty things" that we haven't even thought of.  Sometimes, we simply ask for too little because our faith is too little.

God wants to give us great and mighty things that are beyond our understanding, and furthermore, He is able to do just that.  He just needs us to get out of His way and let Him work.  He knows what He's doing.  He's working for our good.  We have to learn to trust Him with every area of our lives, and I'll be the first one to tell you that it's not easy.  But I want the faith that the three Hebrew children had.  I want to stand firm and say, without a doubt in my mind, "God is able".  And I want to be at peace in the knowledge that God can work out my problems without my help or my worry, and His solutions are better than anything I could ever imagine.

So, I ask you again.  Is anything too hard for God?  Absolutely not.  He is Elohim Yakol, the God most able.  There is nothing, and I mean nothing, beyond His reach or power to accomplish!  And to think, He's also my best friend.  How blessed am I!!!! 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Getting to Know God: El Nathan N'qamah, El G'mulah

You may have noticed that there are two separate names in the title of this post.  That's because we're going to discuss both names today since they are very similar in nature.  The first name, El Nathan N'qamah, means "God who avenges me", and the second name, El G'mulah, means "God of Vengeance".  Do you see the similarity?

When deciding which name(s) to discuss today, I thought back to a conversation Jason and I had last night during our devotion time.  The lesson in our study was on making sure we were on our spouse's side and that we were supporting each other in the way that the other wanted to be supported.  Jason and I noted the reminder that this is an area in our marriage that still needs work.  As an emotional person, when I face difficult times, I want to be comforted and encouraged.  Jason, on the other hand, wants to be left alone to sort through his feelings.  On more than one occasion, we have each been guilty of trying to support and comfort the other in the way we want to be supported instead of the way they want to be.

Anyway, the lesson led us into a discussion on previous problems that were handled incorrectly (by one or both of us) and how we could learn from our mistakes.  One of the first situations that popped into my mind was an instance that happened several years ago when I was teaching kindergarten.  A fellow teacher lied about me and got me into a major confrontation with the school administrator, who just happened to be her husband.  During this meeting, accusations were hurled my way, and each time I tried to defend myself, I was interrupted.  I had everything I could do to keep my composure during that meeting, but I didn't even make it back to my classroom before the tears were streaming.  The accusations were false.  I hadn't said any of the things I was accused of.  The teacher knew me better than that, and for that matter, so did the administrator.  The meeting was unfair and unjust.  I was hurt beyond hurt.  All I knew to do was grab my stuff, drive home (as carefully as I could through my tears) and wait for Jason to come home so that I could pour my heart out to him.

As we relived the event in our discussion last night, both of us became emotional.  I was upset and hurt.  Jason was angry and ready to pound something (or someone).  I realized how much that one event still weighs on my heart and mind.  While I forgave the individuals long ago (even though they never asked for my forgiveness or acknowledged any wrongdoing), I haven't been able to forget the event.  The hurt and betrayal was just too great.

Sometimes, life is just not fair.  People let us down.  Circumstances arise that are unfair and unjust.  During these times, it's a comfort to know that we don't have to take matters into our own hands.  We can leave it up to God.  He will avenge our wrongs.  He'll take care of things in His way and in His time, and I can guarantee you He'll do a much better job than we ever could.  Besides, who are we to act as judge and jury?  That's not our place.  It's God's.  The Bible tells us as much: Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:19-21)

In essence, God is saying, "You let me handle the bad guys.  As for you, kill them with kindness."  Those are our orders.  Are we going to follow them?  We might as well.  We'd certainly be better off.  After all, God's got our backs.  He is our Avenger.  Let's turn the problem over to Him.

It is God that avengeth me, and subdueth the people under me. He delivereth me from mine enemies: yea, thou liftest me up above those that rise up against me: thou hast delivered me from the violent man. Therefore will I give thanks unto thee, O Lord, among the heathen, and sing praises unto thy name. - Psalm 18:47-49

Friday, January 25, 2013

Getting to Know God: El Aman

Today's topic may seem a bit familiar.  Several posts back, we discussed El-emet, the God of truth.  Today, we'll be looking at El Aman, faithful God.  I was tempted to skip this name because it was so similar to El-emet, but then I realized that we could never discuss God's faithfulness too much.  But rather than my saying much of what I said in the earlier post, I'm going to let Scriptures speak for themselves today.  See for yourself what the Bible has to say about our faithful God.  "Yes, He'll always do what He's always done.  He's the Faithful One."

Know therefore that the Lord thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations - Deuteronomy 7:9

For the word of the Lord is right; and all his works are done in truth. - Psalm 33:4

Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God: Which made heaven, and earth, the sea, and all that therein is: which keepeth truth for ever. - Psalm 146:6

God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. - I Corinthians 1:9

Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it. - I Thessalonians 5:24

I will sing of the mercies of the Lord for ever: with my mouth will I make known thy faithfulness to all generations. For I have said, Mercy shall be built up for ever: thy faithfulness shalt thou establish in the very heavens. - Psalm 89:1-2

But the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil. - II Thessalonians 3:3

If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself. - II Timothy 2:13

For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us, even by me and Silvanus and Timotheus, was not yea and nay, but in him was yea. For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us. - II Corinthians 1:19-20

And, behold, this day I am going the way of all the earth: and ye know in all your hearts and in all your souls, that not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spake concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, and not one thing hath failed thereof. - Joshua 23:14

Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) - Hebrews 10:23
This is, by no means, an exhaustive list of the things God's Word proclaims about His faithfulness.  It's only a mere sample of what we know about God and His nature.  He is faithful.  He cannot stop Himself.  That's just who He is.  No matter what we do or how often we fail Him, He will never let us down.  He will remain faithful to us despite our faithfulness to Him.  That's El Aman.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Getting to Know God: El Simchah Giyl

Judge me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation: O deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man. For thou art the God of my strength: why dost thou cast me off? why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles. Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy: yea, upon the harp will I praise thee, O God my God. Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God. - Psalm 43

Doesn't your heart just break for the psalmist here?  He was obviously having more than just a typical bad day.  It sounds more like he was having a bad life!  Discouraged.  Defeated.  Oppressed.  Yep, we are definitely reading the diary entry of one very unhappy person.  However, in the midst of such a dark hour, we find another name of God:  El Simchah Giyl, God my Exceeding Joy.

Despite what many dictionaries and thesauruses say, the words "happiness" and "joy" do not mean the same thing.  They are not interchangeable.  Sure, on the surface they seem to be the same thing.  Happy, joyful, in a good mood, free of sadness.  But there is one major contrast that makes all the difference in the world.  Happiness is based on circumstances.  The psalmist who wrote Psalm 43 was quite obviously not happy.  His circumstances were grim and so was his attitude.  Joy, on the other hand, is not dependent on our circumstances, but rather on the Lord.  If we have Jesus in our hearts, then we have joy, and nothing that happens in our lives can change that.

If you notice, this name of God is a little different than the others we've looked at because it has two qualifiers after the word "El" instead of just one.  Interestingly enough, both "Simchah" and "Giyl" mean "joy or joyful", so in essence, the psalmist is saying, "God my joyful joy".  I can think of no better place in the Bible for this name than right here in the midst of the psalmist's dark hour.  Its placement here distinguishes true joy from mere happiness.  Many things can make us happy, but only God can give us joy because He is joy Himself.

Note the holy rapture with which [the psalmist] regards his Lord! He is not his joy alone, but his exceeding joy; not the fountain of joy, the giver of joy, or the maintainer of joy, but that joy itself.
- Charles Spurgeon

Bad days will come.  Difficult circumstances will arise.  Happiness will flee.  But joy is here to stay.  Didn't God promise He would never leave us nor forsake us?  So if God is joy and He never leaves, that means joy is ever present.  No matter what life throws our way, we can have everlasting joy through El Simchah Giyl, God our Exceeding Joy!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Getting to Know God - El Nasa

Thou answeredst them, O Lord our God: thou wast a God that forgavest them, though thou tookest vengeance of their inventions. - Psalm 99:8

While trying to decide which names of God to cover in this study and which ones to leave out (for sake of time and space), I quickly determined that El Nasa must be included.  Why?  Because the very basis of our salvation hangs in the balance of this sweet name which, in its most basic definition, is interpreted "God who forgives" or "forgiving God".  Interestingly enough, there are different forms of the word "nasa", each carrying with it its own meaning.  Some of the most common interpretations of the word are to lift up, to carry, to bear, to forgive, honored, and traveled.  I don't know about you, but I can see where each of those definitions fits into the theme of forgiveness.

The Bible tells us that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.  We are all guilty of sin.  We are sinners by nature and sinners by choice.  Because of that sin, we are not fit for Heaven, a place of perfection and complete holiness.  But God didn't want us to miss out on the joys of Heaven, so He made a way for us to be cleansed of our sins and made righteous in His sight.  He sent His only begotten Son to be born, to live a sinless life and then to die in our stead.  On that dreadful day of crucifixion, Jesus lifted up and carried, not only the weight of the cross, but also the weight of our sins as He traveled up the hill to Calvary.  He bore our sin and our shame.  He pleaded with the Father to forgive the very ones who were persecuting Him, and that includes us for it was our sin that put Him on the cross.  With the cry of "It is finished", He honored us with a gift that no one else could ever offer:  everlasting life.

Because of that great sacrifice, Christ now acts as a mediator between us and God the Father.  When Satan stands before the throne and accuses us of sins (of which we are guilty), Christ reminds the Father that our sins have been covered and paid for.  On our end, to maintain sweet fellowship with the Lord, we need to ask forgiveness for the wrongs we've done.  First John 1:9 tells us, If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  Other passages in the Bible comfort us with the knowledge that, not only does God forgive our sins, but He also forgets them.  He casts them into the sea of forgetfulness, never to be brought up again.

It doesn't matter what we've done or how bad we've been; God is a God who forgives.  He loves us and wants us to be right with Him.  He welcomes us to His throne and listens with a loving heart as we pour out our faults before Him.  As soon as they're confessed, He tosses them away and welcomes us back into loving fellowship with Him, just as if we had never sinned.  He doesn't love us any less or treat us any differently.  It's truly as if we never messed up to begin with.  No guilt trips.  No grudges.  Just open, loving, true forgiveness.

I have heard with my own ears someone say, "Well, God can forgive a lot, but He can't forgive this."  Yes, He can.  No sin is too great (except the rejection of Christ's gift of salvation).  He is a big God, an awesome God and a forgiving God.  If we'll do our part (confess the sin), He will do His part (forgive).  That's just the way He is.  He's El Nasa:  the God who forgives.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Getting to Know God: El-de'a

And Hannah prayed, and said, My heart rejoiceth in the Lord, mine horn is exalted in the Lord: my mouth is enlarged over mine enemies; because I rejoice in thy salvation.There is none holy as the Lord: for there is none beside thee: neither is there any rock like our God. Talk no more so exceeding proudly; let not arrogancy come out of your mouth: for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. - I Samuel 2:1-3

This is a praise from Hannah after she discovered she was finally with child after years of being barren.  In a time when being childless was considered a mark of sin and shame, Hannah's situation was both discouraging and stressful.  She prayed that God would open her womb and send her a son.  So desperate was she that she promised God that if He would give her a son, she would dedicate him to the Lord and the Lord's work.  Hannah's prayers did not fall on deaf ears, and here at the beginning of I Samuel 2, we witness her response to answered prayer.  Not only does she praise the Lord for what He's done, but she also praises Him for who He is, "the God of knowledge" or El-de'a.

I recently received a text message from a dear friend, expressing a need for prayer for a myriad of trials she is currently facing in her life.  Her first text spoke of the newest development on her stormy sea, and the second text contained these words:  "Feelin' your pain these days".  My heart broke because I knew exactly to what she was referring.  Despite what others may think, the Christian life is not a bed of roses, still some of us end up with a lot of thorns.  My friend knows some of the trials Jason and I have been through and how many of those trials became even more stressful due to a lack of funds.  Now, she's walking through that same valley, and my heart breaks for her.  

In the darkest of valleys, it's difficult to see the good in life, and it's even more difficult to see God.  You feel alone and forsaken and you ask those age-old questions:  "God, where are you?  Don't you see what's going on?  Don't you know what's happening here?"  Hannah's prayer reminds us that God does, in fact, know.  He is El-de'a, the God who knows.  He sees what we're going through, and He understands.  He hasn't left us.  In fact, He's walking alongside us in our struggles, there to catch us when we stumble and fall.  He picks us up, dusts us off and sets us back on our path.

The trouble is that we can't see where that path is leading, but God can because He is the God who knows.  He knows what lies ahead.  He knows about the bends in the road.  He knows what's best, and He loves us too much to offer us any less.  Whatever you may be facing today, God knows.  He knows the situation.  He knows your fears.  He knows your questions.  And He knows the answers.  Turn the situation over to His capable hands and trust in Him to bring about the solution.  For He is not only the God who knows but also the God who remembers.

And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife; and the Lord remembered her. - I Samuel 1:19b

There's a lot of information stored in my brain, which means I know a lot of things, but that does not mean that I remember a lot of things.  I realized that truth this past fall when I was writing an extension course for the Biology class of a local college.  I took Biology in high school and college.  I knew most of the information contained within that textbook, but I was amazed at how much I had forgotten in the few (he-he) years since I took Biology.  Such is not the case with the Lord.  The only thing He forgets is our confessed sin.  Otherwise, He remembers.  He remembers the struggles we went through last year that still have us reeling into this new year.  He remembers the hurt you felt when the friend betrayed your trust.  He remembers the pain you felt upon losing your loved one.  He remembers every prayer we've prayed and every tear we've cried.  God knows, and He remembers.

I'm the type of person that likes to have a plan, and I like to have all the answers.  But if there's one thing life has taught me, it's that sometimes the answers are beyond my reach.  Fortunately, they are never beyond the reach of my Heavenly Father.  He always has the answers I need.  And really, that's all I need to know.  As I always told my students in school, knowledge is not about having all the right answers; it's about knowing where to find the right answers.  So, what do you know?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Virtual Book Tour: A Gift for a Mouse by Rebecca Graf

About the Book:  What if you could see things with a whole new set of eyes? What if you could do that with The Last Supper? Follow the adventures of a little mouse who is present at the famous meal and witnesses everything that happens. He has no idea who the people are or the significance of their actions and words. All he knows is what he sees and what he experiences.

About the Author:  Rebecca Graf lives in Wisconsin with her husband and three children. She has written religious children stories, A Gift for a Mouse and The Nightingale in the Garden, as well as a novel, Deep Connections. She spends her days maintaining her websites, publishing books with her small publishing company she has partnered with a friend to start (Silver Tongue Press), and writing stories. Being trained as an accountant where creativity could land you in jail, she turned her creative spirit to writing or crocheting when the more hands-on need calls to her.

You can find Rebecca all over the internet. She writes regularly for HubPages and other sites. You can read her authors blog Or you can follow tons of activity at A Book Lover's Library ( where she helps other authors spread the word about their works. The News in Books ( is another venture with a friend that pulls together announcements in the book world and shares them with followers. You'll never find this woman not being busy.

My Review:  A Gift for a Mouse was indeed a unique spin on a popular Biblical tale:  the account of the Last Supper.The story begins as little Thomas the mouse struggles to get to sleep. After pleading with his grandfather to tell him a story, his grandfather recounts his eye-witness tale of the Last Supper. From the table laden with food to the betrayal by Judas, Thomas' grandfather leaves out no detail. . .except for the character's names.

I feel like the author had a good idea in approaching this Biblical story from a different point of view. However, I fear that the story itself was lacking, and seemed to be bogged down by the generalities. Not only that, but as a kindergarten teacher of nine years, I fear that children would be confused by the multitude of characters who have no names. As the grandfather recounts the story, he speaks from his point of view, which means he did not know anyone's name, including the name of Jesus. This leads the story into a roundabout of "this man", "the man", "he" and "him". As an adult who is very familiar with the story, I had no trouble following along, but I fear a child who is unfamiliar with the story would definitely have difficulty keeping up.

Additionally, I feel the story would have a more powerful plot if the story was the tale of the grandfather witnessing the Last Supper instead of the grandfather telling the tale to his grandson. But that is just a personal preference on my part.

The illustrations were simple but lively and reminded me fondly of Saturday morning cartoons. The bright colors and cartoonish style add the perfect touch to the story itself. There are just enough pictures scattered throughout the book to illustrate the story without having so many as to distract from the story.

All in all, I would recommend this book if you are planning to read it with your child, so as to help them understand who is who within the story.  Otherwise, I fear there may be some confusion.  All that being said, at the end of the book, I felt encouraged by the reminder of the kindness and compassion Jesus shows. . .even to a lowly mouse.  How much more loving and compassionate will He be to His children?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Getting to Know God: El-sela

To be honest, I had a difficult time finding much information about this particular name of the Lord. As I typically do for my blog posts, I scoured the Internet for information regarding this topic, but unfortunately, there wasn't much to be found. That being said, I will not be able to tell you specifics about this name of God, such as how many times it is used in the Bible or where it can be found other than the ninth verse of Psalm 42.

I will say unto God, my rock, Why hast thou forgotten me? why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? - Psalm 42:9

Today we will discuss El-sela, which means "God my rock". The Bible is filled with references where God is referred to as a rock, particularly in the Psalms. David, the author of many of the Psalms, was very familiar with rocks since he spent a good deal of time in the wilderness. Although Psalm 42 is not specifically attributed to David, many scholars believe that he was indeed the author, and I'm inclined to agree with them. The language simply sounds too similar to other Psalms that are attributed to David, including Psalms 62, where David repeatedly refers to God as "my rock".

As a regular hiker, I have seen my fair share of rocks. Yes, I have encountered small rocks, big rocks, round rocks, flat rocks and rocks that resemble the face of a man. When I think of rocks, several elements come to mind. First off, I think of the sturdiness that rocks provide. In certain weather and on particular trails, I welcome the sturdy grip of the soles of my shoes against the rugged rocks. The rocks provide the traction and stability that soft earth cannot offer.

Secondly, I think of the many rocks that have been precisely placed as steppingstones for crossing streams and creeks. On many occasions, these rocks offer a bridge for hikers to cross safely, not to mention dryly. Though the walkway can be precarious at times, it sure beats wading through the waters (been there, done that--no fun!).

Lastly, I think of safety and shelter. Many rocks form an outcropping which provides a place of shelter against winds and storm. Should the need arise, I know that I could crawl into the crevice of the rocks and be protected from the harsh elements that surround me, and there have been occasions where I thought I might have to do just that.  Again, no fun!

With these three thoughts alone, is it any wonder that our great God can be referred to as a rock? He is our strength and stability when we have lost our footing. He is the bridge that leads us from the dark side of our circumstances into the light. And He is our shelter from the storms of life. No matter what comes our way, we can stand firm in the knowledge that God is our immovable rock. He will not fail us, and He will not let our feet slip.

The God of my rock; in him will I trust: he is my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my high tower, and my refuge, my saviour; thou savest me from violence.- 2 Samuel 22:2

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Getting to Know God - El Roi

Now Sarai Abram's wife bare him no children: and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai. And Sarai Abram's wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife. And he went in unto Hagar, and she conceived: and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes. And Sarai said unto Abram, My wrong be upon thee: I have given my maid into thy bosom; and when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her eyes: the Lord judge between me and thee. But Abram said unto Sarai, Behold, thy maid is in thine hand; do to her as it pleaseth thee. And when Sarai dealt hardly with her, she fled from her face. And the angel of the Lord found her by a fountain of water in the wilderness, by the fountain in the way to Shur. And he said, Hagar, Sarai's maid, whence camest thou? and whither wilt thou go? And she said, I flee from the face of my mistress Sarai. And the angel of the Lord said unto her, Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands. And the angel of the Lord said unto her, I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude. And the angel of the Lord said unto her, Behold, thou art with child and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael; because the Lord hath heard thy affliction. And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren. And she called the name of the Lord that spake unto her, Thou God seest me: for she said, Have I also here looked after him that seeth me? Wherefore the well was called Beerlahairoi; behold, it is between Kadesh and Bered. - Genesis 16:1-14

In a nutshell, Sarai became impatient while waiting on God to fulfill His promise to give her an heir and decided to take matters into her own hands. She ordered her servant, Hagar, to go into Abraham in order to produce the heir she had been able to have. Unfortunately, after the deed was done, Sarai had harsh feelings toward Hagar and mistreated her to the point that Hagar ran away.  It is in this barren wilderness that we discover the name of God that we will be discussing in this post.

Imagine Hagar's plight. Lost and alone, she wanders through the wilderness, having no idea where she's even headed. She feels abandoned and forsaken, suffering for following the orders of her mistress, nothing more. Yet despite her feelings, she was not alone. There was one who was watching and was aware of her suffering. That one is El Roi, the God who sees.

Interestingly enough, the name El Roi only appears in this one passage in the Bible, however, God's all-seeing nature is present throughout all Scripture. No matter where we are or what circumstances we are facing, God is aware and is looking on with unblinking eyes. He doesn't miss a moment.  Not a single tear falls without His notice.  He sees our past, present and future. He sees our mistakes and failures, as well as our successes and triumphs. He sees our fears and insecurities and knows us better than we could ever know ourselves. Despite how alone and forsaken we may often feel, we can find great comfort in the fact that the Eyes of Heaven are upon us. God knows what we are going through, and yes, He does care.

I don't know about you, but there are days when I feel insignificant, almost to the point of invisible. During these spells, I feel as if no one cares and no one understands. Half the time, when battling these emotions, I'm not even sure I understand myself what I'm going through. But God knows, and He understands. And with that understanding, He can lead me to a place of peace and safety, away from the harsh winds and tumultuous seas that toss my boat and rock my world.

But don't take my word for it.  Just look at some of the things the Bible has to say about who and what God sees:

The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good. - Proverbs 15:3

For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him. - II Chronicles 16:9a

Doth not he see my ways, and count all my steps? - Job 31:4

 For his eyes are upon the ways of man, and he seeth all his goings. - Job 34:21

The Lord is in his holy temple, the Lord's throne is in heaven: his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men. - Psalm 11:4

 O lord, thou hast searched me, and known me. - Psalm 139:1

For mine eyes are upon all their ways: they are not hid from my face, neither is their iniquity hid from mine eyes. - Jeremiah 16:17

 I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings. - Jeremiah 17:10

 Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do. - Hebrews 4:13

Hagar followed the Lord's leadership and went back to Abram and Sarai.  As the angel of the Lord had proclaimed, Hagar had a son and named him Ishmael, which means "God hears".  Through what I'm sure was one of the darkest times in Hagar's life, she was reminded that God sees and He hears.  He's paying attention.  Nothing takes Him by surprise, and nothing escapes His notice.  

Perhaps, you're facing a wilderness of your own right now.  Feeling alone and forsaken, you have no idea which way to go or to whom you can turn.  If so, find your place of rest with El Roi, the God who sees.  Believe it or not, He understands your circumstances better than you do.  Rest in His embrace.  Regain your strength.  And when it's time, He'll direct you in the path you need to follow.  Simply put your trust in Him and His all-seeing knowledge.  Father really does know best!






Monday, January 14, 2013

Getting to Know God - El Elyon

When we have the opportunity, Jason and I enjoy visiting "The Winds", a beautiful spot by a cascading waterfall on the trail that stretches from Jones Gap State Park to Caesar's Head State Park. Because of the rise and fall of the elevation along the trail, there are a number of switchbacks, which ease the ascent and descent. The tricky thing is that the switchbacks can cause a bit of disorientation (at least for the directionally-challenged such as myself). One such place of disorientation is at the waterfall itself.

When we start at the top of the mountain, the waterfall appears small in the distance, and is more difficult to spot because of all the foliage. Nevertheless, my eyes are drawn to the beautiful cascade. It isn't long, however, before I point out another breathtaking waterfall, only to find out that it's the same waterfall I saw in the first place.  When we finally arrive at the waterfall, I am determined that it cannot be the same site I viewed from the top of the mountain.  It simply does not look the same. From this distance, the waterfall seems immense, gushing over the rocks with more water than my mind can comprehend. Each time we visit, I am amazed at how much my perspective changes depending on my viewpoint.

God has a viewpoint of His own, and it is that part of His nature that I wish to discuss today. In this post, let us describe El Elyon, God Most High.  The term "elyon" implies greatness, stature, preeminence and sovereignty. It reminds us that nothing is beyond God's power to see or to solve. As high as the mountains in our lives seem, God is higher. No matter how high our stacks of bills seem to become, they will never reach the height of God. There are no problems in this life that He cannot solve, no enemies He cannot conquer. He is above all, beyond all, surpassing our highest hopes, dreams, and expectations.

Just as the waterfall at "The Winds" seems smaller and less powerful from the top of the mountain, so do our problems seem smaller and less powerful to God, who is far enough above them to see the entire picture. Where we see only one step, He sees the entire path. Where we see problems, He sees possibilities. Where we see obstacles, He sees stepping stones. From such a vantage point, there is nothing He cannot see or accomplish.

When facing the everyday circumstances of life, it's comforting to remember that God is the Most High. He is above and beyond anything that life can throw our way. He sees our paths and can guide us to safety if we'll only trust in His direction.

In her devotional study, I Want to Know You, Kay Arthur says, "If God is not sovereign, if He is not in control, if all things are not under His dominion, then He is not the Most High, and you and I are either in the hands of fate (whatever that is), in the hands of man, or in the hands of the devil."

In a world that seems more out of control every day, we can take comfort in knowing that God is in control. We have nothing to fear. He can rise above all our problems.

He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. - Psalm 91:1

Friday, January 11, 2013

Getting to Know God: El-emet

When I first started my writing career and was struggling to find my place in the writing world, I tried my hand at copywriting for a little while.  After all, copywriting, for the most part, is writing a conversational letter that has the potential of making the copywriter a lot of money.  How hard could it be, right?  Well, for someone like me, it was very difficult.  I'm not a salesperson, and when it comes down to brass tacks, that's exactly what a copywriter is--a salesperson.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with copywriting, it's basically an infomercial in written form.  The job of a copywriter, therefore, is to entice the reader to buy the advertised product, system, program and so on.

I think my biggest failing point with copywriting is that I'm a truthful, down-to-earth kind of girl.  If something works well, I'll tell you.  If it doesn't, I'll tell you.  If I'm not sure, well, I'll tell you that too.  Copywriters don't have that luxury.  They are hired to promote the products and to make them sound like the answer you've been searching for, even when the writers know down deep that the product is not all that great.  Personally, I don't believe in making grandiose claims that I can't back up, hence my failure as a copywriter.

We've all seen the commercials and read the ads:  "You're guaranteed to lose 20 pounds by the end of the month without dieting and exercise!"  "You can make your first $500 within 24 hours with this program!"  "Never look for love again!"  It's gotten so bad that I don't believe any of these advertisements anymore.  I've been fooled often enough.  I've been discouraged.  I've been disappointed.  I've put my trust in their claims only to be left with a hole in my wallet, not to mention the problem I was trying to solve in the first place.  Now, I've become a cynic and live by the mantra, "Advertisements cannot be trusted."

Thankfully, I know Someone who can.  His name is El-emet, which means "the God of Truth".  Yes, the word "emet" can be translated as firmness, faithfulness, reliability.  The psalmist speaks of this God of Truth in Psalm 31:5 when he says, "Into thine hand I commit my spirit: thou hast redeemed me, O Lord God of truth."  Who better to commit our lives to but the one, true God?  The One who can be trusted.  The One upon whom we can rely.  The One who has proven Himself faithful time and time again.  People may let us down.  Circumstances may let us down.  But El-emet will never let us down.  He is faithful to the end.

I'm sure you've heard the advertising slogan, "You're in good hands with Allstate."  Well, we have Allstate, and so far, we've been satisfied with their coverage and service, but undoubtedly, there will come a time when it doesn't feel like we're in good hands with them.  However, copywriter or not, I can make a claim that I believe 100% and that I can back up with Scripture, and that slogan is this:  "You're in good hands with El-emet."  Satisfaction guaranteed!  Commit your life to Him.  He can be trusted to do what's best with it.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Getting to Know God: El Shaddai

As we've already discussed in previous posts, the word "El" means "God", but keep in mind that in Biblical times, this word was used to describe the true God and the heathen gods as well.  To set apart the one true God, descriptors were added to the word "El", and "Shaddai" is one such descriptive word.

The origin of the word Shaddai has not been determined, but there are several theories, each of which complements the others.  The Hebrew word "dai" means "sheds forth", "pours out" or "to heap benefits", thus implying provision, sustenance and blessing.  The Hebrew word "shad" means "breast" and signifies nourishment, supplication and satisfaction.  The Hebrew word "shadad" means "to overpower" or "to destroy" and suggests power beyond measure.  The Akkadian word "Sadu" means "mountain" and implies enormous strength.  All in all, we come up with this:  God the Almighty who provides, nourishes, blesses and satisfies.  Now that's a description!

The name "El Shaddai" is first used in Genesis 17:1-2 when God promises to make of Abraham a great nation.  And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.  And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly.

Notice God proclaims Himself mighty and then makes a claim that only One of unlimited power could bring about.  God is speaking to Abram at the age of 99.  His wife, Sarai, is 90, and they have no children.  Yet God is promising to make an entire nation from the seed of Abram.  What seed?  Sarai was barren, and it was certainly too late for them to start a family.  Wasn't it?  Not for El Shaddai, the One who can provide, sustain, bless, nourish, supply and satisfy.  There is nothing beyond His power.  There is no task too difficult, no circumstance too overwhelming.  No, there is nothing He can't do.

The name El Shaddai is used many more times throughout the Bible (mostly in the Old Testament) and is usually found within a passage where God is making grand claims and/or promises.  For the All-Sufficient God, no claim is too wild, no promise too vast.  And fortunately, God is also One to be trusted, for each of His promises have come to pass.  Each claim has been verified save for the ones dealing with Him imminent return, the tribulation and millennial kingdom, but we can be assured by His track record, that those claims will be proven true as well (and probably sooner than we imagine).

In this world of trouble and sorrow, isn't it good to know that our God is all-powerful and all-sufficient?  Don't you find comfort in knowing that there is no problem too big for Him?  What a blessing to know that this Almighty God is also gentle enough to care for us with tender nourishment and provision.  Through El Shaddai, we can be blessed and satisfied.  We can put our trust in the One who will never let us down, the One who can give us above and beyond all that we can possibly ask or think.  The trick to putting our trust in the All-Sufficient God, however, is that we must first recognize our own insufficiency.  We must come to the realization and accept the fact that we do not have the strength or power to provide for and nourish ourselves as God can.  There comes a point when we've done all we can do.  Beyond that, there is El Shaddai.

He wants to help us.  He wants to provide for us.  He wants us to find satisfaction in the presence of His power and might.  Call on Him.  Lean on Him.  Get reacquainted with this God above all gods.  Who knows?  You may discover more about Him than you ever dreamed possible.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Getting to Know God: Elohim

In the beginning, God (Elohim) created the heaven and the earth. - Genesis 1:1 (Parenthesis mine.)

Elohim is the first name of God used in the Bible and is also the name that is used the most frequently, occurring over 2,500 times.  It is the plural, masculine form of the word "El" which means "mighty, strong, prominent."  In Biblical times, all of the gods went by the title "El", and for that reason, the one true God is often set apart by an addition to the name "El", which we will talk about in later posts.  As for Elohim, it, too, was a title used to refer to all gods, and not just the one true God.  The interesting thing is that when referring to all other "gods", the plural word "Elohim" was used with plural verbs.  Such is not the case, however, when referring to the one true God.  Rather the term "Elohim" uses a singular verb to illustrate the case of the trinity.  One God, set apart in three persons:  the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  One but three.  Three but one.  Singular, yet plural. Plural yet singular.  Crazy, huh?

Look at what it says in Genesis 1:26:   And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.   Us?  Our?  Who is God talking to?  No one else was around?  He was speaking to Himself, to the other Persons of the Trinity.  But notice, He said "in our image", not images and "after our likeness", not likenesses.  Three yet one.  Plural yet singular.  That is Elohim.  He's not just God, but He's the God that goes beyond what we can even comprehend by consisting of three beings in one.  Yes, from the very first verse in the Bible, God proves His greatness and His complexity.  Yet, He also proves His love and compassion by writing His Word in such a way that there is no means for Him to be confused with the heathen gods.  He is set apart, explained, yet unexplainable.

It boggles the mind, but at the same time, it also sets the mind at ease.  After all, what could life possibly throw at us that this complex, mighty God can not handle?  If God can exist as one being yet three distinct persons (and He can), what can't He do?  Nothing!  From the very first verse in the Bible, God is telling us that there is nothing He can't handle.  Talk about starting your story with a hook to grab the readers' attention!  The greatest writers of all time can't hold a candle to that Book beginning!

Elohim -- one God, yet three persons.  One strong, mighty Creator, yet so much more.  What an awesome God we serve!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Getting to Know God: Introduction

Although I'm not a firm believer in New Year's resolutions, I've decided to set a few goals for the upcoming year. One of those goals, as I've already mentioned, is to improve my health. Another goal I have is to gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the God I serve. In my opinion, one of the best ways to accomplish that task is to familiarize myself with His many names. For the next several weeks, I plan to dig deep to uncover the true character and personality of God through the study of His multiple names found in the Bible.

Officially, my name means "from Sweden", but that doesn't really tell you much about my character or nature. In the Bible, however, names were very significant and had great meaning. For example, remember Jacob, the son of Isaac? His name meant "trickster", and he certainly lived up to his name. He tricked his brother, Esau, out of the birthright and later tricked his father, Isaac, out of the blessing. After his wrestle with the Lord in the wilderness, God changed his name to Israel, a sign that Jacob had become a new man.

Likewise, each name of God mentioned in the Bible has significant meaning and gives us a deeper insight into his very nature. By understanding both His names and His nature, we can grow closer to Him and even enhance our praise of His holy name. And that, my friends, is the purpose behind this extended study.

We serve a God who is beyond understanding, and though we will never truly uncover his depth this side of heaven, we can at least know Him as He is revealed through his names in the Bible. Such a marvelous God cannot be described with one single word or one common name. No, on the contrary, it takes a multitude of names just to scratch the surface of all He is.

My goal, as the year progresses, is to know the Lord more and more and to have a deeper understanding of His character. I pray that you, too, will benefit from this study and that the knowledge shared will bring you into a closer relationship with the Father and an increased faith for the years to come.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Out With the Old, Part Two

In yesterday's post, I described my regrets over the time, energy and money that had been spent in pursuits outside of the Lord's will. Unfortunately, that was not the only regret awaiting me on the bottom shelves of the bookcases. As I tackled the second shelf of notebooks and the menagerie of stacked papers, I was confronted with a variety of health and fitness-related products. Muscle building. Fat loss. Low-calorie diets. Interval training programs. Recipe books. You name it, it was there.

For many years now, Jason and I have been interested in improving our health and living more naturally. The stacks of papers and notebooks are proof of the fervor of our pursuit. And I can honestly say that we tried each and every program and diet that we perused... at least for a while. And that, my friends, is where the regret comes in.

First of all, I regretted my ability or unwillingness to stick with any one program for an extended length of time. Second, as I skimmed through the material, I realized that I was failing to put my knowledge into action. The truth is that I know how to improve my health. I understand the importance of a healthy diet and a steady exercise program. I am aware of what tactics have worked in the past and which ones have failed. So, you see, my regret is not in that I don't know what to do, but that I am failing to do it.

James 1:22 tells us, "But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves."  Additionally. Philippians 4:9 says, "Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you." It isn't enough to hear or to know; we must act on that knowledge. Last year, I used that knowledge to lose 15 pounds and to drastically improve my health. Unfortunately, when life threw me a few curve balls, I discarded what I knew and opted for what was easy instead. Since that time, I have regained the weight and my health has deteriorated rapidly.

Skimming through the fitness products, all I could do was shake my head and mutter, "I know this." I could not deny that I knew the material contained within. Neither could I deny the fact that I had failed repeatedly to act on that knowledge. Thankfully, we serve a God of second chances. He accepts me, failures and all, and is willing to give me another chance to be all that I can be for His glory. This start-of-the-year cleaning has been an eye-opening reminder for me to make this a happy "do year", not just a happy new year.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Out With the Old, Part One

The day after Christmas, Jason and I decided to try to clean up from the holiday mess.  Gifts, boxes, wrapping and so much else covered every surface in our home.  Yes, a good, thorough cleaning was what we needed and what we intended.  However, we weren't very far into the cleaning when we decided to do some rearranging.  "After all," we reasoned, "everything is already a mess.  Why not make these changes that we've been wanting to make for a while now?"  Big, big mistake.  At the time of this typing (an entire week later), I'm still trying to get things back in order.  I'm happy with the changes, but I'm not happy with all the trouble involved in making them.  Good grief!

The worst of the changes was our decision to move our two huge bookcases into my office.  The process involved removing every book and all the other "stuff" that had collected on the bottom shelves of each bookcase.  It was a chore, and of course, it became even more of a process when I insisted on going through all the junk that had accumulated over the years.

The first of the "junk shelves" I tackled was filled to overflowing with notebooks of every shape, size and color.  As I worked my way through the pile, I discovered that each of the notebooks contained information about the craft of writing.  My mind drifted back to the beginning of my writing career when I printed off and purchased anything I could get my hands on to better learn and understand what I had gotten myself into.  What broke my heart, however, is that the majority of the information had nothing to do with the type of writing I do.  There were several books on copywriting.  There was information about writing short reports.  I found pages and pages on using PLR articles to make money on the web.

I'm ashamed to admit that I haven't always followed the writing path that the Lord set before me.  From the beginning, I had a good idea what He wanted me to write, but I struggled.  That type of writing didn't sell books and didn't bring in the kind of income I wanted.  I wanted to be successful.  I wanted to be wealthy.  I wanted to be able to work four hours a day and still bring in a six-figure income.  Other writers were doing, so why couldn't I?  And so, I tried one avenue after another.  And I failed time and time again.  With each failure, I grew more discouraged and questioned my calling to write.  As I look back, I just want to thump myself in the head and shout, "Dana, you idiot, it's not the writing that's the problem.  It's what type of writing you're trying to do."

As I tossed piles and piles of information in the garbage can, I realized that I had spent a boatload of time, money and energy trying to be something I'm not, someone I'm not.  I was trying to be a copywriter, but who am I kidding?  I couldn't sell a glass of water to a man in the desert.  I was trying to be an online freelancer, but that was not what God had called me to be.  Yes, as I sifted through the papers, my heart was filled with regret.  So much time wasted!  So much money wasted!  So much energy and effort wasted!  By the time I was finished with that one shelf, I wanted nothing more than to curl up in a ball and have a good cry.

But then I remembered the verse that's been on my mind and heart since the holidays.  Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)  What glorious advice!  Forgetting those things which are behind.  Yes, I've made some mistakes.  Yes, I've been know to lose my way.  Yes, I've wasted the precious resources that God has entrusted to me.  But today is a new day!  There is nothing I can do about the mistakes of yesterday except to learn from them.  Armed with that knowledge, I am to press forward.  Forward, not back.  Go on.  Get busy.  Stop wasting even more time with regret of the past and get busy building a future.  I can't do anything about yesterday, but I can certainly do something about today.  Out with the old, and in with the new.  Let's do it!