We’ve a story to tell to the Nations…

 

N A H U M

I usually post a blog a month. This one is for April but I decided to post early as people have more time to study. I included notes from the entire book of Nahum. It is long but life-changing. I promise your view of God and trust will increase if you ponder and study this book.  Happy reading. It’s not a lightweight book but will yield great results in your life.

Nahum is a little known or preached book. For those of you old enough to remember Paul Harvey, this is the “rest of the story” regarding Ninevah. After Jonah preached there, the people and the King repented but it was short lived – 100 years later they were back to their old antics. Lest we think it was just being lukewarm or culturally not PC, it was more than that. This group of people were involved in prostitution, killing children, skinning men alive and dismembering people they didn’t like. I’m so glad Micah is placed between these two books because we need a stronger reminder then and NOW that God is just and will NOT let sin go unpunished.

Unlike Jonah, who was strange with wild miracles under his belt, Nahum was cut from a different cloth and his life can be traced historically. Both were needed to reach Ninvevah.  Perhaps we know less about Jonah because the scholars, like Jonah, could not tolerate these “unsavory individuals” getting converted. People are not pleased when their enemies avoid wrath. Nahum does a great poetic work as he explains his “burden”, the prophetic vision. At first and second read it seems discouraging – at least if you are a Ninevite. The punishments are deserved and final. Nahum will cajole them to rally if perchance something will change, while still knowing God has reached His limit.

Typically you won’t hear this book preached to encourage the saints. This is a dark book of atrocities and judgement, however, If we draw out the pattern of God’s oversight, we will see clearly His intent to bless any who turn to Him. Can God move even in dark seasons and trials? Even in this book we can come to know and love the God who oversees everything.

This book is powerful if you want to know and clearly see God’s heart.

Anxiety in this book is off the charts as people process God’s wrath.   When people are running to idols, rejecting God and repeating sinful practices, it is imperative that we look for God, look to God. Nahum does that for the people of his generation and for us. Many know about God but wouldn’t you like to know what He’s like and how He acts? These are some of the things I learned about God while reading this book:

I: The Lord is a Jealous God

He does not like His people to serve idols. That does not just mean foreign gods, it also means when our jobs become gods, when our family comes first, when cars, money, a church building, a hobby, persons or fame separate us from our One True Love.

II. The Lord is an Avenger.

He takes vengeance on His foes and vents His wrath on His enemies.  Wow. That means God is not sitting back just hoping we all sing Kumbaya and endure. God actually pursues His enemies into darkness.  We trust God has our back, we trust He is making all things work together. According to Nahum, we can also trust that God will vent His wrath and avenge us, which seems foreign to “good Christian thinking.” That is the impetus for moving on (complete trust), not pausing to confront accusers or scoffers, we move forward in Gods grace to do His bidding. A NT verse comes to mind, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked, we will reap what we sow (for good or bad).” Gal.6:7-9.

III. The Lord is slow to Anger

We saw that when Jonah preached and God spared them but here –their time is up and we are told that God will “not leave the guilty unpunished.” The thought is developed that yes He is slow to anger but when it comes –it comes with might and power. God releasing His wrath against the Ninevites was part of His power and mercy towards the people of Judah/ Israel. One punishment would bring deliverance to those who suffered and it would be swift. Please keep in mind as you read this that the cross will bring forth both God’s justice and mercy.

IV. The Lord is GREAT in power

I think the following verses are definitions of His greatness. He is above all, beneath all and everything in between. Note the contrast– the sky, the sea and flowers. That’s full circle greatness. I loved meditating on those verses. Surely THAT God is in control!

The Lord is slow to anger but great in power; 
His way is in the whirlwind and the storm,
    and clouds are the dust of His feet.
He rebukes the sea and dries it up;
    He makes all the rivers run dry.
Bashan and Carmel wither
    and the blossoms of Lebanon fade.
The mountains quake before Him
    and the hills melt away.
The earth trembles at His presence,
   

V. The Lord is Good

Is He? That’s what the enemy asks during crisis times. We need to settle that in our hearts long before the pink slip comes, long before the virus is announced.  It is difficult to see goodness when in trial, especially if it was God who brought it on. If we are opposed to God and repent, His hand of favor will once again rest on us. If we return to the Lord we no longer have to question if we are being judged or sifted. For those who seek God, for those who walk in His ways, the Bible states they will see His goodness. Nahum defines God’s goodness in this way:

God is a refuge in times of trouble.
He cares for (knows) those who trust in Him, 
but with an overwhelming flood
He will make an end of Nineveh; 
 He will pursue His foes into the realm of darkness.

 

Not only is God a refuge during tough times – times of trials and tribulation, may I also add pandemics,  He knows His people. He is specifically good because He knows each persons’ needs, wants and cares for them.  How difficult it must have been for Nahum to prophesy to both groups of people knowing some would choose to reject God and suffer the consequences.

Whatever they plot (imagine strongly) against the Lord
 He will bring to an end; trouble will NOT come a second time.

The verb in Hebrew (plot) is an extreme one and reveals to us that the people in Ninevah were actively seeking evil, actively trying to go against God and His people to achieve their own ends. Talk about a political nightmare. Can you imagine in this day and age people actually plotting against someone, treason with  leaders, hoping they fall? Sounds familiar doesn’t it? The prophetic voice of Nahum must have sounded religious, probably out of step with the popular crowd making decisions. If only they had realized it was not Nahums’ message that was being proclaimed but Gods’. The lack of fear, reverence and awe of God is evident. In our vernacular we could read this verse:

                                                       It ENDS HERE AND IT ENDS NOW !!!

When I read these verses to my children, I shouted  in my best “mama is mad” voice. It startled them. They said they did not think of God being mad. They did not realize that was possible as He is always represented as loving and patient. Hmm? (Side note: all books of the Bible need to be taught so we see all of who God wants to be in our lives). We talked about obedience and that even God has a limit to nonsense. Why do we portray God as a milquetoast? Why do we make Him out to be some elderly sweet grandpa without teeth – or justice? Where there is no restraint, evil abounds. Throughout the years, God has sent preachers, teachers and prophets to let the people know Gods heart. In these last days, Hebrews 1:2 tells us God has sent His son to speak to us. The message remains pretty clear – follow God and obey Him and you will be blessed. If you depart and do cruel things you will be pursued and punished. All the Netflix in the world can’t silence that, all the music can’t drown it out.

Here is  the big question for us this month:  Can ONE person make an impact? In a family, a town, a city, a nation? One? 

 
11 From you, Nineveh, has one come forth
    who plots evil against the Lord
    and devises wicked plans. 12 This is what the Lord says:

“Although they have allies and are numerous,
    they will be destroyed and pass away.
Although I have afflicted you, Judah,
    I will afflict you no more.                         

                                                               We can be one to harm. That’s tragic.  


VI. The Lord is a Yoke Breaker

13 Now I will break their yoke from your neck
    and tear your shackles away.”                         A prophecy of hope! NOW!

 

 The people of Ninevah, Judah and Israel lived in wicked times, chaos and turmoil. How bad do you have to be for God to point you out as the most wicked or vile? This one who appeared in Ninevah made a difference but for evil! He (or possibly she)  had literally planned to be against God, plotted and devised schemes that would hurt God’s heart and harm other people. Evil plots the second you want to harm another, not when full blown. Wickedness begins the second you wish others injury, not when the event occurs. Remember the wickedness in this city was dismembering innocent people and skinning alive their adversaries. They were cruel tyrants. One person had an affect that multiplied throughout the whole city. I really hope it was not a wayward believer. I’d like to believe it was someone from another ideology, but it may have been someone discouraged, rejected or lost in their faith. When we fall away from God we can not predict our outcome or the others we negatively influence. We need to take that trajectory seriously in light of Nahums words. Apostasy, a falling away will happen – we determine daily if that will be us. Father intervene!

VII. The Lord is a Good News / Peace Giver

15 Look, there on the mountains,
    the feet of One who brings good news,
    who proclaims peace!
Celebrate your festivals, Judah,
    and radically fulfill your vows.                        Keep praising – in spite of the tribulation!

I’ve read this numerous times but never stopped to understand it. Why feet? Feet are what we run with, position to stand with, provide motion forward. It is not knees sitting in a recliner that Nahum sees but feet positioned at a top level. Isaiah 52:7 states, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.” When you live in a climate of death, torture and idolatry you take note of those who have something uplifting to say or do! I believe this refers to the Lord but it may have referred to a godly messenger. The word bring here is the Hebrew word basar (pronounced bah sayer). It is a participle that screams actions. The One is massively, with excitement and passion bringing good news, not grudgingly, out of compulsion or because someone at their church told them it was a good idea. My early ministry was in children’s church so when I hear this I think of a little sheep preaching the good news – a “bah” sayer. This person is rosy, fresh, brings gladness, announces beauty and is joyful. Wow! That’s the person I want in my corner of the world when darkness comes near. That’s the one I want to hear from when all other voices cause me fear or anxiety. Oh that the world could have more basars!  Oh that someone would stand on their mountain and proclaim peace. Did you catch that? I want that, I want someone to be that for me says the little sheep. We need to be praying “Lord, make me a basar and lead me to those who need Your message.”

Take time to adjust your prayer today.

Before the Pandemic started we had plans to help out a church plant. We had prayed for their city and made plans to advertise church services. We had looked forward to this event for months. When people are quarantined it’s hard to reach them. We began to pray for wisdom. Lord, help us to be “basar” (ones bringing good news) in our generation.

The one proclaiming the good news is sharing shalom peace. We know what peace feels like, we understand Christ to be our peace but how do we define that? The commentary’s say it means “Completeness, soundness, tranquility, friendship, favor, peace from war and rest. “It refers to wholeness. The one on the mountain told the people how to find and have peace. That’s good news!  Speaking about solutions and sharing with people that ALL peace is found in God and His son Jesus Christ goes way back to Nahum. Will we preach, will we go, will we publish? It mattered then, it matters NOW.

VIII. The Lord God is a Restorer

The text goes on to warn Ninevah and comfort Jacob. Were they wondering, “what will happen to us?” Did they consider the murder they saw around them, the chaos and think they were next? God, in the midst of evil, unrepentant Ninevah tells them thru Nahum, “The Lord will restore the splendor of Jacob like the splendor of Israel, though destroyers have laid them waste and have ruined their vines.” We forget that these powerful assurances came during their darkness – not on a sunny day in the middle of a church service. While their neighbors were being tortured and infants were being dashed against the rocks, they were hearing promises. We have a crippled faith if we only believe promises in times of prosperity.

I’m not sure if this is the place to say this but have you ever considered that we are not like Judah but Ninevah? If we have not established a relationship with God or given our lives to Him (see the how to get to Heaven page on this website) it’s possible we should be hearing the judgements given to Ninevah. I don’t want to falsely think all reading this blog are the ones receiving the good promises. If that is you, go back and read Nahum. Read both sides so you know where you will stand on that day. Are we more like the evil, unrepentant Ninevites or are we more like Judah and Israel when they were restored to God? It’s worth asking the question.

You’ll note I am skipping the part where God states they are vile and  “I am against you,” declares the Lord Almighty. God spells out how angry He is about how they treat infants. Is that true today? Yes, according to the Bible. He’s tired of their prostitution and idolatry  (rebellion). It is spelled out in this book what God will do after He has warned and re-warned His people. I think of the many calls to rest in the Old Testament – they were warned. After they mock, ignore and trample God’s word they are put into a mandatory rest in Exile in Babylon for as many years as they had ignored Him. God will have His way and as earlier stated, when it ends, it ends immediately. There will NOT be a second time for trouble.

I’m a wife, mom and blogger. I don’t claim to be a prophetic voice. I can however read Nahum and see similarities in our nation. Do we as a family, church, city or nation anger God by atrocities or sins? Have we ignored multiple warnings in our government and school system? I’ll let your heart answer that for you and yours.

I  believe there is another attribute of God (though silent in the text) that shouts from the end of this book. In 3, vs. 17 f it states: “Your guards and officials are like locusts – fleeting.” “Your shepherds slumber and your nobles lie down to rest, …no one can bring you healing.” Tough times.  It seems in every area the Ninevites had ignored God’s word and their fractured society was the result. God was seeing, was watching, was guarding, was shepherding. How awesome that God sends the forgiving one, the delivering one, the healing one and the saving One.  

IX. The Lord GOD is Active

After reading this book, I KNOW that the God who was watching over Judah and Israel will “never leave or forsake us”. This God neither sleeps nor slumbers. The Lord is our Shepherd and Jesus tells us that He is the Good Shepherd. What a contrast! This God also offers Healing because of the cross. Communion reminds us of Christs amazing grace and blood protection. Under the law in the Old Testament and in the Saviors words in the NT, God is telling us this is who He is and wants to be for us. Many need to hear that during this pandemic- it’s good news, its GREAT news! In this hour, in this nation and in our hearts, we have a choice – will we repent like Jonah’s Ninevah or remain hard hearted like Nahum’s? Will we stand and “basar”– bringing GOOD news and proclaiming peace or cower in fear and isolation? Nahum’s challenge is fresh today. We have a choice. We can avert wrath. We can be like the One who impacts ALL- for Good.

 

I urge you to reflect on the judgments against Ninevah in this book. I implore you to meditate on the characteristics of God that are so evident. Get to know the God of this book and the God of your circumstances. He wants to know you and be known by you. I believe He also wants those living in darkness and tribulation to see His goodness and greatness. Now you know some of His characteristics – Go, SHARE the Good news!!!

 

“Lord, speak this to our hearts anew and afresh. We choose YOU.”

RenaeRoche2020  

             Our son Josiah’s feet of courage

Micah

               I love Facebook and it is fun to interact with people, hear their updates and share stories. I especially enjoy the encouragement and scripture from other believers. Lately, I’ve noticed that there is a predominant thread about our society not “listening” to one another. Young people don’t listen to older people, Republicans not listening to democrats, Evangelicals not listening to Catholics and of course the reverse happens when they don’t listen as well. I’m not sure if this is a new thing or ramped up because of politics but it sounds dangerous to not “hear” one another. By the time we do hear one another it may be too late. Consider this guy:

A 92-year-old man went to the doctor to get a physical. A few days later the doctor saw the man walking down the street with a gorgeous young lady on his arm. At the man’s next appointment, the doctor said, “You’re really doing great, aren’t you?” The man replied, “Just doing what you said, ‘Get a hot mamma and be cheerful.’” The doctor said, “Listen, I didn’t say that. I said you got a heart murmur. Be careful.”[1]

It is important to hear instructions clearly from a doctor but how much more important from God? In Micah we will come to understand just how important it is to listen carefully. Micah knew that judgement was coming, and that God was building His case.

This prophet was more than a visionary as he called people to HEAR, to really listen. It fascinates me that he called us to listen to something that he “saw” from God. God was upset with the nation because they were seeking idols, involved in prostitution, coveting others’ gifts, defrauding and robbing people and passing by others without a care. (God sees these public and private sins). They also had defiled and corrupted their resting and sacred places. While we can’t blame everything that goes wrong on God, in this case God tells them that HE is the author of the calamity coming upon them. Yikes.

There are many imperatives in this book as God through Micah points out that they really, truly NEED to hear what is being said to them. God tells them that He will massively gather them back after they have been scattered and that it is His will that the left-over folks, the residue, those remaining will be collected and gathered into one-fold.

The verse that meant the most to our family was this one:

“Break open the way – the One who breaks open the way will go up before them; they will break through the gate and go out. Their King will pass through before them, the Lord at their head.”

 So often we hear that God is the “Way maker”[2] and in this passage He shows Himself to be just that. We don’t make breakthroughs happen, we are to get behind the One who breaks through and follow where He is leading. Praise God! We can still kneel, fast, cry, scream and eat grapes all month to try to gain a breakthrough but Micah is pretty clear when he tells us to get behind the One who breaks the way open. Seems pretty simple – if we follow.

God calls out the leaders and asks them why they hate good and love evil. Imagine if our politicians answered directly to God. Wait, they do? While they should be embracing justice, they continue to have dishonest weights, scales, biases, actions and all kinds of nonsense going on. The culture is rampant with dishonesty and the people are weighed down with sin. In this wretched crowd Micah stands out:

               “But as for me, I am FILLED with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression, to Israel his sin.” 

Is Micah arrogant or God- confident?

That is very different than the other leaders around him. So, what was Micah’s secret? Thankfully Micah didn’t have Facebook or the internet, or we would have to pay $19.95 to get his five tips to success. Thankfully Micah didn’t make DVDs, or we would have to wait for them in the mail to discover why he lived in a different category. We aren’t told in a concise formula but in vs. 2 we are told to “come up” to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. What an open, beautiful invitation. Can you hear that in your life today – “Come up higher?” God, who melts the mountains like wax – HE will teach us HIS ways, so that we may walk in HIS paths. The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” Later in that chapter we are told “we will walk in the Name of the Lord”. I believe these things were part of how Micah lived out his faith. Rejecting the idols and shame, sexual promiscuity of his age and following God’s law, word and ways seemed to keep Micah on God’s path, doing God’s agenda.

So how does one follow the law, aren’t there over 600 commandments? God gave us the law of love and said ALL laws were fulfilled through Christ. See Galatians 5:14 and Romans 13:10. We can read His word and we can walk in His name meaning we take on His name through spiritual adoption by giving our lives to Christ. (Go to the page on Heaven on this website for more information).

Our pastor has been preaching about Daniel for the last month or so and talking about courage to live differently in the midst of a corrupt culture. It has been a powerful series. He suggested we write “Daniel” on our shoes to remind ourselves to walk like Daniel walked. I think our walks would be different, bolder, more courageous if we did. We need reminders or we may walk like those going down wrong paths.  Micah, like Daniel, knew who he was and WHOSE he was.  

In the midst of a polluted, rotten, sinful group of people that knew God but refused to obey Him, comes this amazing promise that God will send them a new plan – His plan. In the midst of these promises the daughters are promised courage and strength – power to rise, thresh and break to pieces many nations. God empowered women in the Old Testament. Yes, it’s right there in the text! This One that comes will stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God. IF you compare this passage of abiding and dwelling with John 15 where Jesus talks about abiding in the Vine, you will be amazed. This One coming will be recognized as the Vine that dwells or abides with us!

Vs.8 is a powerful verse that has been used by politicians and ministers alike. It reminds us to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly before God—however, it doesn’t start there. That verse stems from vs. 5 where God calls His people to ZAKAR – to remember. He wants them to remember their journey, remember the stories that God points out for a purpose. What is that purpose? We look back not to stay stuck in the past but to “get to KNOW the righteous acts of the Lord”. Knowing those acts builds our faith as we are reminded of God’s track record. Faithful He has been, faithful He will be. When we look on His goodness, when we think about His love, when we remember the way He was our WAYMAKER….    We are humbled, we are reminded of the mercy and justice we have received and how to act.

Micah points out that considering all that God has done the people are no longer acting like God and God is angry. This God who delights to bend down and show love, kindness, favor, benevolence and mercy is seeing in His people something very different. How disappointing. In our highly politicized world today, these words seem to resonate more than ever:

Everyone lies in wait to shed blood; they hunt each other with nets. Both hands are skilled in doing evil; the ruler demands gifts, the judge accepts bribes, the powerful dictate what they desire – they all conspire together. “Then Micah contrasts himself again and it is refreshing to hear:

“But as for me, I watch in hope (expectantly, eagerly, continually observing and carefully looking) for the Lord. I will cause myself to wait for the God of my salvation and my God WILL HEAR ME.” (Translation is from the Hebrew). This guy is all in. This is not a casual Sunday Christian or mere church attender. This guy is setting his alarm clock to check in on God’s doings. This guy is the king of spiritual disciplines and causing himself (through prayer, worship, word, fellowship and rituals) to understand and become intimate with His God. He is not merely sitting by waiting for the action but is literally bringing the action to himself, training himself to wait in God’s presence. Oh Lord may we be like Micah!

Was Micah legalistic? Maybe. Was Micah zealous and intense? Maybe. Was Micah rejected by his peers – most assuredly yes. We don’t know how the others around him behaved but this guy – according to his testimony, when others were becoming more hedonistic by the hour, this guy was high on holiness and experiencing Gods voice and love. I want to be like Micah! In the midst of a crazy culture gone astray, he was dedicated to seeking and finding God. That is admirable.

If you get a chance, reread this book – or may I say cause yourself to read this book again and notice the hard times and the high hopes of this prophet. He realistically sees the depravity around him, the lies, deception, fraud and hatred. But… he looks up to the Way maker and gets behind HIS agenda. He trusts that in an unjust world – the JUST ONE is coming! 

“Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I WILL RISE. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord WILL BE MY LIGHT! Because I have sinned against Him, I will bear the Lords wrath….(How humble and honest that Micah puts himself in the company of the wicked, not assuming he’s more righteous but deserving of the same wrath being poured on the nation).

UNTIL ….  HE pleads my case and upholds my cause.

He WILL bring me out into the light; I WILL SEE His righteousness.” If you are not shouting after reading these verses, you may want to check your pulse!   What hope, what expectation, what faith!

               If these weren’t enough, in verse 18 it states, “As in the days when you came out of Egypt, I WILL SHOW them MY wonders.” 

God does not just want to be a dry dusty book on your bookshelf or a cold religion that you assimilate with on Sunday mornings so you can appease the family. God wants to be your everything and show YOU wonders. Wonders mean healing, salvations, transformed lives, etc. The God who pardons sin and forgives transgressions awaits to reveal Himself to those who are looking for Him. That’s incredible! Micah goes on to tell us that this God is patient and delights to show mercy. We know His favorite hobby – showing compassion and favor to His children. What a good, good Father, it’s who He IS.

Last year I was given some money to distribute to people that were in need. The requirement was that they were not told where it came from but were just being blessed because God loved them. I honestly can say I don’t think I have enjoyed anything as much as that experience. I got to feel God’s delight. I randomly chose people the Lord put on my heart and handed them provisions they were not expecting. Some cried, some shouted, some sang … all were so surprised and began to thank God. I got to feel the mercy and tender love of Christ. It was life altering. These people became aware that the Big, massive God of the universe SAW them. God delights, enjoys, takes pleasure in meeting needs, blessing, promoting and showering people with Himself and gifts. God is not a killjoy. God does not give rules and laws/words to restrict us –but to bless us and make room for HIM. If we follow Him, we will see His goodness. If we turn to idols and our own worldly pleasures, we will perish.

Micah was warning the people not because they were evil but because God was so good. God wanted them to NOT block Him because of their sin. He wanted to enjoy and take delight in them. The ones’going to idols missed out on their blessing and caused others to fall.

No wonder Micah called out and said, “WHO is a God like you?”   

“That was back then, and a lot has changed”, you may say. Micah affirmed his faith and caused his heart to be refreshed when he declared, “Lord, You WILL AGAIN have compassion on us; You will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. You WILL be faithful to Jacob, and show love to Abraham, …

               In a nation where promises are the buzz word for political campaign slogans you may have become jaded. Everyone says they will make things better only to make things worse. We watched this last week as those guaranteeing they were THE candidate to change the nation drop out of the race to pursue other goals. And it’s not just politicians, I read the other day that the O’Hare airport in Chicago has doubled their budget continually over the last 10 years never reaching their promise to build a magnificent airport system. Each year they go over what they contracted by double and triple digits. The reporter suggested it is the running joke in Chicago because no one believes the “promises” any longer. It reminds me of diet goals – New Year’s promises that are in stone… until the golden arches come into view. Many spouses have promised to be faithful then leave for someone else. Promises kept seem like a dream from yesterday. But God, in our day, like He was in Micah’s day – does NOT change or lie. Listen to this, what Micah declared: “You will be faithful and show love….  AS YOU PLEDGED on oath (promised) to our ancestors in days long ago.”

Let’s fact check Micah’s prophecy:    Did Messiah come as promised?  Yes. Did He redeem His people as promised? Yes. We know from the NT that He died, rose and ascended to Heaven. Yes. God’s never broken His word.

        God promises us He will forgive. God promises us He will come again.

Until then, we can delight with Him in mercy, we can act justly and walk humbly as we look to Him for our example.

Lord, help us to hear your word to Micah. Help us to walk as he did with courage and strength before you. Thank you for this example Lord. In 2020 may our vision be firmly fixed on YOU. Amen.

Renae Roche 2020

 

 

[1] Start ASL.com/ deaf jokes. Accessed 3/4/2020

[2] Michael W. Smith – Waymaker composed by Joseph Sinach. 2019.

We Place You at the Highest Place….

Obadiah (NKJV)

The people that Obadiah wrote  about were mountain dwelling people. They were those who felt safe and unreachable, secure. Because of their security they grew in self-reliance. Have you ever noticed how poor or oppressed people cling to the Lord, trusting Him for their every provision? Some successful or wealthy people falsely think that being able to pay for their needs makes them unshakable. Obadiah was used by God as a mouthpiece to tell them otherwise. They were being warned that their time of judgement was near. In verse 3 Obadiah tells them the pride of their hearts had deceived them. Pride is an ugly thing. It begins with presumption. Presumption according to Webster is :

 

“Something you think is true before you know any facts about the matter.”

 

Reflect on that for a moment. How does that differ from assumptions? That  something you think is true when you are missing information but think you have it. [1] Ouch. No one is indispensable and no one’s fame lasts forever. When I read this book I can’t help but remembering  Electric Light Orchestras  song “Don’t Bring Me Down”. The Beatles who were thought to be invincible were overshadowed by this new group. They,  would be reduced in popularity as the years went by and the shocking truth is that we all have an expiration date.  Just ask the people in the cemetery. When we live like we don’t have an expiration date, pride creeps in.

 

Pride is characterized by arrogance, haughtiness and disrespect. It works its way into families, churches and schools. The “ism” group is produced by Pride and displays its ugly work. Ism refers to an oppressive and especially discriminatory attitude or belief. [2] It does not seek God’s opinion or report but creates its own. You know the ism group – racism ( rejection due to one’s color), sexism (rejection because of ones gender), ageism (rejection based on one’s age), elitism (rejection due to one’s education or lack thereof). It shrieks, “I’m better than you” and reduces its victims to being less valued, loved, appreciated, employed or involved. Sometimes the most prideful are those who insist they have the most “common sense”. It begs a comparison to be made with another which is at the very heart of pride and arrogance. It may even be a shadow – one thinks someone  else is better than them  and then lives accordingly. Sometimes pride comes in the form of pretending to be humble, real or righteous. Anytime we take on the role of  judge and presume or assume, we are headed for confrontation with the ONE who sees and truly knows ALL – especially the facts. As a New Testament believer I believe that BAPT–ISM levels the ground and makes us all valuable based on the work of Christ. All jostling for power, wisdom, strength, etc. rest at the foot of the cross. whew. 

 

The people in Obadiah’s world were listening to God. They took time to hear from God.

This past week I decided to stay home from a fellowship, overwhelmed with tasks, chores and holiday plans. I wanted to see friends. Toward the end of the day I felt a pressing on my heart to leave all my important tasks, “it’s time to pray”. It wasn’t booming but very quiet. I responded not to my day planner but God’s voice. I had to make a choice WHO and what I valued more in that moment. I was going a mile a minute on my own track when I felt corrected to pause. Choosing God’s kingdom vs. our own is imperative. Seeking God’s report and agenda is critical if we want His kingdom to reign in our lives.  If we slow down, pause… we give God room to speak.  How can we do kingdom work if we don’t know what the King wants on any given day or week?  How can we run with His word if we have first not heard it? I want 2020 to be Spirit-led. The people in Obadiah’s time did not have a need for God or His resources. Their self-reliance and self-confidence led to them pushing God away.

 

Cs. Lewis once said,

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself — less. “ 

When we look up and think most of God, everything else comes into perspective. At our house we have to “catch up” on the weekends or we go into a new week drained and empty of that perspective. When we pause to seek God, we find Him.  Schedule the catch-up lest it turns into months and years.

In Muhammad Ali’s heyday as the heavy weight champion in boxing, he had taken his seat on a 747 which was starting to taxi down the runway for take-off.  When turbulence  became really strong, the flight attendant walked by and noticed Ali did not have on his seat belt, and said, “Please fasten your seatbelt, sir.” He looked up proudly and snapped, “Superman don’t need no seat belt.” The flight attendant did not miss a beat and replied, “Superman don’t need no airplane either.” [3]

Andrew Murray, in his book on humility said,

“Pride must die in you, or nothing of heaven can live in you.”[4]

I think that makes confession, communion and self-examination imperative for individuals, families and churches. How often? Well that shouldn’t depend on when you feel you need it because quickly we would all assume we were fine and go on without it. Heaven does not come from programs, events or agendas. When we try to achieve success or grandeur apart from God, we exist in a state of pride. Those who choose to share the mercies and  compassion given to them by a loving God, in order to impact others, live in a blessed state of  God-centered humility.  That then feeds a love and gratitude for Christ and blessings are exponential.

God also rebuked the people of Obadiah’s day for gloating, rejoicing over others demise. He drives this point home by repeating Himself several times saying basically that they were jerks in the day of their brothers “calamity”. God not only cared about how they treated Him but how they treated OTHERS. That’s true religion. He reminds them that “The day of the Lord upon ALL the nations is near; …as you have done, it shall be done to you… As I watched the media this past month I was alarmed. Obadiah’s words seemed to come to life and became very relevant. Many thinking they were acting for God were caught with blood dripping from their chins as they pointed out others flaws and sins. Obadiah describes the prideful people as “standing on the other side” when they were not loyal or even kind to those they should have been. May I ask the question, when did America become two sided? This prophetic word from Obadiah is not for the Democrats or Republicans, it’s for ALL who are under the Lords watchful eye. When did Christians go with Apollos or Cephas and think God would not notice?  Whose side are we leaning on? It MUST be the Lords side.

Hear the contrast:

17 “But on Mount Zion there shall be deliverance (escape from slaughter and war- a timely word!), and there shall be holiness (consecration and sacred setting apart from the common and mundane);

the house of Jacob shall possess their possessions ( to enjoy, inherit and take by seizing, to delight in).
18 The house (family) of Jacob shall be a fire (A theophany, an altar of fire),

And the house of Joseph a flame (weapon, sword, spear);
But…. the house of Esau shall be stubble;.

What do you want your house to be in 2020? Who do you want to be in God?

19 The South shall possess …– Obadiah lists mountains, lowlands, fields; and states that these will be possessed. Not because Obadiah decreed and declared it but because he humbled himself to sit before the Lord and hear GODS’ REPORT. God knows and determines the outcome based on His will and obedience to it. He was declaring and sharing what the LORD had to say. Big difference in the focus and results.

I love the contrast and comparison in this very short book. It is concise and God does not use many words to communicate His heart. Choose. Choose who you want to be and reflect. Edom or Jacob/Joseph? Pride and arrogance (Self-created wishes and whims) or humility and consecration (Gods’ word and directives)?  Free-will means we are given a choice but God firmly and finally determines the outcome of those choices.

The house of Jacob – they are positioned like logs awaiting God’s fire so they can become heat and light, an altar of God’s presence. Joseph – like a flame, a sword and spear in God’s hand, yielded to Gods direction. He was not content to fill in his goals for the year and then take ownership of his schedule and accomplish it. He wants GODS AGENDA and purpose. He was GOD led and directed, not purpose or goal driven. Timely word for Obadiah’s generation AND 2020.

21 Then saviors (plural)  shall come to Mount Zion
to judge the mountains of Esau,
and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s.

 

The last line to me is the strongest – the Kingdom SHALL BE the LORDS.  That is our source and place of loyalty. It is not what we direct or imagine. His report is His will and intention, heard by those who will take the time to receive it. Not what we decree or declare like a mantra but an accomplishing of God’s heart and purposes in the earth.

So Father, we posture our hearts in 2020 to sit before You, wait in Your presence and hear Your report. We want Your will and Your commands. Your opinion is our delight. Your guidance is what we long for. Speak to us, direct us; guide us for

                                                                                     Your glory.

We also pray that you would make our families, our houses, our churches and schools like Jacob and Joseph – ready for YOUR will, altars of fire. We love you Lord, KING of ALL.

RenaeRoche2020

 

[1] Dictionary.com

[2] Merriam-Webster.com/dictionary/ism

[3] Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God, (Word Publ., Dallas: 1994), p. 7

[4] Andrew Murray, Humility

 

 

A little boy grew up, favored by his mom and dad so much so they gave him a special coat. He was hated by his half- brothers. Early on in scripture we see a blended family and this chosen little boy forced to be a suffering servant. Joseph, once secure in his parents love was snatched away and served a King in the land of Egypt. Surrounded by pagans and astrologists and magicians, Joseph learned the culture and brought deliverance to the kingdom because of his wisdom and the King of Heaven he proclaimed. Favor came to the entire land because of this God that Joseph served. After the telling of a few prophetic dreams, God used Joseph as a wise man. His family was treated as special guests and honored in the midst of magicians and Egyptian royalty.

Just a few centuries later, the Israelites were being treated as slaves. The tide had turned and no longer were the Israelites welcome in Egypt. One Hebrew family had a baby boy and had to hide him from a violent king who murdered all the male children. He was pulled out from the water, between the reeds. His Hebrew parents were scared for his life and what would happen to him. He was rescued by a Kings daughter and given royal privilege. Later on this same boy would grow to be a man and in the midst of many magicians prove to Pharaoh that deliverance had come to God’s people. The magicians had competed time and again, taunting with their authority and powers. Moses left Egypt with many gifts from the neighbors. Moses, trained by secular people brought the people from Egypt to worship the Lord. Where was God in this? It seems unfair that this Hebrew boy bowed at the feet of Egyptian royalty when he was God’s chosen one. Both of these sons were born to Hebrew parents, both were in Egypt and had dreams, encountered magicians and secular training was a part of their history.

Remember the original search for a wise bachelor? Serving for the right reasons, specifically with the heart goes way back. There once was a young, wise royal woman from the East who fell in love with the supposed “wisest man in the world.” She came to visit on a camel bringing treasures of gold, spices and jewels. Extra biblical writings suggest that Solomon would not accept this woman’s gifts—he wanted more than her prizes, he wanted her heart to turn to his god. How could such a request be made and why would one’s heart condition be of any significance to a wise king? What would be more important than gold, spices or jewels? The Queen of Sheba and her influence on wisdom and culture would long be remembered. That encounter impacted Judaism, Islam and Christianity. It was a set-up.

Consider Daniel. His parents must have been proud of their son, hoping God would use him. Then one day an evil king abducts him and he gets enrolled in Babylon University. His culture changes, his food, clothing, friends and everything his mama warned him about. It was a non-prophet school and Daniel had to live incognito regarding everything holy. The homeschoolers back home were freaked out and no one thought anything good would come of this season, how could it? Add in some dream interpreters, magicians and astrologers and the young God boy was all but destined to blend in with the crowd. After studying Aramaic and being mentored by Babylon’s wisest men, how could Daniel prevent seeing his new culture as the best? Yet, somehow he ends up seeing a different outcome – Lions so full they can’t eat and angels so saturated they don’t catch on fire. Why do the wise men not understand this stuff? We hear of Daniels outcome but what of these wise men that Daniel influenced? He became a teacher and had an impact on the magicians due to his wisdom and prophetic interpretation. But then what?

Fast forward to a new little blended family with big plans for their son. Wisdom was not the first thing written about the little tyke. Instead we hear of angels singing of His arrival. Shepherds nursing their little sheep on a hill outside of Bethlehem and family love came first. The murderous actions King Herod did, must have struck a nerve in Hebrew homes though and then there’s the wailing echo of Rachel crying through the ages for sons slaughtered without mercy. The fulfillment of everything Isaiah ever hoped for would have resonated with the Jewish families.

Next when the little child was a probably a tween, the Magi come riding in on camels.  Were the magicians and astronomers any relation to Pharaoh’s court jesters? Were the men bringing gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh in anyway connected to those who served in Joseph’s court? Were they more magicians, wise men, astronomers or Kings? Or a combination of all three? History is very silent on this. We do know they were not Pure Bred Hebrew people. We do know they were not expected or necessarily invited. Scripture almost hides their existence other than the basics. They knew about stars, royalty and had a pretty good GPS system. These wise fellows (and possibly females also) came not to offer their wisdom but to worship the One they deemed wise. Magicians are not typically welcome in Jewish homes yet these wise folks came to offer their worship and in the very first years of this little babies life we all get a window into what conversion looks like. The hopes of Joseph, Moses, King Solomon and Daniel, the light they shone in the darkness, the witness they were in secular society, becomes real. Were they placed in these secular bastions of darkness for this moment? Was all that trial for this testimony, all that mess for this message? One day… the royalty will bow down to the Hebrews, you just wait. But it wasn’t at a throne, but a manger, yet He was certainly a king.

Today is Epiphany. It marks a week of celebration. It is a time that the world celebrates the families not part of God’s original chosen to welcome the Savior, Deliverer and King. This is Christmas in most countries. Not one day to receive gifts and sing Silent Night but a week of festivities and joy to celebrate a wise King born to all – joy to the WHOLE world, the Lord for US has come. It is a message about joy coming to the astronomers, fortune tellers, magicians, pagans, gentiles and all the wisest men and women secular institutions can train. That means there is hope for them, and the smelly likes of you and me. Don’t you just love Jesus more knowing that while he was still a youngster – foreigners; magicians and not your typical church going type folks were welcome in His house? Did he tell them stories of  Joseph, Moses and Daniel? Did it happen between demonstrating the floss and bemoaning teenage acne or after his mom told him to clean up his room? This odd collection of worshippers is hidden in most Christmas stories but I think worth celebrating. What kind of party would that create? The next story of Jesus is Him training with those in the Temple – not learning secular culture or their ways but teaching them His. His suffering would come after, not before.

The tree can stay up another week, there is grace for that. To be “biblical” about Christmas it’s time to welcome the unusual who also want to worship. It’s time to make room for those bearing gifts seeking someone wiser than themselves. People that can’t be bought with gifts but people who want to turn to the King. Conversion showed up at the Christ child’s home- long after the manger. Will it show up at your house? Will the story continue in your hearts and include those along the path of history just watching and waiting to see how God redeems this group of people? This baby drew a diverse crowd. This baby brought families together from centuries prior to His birth. What we do today and tomorrow will unfold next Christmas, for Jew and Gentile. Welcome to Christ, welcome to Worship… let’s get this party started!   RenaeRoche2019

 

 

We have come to celebrate; we have come to sing of Your great power and the greatness of Your love. In the house of the Lord, where Your children come to dance and sing. Do you remember this one? I don’t know what you’ve come to do, I’ve come to praise the Lord, I’ve come to lift Him up, I’ve come to stomp for joy…  Or Carmen singing, “Who’s in the house?” JC!

The last verse of Psalm 23 is our last verse for the blog this week and also the last one for this year – 2018. Last year at this time, I was just starting a sabbatical and looking for a way to reach out to those I have discipled or befriended during the years of ministry. I started this blog just to reach out to a few people on Facebook and now over 38,600 people have visited the site. The widget says since 2014 but it was added just last December. Thank you for visiting. I can’t believe that a little step in faith reached people around the world with the Gospel. It cracks me up because media people know that this is not the form that is popular or recommended yet somehow God is using it. Shout out to the folks in Greece who keep trying to sell me stuff, the Russian porn ad guy who may have gotten saved and the countless people who offer their editing services. You just never know who is paying attention.

Our Christmas decorations are still up as this year we experienced Advent and are heading towards the Epiphany day, fully ready to discover the Magi anew. I welcome the excuse to keep the lights and tree up. Our Advent ring burned up one night when the Christ candle got too hot. It sure made the holiday more interesting when we discovered it wasn’t just the toaster setting off the fire alarm! O holy night, the candles were brightly shining, it was the night of fire alarms and mirth.

 My family had quite the time this year as our wonderful neighbor helped put up our lights. We added a gold, light- up, metal angel in the front yard. She’s beautiful and people keep stopping to take pictures. Or at least we think that’s what they were doing. Hubby Joseph was busy getting ready to enjoy the Christmas vacation and holiday when the angel face planted in our front lawn, bending the tiny tent stakes that came with her original packaging. For days, there she lay, our kids and others making jokes about her late night habits. It was really weird to defend a metal angel and her integrity but I still tried. I suggested using a plunger, crutch, broom, marshmallow stick, etc. to keep her upright, much to my husband’s dismay. Twas the night before Christmas and all thru the house not a creature was stirring, except Marvin our mouse. When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter I sprang to my bed to see what was the matter. (Boy, this sounds familiar somehow…) Down went the angel, clattering wings as she went. I knew in a moment the car would have a dent. Joe, I nagged, “we are getting known as the fallen angel house people.” Who wants their house to be decorated with a fallen angel? That’s anti-Christmas like. He replied, “Baby it’s cold outside.” It was cold, windy and dark and our angel looked like she was making snow angels on the ground or worse yet dead. After years of dreaming of a nicely lit house with some type of ornament outside– this was not what I imagined. The next night before supper I gently made a comment about grounded Gabriel. In exasperation hubby got up to go to Home Depot to get big yellow tent stakes while we sat at the dining room table wondering if all the Christmas preparation had finally caused the ol papa unit to snap. The children singing “Angels we have heard on low” probably was overkill.  I think I mentioned it probably one to many times this season. I just could not bear being the “house of the fallen angel.” Then, one morning our family was having devotions in Revelation and we read Revelation 7:11, “All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures.

They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshipped God.”

 

“Mama, my little boy cried out – our angel is doing exactly what she is supposed to! That’s what they do in Heaven – fall down before the throne worshipping God.” Alas, we are a household of proper theology in spite of our ornament.  I question whether this is what they meant at PTS to “wrestle with the scriptures.” Lol.

Somewhere between Hanukkah, burning up the advent ring and resurrecting a face planted angel in the front yard we managed to still celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior and navigate family time this year. This last verse of Psalm 23 was especially helpful – “And I will dwell in the House of the Lord – forever.” I hear it will be calm and bright there. Sigh.

That baby in the manger brought forgiveness for our past sins and directs us to our Heavenly home. Families longing for something stable – that’s it. Stability and peace are possible if Christ is Lord of your household. Joseph and Mary were the original “blended family” and because of their obedience and the birth of the Christ child, we have HOPE. That is pretty amazing and worth celebrating. Goodness and mercy are bringing up the rearguard and securing a legacy for all those in Christ. God has our back covered. But what about the future? What does that hold? Many are prophesying and predicting what next year will bring. I never hear anyone say, next year your room will be clean, your tables will be dusted, your kids will do their homework, etc. No, it’s always big crazy stuff because that is what people like to hear. Maybe as Christians we do that too?

God’s house – we often picture Heaven and think of John 14 and that is part of the “future” equation. Do Shepherds raise A lamb or a flock of sheep? A church or household is a group of people that have common interests and goals. They connect and carry one another through the battles. We were planning to go to a district church function recently and ended up staying home because I had to work later than I anticipated. I was heartbroken. We could have rallied but between the holidays, family obligations and general sense to not travel without preparing the vehicle kept us away. I missed the laughter, the scripture, the prayer and song. We could not give or receive and it felt disconnected. Church can be like Heaven on earth, it can be a source of feeding, resting and care/comfort. Shepherds know that there is safety in numbers and that sheep do best when they remain in a flock. Independent “I gotta be me” life styles may seem fun in the moment but doesn’t really bring the peace one needs during a weekday. God brings us to Himself AND into the fold, to dwell with US.

What if to dwell in the house of the Lord meant to be snuggled, nestled in His household (church, people) vs. a physical building or futuristic Heavenly abode? What if part of the Shepherds care for us was to be connected? What if dwelling or living in God’s house was abiding in His presence and with those who call on His name? That would be a daily, moment by moment positional type care rather than just a wish to make it into eternity. Maybe it is both – a heavenly future home and a here and now supportive household we enter in thru collaboration and connection? Whatever the case or location – I want to BE there.

Forever in this verse is literally forever and all days. That is morning and evening- all of them. Not my length of days (because I’m a finite human) but as long as days exist we want to be in the Lords’ presence and in the presence of His people. My household is pretty squirrely, smoky and crazy sometimes but it is awesome to me –because the people I love the most are with me. Heaven will be awesome because the people God loves most will be there. If it refers to the here and now and Christian fellowship – being a sheep in fellowship with other sheep becomes important- eternally.

John Burke has a book out that gives insight into Heaven- Imagine Heaven (Baker Publishing 2015). King David wrote in Psalm 84 how he longed to be in God’s Temple, dwelling in His presence. It seems that those who posture their hearts towards eternity and live among those who long for it, are the happiest and most content. I want to be in that number! I believe the reason Homeplate advantage works for families is because they take time out weekly to remember how real and close Heaven really is. (Homeplateadvantage- Pathway Press and Derek Publishing 2018).

In the midst of our holiday, someone we knew slipped into eternity. The timing seemed odd but on the day that person passed, it felt like Heaven was celebrating. Our focus was redirected and our perspective on what was important drastically changed. I remember walking outside and thanking God for that person’s life and legacy. By accident my cell phone started playing the song, “Well Done” by the Afters. I had never heard it before but it snuck into my heart and danced around awhile. You may like it also, as you refocus 2018 and prepare for 2019. Our Great Shepherd leads us to dwell with Him daily (John 15) and is also actively preparing us to live with Him for eternity. The church is one of the tools He utilizes to do just that.

 

May you find Him and may you find Him in THEM in 2019. That’s Heaven- here and there.

RenaeRoche2019

                                            Psalm 23

If you had ever told me how deep and rich Psalm 23 was I would have believed you because it is a popular Psalm, but I never realized how it could make the character of God and His love for us so much clearer. This week we are looking at the verse:

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.

Absolutely this is what is true, for sure or for certain. Goodness is defined as God’s favor, His best; His MERRY will follow after you. What? Maybe that is just hitting me funny because of all the Christmas trappings. That literally means EVERY day has Merry in it because it is following after us – ALL the days of our lives, even if the tree is packed away for months. For those who fear God, every day with God the shepherd in it has the potential of being merry, favored and blessed. We have to tell someone about this!

I know the general population doesn’t like hearing Hebrew or Greek words even though they explain so much more of scripture. Jackson came home yesterday and was talking about: Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia – it is the fear of long words. I remember when he came home wondering if birds took naps. Words matter – especially if they are about God. One of the words in this verse is “mercy” (in Hebrew  chesed}. It means kindness, love and an outpouring of pity and loving kindness towards the recipient. God is all of that and has all of that for us but in this verse it is put with “follow me” which literally means He is pursuing us, going after with the purpose of catching. The God of the universe is tracking you down to pounce on you and give you smooches, hugs and love. My dad used to called those “lubber dubbers.” No you probably won’t read that in a theology book but it is true nonetheless.  He is pursuing His kids, His love. He has been following after you since you were born, He has been pursuing you since you were born again, He has been trying to catch you ever since you fell, you got wounded, you stumbled. Nothing has hindered Him, prevented Him or made Him turn back. This magnificent Lord and Savior is in pursuit, of you and me. That’s HUGE.

I know this is the Christmas season and a sweet little Psalm on a blog but think of this for a minute. This is the truth of God. It is written in scripture which He authored and shared with us by one of His favorite musicians. Many people fear that people are following them. Some have rational fears and some irrational. There are thousands of stories of stalkers, paranoia, etc. I do not want to minimize anyone’s fears but seriously, what does one do about a loving Lord of the Universe chasing them down?  Why are there not more songs and discussions about HIS pursuit and wild abandon for HIS kids? He’s coming after us… not for judgement and damnation as some would assert but for kindness, goodness, mercy and overwhelming benevolence. You are being watched, followed, and tracked. Do the other stories block the reality of this? Do people like to focus on pathology so much that we obliterate the overwhelming, lavish love of God? This is good news!

So many worship songs have lyrics that talk about our pursuit, our following, and our running after God. I heard on 88.5 this week, “It is not that we have asked God into our lives that matters but that this God has invited us into His.” How do we rationalize, recognize or accept this pursuit of God after US? We pursue holiness, pursue being desperate for His presence and love and many keep running, running, running. What does it look like when He catches us? What if we paused, sat, rested and came to a full stop before the mighty God- daily, weekly, annually? The pursuit started a long time ago.

Would there be more intimacy, grace if we allowed our pursuer to succeed? In this season more than ever we are reminded – Unto us a child is born. Babies change everything and they can’t be jostled around or raced around with but need to be well, held, adored. He went from Heaven, the best and highest place and condescended to earth, not in the form of a trophy but a baby. You don’t run after a baby, you kneel and encounter. The chase has ended; Emmanuel has come and done the race, the heavy lifting. Lauren Daigle in her song, Noel, sings “come and see what GOD has done.” All our gyrations, wishes, wants and desires will never equal the lavish pursuit of the Father or the Son born to die, risen and reigning. Our posture is not to compete or outshine His efforts in pursuit (and each year they get more fancy and extravagant) but REST in His finding us.

The world waiting, groaning, in need of a Savior and deliverer. A holy God waiting through the ages to redeem His wayward children. Then the sky turns white with stars and angelic activity. The Shepherds guiding their sheep in the fields sit down, resting as they view the spectacular view. The angels realize this is the finale, the place of God arriving at the destination. Emmanuel, the pursuing One has now come. He has sought out US, now we posture our hearts and lives before Him to be found. That is powerful! Now the people will see what goodness looks like, they will realize what mercy embodied entails. It will take a trip to the cross, grave and Heaven to fully display it, but we are worth His pursuit. This ONE has come, He has pursued all the way from Heaven  then into the little manger with straw.

We can run to the stable, we can raise our hands in church, we can sing, jump, dance and attend conferences, we can help the rich, save the poor and reach the nations but the God who pursued us from the Beginning has come in the form of a little baby and all we can or need to do is behold Him and realize He has come to build relationship with you and me – if we are willing.

Yes, it is true this Christmas, someone is following you. Yes, it is true there is someone chasing after you and talking behind your back. When you discover it is the Lord, His goodness and mercy and come to realize He has been pursuing you all along, there is only one response, come — be caught. Caught in His love, His power, His grace. Still a pretty good exchange.

Our view of God, including worship, study and general life can radically change when we stop chasing our many viewpoints of who God is or we want Him to be and rest in His pursuit of US. God is higher, mightier, more loving than we could ever imagine. Shepherd is in control. Shepherd is looking out for our wants and needs. Shepherd is doing everything possible to make our life blessed and good. We are His people and the sheep of His pasture so that should not surprise us. Have you met this loving One? He’s love personified. Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives and we know that best when we turn around and begin to follow HIM.

This Christmas season, and every day that is Merry – let Him catch up with you. Stop running, stop racing, stop speeding and let this God of abundant, magnificent goodness and love catch up with you and catch you in His loving arms. You’ll be glad you did.

Merry Christmas, Renae Roche2018

  • This page has been edited on 12/18/18 to reflect David’s birth family as being blended and the possibility that his mom was different than the mom of his brothers. This is based on extrabiblical accounts and stories and not directly from scripture. 

 

 It’s Christmas time. Do you know what sheep say about all the trappings that have nothing to do with the true meaning of Christmas? Baaaaa – hum bug!

Have you ever wondered why God didn’t use the analogy of cats with a shepherd? (See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pk7yqlTMvp8). Cats don’t herd well; they don’t walk in a straight line along a path…  I think sheep being like us is probably the best idea. They need constant care and love, like us. Some reading this may resist that idea, choosing independence and being tough like rock  people instead. I get it – our culture prizes being super tough and going it alone.

Shepherd boy David — didn’t want to be alone , but his family ostracized him. Long before he was a king or even a shepherd David was trying to grow up right. He kind of, well, um didn’t have all his family characteristics,  if you get my drift. Some have said he was in the field tending sheep because he was called to shepherd or maybe it was his turn but the story behind the story was that he wasn’t fully believed to be a full blooded son and it was much more comfortable to hide him away in the pasture than parade him before the prophet. Rumor was that David had a different mom than the rest of the sons. There was a lot of angst between him and his brothers. Stories outside of the Bible suggest that there might have been more blending to the family. I’ve always wondered why there was no mention of the other relatives. hmm?  God never misses a beat and lovingly includes him in the story of redemption in spite of the local town gossip. This Shepherd boy gets some pretty cool press however when he fights Goliath. The story puts shepherds in a whole new light. They weren’t just “rough guys with cute pets” — they were rugged fierce warriors.

Sheep like  tepid or warm water – or they won’t drink much. They don’t like water to be running or icy and if there is water in their food they will drink less on that day. They drink about 4 gallons of water daily and the poor little muffins; if they get wet they can get soaked and might fall in the water due to the heavy wool which is not really conducive to swimming. If they don’t get enough water they will dehydrate quickly or even die from the heat because water circulating through their bodies acts like an air conditioner  and is essential in hot climates.

Daily watering  for sheep is not just a good idea; it is the difference between life and death.

Lastly, without water the nutrients wouldn’t flow thru their body and the food would sit in their digestive systems and rot. Water is for much more than quenching the thirst of sheep, it is essential for daily life. Water cleanses and softens, water helps keep sheep healthy, hydrated and nourished.

 Psalm 23 tells us David wrote the words “my cup overflows.” That could refer to his portion in life but more than likely it referred to the cup the shepherd used to hand water the sheep – his own sheep. Better than running water, better than a sheep toppling in the water was the cup held by the Master Shepherds hand, gently saturating the lambs and sheep until they could drink no more. If pine oil was added it would work to disinfect from germs and things that had gotten inside the sheep from eating grass and other things. We are not sure if it was quenching, saturating or healing medicinally but the larger picture is that it required the Shepherd to  water each sheep, it wasn’t a large trough or pool in this verse. Aren’t those the things we go to our good Shepherd for-

thirst quenching, saturation and healing?

Kari Jobe in her song, “The More I seek You, the more I find you” has a line that says, I want to sit at your feet, drink from the cup in Your hand.” It’s not just what is inside the cup but who is holding that cup. Intimate, close, caring is the visual that comes with this verse. You anoint my outside with oil; You water my inside from Your cup till it overflows. I drink, then I overflow. This is not a massive Texas rancher but a shepherd who gently leads those who are with young, who feed them from his own hand and waters them from His cup. I love that. If you have ever felt like a number, outcast, reject… read this verse. My cup overflows – the one in Your hand, the one touching my lips and gently quenching my thirst. If God is so willing to water each one of us like that, surely He is intimately acquainted with all our ways. Savior, like a shepherd lead us, MUCH we need thy tender care.

As we reflect on the Christmas story this week, I am reminded of the fields around Bethlehem, filled with hundreds of black, shiny, wooly sheep. Their wool would make the best of blankets for any newborn. I’m reminded of the milk from the ewes, best in the world. I wonder how many shepherds were sitting on grassy hills, hand feeding and watering their sheep from shepherd’s cups while the One who came to quench ALL thirst was just miles, possibly yards away from where they sat. While shepherds watched their flocks by night, all seated on the ground, the One who came to heal those sitting by the pool at Siloam – the only fresh water in Jerusalem (See John 7), the One who turned the water into wine, the One who gave the Samaritan woman a drink was about to change the worlds thirst problem –forever– to whosoever would come and drink freely.

No, we don’t have to do any rituals to “get” salvation. We don’t have to please anyone or believe in special holidays. We can turn our backs to the stars, we can ignore the weary couple on the donkey heading to Bethlehem, we can join with the innkeeper and say there is no room in the inn. Or… we can respond like the Samaritan woman and come near like a tiny lamb, “I’m thirsty Lord and nothing else has satisfied. Will you saturate me? Will you give me to drink from the cup in Your hand?” I’m here Lord, I’m thirsty … I believe you are the water of life, fill me now.”

Yes, Christmas and holidays are a time to drink – to drink deeply. This season may that drinking be deeply– at the well of the great Shepherd. The results will be much better, I promise. Let Him saturate you, let Him refresh you, Let Him heal you.

Your spiritual drinking buddy,

RenaeRoche2018

 

The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing LOUD for all to hear. That’s not Old Testament but Elf. It echoes what King David the Psalmist said quite well so if you don’t have the Psalms memorized go with that until you do. Singing brings joy to the heart and a merry heart is good, like a medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones. (Prov.17:22) Sing on! He also had some warning quotes (Elf that is) and said “Don’t be a cotton-headed ninny muggins.” Will Farrell may have thought that was original but actually King David also gave us a warning in Psalm 23 that is pretty close to that:

You anoint my head with oil.

The whole Psalm is beautiful and we have been looking into for a couple weeks now. If we were playing that old fashioned game (the name escapes me) they would ask us to name things that burrow or dig deep in your skin. I guess I’m a big  metaphor person because I was thinking about last week’s shooting and how it triggered people in every corner of the city. I’ve also worried about the new event at Worlds of Fun and  heard fears of human trafficking that overshadow it. I couldn’t help but remember the murder of a dad in front of his daughter just down the street. These things burrowed deep in our hearts and psyches for quite a while, festering, and threatening infection. We could add stressors like physical illness, emotional fears, even national terror to that list. Hmm? That reminds me of a book you can get at Pathway Press (Homeplate Advantage) that addresses some of those things. The list goes on and on of things physically, spiritually and emotionally that affect us, but don’t stay right there – they burrow deep in our hearts, minds and bodies. Today’s issues will end up in tomorrow’s tissues is a true statement. Researchers more and more are finding out that depression and stressors can lead to cancer and other maladies.

God, in His wisdom does not get caught off guard by any trial or tribulation in America. He sees it all  and is not anxious, worried or biting His nails today. In Psalm 23, the Shepherd smears marrowy fatness on the head of the sheep. That sounds rather ceremonial and spiritual but in reality its protection and prevention from flies burrowing into the wool of the sheep’s head. They are specific flies (Blow flies) that nestle in and lay larvae that then creep into the sheep’s nose and ears like maggots and bring disease, infection and death. They have green metallic bodies and are bigger than a normal fly- more like a horse fly. They feed on animals and garbage, basically dead things. Their scientific classification is Calliphora vomitoria (Linnaeus).  I’m so sorry if you are eating breakfast when reading this!  Vomitoria – a fly that feeds on dead things. King David knew exactly how to warn us about the things that “bug” us, literally. This sweet little Psalm we read at births and funerals has a distinct warning – this is what you do to prevent what bugs you from killing you. Dearly Beloved, let’s explore the Vomitoria – it’s dangerous and it will take you out….. IF you let it.

It doesn’t have to be this way, we can do something. That “something” is to let the Shepherd anoint our heads with oil. The word oil in Hebrew is Shemen which root is Shaman.  The Shepherd wants to be YOUR healer. He is the oil and the oil smearing One. That oil could be olive or pine, the scripture does not distinguish which but the medicinal oil normally used for sheep is a healing and smelly oil to keep flies away. It also cleanses and disinfects. You don’t do it after you get in a swarm of flies or it will trap the little varmints in your thick wooly head. You do it BEFORE they come. We talk often at Homeplate Advantage about secluding away to find God and His presence, to get saturated in His word – BEFORE the week starts and the irritations come. Oily, marrowy, shiny, fragrant ones, loved on by the Father seem to be able to navigate the rough places of the week more easily. A book or program cannot do that for you but time in the presence of the Shepherd certainly can. Coming to get smeared is not a ritual or law, it’s just common sense, and feels good.

So, there seems to be a connection that the things that just “frost us” as comedian Jeff Allen would say can be thwarted by being oiled, smeared and saturated in advance by the Shepherd. My kids leaving for school comes to mind. They still get surprised when I remind them to put on their coats, scarves and gloves, like it’s some evil plot to make them late. Mama didn’t invite cold air or icicles yet they resist getting covered before going out into the windy dark environment. We pull them closer and bundle them up, then release them out into the snow. It’s a thing that has to be repeated because youngsta’s don’t often remember to do things in advance so we bring them near to prepare them.

This verse to me is the dynamite of the Psalm – YOU anoint my head with oil. It’s not my Sunday school teacher or some random person but God Himself that longs to bring us near and “coat us” with Himself. He will take time out of His busy schedule to do something for us that we cannot and will not do for ourselves. It is implied that the sheep need to be in proximity of the Shepherd to do that.

Remember we talked about those explosive verbs in Hebrew that yell activity and power? They are called piel verbs and don’t appear all that often in scripture. This verse has one of them – ANOINT. God massively, powerfully, intensely anoints, saturates and smears us with His oil (cleansing, healing and disinfecting). I know before I type this you will groan, but I will risk it if it means you will get this message into your heart and head. The Hebrew word for anoint is DASHANE.

This season, filled with ribbons, bows, murder, crime, death and Christmas trees cannot be navigated without prior preparation. We cannot anoint ourselves, but God can. Coming before Him to get smeared, anointed, saturated and blessed will prevent many irritations, many stresses and possibly even death. Read Rev.4 and “come up here” for a while daily and weekly. Let Him minister to you and then we’ll go: wait for it>>>   Dashane thru the snow…   equipped, loved, empowered and blessed to reach a world that is highly irritated, frosted and in need of some loud singing and a God who wants to take them into HIS fold.  We come near to get smeared , then go out and help others come near.

RenaeRoche2018

 

 Psalm 23:  Thou (You oh Lord)

Have set in order arrayed, went to battle, prepared, arranged

Like wood on an altar

Like showbread, like loaves, like candlesticks on a holy table

before me.

It may just be me but this stirs my heart today. Sabbath or Shabbat is closing at sundown but tonight, tonight is a night unlike any other – it is Hanukkah, that beloved tradition of the Jewish people that celebrates that God is light. At sunset this night, the holiday of lights begins and the candles will be relit. The sun may go down but the lights will go up. It is the annual holiday that reminds us that out of darkness God created the world and the sun and threw the stars in the sky. It celebrates the event when He provided oil for the lamps so the people could see the Torah. Hanukkah means to “Rededicate oneself to the Lord”. Can you hear the praises still ringing from generations of God fearers that worship Jehovah, that count on the faithfulness of G-d? It is also called the festival of lights. For the newbie to all of this – it would be comparable to a huge miraculous praise report celebrated like Christmas for 8 solid nights of fun, festivities and yes chocolate! But wait, is it in the Bible? Yes in John 10:22.  They call it there the feast of dedication. They light the candle in the middle – the helper or servant candle and by it all others get their light. The first prayer on that first night is:

Praised are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to kindle the Hanukkah lights. Commanded? What manner of God is this that He commands His people to celebrate and rejoice with food and song for eight solid nights? Woo-hoo!

The fun part I love is that in the middle of these candles is a 9th one called the Shamash, the tallest one, servant candle and it lights all the others so that they can shine. (I think of Toby Mac and Hollyn singing light shine bright here). Whoever would dare to dream that the God who created humans would like to party and fellowship with them for eight full days? Well, people who know Him. Our little boy first asked Jesus in his heart on this special holiday years ago. When he realized that tonight was THAT night, his first reaction was, “yea, we get soda and candy!” While I hope he understands the mighty God who delivered His people and the implications of that for Jew and Gentile, I’m glad he connects fun, joy and sweetness with religion. What, a God who wants to be with ME, enjoy ME? Yes.

Don’t we forget what the table is for? Is it just food and enjoyment or celebration and delight? The Christian Advent also just happens to start today and some lit the advent candle this morning in their churches. Big purple and one pink candles in a circle with lots of symbolism. All these traditions!  Kids see lights, hear songs and sometimes there are great church casseroles.

There was one man who got fed up with all the traditions, hoopla and commercialization of this event. He had turned 53 and wanted his grandkids to know that there were deeper meanings to all the festivities. A good look in the mirror and some reflection caused him to write a story against all the “trappings” and to focus on the greater message. He made himself the main character and also like David, talked about the “table”. He wanted to assert that holidays should be about hospitality, love and yes, a growing warm, big heart. His name was Theodore and his book about Whoville, roast beast and the whobilation feast, won many awards. The Grinch became a classic and his grandchildren would come to love the holiday for family and love rather than the symbols and rules. You’re a mean one Mr. Grinch, was actually the heart cry of a grandpa who started out viewing his own heart, his own sin. Dr.Seuss had a “rededication” so to speak.

As a child I celebrated Advent but only remembered its purpose as the day when I stood in front of the church and read stuff and the adults held their breath that we would not burn ourselves or the church down. I made no connection with a holiday really. As an adult the Pentecostal and non-denominational churches somehow were progressive so much that we thought we did not need such man made traditions so it was not celebrated. It’s precious meaning was long forgotten, i.e. not remembered. Then later I studied the Jewish holidays which held special meaning to me and my family. Tonight, we watched the whobilation, revisited advent –all on the first day of Hanukkah. In the midst of this oddity, we reminded ourselves about the shamash candle. We will light the first advent candle that symbolizes the preparation for the SECOND COMING OF CHRIST! We are collectively longing for that day.  How powerful is that? Whole congregations awaiting and preparing for Jesus!

I kind of feel like Renae Lou Who because all of these events, traditions and symbols are overwhelming– but when I focus on loving God and my family – I can do that. Joe and the boys and I want to remember the God who created the Heavens and His constant provision and sustaining power so we will light a candle to remember that. We want to anticipate the second coming of Christ and prepare our hearts to make room for Him so we will light a candle and remember that-while we posture our hearts for His presence. When our fireplace tripped a breaker and we sat in the dark for a few minutes the message of light breaking thru darkness became very real.

David, had a sense of all of this perhaps. Did this worshipping King understand the table that fed him and the one to come? The table God was preparing was for Him, musician, saint and sinner. He knew that the preparations and provisions of this mighty God were not just for or about religion but were for and about him, David. Not only had God gone thru a lot of trouble to do this but this table was before Gods panayim (Hebrew) – His Face. I wonder if he heard, “David, I’ve got my eyes on you. David I go to battle for you so you can go to battle for me. David, the holy place is not a building made with hands but will be a Bride one day that the gates of hell will not prevail against. I’m setting it, preparing it for you and those who follow me after you. Sinner and saint. The table of refreshing, community, hospitality, remembrance. David, go ahead and eat.”

The word enemy is adversary and place of distress in the Hebrew. Maybe because there is only one evil one — the rest is just puppetry. David kept going because He was properly provided for in that battle, he had  a table and he had food. Theodore Geisel rightly discerned his own heart and saw the Grinch when he looked in the mirror. His accurate assessment then led to others viewing their hearts in light of the true meaning of Christmas – loving God (incarnate) and family. In the presence of my enemies means in the presence of my narrow place, my tight and difficult place, the place of evil and distraction.

In the midst of the Maccabees distress and conflict – there was a table set with bread and light. God was present with them. In the midst of the Bethlehem scene there was the bread of life and a great light shone around about them. In our pain, suffering, distress, there is a servant who has come to shine in our darkness and light others to proclaim the One true light.

Thou has prepared a table for me, before your face Lord, in the presence of my affliction and adversary. You are my water that quenches my thirst, you are the wine that restores my soul, you are the bread that gives me life and you are the One that shines light in my darkness. You battled my conflicts before I was born, You broadened my narrow places before I was born again, you kept me before your face even when I was isolated from any hope of joy and give me deep hope within.

The next eight days…  You may not be vulnerable and transparent like 53 year old Theodore and want to avoid all roast beast. But, what if you began to open your heart just a little bit more to include the Father? What if your heart just got a little bit more warm and started to grow? What if you lit a candle of remembrance and trusted that God would be with you now, in this moment, in the midst of your battle places? What if you positioned your face to the Heavens and declared, “O come, O come Emmanuel – and ransom captive Israel? What if you kicked up your heels and did a little jig, a praise dance and thanked Him for all the previous times you were delivered, set free? There is a table of provision and blessing laid out for you thru history – there is also a table that awaits you in Eternity – in spite of what your enemies are saying tonight. There is joy and a feast no matter what your adversaries are planning. God planned a baby to deliver, a light to shine, a savior to resurrect, a meal of remembrance to connect.

The original Grinch animated movie used the theme song and the voice of Tony the Tiger from Kelloggs cereal sang it, you know the one that says, “They’re greeeeaaaat!”. Whether you set out Hanukkah candles, breakfast candles, whobilation or advent candles is not the focus. Isaiah said, the people living in darkness have seen a great light. God, knowing your situation, your conflict has laid all the blessings of the table before you, now, in the presence of your anxiety and distress. In the hard place, the narrow place, now the table is set. You can celebrate now. You can refresh and remember now – before the victory is won –because it is finished. Will you wait for Him? Call out to Him? Remember Him? Sup and dine with Him? He has prepared a place and table for YOU, He is waiting for YOU!  O Come, O come, Emmanuel…..

RenaeRoche 2018

Ps. By accident we are having roast beef tonight, the boys are baking cookies for the neighbors and Joe just brought home a dozen roses for the table. God still sets tables, we now await for Him to join us at ours and pray for Him to join you at yours. Happy Hanukkah, Joyful advent and hilarious whobilation – rededicate and wait, you won’t be disappointed.

 

     
So, there is this little town in West Virginia that caught my attention this week – Slab Fork. The Register herald tells us “Just how Slab Fork got its name, though, is uncertain. Some believe it can be traced back to two pioneers from the region’s early history. Legend has it that settlers followed old Indian trails near present-day Mullens, and felled trees and split them into slabs to build a make-shift cabin. Thus the nearby creek was called Slab Fork. “It was one big happy family,” she said. “There were square dances, quilting circles, and church suppers in late summer. It was an active community. Everyone knew everyone else’s family. You watched your neighbors’ children grow up. You knew every person’s name.” [1]

 

That sounds like a place of comfort, a place where mutual support exists. I guess what stirred me was that it seems so different than America does today. We’ve seen times like that in our neighborhood and that I am very grateful for but I wish it was more often and everywhere. The word this week is COMFORT. Community brings that. Christian community can certainly enhance that.

 

David in Psalm 23 says, yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for thou art with me, thy rod and staff – they comfort me. Hmm. It must mean more than mere discipline or help from falling off a cliff? The word for rod is sebet. It means walking stick which can be used to count and protect sheep – I want to be in that number!

It feels sooo good to be CHOSEN, accepted.

This large stick would ward off bears, foxes and any other predator. It could guide the sheep away from the edge of the cliff and to greener, safer pastures. That correction was meant to bless, not instill fear or injury. The shepherds crook was something to support you or to lean on. It provided relief for the shepherd who could not sit down. These tools would be used to part the sheep’s wool on their backs to check for injury or bugs so it was investigative and medicinal. The crook would allow a small lantern to hang from it so as sunset came and the shepherd walked his sheep back to the fold they would be able to see the path ahead and follow their shepherd in the dark. The tools guided and led the sheep, correcting missteps and redirecting when the sheep went astray. Their journey was not led by their desires or whims and wishes but overseen by a loving shepherd whose purpose was guiding them home. What great comfort that they could lean on his wisdom, lean on his care and trust his authority.

 

The opposite of comfort is anxiety, irritation and distress. God’s heart for his sheep is that they be consoled, refreshed, restored and calmed. He does that by keeping us on his path rather than our own or the way of the world. That takes directive action at times but it prevents cliff hangers and falls that could prove deadly. In the moment we don’t like correction, redirection or being detained but when we see where we could have fallen, where we could have ended up- that is life giving. Comfort can be what we missed or what was provided, it is about the care of the Shepherd.

While researching comfort the ad for Southern Comfort liquor came up. The founder states that his brand originated on the banks of the Mississippi and that there are “ None genuine but mine.” 

Genuine is an interesting word for something that makes people act anything but genuine. I struggle to not quote the statistics that hard alcohol is present in almost all assaults. This alcohol is 100 proof which means it is 50% alcohol. I won’t get into the arguments about sipping saints as we are technically free in Christ to drink but we are also free to enter rehab, die of liver cirrhosis and free to live lives of addiction. I’ve never met anyone that could pinpoint the moment they went from recreational drinking to becoming an alcoholic. When we turn to other “comforts” (shopping, drugs, gambling, gossip) the Bible calls that idolatry and I’m not sure I want to go down that slippery slope. Thirsty can be solved in other ways and even as I write this I feel a rod of let’s go a different direction. That Shepherds crook keeps us on the straight and narrow, sober, free and able to follow the shepherd, even in the valley, even in the dark. What rod or staff is God using to hold you back from something dangerous today and are you allowing that to protect or guide you?

God uses many methods to shepherd His people. His ways look like support and assistance. Back in the day there were no wheelchairs or walkers. When Joseph leaned on his staff it meant the blessing was a coming. What do we lean on for comfort? Who do we go to, to be counted and accepted? Where do we run in times of fear, darkness or trouble?

 

Remember that cozy little town of slab fork I mentioned above? It’s on route 54 down there by the river. That town produced a singer –  a psalmist like David who also sang about when we are weak we need somewhere sturdy to lean. His name is Bill Withers and he wrote the song, “Lean on me”. Some of those folk’s efforts to bring comfort to one another extended beyond their own hands and reached a nation. How are we bringing comfort to those around us and will it be comfort that lasts? When it points to us it can become idolatrous but when it points to the Shepherd it can be life sustaining. Are we like the Great Shepherd, bringing guidance and comfort? 

 

So, dear friends to quote a slab fork resident, sometimes in our lives, we all have pain, we all have sorrow, but if we are wise, we know that there’s always tomorrow. Lean on the one who is sturdy, knows the way, is the Way and wants to bring you home. We all need somebody to lean on. The best somebody is Jesus – the same yesterday, today and forever. His rod, His staff – they’ll comfort me, they’ll comfort you.

Walking the path with you,

RenaeRoche2018

 

 

[1] https://www.register-herald.com/news/lifestyles/slab-fork-once-bustling-coal-town-forged-bonds-that-live/article_eb058ddc-41b7-5648-bf40-e499f8edca75.html  accessed 11/2418.