Archive for November, 2014

Sometimes life can be prickly and hard, but we have God’s promise that “In place of the thornbush, the cypress shall grow, instead of nettles, the myrtle.” (Isaiah 55:13)  The study note in the New American Bible for this verse suggests the image of being in the desert, “symbolic of suffering and hardship”, since thorns cause pain, while the cypress and myrtle suggest fertile land, representing “joy and strength”.

We once had a thorny tree in our back yard, and when we cut it down it was an absolute nightmare to transport.  We used big, heavy gloves, and still got pricked by the pointy ends; the pain was excruciating as it pierced deep into our tender skin!  Throughout our lives we are ‘stung’ by traumatic events, whether we had divorced or alcoholic parents, or suffered physical or sexual abuse, neglect or abandonment.

The thorns are different for everyone; many today are struggling financially to make ends meet; some are grappling with health issues, either chronic arthritis or some other auto immune disease.  Others are grieving for the loss of a loved one, while some are going through strenuous and grueling rounds of chemo and radiation.  Perhaps you have a child fighting an addiction, or experiencing severe anxiety.

Thorns show up in the Old Testament after Adam and Eve disobeyed God; they were kicked out of the luscious Garden of Eden and consigned to find food “by the sweat of your brow”, tilling “cursed ground” filled with “thorns and thistles”  (Genesis 3:17).  Adam and Eve left us a legacy of hard work, pain and sorrow, but the new Adam, Jesus, “ransomed us from the curse”, taking the curse upon himself.  Unknowingly the Romans mocked their ‘king’, smashing a crown of thorns deep into his skull, piercing his flesh.  Through his crucifixion and death, Jesus ransomed us, restoring us into God’s covenant and giving us our full inheritance as sons and daughters (Gal. 3:13).  The ‘good news’ is that Jesus received the crown of thorns to take away our pain and shame, and instead fill us with his peace and joy, to take us out of the desert of suffering.

I went on my first retreat back in 1993 with several other adult leaders of the teen group.  Since then I have probably helped present forty retreats for both teens and adults, and I have both experienced and witnessed over and over the transformation as Jesus delivers his children from the chains binding them.

I was meditating one day and I heard God whisper tenderly into my heart the promise of a new life in him.  His promise to all those suffering from depression, loneliness, and abandonment “His divine power has bestowed on us everything that makes for life and devotion, through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and power.  Through these He has bestowed on us the precious and very great promises, so that through them you may come to share in the divine nature, after escaping from the corruption that is in the world because of evil desire.” (2nd Peter 1:1)

No matter how many ‘nettles and thorns’ seem to be in your path, remember God’s extraordinary grace and power.  One day I felt as though I would never get past my grief and sadness, and then I received this tender prophecy based on Isaiah 35 “The desert and parched land will exult, they will bloom with abundant flowers and rejoice with joyful song.  The desert of shame and unforgiveness will turn into streams bursting with love and joy; the burning sands of loneliness and despair will be turned into pools of refreshing warmth and tenderness.  The thirsty ground yearning for love, will spring into wells overflowing with mercy and compassion.  The place where the jackals of darkness and depression roam, will be turned into a rich marsh, where hope and happiness flourish.  We will be met with goodness and gladness, and grief and sorrow will flee.  A highway will be readied for those striving for holiness, where we will be safe and secure, free from harm, crowned with his glory.”

During this Advent take time to prepare for the coming of Christ; take time to let him soften your heart and remove the thorns.  Let Jesus whisper words of encouragement and inspiration and rest in his embrace, pondering his immense grace and unconditional mercy.  Let the flowers of virtue bloom in your heart and rejoice in being set free!

Related Articles:

What is the Meaning of the Crown of Thorns

Touching the Hem of His Garment

Adopted By God


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Small Business Saturday


Use your American Express card on Small Business Saturday at Mary’s Garden on November 29, and receive a $10.00 credit on your American Express Statement!


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Strong Hand of God

There seems to be a common, recurring theme among Christians living busy, stress filled lives.  We feel pressured to be the perfect mother or father, student or employee, and it seems there are always too many bills to pay from our shrinking income.  Our bosses insist we become more and more productive, while we are running a million miles a minute ferrying our kids from one activity to the next.

So many Christians feel alone and distant from God’s presence.  Yet over and over in scripture God reminds us He is right there, guiding and protecting us, rescuing us from danger with His ‘strong right arm’. Psalm 136 describes God’s never ending love and that He “… led Israel from their midst, for his mercy endures forever; with mighty hand and outstretched arm.” This doesn’t mean God literally reaches down with a physical arm from heaven; instead it represents his omnipotence and phenomenal power, and that He is always there to support us when we are ‘drowning’ in our problems.

In 606 B.C. the city of Jerusalem was ravaged by King Nebuchadnezzar II and the sacred temple was destroyed by the Babylonians.  As a result of turning away from God and worshiping idols, thousands of Israelites were exiled to far away Mesopotania and forced into servitude.  Shortly before the end of their seventy year long exile the chosen people felt alone and abandoned, so God reminded them in Isaiah 41:10 “Do not fear: I am with you; do not be anxious: I am your God.  I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”

Eventually the Israelites repented of their sin, and God allowed Cyrus II of Persia to conquer the Babylonians.  Cyrus believed the words in Isaiah 44:28, written 200 years before, was a direct order from God “I say of Cyrus, My Shepherd! He carries out my every wish, saying of Jerusalem, ‘Let it be rebuilt’, and of the temple, ‘Lay its foundations’.” He allowed the Jews to return to their ruined city and issued a decree authorizing them to rebuild the temple.

Our spiritual journey reflects the struggles of the Jews and their volatile, roller coaster relationship with God.  But instead of worshiping pagan gods, we ‘worship’ money, power, television, facebook, suggestive movies or books, and wallow in anger, self-reliance and laziness.  Then a job loss or illness reminds us of our need for a savior, and we turn back pleading for God’s grace and mercy.

Just as God rescued the Israelites after they repented, so too did Jesus rescue Peter when he started sinking in the waves right after he had proudly walked on water.  Instead of keeping his eyes on Jesus, he became intimidated by the storm surrounding him and doubted Jesus’ power to keep him afloat (Matthew 14:22).  Peter was terrified and called out “‘Lord save me!’ Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, ‘Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt?'”  When you are terrified and overwhelmed by your responsibilities, call out for help, and envision Jesus reaching out with his ‘strong, right hand’. Grab on with both hands and don’t ever let go!

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True Racism

On my way home from work the other night I was shocked to hear an extremely inflammatory campaign advertisement on the radio.  Negative attacks on the other candidate from both parties are nothing new before an important election, but with the Republicans poised to possibly overtake the Senate and House of Representatives, some Democratic candidates are getting desperate.  Knowing the black vote is crucial, their advertisements are turning particularly ugly and downright racist.  From linking Republican candidates to the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida, to painting Republicans as lynch mobs, and warning that unless African-Americans vote, local police departments won’t be accountable, as shown in Ferguson, and more innocent blacks will be killed.

As journalist Jeremy W. Peters explained in the New York Times “The images and words they are using are striking for how overtly they play on fears of intimidation and repression. And their source is surprising. The effort is being led by national Democrats and their state party organizations — not, in most instances, by the shadowy and often untraceable political action committees that typically employ such provocative messages.”

Republicans are accusing Democrats of race-baiting “They have been playing on this nerve in the black community that if you even so much as look at a Republican, churches will start to burn, your civil rights will be taken away and young black men like Trayvon Martin will die,” said Michael Steele, a former chairman of the Republican Party.

For decades Jesse Jackson has employed strong-arm tactics to force companies to hire more minorities, whether job applicants are qualified or not.   “When he speaks, white executives listen. For they know that he can make life very rough if they don’t ‘cooperate.’  Corporate leaders from Anheuser-Busch to Toyota have acceded to his demands, agreeing to earmark large sums of money for minority hiring and outreach. Moreover, they typically make sizable donations to Rainbow/PUSH, thus making possible future shakedowns. Often as well they set aside a certain portion of their contracting to minority-owned firms that pay Jackson for referrals. Jackson’s style can be called affirmative action with a clenched fist. And because of white executive timorousness, it gets results.” (From article Silicon Valley Capitulates to Jesse Jackson Shakedown)

Racism is wrong; whether it is directed by Caucasians against African Americans or vice versa, it is offensive and should be condemned.  The Jim Crow laws were despicable, and I greatly admire Rosa Parks and others who courageously stood up and refused to accept the repression.  Rosa rode the bus daily in Montgomery, Alabama, and one day in 1955 the bus was almost full, so she was ordered to give up her seat in the colored section for a white person.  She defiantly refused, and was arrested by the police for civil disobedience.

Some other heroes of the Civil Rights Movement are the valiant “Little Rock Nine”, composed of nine daring black high school students chosen to integrate the all white Central High School in 1957, in Little Rock, Arizona.  On the appointed day, shamefully, around 1,000 white townspeople gathered and as the students tried entering the school the rowdy mob shouted racial slurs and threatened violence.  Some of the townspeople surrounded one terrified student, 15-year-old Elizabeth Eckford, and threatened to lynch her.

Little Rock’s mayor asked for the federal government to intervene, and President Eisenhower responded by deploying the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division, and by federalizing the Arkansas National Guard.  The ‘guards’ stayed at the school for the next year, but the harassment continued; young Elizabeth was pushed down a flight of stairs, Melba Matilla had acid thrown in her eyes, and the three male students were regularly beaten.

These and other daring activists risked their lives to put an end to such blatant dicrimination and boldly implement the Civil Rights Movement.  But in spite of the efforts of these brave Americans, education for blacks in America currently seems to be lagging badly, in spite of the massive infusion of federal funds from the Department of Education, which was created in 1979.  The gap between whites and blacks in math and reading has increased by five points since 1992, resulting in a whopping 30 point gap.  Even though the black graduation rate has increased to 68%, it still lags way behind the white graduation rate of 85%.  MSNBC Trymaine Lee described the “abysmal state of achievement for near-college age students…Just about a quarter of high school seniors were proficient or above in math and 37% in reading…the stagnant achievement growth among high school students in general speaks to a broader population of young people largely unprepared for secondary education, the clearest path to high-paying, high-quality employment.”

Unemployment among blacks is twice that of whites, and although I am sure racism may contribute to the high numbers, many experts blame the lack of education and high incarceration rate as the leading factors.  High crime rates among black males lead policemen to stop them more often, leading to a vicious cycle of higher arrest rates.  Since many black families come from single parent homes, which are the largest group in poverty, many black teens can’t afford an attorney, and wind up with poor representation from understaffed public defenders.

Sadly tactics such as the shake-downs by Jesse Jackson, the provacative rhetoric of Al Sharpton and the heinous strategies of the Democratic Party, are increasing racial tension and division.  In spite of  Georgia Governor Nathan Deal’s  laudable efforts to keep juveniles and non-violent offenders out of the prison system, resulting in the biggest decrease of black incarceration since 1988, Democratic senate campaign ads for Michelle Nunn feature racially charged pictures of children holding up signs begging “don’t shoot”.

I find it unconscionable that Democrats are currying votes by deliberately stirring racial hatred and unrest. Democrats claim to be the ‘party of the minorities’, so why aren’t Democratic and black leaders addressing the main problem in the black culture of absent dads, which directly leads to poverty, abuse, addiction, and crime?  President Barack Obama challenged black men to set an example and become leaders when he addressed the graduating class of Morehouse College in 2013.  “Obama, who was raised by a single mother and grandparents, lamented the absence of his father in his life and urged the graduates to make family their top priority.   ‘Be the best husband to your wife, or boyfriend to your partner, or father to your children that you can be. Because nothing is more important.'” (From USA article below)

The President is absolutely right.  Since poverty, addictions, abuse and crime are much higher for children from single parent homes, it seems the most important issue politicians and black leaders should be addressing is the problem of babies born out of wedlock in the black culture, which has reached the astronomical rate of 72%.  Especially since it is over double the rate for white unwed mothers.  Black fathers are too often completely absent from their children’s lives, with devastating consequences.

So instead of fanning the flames between whites and blacks, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and other Democratic leaders should be concentrating on helping young women to have more respect for themselves, to carefully examine a man’s character before dating him, and to encourage the institution of marriage.  Before dating a man, a woman should ask whether he will treat her with dignity and respect.  Does he work hard and is he willing to support her and a child?  Does he have anger or addiction issues?  These leaders should be encouraging black men to finish high school and attend college or vocational schools, and they should teach young black males what it truly means to be a real man who takes his responsibilities seriously.

Part of the reason blacks have such low graduation rates is because black students experience more school suspensions than white students.  NPR recently reported that numbers compiled by the Department of Education showed  that starting in preschool (four year olds), black suspensions are three times the number of white suspensions, often for the same offenses.  The school system actually funnels students into the juvenile justice system, by having them arrested for such infractions as a  school fight, leading to the dismal “school-to-prison pipeline”.

Are black preschoolers and elementary students more prone to unacceptable behavior, or is it the ‘perception’ that black children misbehave more than white children?  This is another important issue black leaders and politicians should tackle.  Children who have experienced school suspensions generally tend to have lower self-esteem, lack motivation, are stigmatized and drop out of school at higher rates.  If this problem is properly addressed, it could vastly improve the lives of countless African-Americans.

Instead, Al Sharpton has been inciting protests and riots, resulting in looting and unrest in the small town of Ferguson, Missouri, where a young, unarmed black male was shot and killed by a white police officer.  On the surface the facts seem damning, but without waiting for the truth, Sharpton has been demanding justice and the prosecution of the police officer.  While the jury has been deliberating on the guilt or innocence of the accused officer, the autopsy report on Brown was leaked, and it does appear Brown grappled for the gun and had gun residue on his hands, was shot at close range, and blood in the police car reveals a significant altercation took place there.  So it is possible the shooting could have been justified, but it is impossible to know for sure until all the facts are known.

In his Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 5:9 Jesus said “Blessed are the peacemakers, they will be called children of God.”  Politicians need to stop making incendiary statements like Vice President Biden when he warned a crowd that Republicans would “put y’all back in chains”.  Before Richard Nixon became president, blacks often voted Republican, the party of their hero, Abraham Lincoln.  Then President Kennedy defied the racist Democratic politicians like Government Wallace of Alabama, and Senator Robert Byrd, and jumped into the fray with Martin Luther King, Jr. to further the Civil Rights movement.  President Lyndon Johnson was extremely shrewd and figured he could curry black votes by following in Kennedy’s footsteps.  He knew he would lose some white votes, but overall he believed the black vote was an untapped gold mine worth the risk.

Since Johnson was pursuing the black vote, President Richard Nixon decided on his “Southern Strategy” to woo white voters by championing ‘states rights’ and petitioning the courts to delay busing students.   Nixon was extremely racist and some of his atrocious comments were caught on tape.  Johnson was just as prejudiced and for the twenty years he was in Congress blocked any efforts to repeal the Jim Crow laws.  But Johnson was pragmatic, as well as ruthless, and would do anything to get elected; in spite of his bias against blacks, he saw them as a huge voting bloc.  Both men left a tragic legacy of racial slurs against Jews, blacks and Asians.

It is time for politicians to quit using Americans as pawns to garner votes and instead to treat them with dignity and respect and truly look out for their best interests.  The only way to combat such hypocrisy, greed and lust for power is for Christians to follow St. Paul’s advice and “…be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine like lights in the world”.  Work on growing in holiness and stand firm in the truth, condemning these shallow politicians and their manipulative, outrageous ploys to get elected.

Related Articles:

In Democratic Election Ads in the South

Silicon Valley Capitulates to Jesse Jackson Shakedown

Education Racial Gap

Black Unemployment

1 In 3 Black Males Will Go To Prison

Why Criminal Justice Reform

Obama: There’s No Longer Time for Excuses

The Child Abuse Crisis

Black Preschoolers Far More Likely to Be Suspended

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