Covenant: Do we MEAN it?

Back in the day a man’s handshake was his word. That was enough. No papers to draw up, or lawyers to get involved; just two sensible men or women making an agreement and sticking with it. Period. It could be the sale of a vehicle, or  a trade, or even where the fence was supposed to go between two properties.

Further back in the day, say, around the centuries that the Old Testament was lived out and then documented, two tribes would come together and make an agreement and live by it, whether it was a good one or not. They called it a covenant. A covenant was a binding agreement made between two men or two tribes, or even between God and man.

This morning I read of an uncomfortable covenant. That is, it was most uncomfortable for the Israelites who were busy conquering the tribes in their newly given Promised Land by their Holy God, Jehovah. The land was not too huge. Word got around quickly, even without cell phones and texts, that the Israelites who had come across the Jordan River not too long ago, were killing the kings and their people and taking over the land one tribe after another. Of course there was great fear. We would be afraid, too, if another people group were coming in to our country and just taking over one state at a time, leaving only a burning heap of rubble.

The folks in Gibeon had heard what was going on. They had heard that this leader Joshua and all his Israelite warriors had conquered the kings of Ai and Jericho. They devised a plan. They “acted craftily and set out as envoys, and took worn-out sacks on their donkeys and wineskins, worn-out and torn and mended; and worn-out and patched sandals on their feet, and worn-out clothes on themselves; and all the bread of their provision was dry and had become crumbled.” Joshua 9:4-5.  They journeyed over to Joshua’s camp at Gilgal and they said to them, “We have come from a far country; now therefore, make a covenant with us.” Joshua 9:6.

Now a covenant was nothing new to the people of that day, both to the tribe of Gibeon and the tribe of Israel. Folks had been making a covenant over the ownership and use of a well. (Genesis 21:22-34). They had made a covenant between two families and their lands (Jacob and Laban). So when the men of Gibeon came to Joshua asking to make a covenant, they knew one main thing. They knew it would be a binding agreement that would last forever. They knew it would not be broken. To break the covenant would greatly dishonor their name. The people of Gibeon knew that the people of Israel would not risk that dishonor. Even though Joshua asked them who they were and where they had come from, he believed them and did not seek out the counsel of his God. “The men of Israel took some of their provisions and did not ask for the counsel of the Lord.”( Joshua 9:14)

Joshua made peace with the people of Gibeon and made a covenant with them, to let them live and the leaders of the congregation swore an oath to them. They made this covenant without the consent of the Lord, didn’t exactly check out their story and now, after the covenant was made and the oath was sworn, the Israelites learn that the people of Gibeon are their near neighbors. They have been had. They know that when they have made a covenant, even without seeking the counsel of the Lord, it is a binding agreement that has been made before the Lord God Almighty. And so the Israelites cannot touch them. They let them live among the Israelites but they made them their servants; hewers of wood and drawers of water for the whole congregation. Though it may not have been exactly what the Gibeons wanted, yet they lived.

covenant promiseThese days people make a covenant. It’s a marriage covenant and it is between two people and in the presence of a man of God and it is supposed to be a forever binding agreement no matter what. As you all know, sadly our word, even our “covenant” before a crowd of any size, before a man of the cloth of any persuasion, even before one another is just not meaningful anymore. Even though the Israelites had been deceived, they kept the covenant and let the Gibeons live. Though they made them to be servants they kept the covenant. A covenant was more honoring as it was sworn before their Lord God than whether the Gibeons were honest or not.

Folks, you and I know our home and marriages have fallen prey to the enemy called “feelings” and “happy” and “convenient” for far too long. I know that this little blog is not going to change our society’s way of thinking on marriage, but perhaps it will encourage Believers in the Lord God Almighty to rethink. To repent of the idea that marriage is forever until someone better comes along. Marriage, for good or bad, is to be forever. Until death do you part. You know that our marriages are the truest picture and testimony to the world of God’s seriousness of a covenant. Of His promises. Of His hand in what He deems important and He so deems marriage and the home as just as important or more so than the church. It tells the world that a covenant is forever no matter what.  Just as His promises are forever. No matter what. He keeps His end of the bargain. He is forever with you and your spouse. In sickness and in health. For richer or for poorer. Forever. I will never leave you or forsake you.covenant with rings

Well, there’s got to be some encouragement here to those whose marriages for whatever reason are no more. And there’s many. So many single again folks. To you the Lord says, repent, rethink what choices have been made and return to Me. Seek me and I will fulfill you and be to you the husband or wife you had but don’t anymore. I’ll be to you the comfort and peace you should have had in that marriage. You see, though God truly does hate divorce, yet, when we return to Him and seek His forgiveness and seek Him as our refuge, because He is a faithful and forgiving Father, He draws us back in and we can experience His comfort and presence in our lives. Turn to Him, my friend.

Could we commit to pray for our families, our marriages, our homes, that we would take seriously what covenant we made before the Lord God almighty no matter whether we feel happy at that moment or not. When we seek Him, in the midst of our marriage He will draw us back to Himself and to one another. Marital breakups are far too easy in this country. It’s become the norm to be unwed, divorced, in another “relationship” than it is to be happily and forever married to the person you made that covenant with in front of all those witnesses! Come on, people, let’s return to the reason for that covenant. A binding agreement before God. No matter what.

 

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You can’t disappoint God

It was not a great day for walking, unless fog and clammy fits your mood and you just head out. It was one of those mornings when I put on way too many clothes for this mild January morning and walked out on my usual stroll through the neighborhood then out to the greenbelt alongside our gully.

“Lord, though I don’t SEE you, I know you’re there, ” I said aloud. It was a great morning for just talking to Him out loud. All of a sudden out came my neighbor rolling her trashcan to the street for pickup. “Good morning!” we both sang out to one another. “Will you come in for coffee?” she asked. “Well, I believe I’ll pass this morning. Just out for the morning walk before I run some errands.” She laughed lightly then said, “Well, truth be told, I’m really heading out to work.” She grinned. It was all perfectly fine. I asked her what work she was heading out to this morning, knowing full well she was long into retirement. “My husband is trying to sell his business and it’s not going too well right now.” We talked about it a few minutes before she said, “But you know, our devotional this morning was on hope. We have a “hope rope” to heaven. We don’t need to be weighted down by our circumstances but keep our eyes on Him, our Hope.” I nodded in agreement and smiled. It was exactly what I had thought of saying to her. Keep our hope and eyes on Him and let the circumstances fall where they may. She had talked of his regretting that he had not sold it five years ago. “Shoulda’s are so destructive,” I responded. “That’s the past and there’s nothing we can do about it.” She nodded in agreement.

And then I remembered something I had read earlier this week. “You know, Dear Neighbor,  you really can’t disappoint God. He is not surprised by what we do. After all, He made us and He knows exactly what we’re going to do before we do it!” She smiled as she began to head to the back door. It was getting closer to the time she needed to be off to work – supporting her husband in his business endeavors at this time.

I thought about what I had read in “Altar’d” by Jennifer Kennedy Dean. “You may sometimes have the feeling that God is disappointed in you. “How could He not be disappointed?” you reason. “I let Him down again and again. I promise and then I fail.”

She says, “I don’t believe God is ever disappointed in you. What does it mean to disappoint someone? it means that you have failed to meet that person’s expectations. For you to disappoint God, He would have to think you were going to behave one way, then be surprised when you behave another way. God knows you better than you know yourself. “He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust.” Psalm 103:14. I had thought of this all week, and actually, it became more and more freeing as I realized that yes, God loves me immensely and knows before I take the next breath what I’m thinking or planning or going to do. And still He is with me and will never ever forsake me.

I waved at my neighbor and said a prayer for she and her husband that his business would sell to the right person and that they would be able to move in their retirement, free from the burden of his business.arms outstretched

 

It all started….

Back in early March of this year  Phyllis texted me for some addresses of family she had seen at her mother’s funeral. She needed to respond to them. I went to the Nichols Directory and found most of them. But as I studied the pages and pages of names, I saw many with out of date or no address or phone or even email.

Out of that observation came some time of exploring and investigating that took me first to other family members who might have had some of the missing information on some of their immediate family. One morning I thought – facebook. Why not just type in a name and see what happens? I thought of myself as a private investigator! To my amazement, I found most of the unfamiliar family on facebook! Not having corresponded with many of you in years, I boldly began to message some of you and ask your permission to put your information in the directory. And then, I asked if it was okay to add you to the Nichols Family Group and you said yes! It was as if for some of you, you were just waiting for someone in the family to come looking for you and bring you back to the fold! It was a glorious time of serendipity!

In the middle of all this updating the directory, Diann Dotson said she’d like to come visit Gwen and me in late spring. Fine, I responded. Come anytime. Well, no, she said, how about May 30th? There’s nothing of note going on with our grandchildren. Okay. Then, I thought. Dangerous. Thinking, that is! What if I just throw the invitation out there to you, Family, to invite you to join Diann and Ray and come see us Houston folk on that weekend?

Do you know who responded??? Barbara Lawrence from NORTH CAROLINA! Really? After many years, Barbara packed up and flew down here for what turned out to be a grand Houston Family Reunion! So very good to see you, Barbara!  Who would have thought!!! And it all started back in early March – looking at the directory and thinking where are these cousins? We had about 35 folks attend. And, as the Lord in His Providence would have it, Jane came. We all hugged on her for what turned out to be the last time, as she passed away this summer.

A few short weeks later, Gwen and I made a trip to Atlanta for cousin Jay’s Memorial Service. We invited ourselves over to stay with Yvonne! We traveled down memory lane with her and all her family photos since the invention of the camera! Sure of it! At the Celebration of Jay’s Life Service, we saw many of you and caught up some.

Gwen and I traveled to the Dallas/Fort Worth area this past September to  stay  with Beth and Allen and Christi and to meet some of our cousins who were unable to attend the May Reunion, including Taffy Davis Giesel. What a sweet tender time of catching up. After our time with her and her husband Howard,  Janice, who had joined us for lunch with Taffy and Howard,  took us over to see her Mom, Lillie and we had a wonderful visit. She was thrilled to show us her photo albums she had put together in her early married years. We also enjoyed singing around the piano together.  The following day we were able to meet up with more cousins – Keila and three of their four nearly grown kids, Sophia, Gracie and Jesse. Tony was under the weather that day. So, Gwen and I must go back to see him sometime!Taffy and Cousins

What a great trip Frances and daughter Pam had in September as they  went on a wild and wonderful tour of the Pacific Northwest and made a  special stop to visit Farrel and her family up there in Washington.

The point is, our family is a treasure. There are so many of you with your unique personalities, living all over the country. The thing we have in common is blood. Family. And I believe, a strong willingness to stay connected to one another. To intentionally spend some time together. Even through facebook. But oh so richer in person!

This next year, I plan to see some more of you! Take some trips together. It is my prayer and hope that you all will venture out and see some family you haven’t seen in awhile and say hello and like, Dad (Earl) would do, ask how your own family is doing and how can he pray for you? Well, with your permission may I  follow in his footsteps and  ask…..how may I pray for you?

May you each have a joyous Christmas season, knowing deep down that the motive for Christmas is……God SO loved! You ! He chose You! Looking forward to seeing more of you this next year! God bless you all!

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Change is uncomfortable; but necessary

praying together one Our small group has been meeting together far longer than when my Beloved and I joined. They tell the story of a morning when one of the men was out walking and his neighbor's cat was out? Was lost? Something. The cat was the catalyst for the men's encounter that brought them and their families together for what turned in to seventeen years!
"You and your wife come over and have coffee next Tuesday night," the walker said to the cat owner. They met and discovered they had much in common, including their church home. Let's invite some others. They did. By the time my husband and I came to their church about 5 years ago, the group had grown profoundly into 13 couples.
Over the years, the couples had seen one another through a daughter's brain surgery; parents' illnesses and passing away; rebellious sons; job searching; retirement anxiety and questions; moving away. Through all the issues of life we came together to pray. Our hearts, so knitted together under the banner of our Lord Jesus Christ's profound love, submitted to Him each and every Tuesday evening, knowing deep deep down that He was hearing. He was seeing. He was loving. And He was moving. And oh, how beautiful to watch Him work! It was glorious! To witness the healing of her daughters brain surgery; she, who is now mother of 5! To look around the crowded room of family and life long friends and see 11 completely new friends at my father's memorial service! Friends who had never met my father! Still profoundly moved at their heart and presence! To hear that their 30+ something year old son, who struggled for years to find a job was now not only gainfully employed but praised by his boss! Only God.
Lately, though, it seems that our group has had several move on to other groups within the church. Another couple moved to another town. Logical reason for leaving our group. But several others have moved on for what? Other ministries. And few new folks have come into our group.
Funny. This new season is groaning with questions. Are we still a group? What is God doing? Are we asking God that question or are we just getting irritated that folks are leaving our group? They're all great couples. Salt of the earth. Still very involved in other areas of the Body.
Change. Uncomfortable. Inevitable. Necessary.
Like pruning. When I get the garden clippers I'm quite deadly. As I was clipping the browned rose blooms, I got a bit hasty. Yep. Clipped a bud with two new buds yet to open. Bill noticed and grimaced. Pay attention, he said with his face. Oops. I brought the bud inside and stuck it in the middle of the carnations. It opened beautifully.
change- life is beautiful
What’s next for our group? Prayer. We meet and pray and discuss the question. What does God have for our group who have met for so many years? Personally, if they asked me, since we are in the midst of those retiring years, wouldn’t it be great to see the Lord bring in some young couples to our group to pray with? To encourage. To let them know that through their life issues, our God is with them. Seeing. Hearing. Loving. And yes, moving. And watch what God does to this next generation. For yes, though change is surely uncomfortable, it is so necessary for growth. I don’t really want to “die on the vine.” I want to be nipped and moved so I can bloom somewhere else! For my Lord!
Now, go out with Joy and be led forth in His peace!
change - open arms

Do what you can do

Come ye, who are bruised and wounded, or even bandaged and in need of encouragement and together we’ll bind one another up in order to offer others some hope and grace in their world.

Something to chew on:

She has done what she could…..” Jesus said. The woman just walked into the home of Simon the leper (he had been healed but was still labeled as such) and before anyone else could object, she knelt before Jesus and opened this alabaster vial of costly perfume and pored it on the feet of Jesus! Now. Lest we wonder what in the world she was doing with the perfume in the first place and what business she had doing such a thing on the dirty feet of a man, just look first at his response. Jesus did not rebuke her. Rather, he viewed what she did as a prophecy of what was to come in the not too distant future to him. He was going to be killed and the custom of the day was that before a body was to be entombed it would be anointed with oils and wrapped in clean cloths.
Of course, she had no way of knowing that. The woman’s act was her way of worshiping Jesus. Why? It’s not mentioned in Scripture but it seems that she had been around Him and seen His love for others, witnessed His miracles and heard His mysterious yet profound teaching of hope and love. His teaching was so contrary to the teachings of the leaders of her church that she was compelled to do something to show her love for him. Even if it meant receiving ridicule or scorn.

So, in the doorway she purposefully walked. Right into a room full of common men and right to where Jesus was reclining. Amid the scorn, she went right to the reason she was there. She opened the vial and pored it tenderly over the head of the one she had come to love. “This perfume could have been sold and the money given to feed the poor,” one disciple said. “Let her alone,” Jesus said to them,”Why do you bother her? She has done a good deed to Me. For the poor you have with you always, and whenever you wish, you can do good to them.” Now listen to this, “She has done what she could.”

In our world, all around us, we are bombarded with so many needs. We see homeless on the street corners with their cardboard signs and windblown faces. We hear of orphans needing a home in the ads on TV. We hear of school children going to bed hungry many nights, especially on weekends when they have no school lunch. We know about the lonely widows sitting around in the nursing home waiting to die. We are overwhelmed. Jesus said to the disciples about this woman, she did what she could do. I do know that is all He asks of any of us. To be available to do what we can do with what we have at that moment. Encouraging you to open your eyes and heart to see what Jesus would have you see and with your heart do what you can do. You’ll be blessed as the one you see is also blessed. Go out with Joy and be led forth in His peace.
claypot earthen vessel   The reason I found what Jesus said liberating came in the form of a handout in our Sunday bulletin. In the past at this time of year, I would have taken this handout and pored over it and tried to DO as many things as possible on that list before Christmas day and in my heart I would have thought I was doing the right thing. In my body I would have been stressed and most likely irritable at those I love most and what good would all my “good things” have done?

But this year is now different because I know I can only do what I can do and that whatever it is it must be to honor my Lord and Savior and no one else.