Posts Tagged ‘Joy’

Cheer up!

Scripture: A cheerful heart brings a smile to your face; a sad heart makes it hard to get through the day. Proverbs 15:13 (MSG)

Observation: A merry heart. “Merry” has changed its meaning since 1611. It did not then have the meaning of boisterous mirth. “God rest you merry, gentlemen” meant, “God keep you in glad peace, gentlemen.” The face glows with joy when the heart is full of light and peace. But the spirit is broken by continued sorrow of heart. When anxiety is permitted to reign, resilience is steadily weakened, until at last the resistance of the mind may be broken. The mental trouble is reflected in the physical condition of the body (see ch. 17:22; LS 255–258; COL 167, 168). [The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Volume 3. 1977 (F. D. Nichol, Ed.) (1000). Review and Herald Publishing Association.]

Application: The benefits of laughter have been widely documented. Laughter is a powerful antidote to stress, pain, and conflict. Nothing works faster or more dependably to bring your mind and body back into balance than a good laugh. Humor lightens your burdens, inspires hopes, connects you to others, and keeps you grounded, focused, and alert.
With so much power to heal and renew, the ability to laugh easily and frequently is a great resource for those problems that don’t seem to have a solution, enhancing your relationships, and supporting both physical and emotional health.
Think about some of the benefits of laughter to your physical health:
• Laughter relaxes the whole body. A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after.
• Laughter boosts the immune system. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease.
• Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.
• Laughter protects the heart. Laughter improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.

Laughter also has great benefits to your emotional health:
• Laughter dissolves distressing emotions. You can’t feel anxious, angry, or sad when you’re laughing.
• Laughter helps you relax and recharge. It reduces stress and increases energy, enabling you to stay focused and accomplish more.
• Humor shifts perspective, allowing you to see situations in a more realistic, less threatening light. A humorous perspective creates psychological distance, which can help you avoid feeling overwhelmed.

As if that were not enough, Laughter also provides us with a host of social benefits:
• Be more spontaneous. Humor gets you out of your head and away from your troubles.
• Let go of defensiveness. Laughter helps you forget judgments, criticisms, and doubts.
• Release inhibitions. Your fear of holding back and holding on are set aside.
• Express your true feelings. Deeply felt emotions are allowed to rise to the surface.

Some people will say, “Well, that’s easier said than done.” Here are some ideas to begin on the path to better physical, mental, and social health through laughter:
Here are some ways to start:
• Smile. Smiling is the beginning of laughter. Like laughter, it’s contagious. Pioneers in “laugh therapy,” find it’s possible to laugh without even experiencing a funny event. The same holds for smiling. When you look at someone or see something even mildly pleasing, practice smiling.
• Count your blessings. Literally make a list. The simple act of considering the good things in your life will distance you from negative thoughts that are a barrier to humor and laughter. When you’re in a state of sadness, you have further to travel to get to humor and laughter.
• When you hear laughter, move toward it. Sometimes humor and laughter are private, a shared joke among a small group, but usually not. More often, people are very happy to share something funny because it gives them an opportunity to laugh again and feed off the humor you find in it. When you hear laughter, seek it out and ask, “What’s funny?”
• Spend time with fun, playful people. These are people who laugh easily–both at themselves and at life’s absurdities–and who routinely find the humor in everyday events. Their playful point of view and laughter are contagious.
• Bring humor into conversations. Ask people, “What’s the funniest thing that happened to you today? This week? In your life?” [from http://www.helpguide.org/life/humor_laughter_health.htm%5D
Bring laughter and joy into your life. But if you want to add to your own joy, bring laughter to the life of your spouse, your children, your family, and others around you. Go ahead; try it! It’s a laughing matter.

A Prayer You May Say: Father God, thank you for the gift of laughter. Help us to experience it in our lives and help us to share it with others so that it’s healing power may change their attitude and outlook into a more positive, joyful one.

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Scripture: Strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy. Colossians 1:11 (NKJV)

Observation: Spiritual strength is a third factor that results from knowing God’s will and pleasing Him. Being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might includes three words for strength: “being strengthened” is dynamoumenoi; “power” is dynamei, spiritual vitality; and “might” is kratos (“power that overcomes resistance”; used only of God in the NT). This God-given strength produces great endurance and patience. This endurance (trans. “perseverance” in James 1:3) was exemplified by Job (James 5:11). To this endurance Paul added “patience,” a word generally connected with gentleness and calm sweetness (as in 1 Cor. 13:4). Endurance and patience are often associated (cf. 2 Cor. 6:4, 6; 2 Tim. 3:10; James 5:10–11). Endurance (hypomonē, lit., a “remaining under”) implies not easily succumbing under suffering; and patience (makrothymia, lit., “long temper”; cf. Col. 3:12) means self-restraint which does not hastily retaliate. A lack of endurance often results in despondency or losing heart, whereas a lack of patience often leads to wrath or revenge (cf. Prov. 15:18; 16:32). (Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1985). The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.)

Application: One of the lessons our children must learn early in life is that of delayed gratification. When we quickly give in to our child’s every whim and desire, we’re only teaching them that they will always get what they want and do not need to exercise any patience whatsoever. On the other hand, when we teach our children from the time they are small that there are times when they need to wait, we are really teaching them several of the three things mentioned in the text for today.
Here’s an example. When your child asks for a toy, particularly one that costs a fair amount of money, you can make an agreement with your child that if they save a certain amount of money toward that toy, you will help them with the final percentage. For instance, “If you save from your allowance until you have 80% of the cost, I will help you out with the final 20%.” This teaches them to both be patient AND persistent. If they truly want something, they can work toward that goal. If they don’t want it that bad, they will probably give up a lot earlier before reaching the goal. But if they persist, and save the agreed on amount, one of several things will take place. In some cases, by the time they have saved that amount they have changed their mind and either don’t want that anymore or they may want something different. But if they do persist in having what they have saved for, once they get it they will experience greater joy (which is the third thing from our verse) than if they had simply received it the moment they asked you for it.
So, don’t answer every request immediately. Instead, work with them, and pray that they will be patient, persistent, and at the end joyous.

A Prayer You May Say: Father God, bless my children that as they work to fulfill their wishes they may be patient, they may work toward their goal and be persistent, and that they may have the joy that accompanies reaching a long-awaited goal.

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The Joy of the Lord

Scripture: “Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10b

Observation: Those returning from the Babylonian exile are sad as they see the condition of the city of Jerusalem, the protective walls are down, the temple in ruins, the city in shambles. These people, who had been away for at least seventy years, face the challenge of rebuilding the city and, more importantly, begin to practice again their faith in freedom and in their own land.
Ezra and Nehemiah lead in these two pursuits. In chapter eight, Nehemiah tells us that Ezra read the law of God, at the request of those gathered by the Water Gate. Ezra the priest read it “in the presence of men and women” (Neh. 8:2). Both Ezra and Nehemiah emphasized the importance of this day as a “Holy Day” and that it should not be a day or mourning (8:9). When the law was read to them, the people wept. Nehemiah told them to eat and drink and to share their food with those who had none, and then closed with the words of our text for today: “Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”

Application: As I write these words this morning, two bits of news from this week are very vivid in my mind and heart. My best friend’s mother passed away after a relatively short fight with cancer. She was advanced in years, and was experiencing serious health challenges due to her terminal disease, and one can feel a certain amount of relief that she is not suffering anymore, to her children her death still leaves a void, and the grief associated with her death is still very real and very painful to them.
The second bit of news, received the same day my friend’s mother died, is that my own brother, eight years my senior, was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia and began intensive chemotherapy treatments immediately.
I can’t deny that my heart is heavy as I think of both my friend and her family and my brother and our family. Today, the words of Nehemiah speaks to me and to all of us who sorrow, who worry, who care: “Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” Paul would add that we should not sorrow as those that have no hope (1 Thes. 4:13). Our outlook as God’s children, and as families, is different than those who don’t know Him, because the joy of the Lord is our strength. This is not living in denial, or pretend that we don’t hurt when inside our heart is bursting. What this means is that through the pain and sorrow of life we have a joy that surpasses earthly understanding and which takes “through the shadow of the valley of death.” As people, we will have to part with loved ones at some point in our lives until our own live is no more. But we are not hopeless; the joy of the Lord is our strength.

Prayer: Our Lord and father, I pray for all those who have lost a dear loved one and who grieve their loss and feel the void left by their departure. I pray that your presence, your loving arms, may surround them during these painful, difficult days, and that you will return to them the joy that comes from knowing death is not forever. And I also pray for those battling serious diseases, that they may also see You as the great Physician and trust their life completely into Your hands so that instead of worry the joy of the Lord may be their strength.

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Scripture: (2 Sam 6:16 NKJV)  Now as the ark of the LORD came into the City of David, Michal, Saul’s daughter, looked through a window and saw King David leaping and whirling before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart.

Observation: With dancing and rejoicing David celebrated the return of the ark of God to Jerusalem.  From a distance, his wife Michal watching and thought it disgraceful that the king would act that way instead of being more dignified.  She criticized him, David became defensive, and to the end of their life did not enjoy a good marital relationship.

Application: In the relationship between David and Michal we can see some of the dynamics that bring about the destruction of a Marriage.  Willard Harley, author of such books as Love Busters and His Needs, Her Needs, says that there are three states of Mind in Marriage.  Michal and David exemplify the three states.

State # 1. INTIMACY
(1 Sam 18:20 NKJV)  Now Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved David. And they told Saul, and the thing pleased him.

David must have had feelings toward her, enough to go to war for her (1 Sam 18:27-28).  Michael loved David enough to lie to protect him, even from her own father (1 Sam 19:11-18).  Maybe the beginning of their downfall took place when Saul, her father, gave her in marriage to Paltiel, and maybe she learned to love her new husband (1 Sam 25:44).

State #2 – CONFLICT

John Gottman’s research suggests there are four ways of interacting that sabotage your attempts to communicate with your partner.  One of what he calls The Four Horsemen of Marriages in Trouble is Criticism (illustrated in our text for today).  Criticism involves attacking someone’s personality or character – rather than a specific behavior – usually with blame.  Gottman also identified a second damaging way or horsemen which is Contempt (also used by Michal in our text).  Ellen White adds an interesting insight: “In the bitterness of her passion she could not await David’s return to the palace, but went out to meet him, and to his kindly greeting poured forth a torrent of bitter words. Keen and cutting was the irony of her speech” {Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 708}.  Michael couldn’t wait to pour cold water on David’s joy and enthusiasm and didn’t just criticized him for his actions but showed contempt for not behaving in a regal manner.
Gottman states that “what separates contempt from criticism is the intention to insult and psychologically abuse your partner.  With your words and body language, you’re lobbing insults right into the heart of your partner’s sense of self.  Fueling these contemptuous actions are negative thoughts about the partner – he or she is stupid, disgusting, incompetent, a fool.”  You can almost hear Michal’s  mocking tone and her twisted smile and the rolling of her eyes as she said to David, “How glorious was the king of Israel today, uncovering himself today in the eyes of the maids of his servants, as one of the base fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!” (2 Samuel 6:20 NKJV)

David, on the other hand, used the third of Gottman’s horsemen, Defensiveness.  His anger and dismay at the “welcome” he received from his wife turned into anger and a defensive attack: (2 Sam 6:21-22 NKJV)  So David said to Michal, “It was before the LORD, who chose me instead of your father and all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the LORD, over Israel. Therefore I will play music before the LORD. {22} “And I will be even more undignified than this, and will be humble in my own sight. But as for the maidservants of whom you have spoken, by them I will be held in honor.”


While it is not directly stated, the last words of this story tells us their marriage fell apart.  It is possible that David used the fourth of Gottman’s horsemen, Stonewalling, and simply tuned her out completely.  Regardless, they reached the third state of marriage as described by Harley, the state of Withdrawal and their marriage simply continued as existing together, but there was no love between them: “Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death” (2 Sam. 6:23).

How different their life might have been!  Maybe it all began with a poor relationship with his father-in-law.  Maybe it was another relationship, Michal’s marriage to Paltiel, that damaged her love for her hsuband David.  Maybe it was David’s marriages to Abigail and others that interfered with his love for Michal.  Maybe it was not caring for their relationship and sabotaging it so that they moved down the slide from Intimacy through conflict to withdrawal.  I guess the question is, do you see yourself somewhere along that continuum?  Do you see yourself sabotaging your relationship by using any or several or all of the “horsemen”?  Learning and understanding about your situation is one important step on the way to healing, but the next steps you take will determine whether your marriage declines and dies or survives and thrives.  Seek help, ask for help, pray for help, call for help; not taking a positive action will mean letting your marriage drown in the sea of divorce.

Prayer: Father, may what happened to David and Michal never happen to us in our marriage.  Help us to take any and all the steps necessary to see that our marriage not only survives but thrives.

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Scripture: (1 Sam 20:41-42 NKJV)  As soon as the lad had gone, David arose from a place toward the south, fell on his face to the ground, and bowed down three times. And they kissed one another; and they wept together, but David more so. {42} Then Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, since we have both sworn in the name of the LORD, saying, ‘May the LORD be between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants, forever.’ ” So he arose and departed, and Jonathan went into the city.

Observation: The friendship between David and Jonathan is among the best known in history.  Jonathan was willing to receive the wrath of his own father and maybe even be vanished from his presence to protect his best friend David, and at the end he found the way to help David flee so he would not be killed by his father, King Saul.

Application: There is another story of antiquity that has become a classic illustration of true friendship, it’s the story of Damon and Pythias:
THERE lived in those days in Syracuse two young men called Damon and Pythias. They were very good friends, and loved each other so dearly that they were hardly ever seen apart.  Now it happened that Pythias in some way roused the anger of the tyrant, who put him in prison, and condemned him to die in a few days. When Damon heard of it, he was in despair, and vainly tried to obtain his friend’s pardon and release.
The mother of Pythias was very old, and lived far away from Syracuse with her daughter. When the young man heard that he was to die, he was tormented by the thought of leaving the women alone. In an interview with his friend Damon, Pythias regretfully said that he would die easier had he only been able to bid his mother good-by and find a protector for his sister.  Damon, anxious to gratify his friend’s last wish, went into the presence of the tyrant, and proposed to take the place of Pythias in prison, and even on the cross, if need be, provided the latter were allowed to visit his relatives once more.
Dionysius had heard of the young men’s touching friendship, and hated them both merely because they were good; yet he allowed them to change places, warning them both however, that, if Pythias were not back in time, Damon would have to die in his stead.  At first Pythias refused to allow his friend to take his place in prison, but finally he consented, promising to be back in a few days to release him. So Pythias hastened home, found a husband for his sister, and saw her safely married. Then after providing for his mother and bidding her farewell, he set out to return to Syracuse.
The young man was traveling alone and on foot. He soon fell into the hands of thieves, who bound him fast to a tree; and it was only after hours of desperate struggling that he managed to wrench himself free once more, and sped along his way.  He was running as hard as he could to make up for lost time, when he came to the edge of a stream. He had crossed it easily a few days before; but a sudden spring freshet had changed it into a raging torrent, which no one else would have ventured to enter.  In spite of the danger, Pythias plunged into the water, and, nerved by the fear that his friend would die in his stead, he fought the waves so successfully that he reached the other side safe but almost exhausted.
Regardless of his pains, Pythias pressed anxiously onward, although his road now lay across a plain, where the hot rays of the sun and the burning sands greatly increased his fatigue and faintness, and almost made him die of thirst. Still he sped onward as fast as his trembling limbs could carry him; for the sun was sinking fast, and he knew that his friend would die if he were not in Syracuse by sunset.
Dionysius, in the mean while, had been amusing himself by taunting Damon, constantly telling him that he was a fool to have risked his life for a friend, however dear. To anger him, he also insisted that Pythias was only too glad to escape death, and would be very careful not to return in time.  Damon, who knew the goodness and affection of his friend, received these remarks with the scorn they deserved, and repeated again and again that he knew Pythias would never break his word, but would be back in time, unless hindered in some unforeseen way.
The last hour came. The guards led Damon to the place of crucifixion, where he again asserted his faith in his friend, adding, however, that he sincerely hoped Pythias would come too late, so that he might die in his stead.
Just as the guards were about to nail Damon to the cross, Pythias dashed up, pale, bloodstained, and disheveled, and flung his arms around his friend’s neck with a sob of relief. For the first time, Damon now turned pale, and began to shed tears of bitter regret.  In a few hurried, panting words, Pythias explained the cause of his delay, and, loosing his friend’s bonds with his own hands, bade the guards bind him instead.
Dionysius, who had come to see the execution, was so touched by this true friendship, that for once he forgot his cruelty, and let both young men go free, saying that he would not have believed such devotion possible had he not seen it with his own eyes.

I have been blessed to have such a friend.  We have shared our friendship for nearly forty years, in two countries, through sad painful events like the death of my and her father, to joyful events like my wedding to Pam and her wedding to her husband to the birth of our two and her two daughters, to the wedding of one of her daughters, which I had the joy to perform almost two years ago.  Together our families have spent good times together, we have had many phone conversations to share in our successes or to cry over our distresses.  As a typical introvert that I am, my true friends are very few, but very faithful.  Acquaintances we may have many, but true friends are few, and very special.  Treasure your friends, cultivate that friendship, nurture it through time and effort.

Prayer: Father, thank You for my friend.  Bless her, her husband, her daughters.  Keep them in your loving arms, protect them, and give them good health that we may continue to enjoy our friendship for many years to come.

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Scripture: (1 Sam 17:45-47 NKJV)  Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. {46} “This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you and take your head from you. And this day I will give the carcasses of the camp of the Philistines to the birds of the air and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. {47} “Then all this assembly shall know that the LORD does not save with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give you into our hands.”

Observation: Goliath, the Philistine giant, taunted the Israelites and their God.  David, who had come to bring some food for his brothers accepted Goliath’s challenge.  Both sides of the battle field were drawn and watched as the two contenders came face to face: on the one side Goliath, a large man with great experience in battle; on the other, young shepherd David.  Goliath, presumptuous and arrogant, threatened David, and being self-confident, he took his helmet off.  David, whose faith was child-like, relied not on the king’s armor by on God’s power to defeat this giant.  David used what he was skilled at and what was at hand – a sling and five smooth stones, but all he needed was one which found it’s target on the head of the giant who fell down and was decapitated by David.

Application: We not have to battle a Goliath, but during these times of economic uncertainties, high unemployment, etc., just surviving seems like we’re fighting an invincible giant.  I have some suggestions that could help you, if you apply them to your personal and family finances:
1. Transfer Ownership of Everything to God.
All things that we have  belong to God; we are the stewards!  Nothing really belonged to us. Our house, cars, clothing, children, and jobs were all gifts from a loving father and we were simply stewards of those gifts.  A steward knows that his responsibility is to care for the possessions of the owner. He never sees them as his own. God gives to us not so we can possess, keep, and hoard them, but so that we can be vessels and pipelines of His blessing to others. When we are trustworthy, it makes it possible for Him to bless us even more. His ownership has a single goal: to use all of His resources to be a blessing to His children.
2. Tithe and Give Offerings Joyously.
You don’t have to understand all about how tithing works; you just need to know that it does. Read 2 Corinthians 9:6-8. God “prefers” our giving and tithing to be accompanied by which characteristic?
3. Work Hard.
God intended us to learn this important value of character. According to God’s plan for the family, we are to earn our bread by the toil and sweat of our brow. Work is satisfying, molds character, and develops gratitude, appreciation, and value.
4. Make a Realistic Budget and Keep Accurate Records.
The culprit in family finance problems is not the big-ticket items. It is the steady drip, drip, drip of spending on little purchases that no one tracks. You hit the ATM machine all weekend and end up broke on Monday with no idea where the money went. The absence of an accurate record of spending keeps couples from making good financial decisions.
5. Get out from under the Bondage of Debt.
Your attitude toward money will make a huge difference in the success or failure of your family. A familiar phrase from wedding ceremonies, ‘”Til death us do part,” has tragically become, “Til debt us do part!”  If you have credit card bills which have built up to thousands of dollars, and you no longer even have the disposable items that created the debt, that is the bondage debt about which we speak. If the item for which you went into debt does not provide collateral that is worth more than the indebtedness held against it, you have a problem in the making. To get out of debt, follow these principles:
• Pay Your Bills.
• Get Help.
• Change Your Lifestyle.

May you be victorious as you battle the economic giant that threaten to consume us and our family.

Prayer: Father, everything there is belongs to You and yet You give us so much of it for our benefit.  May we never forget to return joyfully the small portion You require of us, and help us to give generously so that others may come to know You.

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Scripture: (Num 2:1-2 NKJV)  And the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: {2} “Everyone of the children of Israel shall camp by his own standard, beside the emblems of his father’s house; they shall camp some distance from the tabernacle of meeting.

Observation: In the camp of Israel, God wanted there to be order and organization.  Three tribes were to be encamped on each of the four sides of the tabernacle.  The sight of those thousands of tents and the several millions of people in and around them must have been very impressive.   I imagine there was order and solemnity much of the time, but there must have been lighter moments when children played and chased each other, families sat together to eat, or to take a nap, or to talk about the events of the day.  This was a forty-year-long family camping experience.  Of course, there were probably also times when things got a little tense around camp and people stepped on each others’ toes. . . that all’s part of being with others.

Application: I remember one camping trip with my family in particular.  My dad had a tent made for our family (you didn’t just go to a store to buy one).  Since there were six of us children and my parents, it had to be big enough to hold all eight of us.  It was made of heavy canvass, and the support was made or regular plumbing pipes.  What this means is that the tent was very heavy, and carrying all those pipes and trying to figure out where each went made it for hard work, a lot of head, and back, aches, lots of tense moments, lots of stress when what we were looking for was rest.
But once the canvas monster was finally set up, it was pure joy.  We gathered wood for a fire so we could cook our meals.  The place where we camped was an open field that belonged to one of my dad’s customer and who granted us permission to stay over the weekend, by the river, and no one anywhere near us to disturb us. The open field was a place where cows pastured, so we needed to be careful where we stepped; at the same time, the dry remnants were thrown on the fire because we had been told they would serve as mosquito repellent.  During that weekend, it was hot some of the time (which under a canvass tent was almost unbearable), it was rainy at times, and it was cool at times, but it was most enjoyable most of the time.  I remember swimming in the crystal clear water of the river, eating freshly caught fish from the same river, sitting at night by the fire and looking up at millions of stars we couldn’t normally see from our city home.
Now, some forty years later, I still remember so much of that weekend – including having to pull my brother-in-law’s car all the way home (he and my sister were not yet married, so it was most embarrassing and humiliating for him, even though my dad didn’t say anything to make him feel so).  Those special family times make our memories and make our future.  We may not enjoy camping, but certainly there are activities we can enjoy doing together.  With my wife and daughters, we enjoy traveling to new places (we have been to 45 of the 50 states in the union and several countries outside of the US.  We treasure everyone of the memories we have collected through all those years.  So, make the time and spend the time together with your family building the memories you will carry on for a lifetime.

Prayer: Father, help us be more intentional in setting aside time to be together as families in relaxing, memorable moments.

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Scripture: (Gen 21:9-11 NKJV)  And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, scoffing. {10} Therefore she said to Abraham, “Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, namely with Isaac.” {11} And the matter was very displeasing in Abraham’s sight because of his son.

Observation: In Genesis 16 we read about the problems between Sarai and her servant Hagar after the latter became pregnant by Abram and eventually gave birth to their son Ishmael.  Hagar fled, but God told her to go back.  Year later, after the birth of Isaac, the problems evidently continued and when both Ishmael and Issac were older they had problems, maybe childhood sibling rivalry, which made Sarah upset enough to insist that Ishmael and Hagar should be thrown out of the house.  While God had promise Abraham and Sarah they would have their own son, Issac, even while Sarah skirted God’s promised and pushed Abraham to have a son with Hagar, God still blessed Ishmael as a son of Abraham’s.  But the problems resulting from this decisions were felt not only during the childhood years of Ishmael and Issac, but for many years to come between their descendants for generations to come and even to this day.

Application: In the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar, and their sons Ishmael and Issac, we can see illustrated several dynamics that can be problematic to healthy family relationships and which come when we don’t follow God’s established plan for us.
1. Sibling Rivalry.  While every family where there is more than one child will experience a certain amount of sibling rivalry, this problem can be much more pronounced in blended families and in families where adultery and divorce occurs.  Stories abound after the death of a father and his two or three families fight among themselves for the possessions, money, and whatever belonged to the father and which everyone claims should now belong to them.
2. Blended Families.  While some blended families enjoy a certain degree of normality, many experience great turmoil, internally and outside.  The picture of the “Brady Bunch”, where peace, joy, love, and harmony reign most of the time, is mostly an illusion created for entertainment purposes rather than the tense reality many blended families experience on a daily basis.
3. Birth Order.  Everyone is affected in a positive or negative way by their families and by the chronological order in which they were born.  Once that order is established and then disrupted by the blending of families, it creates a chaotic situation in the families and in the lives of each child as they may be “unseated” from their birth order and must adapt to their new birth position or challenge the one who usurped it.
Whenever we violate God’s plan for our life and our marriage, we bring on ourselves painful and lasting consequences for us, our spouse, our children, our families, and beyond.

Prayer: Our Loving Father, thank you for our families.  Please help us to protect the unity and integrity of our marriage and family so that none of may ever experience downfalls and their painful consequences.  Keep us together and in love for a lifetime.

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Scripture: “Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the Lord your God will set you high above all nations of the earth. 2And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the Lord your God: 3“Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country.  4“Blessed shall be the fruit of your body, the produce of your ground and the increase of your herds, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flocks.  (Deuteronomy 28:1-4 NKJV)

Observation: Chapter 27 contains a series of curses on those who transgress God’s laws.  Chapter 28 contains the corresponding blessings on those who obey God’s commands.  On our passage today, I particularly like the first words of vs. 9 – “The Lord will establish you as a holy people to Himself.”  His promise is that when we accept Him as our God, He becomes our foundation and we will be established firmly on Him.

Application: I like the picture of God as our strong, firm, and everlasting foundation with us being built or our home being built on that firm foundation.
As I write these things, I am coming back from my nephew’s wedding.  He was brought up with an alcoholic, physically abuse father.  His mother, my sister, became an Adventist in his pre-adolescent years but later left the church.  It’s a wonder that my nephew turned out as well as he has!  In his late teens and early twenties, he experimented with different lifestyles and religious views. . . I have to confess I really don’t know what he believes – it’s a n eclectic mixture of eastern religions, Christianity, naturalistic views, personal observations, and who knows what else.
My nephew met and married a lovely young lady from a nice Buddhist family; yesterday they had a Buddhist wedding ceremony at mid-day, and later in the day they had a generic wedding (the description of the man who officiated) by an attorney friend who also happens to be a notary public and ca, therefore, officiate at wedding ceremonies.
I couldn’t help but think of all that took place yesterday, on Sabbath, as a young Buddhist girl officially married my former Adventist nephew, with whom she had been living, in a generic wedding ceremony. . . a short, generic service which reflected the beginning of their life together, at least officially, with the God of creation, the God who established marriage and the Sabbath, not invited to their wedding, or their lives, on this His holy day.
I wish them well.  I wish them a long life of happiness and joy, health and prosperity.  And yet, I can’t help but feel sadness at the beginning of a building of a new home without the firm foundation of God at the center.
Now, as I write these words, I hear again Moses telling the Israelites, “The Lord will establish you as a holy people to Himself.”  Who is your foundation?  Whose people are you?  On Whom is you marriage, your family, being built?

Prayer: Father, our Lord and our Foundation, may we be built on You so we may be firmly established forever.

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