boys and men, captive audiences, Faith, featured, G.K. Johnson, history, Israel, mikvah, op-ed, The Zealots

What’s a Whitewashed Tomb?

By Historic Novelist, GK Johnson

There’s a tree outside my office window that is currently blooming, tufts of life springing from the branches, evidence of spring approaching. Last summer a friend of ours, a landscaper, was at our house and pointed to this same tree.
“That tree’s dying,” he said matter-of-factly.

I was so bummed out! I love trees, especially living in the climate in which we do, where their shade shields us from the hot summer sun. Looking at the tree right now it seems healthy, but on a deeper level, it’s dying from the inside out. It took a warning from our friend, a professional, to know what’s coming.

It is recorded in Matthew 23, that Jesus talks about behavior that looks great from the outside but is filthy inside.

STRONG LANGUAGE

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look immaculate on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything decaying and unclean. In the same way, on the outside, you appear to people as good and helpful but on the inside, you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

Pretty strong language! The Pharisees were well-respected by the Jewish people and were considered to be examples of righteousness. Jesus himself was a Pharisee, but he was far different from them. While most Pharisees enforced and created additional laws for the people to follow, Jesus demonstrated grace toward the people and removed the crushing burden of the law from their backs. The people loved him for this, while the other Pharisees hated him for shining a light on their hypocrisy. So it’s easy to see why the verses above would anger them even more.

If you’re like me, you may wonder at the significance of whitewashed tombs.

We’ve recently experienced mandatory times of quarantine because of a deadly virus, so we understand what it would mean for one person to have to sequester himself or herself away from the normal goings-on around town and home. No fun! What a shame to miss out, right? And, what a bigger shame to know that because you were involved with friends and family after being contaminated, you may be the cause of their illness or death, right?

Arena-death-scene Sketch by James Dawson

Because it is natural that people do not want to be left out of parties and normal gatherings, the law is required to step in and make demands on individual behaviors.

According to Jewish law, any person who came in contact with a dead body, whether it be actually touching the deceased person or simply the grave with a dead body sealed inside, this brush with death and contagion made the person involved “unclean” for a time and required him or her to undergo a period of separation and cleansing for seven days. This was the law commanded by God thousands of years prior for the Hebrew’s protection from disease.

In order to mitigate this risk, the Pharisees had come up with a plan.

Prior to Jewish festivals that drew thousands of Jews to Jerusalem, the Pharisees commissioned the whitewashing of all tombs. This way no one would accidentally touch a tomb and miss out on the festival due to the cleansing period of seven days. Jesus was saying that the Pharisees looked great on the outside, but inside they were unclean and those who followed them were touching death without even knowing it.

Yeshua heals the Leper in GK Johnson’s The Zealots,
by James Dawson, artist

Jesus’ intense words challenge me to look at the condition of my heart. Jesus has the power of life over death. He arose from His own tomb and offers this same life-transforming power to our own grave actions and attitudes. No-one else has that power, not even doctors, researchers, or nurses. Their skills too, rely on the Creator-Savior for a cure.

How do my outer actions compare to my inner motives?

I am helpless without the mercy and power of Jesus to forgive me for the times I focus my attention on looking good on the outside, rather than bringing my broken and sinful heart into His presence in honesty so that He can heal me.

GK Johnson’s debut historic novel featuring the lives of Barabbas and Simon the Zealot is scheduled to appear on or about January 1, 2021. Watch for it.

The Zealots cover sketch by James Dawson

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captive audiences, Charmayne Hafen, Cyndi Kay, featured, Friendship, op-ed

Friends, Young and Old

By Cyndi Kay

“Thank you for being a friend” plays out as the hit TV show Golden Girls rolls the cast in the opening scenes of every episode. As we know, a friendship of the sticking kind, the deep-understanding-about-life-events kind, is not always an easy achievement. These four ladies give us hope that even in old age, we can have a best friend.

TOUGHEST FEAT OF CHILDHOOD

Book cover Return to Twilight
Sam teaches Lorna what a friend looks like.

Finding and making friends as a child has always been one of the toughest feats that we face in our lifetime. We try at an early age to find someone who we can connect to and spend time with as we go through a time when we are only concerned with what fun can we have today.

Little do we know that when we finish school, these friends will change. Honestly, it’s a rare treat if you make friends in grade school and continue that friendship into the awkward junior high years and throughout high school. We change so much as we go through puberty.

Becoming young adults together is to create a trail of breadcrumbs: into the house of post-graduation, careers, and new ties we go, building new tribes.

TWILIGHT is a modern-Celtic story where a bicycle challenge transfers children into the Land of Twilight. For third-grade — sixth-grade kids.
Big Problem, by Brianna Osaseri, illustrator

It is the trail in which we individually answer life’s choices and dilemmas, those choices will form our futures and often depreciate our past relationships, innocence, and values. So, it’s only natural that our friends change; yet there are instances when some of us maintain that first friendship from kindergarten all the way through high school graduation and beyond. Such as that of Monica and Rachel who end up living life together and being there for each other through thick and thin.

Do you have one friend whom you’ve held onto for years?

Although they were fictional characters, Lucy and Ethel always showed us how friendships should navigate life. Always getting each other into a compromising position, these two remained friends regardless of what they went through. I remember a time when a good friend had encouraged me to go with her to a gathering at a mutual friend’s house. As neither of us wanted to drive, we grabbed a ride with our friend and set out to have a great evening. However, that is not how the night turned out. Our mutual friend received a call and left, stating he would be back in about 20 minutes. Well, 2 hours later, we were walking home as I was trying to contact someone to come and get us. Thankfully, one of my other close friends was available and came to get us so we didn’t have to walk 12 miles. I learned then that friends sometimes do not have the best advice.

A DEEPER PURPOSE FOR FRIENDSHIP

Friendship and loyalty aren’t always about the fun; most of the time, the courage gained from our friends’ opinions or stature is what helps us face the hard times. When a person feels as though they have no one else to help them navigate hurt and pain, a friend is the one person they count on.

There can come a time when we lose the closeness of our friend. Because as humans, we change. When our lives change, so do the people we see daily. Things that were once important to us as friends are no longer the things that connect us as best buddies. So, there we are, doing life without the one person we thought would never leave our side.

On a good note, there will be a day we meet a new person, and soon find that person is our person. The only who truly gets us and what we have been through. We identify with our new friend because both of us have experienced many of the same things in life or because we have developed a relationship due to work. Much like Meredith Gray and Cristina Yang. They have portrayed the classic adult scenario of best friends, there for each other regardless of what they are dealing with individually. These two women taught us what it meant to be someone’s person.

What if the reason we truly understand the way our new friend feels is because the loss or pain we each feel individually is related? What if the very thing that caused one of us pain is also the reason the other one has pain.

This is exactly what happens in the latest book that I have read and highly recommend for summer reading. Indebted. This great read is a tale of a young girl seeking to find her mother. Wanting answers to questions no one will ask. Longing to know why she is blamed for something that she doesn’t even understand. Wren, the fierce young girl who leads the story, becomes entangled in deceit in hopes of finding the answers to questions she has held in her heart for so many years. Not only does her life take twists and turns, but the decisions she makes also leads her through pain and love. This is a classic story of life, friends, and love. This is a definite add to any young girl’s summer reading list as it will take them to a different place and time to find that friends are sometimes the only people, we have to push us to be better.

FIGHTING LIFE’S BEASTS

While reading the book Indebted, I realized that we all have our “beasts” we must defeat during our lifespan.

Each of us have a different “beast” that keeps us in turmoil. It isn’t always something we can easily confront. The thought of facing it alone is overwhelming, yet we do not want to place our people in harm’s way. There are times it is hidden within the depths of our soul and the only way we can overcome the hurt is to lay it at the feet of Jesus. We have to find our strength in the Word and pierce the heart of the beast with our “sword” in order to be free of the grasp of the “beast”. Once we have faced our beast and we are worn from battle, we realize, our person never left us to face it alone.

Friendships change and grow as we mature and develop different priorities. However, that doesn’t mean you won’t have anyone to do battle with you when you need them most. It simply means that each battle may have different friends standing with you to achieve victory.

Cyndi Kay, Freelance Writer
Cyndi Kay, Freelance Writer

Cyndi Kay is a freelance writer and a content writer for Christian Women Living magazine and Books for Bonding Hearts.
www.cyndikay.net

adaption, analysis, breath of joy, featured, groundhog day, Kathy Joy, op-ed, repetition, Replete

Repeating Life

By Wordsmith, Kathy Joy

I don’t know why I get this in my inbox, the “wacky, bizarre and unique holidays” calendar. I don’t know from whence it come, touting some mundane calendrical events, most days, comical.

For instance, in June there is a – “Repeat Day”. Repeat Day? The idea of it reminds me of the movie, Groundhog Day. Have you seen it?

I wonder if the calendrical messages are phishing, selling, or spying on my latest horse racing bets, but I enjoy these prompts for writing, and so I don’t complain. I’m somewhat of a human calendarist myself. I’ve been given the task of writing calendaric inspirations for my associates at work now sequestered at home.

A financial coach, Lauren Rilling, enjoys a synesthetic experience with calendars. Synesthesia is where your brain mixes two senses together. You’re seeing music and hearing something visual. There are lots of types of synesthesia. She says, “For me, I see time in my mind’s eye–almost like having a calendar in my head of how the days of the week, months of the year, even years and decades are arranged.” I’m sure that helps her tremendously with her client coaching goals.

For the rest of us, any day, including the June Repeat Day, is a good day to remember the importance of repeating life-giving phrases to each other, and to ourselves too.

Like washing your hands and face, brightening your mind to the unique purpose of why you have landed on this day in this place will start out a seemingly repetitive day better.

WHAT YOU TELL YOURSELF

Repeating your purpose for being where you are can make all the difference in the color, texture, and music of your day. See your hands? They are working through the everyday stitches of life as though they are stitching a warm sweater, a scarf, or a wall tapestry. See your feet repeating the same steps in similar spirals around work? As you look down at your feet, what you tell yourself can be more important than the feedback you receive from others.

If you believe you add value to your world, you will be happier – and it’s more likely that after all, you will do amazing things.

Doing good things bolsters your belief in purpose and the spiral of life will turn upward.

However, if you spend most of your time being an Eeyore, you won’t feel fulfilled. It’s as simple as that, and the repetition will become less synthesized with purpose and more and more of a puzzle of missing pieces to you and to everyone around you.

REMIND YOURSELF ALOUD

“Wash your hands” is society’s repetitive mantra these days. Who knew that would become a thing? Yes, go to the bathroom sink, wash your hands, but, also look in the mirror. I think we might take this idea of repetitive cleansing to a new level.

Today may not be one of those days in which you feel either necessary or essential. Want to wash those feelings away? In the routine, you may feel silly — depending on who is in the room – but saying these personal phrases aloud really helps to center yourself in how and why you are needed:

If You Don’t Like The Story You Are Telling Yourself, Tell Yourself a Different Story – Matthew Kent
  • in what you do,
  • how you think,
  • how you relate,
  • why you were hired
  • how your priorities are needed,
  • the things you offer to others in your way

Making the effort to say these things aloud can lather up and rinse away the doubt. It’s almost like you need to hear these reminders, but you are no longer a child. No-one wants to wash your hands for you. You can’t rely on anyone else to say these things consistently to you.

This is true whether you live alone, work alone, live with a crowd, and work in a factory.

REMEMBER THE WONDER OF THOSE WHO LOVE YOU

It can help to remind yourself–out loud–that you have people who care about you. Pick a person each day to say a mental thank you to for being “your person” when you needed one.

It also helps to think back to a time when you really leaned on friends and family or felt strongly connected to a community. Isn’t it happening again, sometimes under-the radar during our New Normal? Certain relationships are being given priority to lift each other up as “necessary”, “essential”.

Yes, in the repeat of the ordinary and mundane, it’s up to you to synthesize your life.

Be your own best repetition coach. Try repeating these statements out loud each day; tape them to your bathroom mirror, if necessary.

1. “My time is important.”

Let’s be real: managing our time off-site is challenging and comes with unique situations depending on the day. Your contribution to the agency is unique and important. Honor your own needs to match the day by planning your list and prioritizing it. Reward yourself along the way. Small rewards can boost your energy for all the challenges you face today; things like taking a walk, calling a friend, honoring your breaks and lunch, and keeping a stash of really good chocolate nearby.

2. “I’m uniquely gifted for this set of tasks.”

You are valued and you were hired because of your skillset. You have your own brand of approaching the tasks at hand. No one else has quite your blend of personality, education, training, problem-solving or perseverance. Avoid the trap of thinking you duplicate what someone else is doing. Remind yourself on a daily basis how your influence matters because it can only come from you.

3. “I’m not alone.”

You have a team around you, even now – when your team may not be gathered in one physical space. It’s easy to feel like the walls of isolation are closing in. They’re not.

Remember: Repetition and structures have purposes in your life and are for your good. Lather, Rinse, REPEAT. Observing the habits of cleaning your hands, face, and mind for each calendar day will launch you upward and onward in your own special way!

Kathy Joy, Author of the Breath of Joy calendarial gift books

Kathy Joy Hoffner writes these Lunch Jabs for her co-workers at the bequest of her superiors. She is an author at Capture Books and is considered a wordsmith for life.

journal, learning, op-ed, Questions, Replete, Sequestered at home, Summer, Tonya Jewel Blessing

Standard Questions from Strangers

By Novelist, Tonya Jewel Blessing

I recently read an internet article from “The California Globetrotter” written by an American expat, Lady Lola, living in Germany.

“No matter where I go and who I meet, there are always the standard questions everyone wants to know about America, and they ask me because I’m an American.

https://www.caliglobetrotter.com/15-questions-im-asked-as-an-american-living-abroad/

“Sometimes I feel like a monkey behind a cage, everyone looking inside wanting to look at it and ask questions about why it’s doing what it’s doing. But I remind myself, everyone is just curious about the American culture and people, and they want to hear it straight from the source.”

Some of the common questions Lady Lola receives as are follows: Did you vote for President Trump? Is there really so much gun violence in America? Is racism still a problem? Do you really drive everywhere? Why are Americans so loud? Have you actually met a famous person? Why do Americans smile all the time? And, Why do Americans put bacon on everything?

Questions often present an opportunity for growth

Recently, I feel plagued by questions where the answers are not readily available.  In some cases, I have kept concerns to myself. I am worried about being judged for my personal beliefs or even misunderstood in what I am saying or refrain from saying. Questions often present an opportunity for growth.

There is an interesting question-filled story in the Bible in the Book of Judges chapter 13. There, a woman, who is unable to have children, experiences an angelic visitation. The messenger tells her that she is going to have a son and gives instructions about how to parent this unusual boy. The woman then tells her husband, Manoah. The Bible says in verse 8 that Manoah prays to the Lord asking for answers to specific questions. God is not offended by Manoah’s inquiry and, in fact, responds with the needed information.

Have you been asking heartfelt questions lately? Maybe you have voiced some of those questions, or maybe you have felt intimidated to make inquiries. Rest assured that God wants to hear your concerns. He wants to help you and to bring clarification to your queries.

Manoah and his barren wife sacrifice a ram to the angel of the Lord (above); Manoah’s wife wears a wimple in Eustache Le Sueur‘s The Sacrifice of Manoah, 1640-1650.

Tonya Jewel Blessing and her husband, Chris, manage their ministry in South Africa, Strong Cross Ministries. They have been hunkered down with a variety of hospitable family members through the Covid-19 world-wide crises, and separated from those they long to be helping. Tonya, having grown up partially in West Virginia, the Appalachian hills and hollers, is the author of unique fables: The Whispering of the Willows, and sequel, The Melody of the Mulberries. Those who have read the first two installments are hounding Tonya for her third book in the series.

analysis, Big Creek Appalachia, Faith, featured, leadership, op-ed, rethink, scrutinize, Summertime, Tonya Jewel Blessing

LEADING THE WAY

By Tonya Jewel Blessing

I am a leader. As a woman in leadership, some days I feel great about leadership and other days. . . not so much.

Leadership is the ability to influence others into following your lead. It comes in a variety of forms and is defined in numerous ways. Making presentations, forming a company, bookmaking, posting articles, publishing blog posts, teaching and coaching, and other expressions are readily available to peruse principles for leading others.  
 
I train leaders. I am a partner in ministry. I teach, inspire, and preach in a variety of settings. I also write books. For me, one of the key ways I measure leadership is through effective communication. Am I communicating biblical principles in what I do and what I say?

In a time when there is great fear… LEADERS are more necessary than at any other time. (anonymous)

In order to communicate biblical principles, I need to experience daily intimacy with God. I want to use tactical, God-inspired, insights in my communication.
 
Another way is to gauge whether others are able to hear my words. Lately, I’ve been testing whether I communicate in ways others can hear, not merely the way I voice my vowels and consonants but also hear me in a way that they are able to live out those words in their own world. It isn’t just once that my husband has told me I have talked around issues of importance so that when I am done speaking, I may have left people wondering about the heart of what I have said.

T-Junction

I’m working on direct and healthy communication by a method of asking some questions. Have I presented my point? Have I given applicable examples? Have I given too little information, or have I rambled and overwhelmed the audience with too much?
 
It is likewise vital to me that others can emulate my leadership. I want my strides along the paths we walk as leaders to be in a clear direction not just speak about guiding lights as principles. Combining my words and actions, is my model of leadership effective? Can others put Jesus-living into practice?
 
As women in leadership, my prayer is that each of us becomes great communicators through words and deeds. I hope that those who view our lives and listen to our words are personally moved forward and are able to move those around them in a good and wise direction.

Tonya Jewel Blessing
Tonya Jewel

Tonya Jewel Blessing is a sought-after teacher and speaker. She is the author of The Whispering of the Willows and The Melody of the Mulberries. Her writing leads the way for Christian authors to write difficult scenes of gender and sexuality in fiction.