Wednesday, November 24, 2021

My Story Matters: Hannah (a Thanksgiving Challenge)


This past week, I’ve been reflecting on the story of Hannah as passed down to us in the book of 1 Samuel (chapter 1-2). 

If ever there is a character that emphasizes Thanksgiving, Hannah does! 


“Easy” does not describe Hannah’s life -


She longed for a child, yet remained barren.


Only a woman who has known such great emptiness feels what she felt.


I’ve journeyed with friends through this valley of darkness, yet very little lifts the soul when the want is great and the womb is empty. 


On top of this great grief, her “rival (1 Samuel 1:16),” Peninnah, ridicules her, torments her, heaps grievous provocation upon her. 


The written text tells us it was simply to “irritate Hannah,” and the word used in Hebrew informs us that Peninnah’s words thundered with enough trouble to make Hannah fret greatly.  


In fact, one of the definitions describes Hannah as “violently agitated.”


So, it is no wonder, when Hannah, Peninnah, and Elkanah (their husband) traveled to Jerusalem to go up to the house of the Lord, Hannah fell before the Lord in His holy temple, praying a prayer of deep distress, weeping bitterly.



As she prayed, she poured out her heart. 


As she poured out her heart, she begged the Lord to look upon her with favor, blessing her with a son. 


With the prayer, came a vow (a sacrificial offering), rising up from deep within her… 


"If you will give to your servant a son, then I will give him back to the Lord all the days of his life… (1 Samuel 1:11).”


Of course, the priest (Eli) observing from his seat at the doorpost of the temple, mistook her anguished praying as drunkenness (so wish we could stop and talk about this), and confronted Hannah. 


Once she explained her situation, Eli responded… 


“Go in peace, the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made (1 Samuel 1:17).” 


Hannah believed Eli’s words as if coming directly from the Lord Himself.


SHE BELIEVED....As if His will for her to have a son were already DONE in Heaven! 



She washed her face, ate a meal, and her face was no longer sad (Hannah believed....and she responded similarly). 


Because God spoke, her depressed soul lifted and she was filled with THANKSGIVING.


In due time, a son was born to Elkanah and Hannah; and Hannah fulfilled her vow.


Samuel, the child, we know grew up in the temple, and the Jewish world came to know a faithful prophet of the Lord. 


The answer to Hannah’s prayer is nothing short of a miracle. 


That God chooses to listen to His servants who cry out to Him is still nothing short of a miracle. 



The answer may not always be “yes.” 


But, that He gives a nod to us as we pray is pretty incredible!


Seriously, from Hannah we learn that every answer to prayer is a blessing...simply because the God of the Universe bends down to hear our cries (see Psalm 40:2)! 


Hannah’s prayer of thanksgiving, which came upon fulfillment of her promise, expresses exactly how our hearts should respond to the blessings God heaps on us, the prayers He answers, and the care with which He lavishes His love and grace upon us. 


That God answered her prayer and allowed her to fulfill her sacrifice to Him, caused her no small amount of rejoicing....and THANKSGIVING!


Read Hannah's words (quoted from The Message, 1 Samuel 2:1-4, 9b) and may they become for us an example of our own expression as we dwell upon the Goodness of God, and His outpouring of the MIRACULOUS, in our lives this Thanksgiving:


"I’m bursting with God-news!



I’m walking on air...

I’m dancing my salvation.

Nothing and no one is holy like God;

No rock mountain is like our God.

Don’t dare talk pretentiously—

Not a word of boasting, EVER!

For God knows what’s going on.

He takes the measure of everything that happens…

No one makes it in this life by sheer muscle!"



Thursday, November 18, 2021

My Story Matters: Jochebed (an open letter to the mother of Moses)

 By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.

Hebrews 11:23


Dear Jochebed,

I admire your courage.  I admire it – because your faith led to great bravery in the face of difficulty.  

What a troublesome season of life!  

I simply can’t imagine hearing on the news one night that a new edict had been signed by the government and would go into practice immediately. 

 I can not fathom what I would do, if, on a whim, my President decided that the best way to slowly, but surely, annihilate all Christians was to kill off every baby boy born to believers?  

What if he enlisted the help of all non-believers, and not just his government officials?  

I'm trying to picture, my non-church-going neighbors walking into my home at will, picking up my sleeping baby boy from his cradle, and pitching him in the closest river.  

I simply can’t envision living with that possibility hanging over my head, especially when my newborn was, in fact, a son.  

That is what you lived with day after day for months; and, yet, the Bible says you were not afraid...

What did you see in Moses that led you to believe he was different?  


Every mother believes her child is perfect.  Yet, you and your husband both recognized something worthy of admiration in him; something that was striking.  

You saw something that led you to believe God had a bigger purpose in store for this man-child, and so you hid him – a word meaning that you took extra careful precaution to safely protect him, as one would an exquisite treasure.  

When he became too active, what gave you the courage to let him go?  

How were you able to hold that little one loosely, and entrust him back to his Heavenly Father?  

Your story speaks to me of a woman who seemed to grasp that the God she served was more than just a creator, but a deliverer.  


Your story makes me believe that you truly knew and trusted the stories that had been passed down from generation to generation among your people.  

There are too many similarities to think otherwise.  

You believed, didn’t you, that God had a purpose for his people, and that He would not let them be destroyed?  

You believed that He would raise up a redeemer to take His people out of Egypt and return them to the land which He promised your forefathers. 

Did you believe that if God had saved the nation once before by putting a righteous man in an ark, that maybe he could use yet another ark, to protect the child you thought He’d selected for such a time as this?  

When you looked at your newborn son, did God whisper, “Treasure this boy, for He is my appointed servant,” into your heart?  


One day I hope to hear your entire story!

Regardless of what you knew and trusted, there was something about little Moses that gave you faith, that led to courage – not necessarily an absence of fear, but an ability to hold him loosely, and let him go.  

So you took him to the very place no one would look - the river.  

You didn’t defy Pharaoh; technically, you put him in the place of death.  


Guarded by his sister, you waited to see what God would do; and God came through.  

In some ways the very thing you died to was returned.  

I pray I will learn from you.  

I pray I will trust that God is always true to his character even (especially) in the midst of impossible circumstances.  

I pray that I will let my faith in you be revealed through my courage.  

I pray that I will learn to hold all things loosely, especially those things that are the closest and dearest to me.  

And, I pray when needed I will let go, allowing You to do what You do best: 

provide miraculous deliverance

Thursday, November 11, 2021

My Story Matters: Sarah

The Lord said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.  I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you…”

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children.  But she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children.  Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her…”
Genesis 12:1-2; 16:1-2



If there’s a woman in the Scriptures I suppose I relate to the most, it would be Sarah.  

I know that she did some pretty thoughtless things that are still affecting our world today; however, the bottom line is that I often react the same way she did: quickly and without thinking through the consequences to my REACTIONS. 

AND, my life experience shows that women are pretty much the same across time and cultures.  

So, here are a couple more ways in which I see comparison:

1)   On the downside, I often try to play God of my own life, just as Sarah did, and manipulate circumstances to get what I want.  Just like Sarah, I find that when I do, the repercussions are often detrimental.   AND....Sometimes (while it’s within His power to stop me), He simply sits back and watches as I mess up, in order that I can learn and come out of my mess with more of a desire to conform to the image of His Dear Son. From Sarah, I've learned: 

God always knows best!  


2)   On the upside, just like Sarah, my life has been a bit transient.  It seems like God has interrupted our lives at some of the most comfortable moments, and moved us on to something new – a different house, a different city, a different state, a different country, and always, a different ministry…  Often, as with Abraham and Sarah, God doesn’t even give us the complete details.  However scary and painful this might be (especially for a woman who automatically develops a root system wherever she goes in order to thrive), over and over He has proven:

God always knows best!  

     He’s never failed to bring me into a “good land” and a place of abundance.


So, in this week's short thought, here are the bottom line FACTS of what I have learned from a world-
class-manipulator like Sarah –

God is Sovereign.  


He’s never off of his throne.  

He is always in control. 

Even when life makes absolutely NO SENSE, He has a plan and He is working it. 

Our God is TRUSTWORTHY!

God has my best interests at heart.  

Where He leads will always be for my good, and His glory. 

In fact, what looks REALLY BAD to us has far more reaching value for good than we could ever imagine. We simply can't see what is happening from His perspective. 

 It is always best for me to keep my hands to myself, and stop trying to “fix” my life according to my agenda. 

I need to get my eyes off the circumstances about me and put my eyes on the One who is authoring the story of my life (as Hebrews says, "He is the author AND the perfecter of my faith...Hebrews 12:3).  


In fact, it is best I stop playing God, and start praying to Him…  As I prayerfully seek Him, He never fails to answer and direct (Jeremiah 33:3). 

Truth is: I DO NOT MAKE A VERY GOOD GOD....


And....neither do you (sorry)!



Memorize it!

Oh Lord, we do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you! 
(2 Chron. 20.12)



Thursday, November 4, 2021

My Story Matters: The Canaanite Woman

Several months ago I wrote a blog: "59+ Seconds That I Can Never Retrieve..."  

It centered on a Tik Tok video presented by a progressive pastor who walked listeners through the story of Jesus' interaction with the Canaanite Woman. 

He had several points, but the main one he hoped to get across to his listeners centered on the fact that Jesus' response to her sprang from a racist heart needing confrontation.

When exposed, Jesus repented and made a course correction that lovingly embraced this woman and responded to her heart's desire for her daughter's healing. 

I briefly mentioned it, because my intent that Thursday argued for the importance of strategic "Lego-building" anytime we break apart and build on God's Truth from His Word. 

Over the next couple of months, as I dive into the lives of women in Scripture whose stories matter, I recognize that now is the time to unpack the story of the Canaanite woman.

What first drew me is the statement made by Jesus to her: 

"O, woman! Great is your faith!"

I'd like to borrow that line from her story to put in mine.

So, what made her faith so worth quantifying?

Her story: Matthew 15:21-28 (NIV). 

While↑ records the faith of this gal, and her daughter's ultimate healing; I rather get the idea that there might be actual teaching taking place for Jesus' students.

I see Him testing them (albeit not at her expense)...and, if I were Matthew, I'd be embarrassed to have this recorded in the book to which I attached my name. 

First, we must look at what has already transpired in Jesus' ministry:

When the disciples were quite willing to settle down in Capernaum after Jesus healed Peter's mother-in-law, and just let ministry take place straight out of her home, Jesus explained to them, "No, I must go to other towns and preach there, also. This is why I have come, to seek and save all who are lost." 

Jesus has been to Samaria (!!!), and brought salvation to a despised, and SIN-FILLED, SPIRITUALLY DRY Samaritan (!!!) woman...

He has touched untouchable lepers and made them clean again...

He's included traitorous, hated tax-collectors and, formerly, demon-possessed women in His traveling entourage...

Indeed, Jesus has reached out to the despised, the hated, the betrayed, the sick, the demon possessed, the untouchable and the unlovable throughout His brief ministry... 

Yes, He was sent to help the lost sheep of Israel, but He has already set the tone for extending salvation to Jews and Gentiles alike. 

The disciples have seen this to be true!

Secondly, it's important to recognize the history of Canaanites. 

This woman was considered a "daughter of Jezebel." Her family worshipped at the altar of Baal. Who knows, maybe one of her great-great-great grandfathers was one of the priests who'd danced around the altar, calling out for their god to consume the sacrifice, cutting themselves, while calling fire down from heaven (and, Elijah sat by making bathroom jokes)? 

Because of her religious background, the disciples consider her lowlife. 

Actually........lower than low. 

On the ladder of importance, dogs were the bottom rung, because they were unholy and unclean in Jewish eyes. 

So, Jesus stoops pretty far down when he calls her a "dog." 

Jesus responded, “I was sent only to help the lost sheep of Israel. It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs (vs. 26).”

He looked at her as He spoke; but, definitely loud enough His disciples heard. 

I am shocked (!) and feel awkward by Jesus' response...weren't they? 

No; their annoyance level ranked high - and, so, they asked Jesus to send her away (do you hear the whine in their voices?):

“Tell her to go away,” they said. “She is bothering us with all her begging (vs 23b, NLT).”

Jesus had to be disappointed. His students receive an "F" when it comes to following their instructor's lessons on "loving their neighbor".

They should know better....

...BUT, they don't; and yet, the woman does...

Somehow (maybe it's the stories SHE HAS HEARD), her faith is great and her response to Jesus is quick (also, right on the money!!!):  

Instead of being greatly offended, she humbles herself. 

She kneels before Jesus (ESV), and:

...she came and worshiped him, pleading again, “Lord, help me! ...even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their masters’ table (vs 25, 27).”

That's when Jesus lifts her to her feet, and informs us, His followers, about her great faith, and gives immediate healing to her demon-possessed daughter. 

Here's the bottom line of this woman's story: 

She: "Jesus! You're right. I'm just a dog in the sight of the King of Kings. 

I'm entitled to nothing. 

I am a sinful woman, from the wrong side of the tracks, having worshipped the wrong god, and been blind to the ways of the Almighty.

But, my eyes are opening to Your majesty...and I know, You can if You wanted, for You have done so for others. 

Even I can benefit from Your leftovers. 

Even the crumbs from Your hand are powerful enough to deal with cruel demons."

The humility of this woman should amaze us all. 

The One True God shouldn't give me the time of day. 

Am I willing to bow the knee and take my chances in His presence...for there is no one like the God of Jehovah?

Based on her story, her humility seems to kick in Jesus' sweet compassion...and, immediately He rides on a cloud to rescue (lesson to disciples forgotten at the moment)! 

There's a one line take-away from the story of the Canaanite Woman. 

It is not that Jesus was racist.

It is not that He repented of His sin when confronted with authority.

Here is the lesson the disciples needed to learn and myself, as well:

FAITH ALWAYS LEADS WITH HUMILITY. 





Thursday, October 28, 2021

My Story Matters: The Woman with the Issue of Blood

(picture taken in Magdala, Israel fall of 2018)

Jesus said, “Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me.” And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” Luke 8:46-48

Question: How would YOU feel if no one called you by name, but only by the health-condition with which you struggled?

Such is the case in the New Testament with the woman we refer to as "the woman with an issue of blood." 

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record this poor woman’s story.  

It seems not one of them took the time to ask her if she had a name; however, they did take the time to talk about her faith.  

I do believe I'd be ok with that....

In fact, if no one remembers my name, but they refer to me by my faith in Jesus once I'm gone...all the better! "That woman who believed..." What an honor!!!!

BUT, back to the story of this dear woman....

(picture taken in Magdala, Israel)

After a little research from various sources, my heart goes out to this gal.  

Not only did she have to deal with her hemorrhaging for 12 years, but an issue this severe left her with a lot of other physical complications, which I discovered: weakness, fatigue, headaches, irritability, brittle hair and nails, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, mouth sores, iron deficiency, and restless leg syndrome are all symptomatic.  

That’s just for starters.  

Then, there was The Law.  

(picture from the Bible Museum, Washington DC)

The Law was very specific (start reading at Leviticus 15:25):  as long as this woman was bleeding, she was unclean, and, everything she sat on or touched was unclean.  

So for twelve years, no one wanted to touch her or be near her, because to do so left her friends and family defiled (that word alone is intimidating)…and the process for cleansing was more than complicated.  

Add to this the fact that she’d seen every legitimate doctor (and, probably, quack) around the country, and  she was flat broke.  

Now, take all this into consideration, and we see a woman barely holding onto a rope of hope.  

The emotional torment left her embarrassed, distressed, depressed, discouraged, and desperate.  Her soul was wracked with a futile combination of fear and frustration.  


Put yourself in her shoes, and, back to the original question: how would YOU feel?

There was no question, this gal’s only remaining hope rested in the One she heard rumors about.  

One such rumor came from across the lake where a local crazy man lived secluded in tombs for years.  The word on the streets, that came drifting through her window, was that Jesus had healed him completely; and, now this man was dressed, in his right mind, and headed home to tell his story.  

More than anything, our gal "with the issue of blood" wanted to add her story to his.

In spite of her lack of energy, she made her way through the pressing crowds.  

This was no easy task.  

It took every ounce of effort she could muster.  

She couldn’t get quite near enough, and she didn’t want to risk being recognized, because as we've already read, if this happened, it would leave the Healer defiled, and any who might have accidentally bumped into her.  

So, she bent low, beneath the outstretched arms above, all grabbing for a piece of Jesus, and simply touched the hem of his garment.  

You know the rest of the story.  

Immediately, the bleeding stopped, and she was well. 

Jesus felt power go out of him.  

He demanded to know who touched him.  


At this point, our girl had very little to lose; so, trembling, she stepped forward and blurted out her whole story.  

I love the words of Jesus from The Message, 

“Daughter, you took a great risk trusting me.  Now you’re healed and whole…  Go in peace.” 


Here’s what I take away from this dear woman's story (I'm so thankful it's recorded in Scripture for us all, because while our problem may not be a bleeding problem, we've all had a "brokenness" problem):

Our brokenness, when it leads us to Jesus, also unwraps for us the key to great faith.  This woman’s desperation drove her to take a chance she wouldn’t have taken otherwise.  As long as she had something to “try next,” she could continue to look elsewhere for an answer. 
Being desperate just might be our biggest blessing.

Faith will always involve a risk.   
We have to face our greatest fears and be willing to surrender them for the sake of greater gain.  (BUT, take heart....Jesus ALWAYS HAS TIME FOR US!)

Jesus’ power is sufficient to break the chains of whatever holds us back from experiencing an abundant life.   
We simply have to make the first move to reach out...and, then, His grace takes over.  

Faith not only saves, but it brings healing to our hearts and draws us into God's family.   
For someone no one wanted to be near, Jesus' use of the word “daughter” mended years of agony brought about by isolation.

AND, finally....faith we act on will always bring peace. Peace of heart, peace of mind, peace in life... It's a promise we can take to the bank! For someone who hadn't experienced peace in 12 years, or more, can you imagine what that felt like.... 
 

Did this woman deserve her healing?  No; and, neither do we! 

What the "woman with the issue of blood" received is ours, too...simply because of our Savior's grace.

Reach out for His hem...