Thursday, January 20, 2022

My Story Matters: Naaman’s Servant Girl

 

It only takes four verses in 2 Kings, chapter 5, to tell a delightful little short story.  The narrative doesn’t begin well, but it certainly has a fairy tale ending!  Here’s how it begins in verse 2:

Now bands from Aram had gone out and taken captive a young girl from Israel and she served Naaman’s wife.

These “bands” were marauding military raiders, probably sent out by General Naaman, himself, to put the final exclamation point on a decisive defeat of the Israelites. The raids were meant to humiliate the Israelites even further.  

It hurts my heart to imagine the plundering spree of these fearsome, wild-hearted men, drunk on high emotions of a tremendous victory.  

The only possibility that brought any measure of control to their actions, weighed on the high greed of their hearts.  The thought of money caused them to stop momentarily in their ruthlessness to place a value on their spoils. 

So, this band cautiously spared a few “things.”  

One of these was a young girl, who will forever remain nameless, while we are on earth.


Naaman, the commander of the king’s army, purchased her to serve his wife.  He handpicked her.  While this isn’t a devotional about Naaman, his life is so intricately involved in this young girl’s story, that we must mention him. 
 
Naaman was valiant, brave, and highly regarded by the king (vs.1). 

However, there’s a “big but” in the middle of his world that caused him no small measure of pain and heartache.  This “but” contrasts and off-sets in a big way his prowess as a man and as a soldier:  he had leprosy.  Naaman’s life was being eaten away before his eyes from the outside inward.  

Yet, in spite of having been ripped away from home, culture, family, and all this little servant girl knew and loved, she cared deeply.

She said to her mistress, “If only my master would go see the prophet, the man of God, who is in Samaria.  He would cure him of his leprosy (vs. 3).


There’s a lot left unsaid between verse two and verse three.  We don’t read of the extreme alarm and high anxiety that resided in the hearts of Naaman or his wife.  We aren’t told how, as his conditioned worsened, so did the feelings of hopelessness.  We don’t hear the cries of discouragement interrupting sleep in the middle of the long, anxious nights.  We can’t begin to feel the heaviness of despair as more spots were discovered.  We aren’t privy to the conversations.  We don’t sense the frustration over the inability to touch, hug, console, or bandage your spouse for fear the disease could spread.  

We don’t see words which tell us that Naaman and his wife related to their slave girl, because they, too, were enslaved.  Their master, Leprosy, was uncaring, cruel, and harsh.  So, they chose not to be.  We’re not told this; we can only assume it, because we do know this young girl found herself deeply affected by the story of this couple who governed her very existence.  As a result, she could not keep silent.  She believed deeply that she held the only key to Naaman’s freedom, and she offered it.  Would I?  Or, would bitterness keep my mouth closed.

These four verses speak volumes about this girl’s love, compassion, submission, humility, and uncomplaining spirit.  They also reveal the credibility she had earned with Naaman and his wife.  Naaman listened...and, end of story, discovered restored health and freedom.

Oh, that the sweetness of this little girl be mine...


So, what else do I learn from this young girl?  

Life doesn’t always go according to my plan.  It can make me bitter or better.  In her case...better!  Though, it may not go according to my plan; it always goes according to God’s plan (“through Naaman the Lord had given victory to Aram”).  Life’s circumstances may be scary, brutal, harsh, strenuous, frustrating, discouraging, unhappy, hopeless, or (you can add your word) _______________________ (now, add one of those “big buts” right here...);

 and, I’ve been given a mission in the middle of it all:

To speak God’s good news; to help bind up the broken hearted; proclaim freedom for the captives and release prisoners from darkness; to comfort those who mourn; to provide those who grieve a crown of beauty instead of ashes  (Isaiah 61:3).

Today, I am vividly aware that none of my mission will happen, unless I learn to live in the fullness of the Spirit, and let my Lord develop the same character as that of a young captive girl in Aram.  

Lord, hold me captive in your love, and let me live as your servant...sweetly surrendered...



Thursday, January 13, 2022

My Story Matters: Hagar


The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; and the angel of the Lord said to her:  “You are now with child and you will have a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the Lord has heard your misery.” And Hagar gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her:  “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me... So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne.
Genesis 16: 7, 11, 13, 15

Peeking across the yard from the tent of Abraham's wife, Sarah, we find Hagar, her Egyptian maid-servant. 

Ever wonder how Hagar might have felt about being a pawn in Sarah’s forced, and frantic, arrangement to have a child?  

Let’s saunter over and see if we relate to her in any way...  

In order to understand Hagar, contemplate these questions:

* Have you ever felt as if your life had been completely ripped away from you?
* Ever felt that everything near and dear had been stripped away?
* Have you ever felt that even your identity was stolen from you, and now, you are a complete non-entity?
* In fact, have you ever felt that you were nothing more than a poker-chip? A pawn in someone else’s game of life?
Have you ever been made to feel devalued?  Insignificant?
* Worse, have you ever felt invisible?
* And, on top of invisible, completely unheard?
* Ever felt trapped...forced to go where you didn’t want to go; to do things you never wanted to do?  Enslaved?
* Have you ever felt completely alone?
* Have you ever longed for compassion and come up empty...every. single. time?
* Have you ever felt completely hopeless, as if hanging onto life by a single thread (and even that thread seemed to be unraveling in front of your eyes)?


This was Hagar’s day to day existence.  

She was a slave.  

Probably part of the “loot” Abraham received from Pharaoh after he tried to deceive the ruler with lies about his wife, Sarah.  

Hagar was forced to leave home, family, country, comforts of a palace-life, and everything familiar to live a nomadic existence.  

She was also forced to obey the whims and fancies of her mistress.

It’s difficult to judge Hagar's reaction when she found out she was pregnant with Abraham's child - and, I wouldn't want to try.  

“When she knew she was pregnant she began to despise her mistress (Gen 16:4).”  

She began to look on Sarah, perhaps in the way she felt looked upon...with an inner attitude of “smallness.”  

She probably didn’t have to say a word to Sarah; her demeanor said it all.  

Body language conveys A LOT!


In doing so, she pushed Sarah’s core fear button with a vengeance, and Sarah (like all of us who have our core fear buttons pushed) reacted...harshly.  

So Hagar ran and hid...

BUT GOD!  

But God! Those two words have a powerful impact!

The Lord came to her in the desert - the driest place of her life!  


He “looked” at her as no one else had.  

Verse 11, the name of Hagar's son, Ishmael, means: 

"The Lord has been attentive in my humiliation.”  

God saw.  

Verse 13,  “You are El Roi – the God who sees me.” 

 Read this carefully.  

He didn’t just see – He looked right through her, examined her heart, paid close attention to her “woundedness.”  

The Lord didn’t just hear – he listened.  

Sarah was God’s princess.  Hagar was the slave.  

Yet, never once did God appear directly to Sarah, and twice (again in Genesis 21), God appeared to Hagar.  

Truth:  God doesn't look at status, when it  comes to the cry of the human heart...


Seeing and hearing Hagar's misery would have been enough in itself, but God went even further.  

He restored her significance and her hope...and He eliminated her humiliation! 

Hagar mothered her own line of descendants too numerous to count.  

(In spite of the repercussions of that tribe today, Hagar's descendants are a part of God's plan.)

Now, Hagar had a reason to return to Abraham and Sarah for a season.  

Her son needed a father until such a time as he could adult on his own.  

With restoration of her dignity, her humanization, a future and a hope, and having been comforted by the One True Comforter, Hagar could return with submission, until her next steps were revealed, as God ordained them to be.


This is our God. El Roi!  El Ysma! 

The God who Sees - me!  

The One who Hears – me!  

Do we run to that God when in need of compassion and hope?  He’s waiting!  And, we will never come up empty!




Thursday, January 6, 2022

My Story Matters: The Other Tamar

 While Scripture wasn't clear about what happened between David and Bathsheba, we do know exactly what happened with David's daughter, Tamar. 

Here is her story:

In the course of time, Amnon, son of David, fell in love with Tamar, the beautiful sister of Absalom... Amnon became frustrated on account of his sister... So (he) lay down and pretended to be ill.  When the King came to see him, Amnon said...”I would like my sister Tamar to come...so I might eat from her hand.  Tamar brought the bread she prepared to him, and he grabbed her.  “Don’t my brother!  Don’t force me.  Such a thing should not be done in Israel.  What about me?  Where could I get rid of my disgrace?  And what about you?  You’d be like one of the wicked fools...”  But he refused to listen...and since he was stronger, he raped her.  Then Amnon hated her more than he had loved her.  “Get up and get out!”  He called his personal servant and said, “Get this woman out of here and bolt the door after her.”  Tamar put ashes on her head, tore the ornamental robe she was wearing, and went away weeping.  Her brother Absalom said, “Be quiet now, my sister...don’t take this thing to heart.”  And Tamar lived in her brother’s house, a desolate woman.

2 Samuel 13:1-20

Lust.  Frustration.  Deceit.  Rape.  Hatred.  Rejection.  Shame.  Hiddenness.  Despair.  

This is Tamar’s story in nine words.  

I don’t think anything in Tamar’s life ever sounded as loud as the bolt being slid into place on the door that closed her off from what she felt might be her only redemption.  


In my mind, I imagine the noise reverberated in her mind again and again until the day she died.  When the bolt CLICKED shut, the action against her became enshrouded in silence.  

Sadly enough, Tamar’s story is more real than anyone knows.  

A simple search on the internet shows us that somewhere in America a woman is raped every two minutes.
EVERY! TWO! MINUTES! 

 The FBI estimates that only 38% are reported to the police.  Most women live out their lives in silence, even though, just like Tamar, over 70% of these women know their assailants. 

Silence is the power of shame.  


Shame is nothing more than the feeling of being “uncovered.”  

It is the feeling of one who suffers a repulse...we can bring it on ourselves, or it can come from pain and abuse, as in the life of Tamar.  

Chances are that there is something in your life that brings you shame.

Look at the symptoms of shame. 
·         We are handcuffed to our past.
·         We are crippled emotionally.
·         We are trapped in bondage of self-deception
           ....and become preoccupied with “who” we think we are... 
           ....of course, our identity is colored because we look at "who we are" based on those 
           "per spectacles"
·         We will always settle for less than we deserve.
·         We eventually fall into a performance trap.
·         We are stripped of joy.
·         We will never learn to receive love.
·         We are easily manipulated.
·         We often get involved in destructive tendencies

Don’t you imagine that our enemy, the devil, enjoys having us right where he wants us?  
All of the above, places us in a position for him to abuse over and over and over again.  


Our own shame becomes the very thing that will sabotage us from John 10:10 – LIFE, and LIFE MORE THAN ABUNDANT!

So, what’s the answer?  

More than anything: Don’t live in silence – Absalom’s advice to Tamar was the worst advice anyone can give to a victim of rape.  


Shame always loses it's power when it is brought into the light...


Find someone who you can talk to, no matter what has caused you to hide in isolation.  

Remember that Jesus came to take away our shame – read Psalm 25:3, 34:5; Romans 9:33, and 10:11.  

"No one who hopes in You will ever be put to shame...
(Ps 25:3, NIV)"

Let God restore you to the joy of His salvation.  

Remember God was in your past.  Your past does not control your future.  

As we lay ourselves on the altar as living sacrifices, the Lord will transform our lives, heal our wounds (he is particularly close to the brokenhearted), and bring us out of hiding.  

The Lord promises to repair our pasts, building on them so that we might be a reflection of his glory.  

Afterall. it is with the compassion we are shown, that we are able to offer compassion to others (Ps. 34:18; Romans 12:1-2; 2 Corinthians 1:3-7; Isaiah 53, and Isaiah 61).


XXXXX

PS. Back in mid-October, I addressed more on the topic of shame in the middle of Rahab's story. Please complete Tamar's story, by reading this one - link is here! My Story Matters: Rahab #2

Monday, December 27, 2021

My Story Matters (A Lesser Known Lady with GREAT FAITH)...Anna, the Prophetess

  

It's an unlikely New Year's passage, the one above...

...the story of Anna.

(Anna the Prophetess, by Rembrandt)

She's one of the handful of people who recognized JESUS at infancy. 

I am intrigued by these three verses, where God wrote Anna's biography to inspire us...

Not at first read, maybe...but; 

it's obvious, the Almighty uniquely set apart her life for this one moment in history.

I'm deeply challenged...

...AND

I find Anna's story startlingly ApPrOpRiAtE as a New Year dawns; 

As I contemplated this brief account, the Lord gave me a WORD (well, let's make this plural, a few "words") with which to enter 2022.

I'm always curious as I await a New Year how He will challenge me to live in the next season.

More so with 2021 running down to a close with the new-year-clock.

(Anna the Prophetess, by Rembrandt)

The Holy Spirit, through Dr. Luke's pen, sums up all of Anna's earthly years right here in verses 36-38.

Actually, that's a lot of ink for a New Testament woman! 

(Anna the Prophetess, by Jerry Bacik)

Here's what we know about Anna:

1) The Jewish community knew her as a prophetess. Anna inspired and encouraged others with the words the Lord placed on her heart. Her mouth was her ministry, and she wasn't afraid to speak the words of the Lord. She often spoke of hidden-things, things revealed to her, either by inspiration, or birthed in dreams and visions (Olive Tree Enhanced Strong's Dictionary: prophetis). 

Anna was a truth-teller, not necessarily a future-teller. Yet, here, Anna's prophecy shows up in the giving of thanks, as she proclaimed to those who were in the temple that day, "Here is the Redemption of Israel! Wait for Him NO MORE!" 

Anna's boldness in being God's mouthpiece is exactly how people described her (just as Luke did). They knew her to point others to the hope of their future redemption! Anna always looked forward knowing her Redeemer was nigh... 

Imagine her JOY when she knew she had no further to look!!

(Anna the Prophetess, in brown on the right, depicted at Jesus' dedication, author unknown)

2) We know the name of Anna's dad: Phanuel (this is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Peniel, meaning "the face of God.") Perhaps her father had a story to tell, like Jacob in Genesis 32, where he, too saw the face of God and lived to talk about it. I find this random fact interesting, since Anna herself comes face to face with God (God-the-Son held in the arms of his earthly mother).  This moment in time presented Anna her Phanuel-moment! 

The Lord honored Anna's faithfulness by revealing Himself to her. Years ago I was told that God honors those who honor Him. Anna's story is a testimony to that little platitude.

3) Anna arose out of the little known Northern Tribe of Asher. Asher is often called The Lost Tribe, because most of the people from Asher were assimilated into Syria when the Northern Kingdom was taken captive. Very few of them returned to Israel....but Anna did. This one little fact assures us that 

Anna was a survivor. Whatever life threw at her, Anna made the most of it. 

(Icon of Anna the Prophetess, at the Basilica, where her remains are held)

4)  Anna was widowed at a very young age (probably married as most girls were around the age of 14), by 21 her husband had passed away, no doubt leaving her childless. At this point, she had either lived another 84 years following his death (which made her about 105 according to most commentaries)...or she was 84. Fact is, she was old and had been focused on her ministry a long time.  Instead of looking for another husband to fulfill her, Anna chose a life of dedication to the Lord. Because she was a known prophetess, she probably had a room along the outside walls of the temple (rooms were reserved for temple priests, prophets, and other assigned workers). 

Hers would have been a hard existence as a woman dwelling in a man's world. But, day and night, she stayed in the temple living out her calling...purposely focused...looking forward never backward with regret or remorse.

5) One last thing that has to do with Anna's "forward-focus." Anna filled her time with worship, prayer, and fasting. 

Anna did the hard work of a life committed to her Lord... 

Yet, this I know, when the Lord, Himself, has been the sustainer of a soul (as He was for Anna - widowed, barren, undoubtedly poor, living a meager existence in the temple), these things - 

worship, prayer, and fasting - are a source of Great Peace to the GIVER. 

In Anna, I see a life of contentment and peace no matter the situation surrounding her.

So, as I sit on the cusp of 2022 (🎉🎉🎉), it's my desire to renew my commitment to the Lord with longing that my life reflects an Anna-heart...

I, too, want to:

...speak truth and encourage hope in others; to live as an overcomer (no matter what 2022 may throw at us, welcome the obstacles as opportunities for presenting Jesus); fulfill God’s purpose; stay forward-focused; re-commit to trusting the Lord fully; and always point others to the Savior...until His face I see!

XXXXX


One day, we will see Him face to face, and like Anna, will give thanks to God for His remarkable gift of grace!


Perhaps this year!


Who knows, maybe my life (and yours) is uniquely set apart for such a moment in history???


How will people describe us?


I'd like to be known as Anna was known; to be as faithful as Anna, always forward-focused, looking and waiting for my future redemption....

 

I still believe #adventisnear!


XXXXX

P.S. Disclaimer. If this seems familiar to you? Well, this blog post was last year's New Year's entry; but, I needed to re-read it as a refresher.  

These are still my Words to Live by for 2022.

Anna's story matters for all time! 

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

My Story Matters (Women in the Lineage of Jesus): Mary, the Mother of Jesus, Part 2

As promised...here's part 2 of Mary's story.

I want to remind you: Mary was not someone special.  

She was a woman of flesh and blood, just like you and me.  

To acquire a healthy heart in the midst of difficult life circumstances is not always easy, but she reminds us that it is possible!  

No one can say Mary lived an easy, comfortable life - the Roman government put constant pressure on the Jews to conform to the will of Caesar; tax collectors continuously raised taxes, leaving their countrymen financially poor and living a hand-to-mouth existence; and, religious leaders hypocritically forced the Law, while not obeying it themselves...

Along with all this, she'd been recently betrothed - an arranged marriage, with a man, who, it turns out, treated her with honor, kindness, and love. 

But....the results of a healthy heart always lead us to the very purpose of our creation: to bring glory to God as we enjoy relationship with him.  

There is no greater gift I could wish for you this Christmas season!  

So, let’s dig in...  What more can we learn about Mary?


A Mary-Heart:

(is) Pensive – I love the way God’s Word expresses this truth,And Mary pondered these things in her heart.”  There is no question that the road to a healthy heart is through reflection.  It’s the key to processing what is happening in our lives.  When we add Scripture to our ponderings, we’re able to find the way to the “treasure” that God has in store for us (this is but another translation of this Greek word, synterreo). As we learn to meditate on what is happening in our lives, in connection with the TRUTH, God releases spiritual treasure for us to mine and guard closely.  

God's word and a pensive heart will always lead us to deeper intimacy with our heavenly Father; and deeper intimacy is what all of us really long for, whether we know it or not (Proverbs 19:22)!


(is) Prayerful 
– One doesn’t burst out in prayer the way Mary did during her interchange with Elizabeth (what we term The Magnificat) on a moment’s notice.  No, Mary practiced prayer.  She was comfortable with being vulnerable and open with the Lord in the prayer-closet of her life, way before she was able to pray publicly the way she did.  Obviously, the Holy Spirit guided her words, but I believe Mary was reared on the words of her relative David, who also knew how to pray.  

“To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God.  Do not let me be put to shame (Ps 25:1-2).”  “Redeem Israel, O God, from all their troubles (Ps. 25:22).”  “To you I call, O Lord my Rock; do not turn a deaf ear to me. Hear my cry for mercy as I call to you for help, as I lift up my hands toward your Most Holy Place (Ps. 28:1-2).” 


(is) Poor in Spirit – Sprinkled throughout the Matthew and Luke passages, Mary is referred to as “humble.”  Those who recognize their spiritual poverty are most likely the ones who will be richly filled and blessed (Matthew 5:3).  Mary’s contagious humility reflected an incredible confidence in her God; and, it reflected the assurance she held in her identity in Him, as well.  All of this led Mary to great courage...not an absence of fear, but an absence of self.  It’s one of the critical pieces of the puzzle that helped her let go of her son, and submit to his sacrifice on her behalf, as well as ours...


(focuses on) People –  Years ago, I remember reading a novel based on the lives of Joseph and Mary.  The story ended with the birth of Jesus.  The end of the book left us with Mary looking lovingly at her son in the manger, and as she looked, the manger became over-shadowed by a cross...  The point was that from the beginning God showed the mother of our Savior that her son was born to die and his death meant the salvation of the world.  His birth and untimely death ushered in a new paradigm – a new covenant of grace.  Whether it was at that moment, or another, I don’t know, but I believe at some point Mary had to reconcile in her heart that her son was the answer to the world’s sin problem, and she surrendered to that plan.  Could I?  Don’t think so!  But that is the bottom line of proving Mary’s healthy heart.  Healthy hearts do not live self-focused; they sacrificially give for the benefit of others.  Healthy hearts are always others-focused!

May God remind you of these truths throughout this Christmas season – a season of giving selflessly to others as Christ gave for each of us!

May you all have a very Merry Christmas!