Monday, December 6, 2010

Storyline: Mary, the Mother of Jesus #2

As we continue evaluating Mary’s healthy heart, I pray that you will be encouraged.  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 very possible!  Things were far from easy for her either!  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 that we might begin practicing?

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.  It always leads us to deeper intimacy with our heavenly Father, and deeper intimacy is what all of us long for (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 closet of her life, 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 poverty of spirit are most richly filled and blessed.  Mary’s humility sparkled as a result of her confidence in God, and in who she was as a result of this identity- based theology.  Her humility led her 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 referred to Mary overlooking her son in the manger, which soon becomes 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.  All 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!
(no blogs will be posted until after the first of the year)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Storyline: Mary, the Mother of Jesus #1

Please read Matthew 1 & 2, as well as, Luke 1 & 2, for a Scriptural understanding of this amazing woman!

As evangelicals, I think we sometimes tend to shy away from discussing Mary.  For fear of being accused of an incorrect theology, we avoid any conversation about her whatsoever.  To this, I say we do her a great disservice.  There is much we can learn from our Savior’s mother. 

The question I have asked myself over and again is this:  what was it God the Father saw in this young woman to cause him to choose her over any other young girl?  In an attempt to find an answer, I have scoured the Scriptures that talk of her, and have come up with this one thought:  Mary exhibited a healthy heart.  I don’t know too many who give us a straight forward glimpse of what this looks like, yet I believe Mary does.  I know what unhealthy looks like.  That would be mine.  My heart is often me-focused.  I react to people and life circumstances foolishly.  My pride often steps in the way.  My discontent with what I have, and my desire to gain more, crowds out gratitude and generosity.  Not true with Mary.  As I’ve reflected on her heart, I’ve listed eight traits that God reveals to us about her character from the Word.  That’s too many to list in a one-page devotional, so we’ll place her under our microscope this week and next.  Then we’ll take a break over the Christmas holiday.

A Mary-Heart:

Pursues God – I know this, because I believe Mary full understood what it meant to live a “with-God” life.  The Lord had specifically said in reference to the coming Messiah that a virgin would give birth to a son, and  he would be called “Immanuel” – which means God with us (Matt 1:23).  Mary was raised on passages like Josh 1:9, “Be strong and courageous, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go;” or Isaiah 41:10, “So do not fear for I am with you...,” and Is 43:1-2, “Fear not...when you pass through the waters, I will be with you.”  So, when the angel reminded her to “Fear not,” Mary was reminded that the God she pursued was always with her.  Like her ancestor David, before her, Mary had inherited a heart that chased after God.

(is) Pure – Several times in Luke’s account, as well as in the Isaiah account, it is made clear that Mary was a virgin. The Greek word (parthenos) not only means one who had not had sexual intercourse, but it meant one who was chaste, pure in thought and life.  Proverbs 4:23-27 admonishes, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life (meaning, it affects everything you do!).  Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips.  Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly in front of you.  Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm.  Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.”

(gives God) Permission as she develops  Perspective – While Mary, like any of us, was at first troubled at the words of the angel, and questioned how what he told about her could even be, she processed it all rather quickly – this “thing” that happened to her was what it was...and God would be with her!  In spite of what she knew people might say, and do, her response still amazes me, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”  Even Elizabeth’s response to Mary upon seeing her, spoke of the submissive heart Mary acquired when she said, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.” Still not convinced?  Mary’s response to Elizabeth was nothing short of amazing, “My soul boasts in the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.”

(is) Peaceful  While we don’t read this specifically in the Scriptures, we can know this to be true about Mary.  The fact that Mary lived a With-God life, pursuing him with her entire being, granting him permission to “do as he would” with her life, rejoicing in his will, always results in the “peace of God which passes all understanding.”

As we enter into the Christmas season, may we learn to gain a Mary-heart...a healthy heart that seeks fervently, gives freely, suffers patiently, and submits reverently.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Storyline: Bathsheba #2

The more I reflected on the life of Bathsheba, there is still one more lesson to be learned from her.  I really find it amazing that all of the 2 Samuel account (chapters 11 & 12) never gives us the storyline from Bathsheba’s perspective.  We are left to imagine, as women, what was going on in her mind, as well as in her heart.  Within a three month period of time, she went from being the wife of a soldier to the wife of the king, and, from being married to widowed to remarried; she went from being childless to pregnant (and given the news that the boy she would bear would not live); she went from living in an ordinary home to living in a palace; she went from obscurity to being the talk of the nation (if there had been paparazzi, she would have been on the cover of every checkout-line tabloid).  One commentary I read said this about Bathsheba, “1 Kings 1 reveals to us that Bathsheba was more a tiger than a housecat.”  Another theologian made the comment, “There is more than suspicion that Bathsheba spread the net into which David so promptly fell.”  Some have speculated that maybe because of her birth to one of David’s advisors, she felt “destined” for more greatness than being the wife of a rough, focused soldier, who was absent more than at home.  Who can know?  – But for sure, one day we can ask her in heaven.  J   

No matter what was in her mind, we can’t deny the painful, emotional consequences that came with Bathsheba’s infidelity.  It is never easy for those who fall prey to heal and rebuild their lives, let alone try to establish a new home.  One moment of stolen passion leads to a tangled mess of emotional baggage, as well as situational complications.  If only we’d catch our breaths before making unwise choices – and play a little game of “Back from the Future”, reflecting on what could happen if we were to give in to our lusts (see note**).

Regardless David and Bathsheba sinned against God and by Jewish law deserved to be stoned to death (Lev. 20:10; Deut 22:22-24).  The Lord takes seriously our marriage vows.

But God...  We can only imagine that as David repented, so did Bathsheba.  Psalm 32 & Psalm 52 give us a picture of the emotional grief David experienced over his sin.  Undoubtedly, Bathsheba joined him in the same camp.  As sin was confessed, and repented of, the Lord put their sin as far from them as the East is from the West.  Their sin was remembered no more.  Later David expressed this freedom in Ps. 103:3-4, 12, and in Psalm 130:3-4 wrote, “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?  But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.” 

Bathsheba’s marriage to King David reminds us we serve a God of second chances (and he gives us second chances time and time again).  Another author wrote, “2 Samuel 3:1-5 would suggest that Bathsheba was David’s seventh wife.  However, they do not mention Michal, who was childless.  So, Bathsheba counted as David’s eighth wife.  In Scripture, the number eight is often the sign of a new beginning, and with the birth of Solomon to David and Bathsheba, this hope was fulfilled.” 

There’s something about beginning again that cleans the slate, and washes away the emotional pain, releasing us from bondage.  Repentance is the eraser. Repentance is the delete button on the junk from our past that we wish we could wipe away.  Repentance is the New Year’s Eve resolution that allows us to enter life with a complete do-over.  Repentance is God’s way of giving us an extreme makeover.  However, you want to phrase it...God has provided a way for us to begin again, to provide hope, to right the wrong.  Of course, David and Bathsheba still suffered some consequences from their actions (see Galatians 6:7), but their hearts were restored. 

This is the great news of the gospel!

** I know that many believe Bathsheba may have had no choice in the decision to “go to the King,” because to disobey, or refuse,  a king could have potential dire consequences.  However, it was true at that time, that no Jewish citizen had to obey a king who himself was disobeying God’s law, for the king had covenanted with God and the people to submit to the divine law.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Storyline: Bathsheba

The lineup of ladies in the lineage of Jesus is pretty amazing isn’t it?  We have Tamar – who prostituted herself to gain what was rightfully hers; Rahab – a prostitute who sheltered Israelite spies and bartered their safety for hers; Ruth – a Canaanite convert; and now, Bathsheba...  I’ve spent a good deal of time reading the biblical narrative, as well as researching several books and commentaries.  No one seems to agree completely on how much blame to place on King David, nor how much at fault Bathsheba may have been.  All we know for a fact is that 1) David wasn’t where he was supposed to be – he should have been at war like all the other kings; 2)  He had knowledge of who Bathsheba was – after all, she was the grand-daughter of one of his most trusted advisors, the daughter of one of his 30 “mighty men”, and the wife of another one of the “30”; 3) Bathsheba wasn’t exactly where she was supposed to be, either, as well as being indiscreet in the process; and 4) According to 2 Samuel 11:4, she “came to him,” indicating a willingness, if you look closely into the Hebrew word used in the text. While David took the blame, neither were without sin and blameless. The point is:  God doesn’t exactly pick the qualified, does He?  When it comes to the work that he does on earth for his Kingdom, more often than not, he chooses the least likely.  I’m so thankful...  To me, this is the lesson of Bathsheba.

So, what does God look for when he picks his vessels for Kingdom service?  That has become the looming question as I study many of the heroines of Scripture. When we get to the life of Jesus’ mother, we’ll discuss the answer to this question in more detail.  For now, I find myself overwhelmed that God has “picked me” with a specific purpose in mind.  It’s the same purpose he has for you.  To get the full picture we must go back in time...

Historically, kings were hand-picked by the gods.  At least that’s what everyone believed.  The king the gods picked were the ones who best exemplified “tselem” (the Hebrew word for “made in the image of”).  It was felt that the gods desired a man who would present a picture of the character and nature of themselves. Selfishly, according to this belief system, the gods wanted the lower classes to see a human who could mirror their true ruler.  Ah, but only the kings could be “tselem” and image the one who put him in power. 

But God changed everything with the Genesis account.  As the commoners began to read, and fully understand, what Genesis 1:26-27 meant, their lives were transformed.  Everyone, no matter their class, was “tselem” (made in the image and likeness of God).  Do you see what this meant?
                It gave value; “who I am” became clearly defined.
                Not only “who I am” but “what I do” came into the picture.  The creation account revealed our destiny.

Why are these important?  God’s plan for revelation of himself is as follows:
God placed His image in me, so the world can see who its ruler is; and, because everything God created was “good,” that means my purpose is to mirror His goodness to the world.

What I know and how talented I am has nothing to do with my “qualifications” for service.  It matters not how impressive my resume looks.   Whose I am, and who I am as a result, these form the basis of my qualification.  God just looks at people quite differently than the rest of the world does when it comes to making his choice.

Question:  How’s God’s plan working through you today?

Prayer:  Father God, you who call the last people anyone would expect, here I am. As under-qualified as I feel to do anything for your world, help me to do the work for which I was created. Give me the courage to hear and answer your call.  Let me remember if you call, you equip.  Amen.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Storyline: Ruth

Let me encourage you to read the four chapters that make up the Old Testament book of Ruth...

It’s rather interesting to follow the story of Judah and Tamar with the story of Ruth.  These are two women of commonalities and contrasts.

Both Tamar and Ruth were foreign women who married Israelites.

Both Tamar and Ruth adopted the religion and cultures of their husbands’ family.

Both Tamar and Ruth lost their husbands early in their marriages and were left childless.

Both Tamar and Ruth became subjects to Levirate Marriage (Deuteronomy 25:5-10, Leviticus 25:25).

Both Tamar and Ruth are joined in the line of David (Ruth was David’s grandmother), which became the line of the promised Messiah.

Both Tamar and Ruth had hearts to see the right outcome on behalf of the Lord they served; however, the commonalities end there. 

Tamar had been turned away and shunned by her in-law family, meant to protect and provide for her.  Ruth was embraced by her mother-in-law and greatly loved.  As a result:

Tamar was a risk taker and bold.  Ruth was submissive and humble.

Tamar was forceful and devious.  Ruth was kind and noble.

Tamar was determined and willful.  Ruth was compassionate and persevering.

Tamar was deceptive and immoral.  Ruth was honest and godly.

While Tamar manipulated the outcome of her life, Ruth followed the ways of the Lord, according to the customs, traditions, and laws of the Lord of her life. 

Out of this story, Ruth stands as a model for single women.  Her life reminds us not to hasten God’s timing...He will provide.  Her story reminds us that being a woman of noble character is always our greatest aspiration.  Her fairy-tale romance is a reminder that as we do what is right, serve those whom God puts in our path, and seek the Lord’s glory above all, our Lord blesses in return.  Her life chronicles the truth of the following verses:

I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.  Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.  Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.  Fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing.  The Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Psalm 34: 4, 5, 8, 9, 18.

Question:  For those of you who are single, have you come to the place where you can trust the Lord for your future without trying to manipulate the outcome?  Can you wait for God to orchestrate the circumstances, remembering that his plan for your life will not be thwarted?  Can you, like Ruth, trust his sovereignty and goodness?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Storyline: The Other Tamar

It’s been awhile since I’ve been out shopping, but I had to run into Costco on Sunday to pick up a few things.  Whoa!  Somehow, I failed to realize that the Christmas season was upon us, but there it was on every aisle.  Obviously, I need to pick up the pace, and get with the program.  It is only beginning to feel like summer is over...what happened to fall?

With Christmas on the brain, I turned to write this week’s reflection on another woman to whom we might relate off the pages of Scripture.  Obviously, I thought of Mary, but remembered that in Jesus’ genealogy as documented by Matthew, there were a total of five women honored (Matthew 1:3, 5, 6, 16).  So, over the next few weeks leading into the first part of December, we’ll focus on these gals (I’ve already written about Rahab, the prostitute, so we’ll substitute her with Mary’s “Auntie” Elizabeth). Today, our attention turns to the other Tamar.  You’ll read her unusual story in Genesis 38.  This is yet another “soap opera” that will leave you wondering, but in order to understand it, we have to reflect back on the covenant of the Lord to Abraham. 

·     God promised a Messiah-to-come, right after Adam and Eve rebelled in the garden - Genesis 3.
·     God promised Abraham descendants that couldn’t be counted – like the stars in the sky, or the sand grains on the shore (Genesis 12).
·      It was out of these descendants that the line of the Messiah would come.
·      Out of Abraham’s descendants God continued to pick one line from which the Messiah would come – that was passed to Isaac (the only true heir of Abraham), then to Jacob (Israel), and out of Jacob, this line would continue through Judah...

Judah, however, was less than stellar in his reputation.  While he was a little “better” than his brothers, who plotted to kill their younger brother, Joseph (Judah convinced them to “sell” him to some traveling traders instead), his character was shady, nonetheless.

Family conflict has a way of dividing the core unit.  So, Judah left the remaining brothers and moved in with a friend, until he took a Canaanite wife.  This, in itself, was a no-no according to God’s commands. Judah’s wife bore him 3 sons.  When the oldest was of marrying age, Judah found him a wife (Tamar).  However, Judah’s son was wicked in the eyes of the Lord, and the Lord took his life.  Tamar was left widowed and childless.  So, according to Levitical Law (Deuteronomy 25:5) and the customs of that time, if the deceased had brothers of a marrying age, they were to take the sister-in-law in as their wife and produce offspring in the name of the brother who had died, so that the inheritance would be passed on.  The second brother took Tamar as his wife, but refused to give her a child.  He, too, was wicked in the eyes of the Lord and God took his life.  Now, Judah had lost two sons.  He had one remaining son, who was not yet of marrying age.  He sent Tamar back to her father’s house (an extremely disgraceful thing to do), and promised when the boy was old enough he’d honor the law.

After losing two sons, Judah looked at the one common denominator (Tamar), and backed out on his promise.  So, Tamar took matters into her own hands.  She deceived Judah, by pretending to be a prostitute.  He fell for her lure, and as a result Tamar became pregnant.  This was a gutsy, risky, and deceitful thing to do, but Tamar realized that she had no other option for receiving what was rightfully hers, and to produce an heir for the family line.  When the truth became known, all Judah could respond was, “She is in the right (or, more righteous than I), since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah (Gen 38:26).

Here’s what God is not teaching in this passage.  1)  He is not applauding deceit.  2)  He is not calling wrong, right.  3)  He is not saying that it is right to use ungodly means to justify an end.  Please do not assume that God nodded his head in approval of Tamar’s actions.

However, the Lord is teaching that sometimes it is important to take a stand for what is right.  Sometimes we must take a risk on behalf of immorality. Sometimes, it is critical that God’s covenant promises, and moral law, be taken into consideration on behalf of the future good of a nation.  I believe God did nod his head in approval of the intent of Tamar’s heart.  As a result, she became only one of five women honored in the genealogy of our Savior.

Question:  Is God calling you to take a stand for something that is not right, and perhaps take a risk that is outside of your comfort zone?  This is something to be considered during the week of elections - don't forget to vote!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Storyline: Tamar

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 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 echoed shut, the action against her became enshrouded in silence. 

Sadly enough, Tamar’s story is more real than anyone knows.  Statistics show that somewhere in America a woman is raped 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...
·         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?  It 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?  Don’t live in silence – Absalom’s advice was the worst you can receive.  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.  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).

Monday, October 18, 2010

Storyline: Jochebed

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 era this was!  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.  What if 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?  It’s difficult to imagine 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 kind of fear, especially when my newborn was, in fact, a son.  Yet that is what you lived with day after day for months.

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 understand that her God is 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 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.  I pray that I will let my faith be revealed in my courage.  I pray that I will learn to hold all things loosely, especially those things that are the closest and dearest to me. 

Monday, October 11, 2010

Storyline: Deborah, Jael or Someone Else?

Read Judges 4 & 5.

Sandwiched in the book of Judges (please read chapter 4) is a drama that would rival any Hollywood production.  I hope you never see God’s word as boring, because this story is far from it.  It’s filled with intrigue, mystery, war, deceit, murder, and “the good guys” come out on top!  In many ways it is a truly gory picture (not that this is good).  On top of all this, the protagonists in this movie are women – two of them.  Let’s look at the cast of characters and you try to discern who you are in this drama.

Israel – God’s children were back in a cycle of defeat to a Canaanite king because they were doing “evil in God’s sight”.  After 20 years of bondage, they were crying out to God for help.

Deborah – God provided a judge for the people, who also happened to be a prophetess.  Deborah was a strong leader, who uncompromisingly spoke the truth of God’s message to the people.  She didn’t waiver, or hold back.

Barak – God intended to bring the Israelites victory through this man.  However, he was a wimpy warrior.  Barak wouldn’t go to battle against the Canaanites unless Deborah came to war with him.  Deborah assured him Israel would still receive the victory, but a woman would get the credit.

Enter Jael – When the Canaanite hero, Sisera, realized that his amazing army was defeated by the smaller, inadequate Israeli army, he took off on foot.  Sisera thought he would find refuge in Jael’s tent.  Jael happened to be the wife of a man who was the descendent of Moses’ in-laws, and this family was “at peace” with the Canaanite king.  Jael was not stupid.  If Sisera was on foot, undoubtedly she knew the Canaanite’s had lost the battle.  She probably figured when all was said and done, her family better come out on the right side.  So she invited Sisera into her tent and gave him a nice warm cup of milk that had been set aside to curd – a very nurturing act, which spoke to the general of safety and hospitality.  After tucking him in under a rug and wishing him a nice rest, Jael proceeded to hammer his head with a tent peg to the floor and give the Israelites complete victory.  For her act of deception, Deborah wrote a song that blessed Jael among the women (5:24).  I took note that there’s a lot of controversy over her actions in the commentaries I read.

So, back to the question I asked:  Who do you compare with in this drama?  Deborah?  Do you speak God’s message truthfully and boldly in spite of the nature of it – or whether others will be offended by it?  Can’t say I do…I wish I did, but nope – not always.  That is a high calling.  How about, Jael?  Can’t say I associate with a deceitful murderess, either.  Then why this devotional thought about two women to whom it’s difficult to relate?  Because, there is a woman I find some correlation with – the woman, who is considered to be the bride of the Lord.  The woman who cycles in and out of defeat.  How often I find myself trapped by my own choices.  But for the grace of God…

The moral of this story is not that God nods his approval on deceit, or murder.  The moral is that God’s will is assured.  What he promises will be accomplished and he can, and will, use anything at anytime in order to bring his promises to fulfillment (think of the story of Joseph).  What I really want you to hear is this –

God is intimately involved in your life.  He has a plan and a purpose for you.  Nothing gets in the way of it – not wimps, nor warriors.  He will not let you remain in defeat when you cry out to him.  He will always provide a Deborah, and, yes, even a Jael, if he must.  For, quite often, you and I are Israel.

Call on me and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things you do not know.
Jeremiah 33:3

Monday, October 4, 2010

Storyline: 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.  Women are pretty much the same across time and cultures.  So, here are the basic reasons why I see some comparison:

1)   On the downside, I often try to play God of my own life, just as she did, and manipulate circumstances to get what I want.  Just like Sarah, I find that when I do, the repercussions are often detrimental.  God always knows best!  While it’s within his power to stop me, sometimes, he simply sits back and watches as I mess up, in order that I can learn and come out conforming more to the image of his Son.

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 in order to thrive, I’ve learned that God always knows best!  He’s never failed to bring me into a “good land” and a place of abundance.

Here’s the bottom line of what I have learned from a manipulator like Sarah –
·         God is Sovereign.  He’s never off of his throne.  He is always in control.

·         God has my best interests at heart.  Where he leads will always be for my good.

·         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 stop playing God, and start praying…  As I prayerfully seek him, he never fails to answer (Jeremiah 33:3).

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