Monday, September 27, 2010

Storyline: The Canaanite Woman

Read:  Matthew 15:21-28

This text gives us a glimpse into Jesus’ teaching methods.  While this passage records the story of the healing of a Canaanite woman’s daughter from demon possession, it’s, actually, more about Jesus’ attempt to instruct his followers.  If I were Matthew, I’d have been embarrassed to leave it in my story.  However, Matthew’s whole purpose of writing this gospel is to re-present Jesus to a bunch of legalistic Jews.  Undoubtedly the faith of this woman tendered his heart, taught him a bit about compassion, and reminded him that, as with Rahab, God’s out-stretched hand is not just limited to a select few.  Besides this, Jesus told the woman she had “great faith.”  Nowhere else in Scripture does Jesus quantify the faith of a woman!  While we could spend a significant amount of time on what was going on behind the scenes in Christ’s style of education, for our purposes we want to look at the faith of the Canaanite woman.  What makes her faith so great?

It’s important to note the woman’s heritage and from where she hailed.  This was a “daughter of Jezebel;” her forefathers had worshipped at the altar of Baal.  Who knows, maybe her great, great, great, great grand-father had been one of those priests who’d danced around the altar, cutting themselves and trying to call down fire from heaven.  They failed, of course, and the One True God of Elijah proved himself, once again, to be All Powerful.  Even if she hadn’t been related to one of the priests, she knew the story…and she knew the outcome.  The God of the Israelites was worthy to be worshipped (see 1 Kings 18). 

Because she was a Canaanite woman, she was lowlife.  Lower than low, in fact, she was an unholy, unclean dog in the eyes of the apostles.  She annoyed them.  They were so annoyed that these wimps came to ask Jesus to send her away.  If you’re like me, you think that Jesus’ response to them was very un-Christ-like.  So much so we’re shocked by his answer.  Loudly enough for her to hear, Jesus tells his twelve to send her away; after all, he has only come for the lost sheep of Israel.  Right?  Wrong. They know better (or should).  Jesus has already told them that his mission is to seek and save all who are lost.  He’s already saved a questionable woman at a well in Samaria.  No, Jesus is giving his disciples a test.  However, before they can take the test, let alone pass it, the woman falls at his feet.  Remember she knows the God of the Israelites is worthy to be worshipped, and this man has claims to be God. 

Now, Jesus stoops even lower (I wonder if he’s wondering when the disciples are going to step up?), and literally calls her a dog.  Ah, but she’s quick, and her faith is GREAT!  Even the dogs can eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.  Here’s what she’s saying, “You’re right.  I am not worthy.  I am a sinful woman. Yet I know that even I can benefit from your leftovers.  Even your crumbs are powerful enough to deal with a cruel demon.”  Immediately, the compassionate nature of Jesus kicks in, and the lesson is forgotten.  The woman’s daughter is immediately healed.

Great faith.  There it is again.  The One True God shouldn’t even give us the time of day.  However, when I’m willing to take my chances in his presence, then there is absolutely no God like Jehovah. He immediately steps onto a cloud and rides to my rescue! Listen, I know I say this with my mouth; but the question is this: do I act on it with my life?  When my actions match my words, I, too, show a great faith.  Like the Canaanite woman, I walk away from Jesus with my prayers answered.

Faith always leads with humility. 

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time (1 Peter 5:6)!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Storyline: The Woman with an Issue of Blood

Read:  Luke 8:40-48

Question:  Instead of by name, how would you like to be known as the woman with an issue of blood?   Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record this woman’s story.  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 reckon that’s more important anyway.

After a little research through some theology books, different translations, and the Internet, my heart goes out to this gal.  Not only did she bleed for 12 years, and have to deal with all that, but an issue this severe left her with a lot of other problems, too:  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.  The Law was very specific (starts at Leviticus 15:25):  as long as she was bleeding she was unclean, 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 you defiled (that word alone is intimidating)…and the process of cleansing was fairly complicated.  Add to that the fact that she’d seen every legitimate doctor (and, probably, quack) around the country, and, as a result, she was flat broke.  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, 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 had holed up for years in the tombs.  The word on the streets, that came drifting through her window, was that Jesus had healed him.  Now this man was dressed, in his right mind, and headed home to tell his story.  She 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 small 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 seen or “felt” – if she were identified, it would leave the Master defiled.  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, she was healed and Jesus felt power go out of him.  Jesus demanded to know who touched him.  She had very little to lose, so trembling the woman 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 her story teaches me:

Brokenness leads 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 is our biggest blessing.

Faith always involves a risk.  We have to face our greatest fears and be willing to surrender to them for the sake of greater gain. 

Jesus’ power is sufficient to break the chains of whatever holds us back from experiencing an abundant life.  We just have to make the first move to reach out. 

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.

This kind of faith always brings peace.

Did she deserve any of this?  No.  Neither do we; it’s ours, though, simply because of His grace.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Storyline: Rahab

By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days. By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient. Hebrews 11:30-31.

We now turn to an unlikely woman of faith. Every time Rahab is mentioned in the Scriptures, the word prostitute is used to identify her. However, Rahab is also the only woman mentioned in the Hebrews passage that we refer to as God’s Hall of Faith (her complete story is told in Joshua 2 and 4). Rahab’s portrait hangs next to some prominent folk: Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses... Her story is always told in connection with the battle of Jericho, where the walls “came-a tumbling down.” Rahab’s life was spared because she gave safe haven to Joshua’s spies. What can we learn from her?

First, Rahab’s story reminds me that no one is beyond the long arm of God’s reach. We don’t know her story. We read nothing of what happened to bring her to the place of prostitution, but I know one thing: No one grows up hoping to become one. I, thankfully, don’t hear any of my little grand-daughters’ saying, “I sure hope one day I’ll be a pretty prostitute.” They do, however, want to be Cinderella. When we’re little we all want to be beautiful princesses and marry the handsome prince, living happily ever after. Rahab had a happy ever-after-ending, but she didn’t have a great beginning. My job reminds me that desperation typically brings a woman to the place Rahab found herself when the spies stayed in her home.

Now, don’t think that the spies were looking for something other than information about the city. Rahab lived “on the city wall.” The wall housed the hub of activity in every ancient city. We can speculate how Rahab got such a prominent home, but all we really know is that her house was open for the multiple businesses that kept her surviving: a bed and breakfast, a flax business, and her other business. Rahab’s home was simply a convenient location for gathering information.

Every good story has a problem. Rahab had a big one. Looking out over the wall across the river, she could see the Israelites on the move. They were almost on her doorstep. The stories about them had tumbled down over the years from one generation to the next. Rahab believed them. She’d heard about their God – about what he had done for them at the Red Sea. She knew how he’d provided and cared for them over the 40 years of caravanning through the wilderness. She was no dumb woman. She understood they were coming back to take their land – the same land that Abraham had been promised. If that unseen God could obliterate the army of the great Pharaoh, what would he do in her little community? Rahab believed in a BIG GOD.

That belief gave her courage and conviction, and the hope that her life could be saved. Here is the baton of faith I believe she desires to pass on to us:

If God is small, I will always fear people. That will lead to approval addiction, and people pleasing. But, when God is big – nothing matters but pleasing him. My identity will be connected to my God (even if at one time I was a prostitute).

If God is small, I will always be the center of my universe. But, when God is big, others become more important and my life becomes one of service.

If God is small, I will always try to seek my agenda for life, to manipulate things to make them what I want them to be like. But, when God is big, I will walk in his ways – for his ways are always right (Hos 14:7), and I will find fulfillment, peace and joy.

It’s your turn. You make application: If God is small, I will _________________________ (you fill in the blank); but, when God is big, I will _____________________.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Storyline: Eve, Part 2

Now, the serpent was craftier than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.” “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman, “for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

My intention is not to beat Eve up, or anyone else for that matter. However, there are still some concerns that I think we need to reflect on, and questions we need to ask ourselves as we create our future life-stories. So, with very little introduction, here we go.

Our adversary, the devil, is certainly crafty 1 Peter 5:8). He watches us closely; reads our body language well. We really don’t have to say what’s on our minds (remember he can’t read minds!), he just seems to know. I believe he saw that longing for the fruit in Eve’s eye and so that’s what he targeted. He shoots those fiery darts of temptation right at our greatest area of weakness.

Then – without totally being anti-God, he twists the truth of God’s words, and gift wraps his lies in pretty packages. It’s hard not to take the bite! It all seems so reasonable and so delectable! After all, it looked, smelled, and certainly would taste great...and, as an added benefit, she could be like God. Undoubtedly, Eve was asking herself, “Why not?” What she didn’t realize was that her belief system was on trial. What did she really believe about her God? About his word? About her place in his world?

So, Eve bit into Satan’s lies – hook, line and sinker; and, she was sunk. While she knew the good of the garden, up to that point Eve knew not the evil. Immediately, her open mouth was filled with wormy words she’d never experienced: guilt, shame, separation, fear, confusion, pain... Her eyes were opened, too, as were Adam’s. They knew nakedness. Not just a nakedness of body, but a nakedness that revealed the ugliness of their souls. Fear bred panic when they heard God in the garden...and so they hid.

Lest we think God didn’t really know what was going on, remember, he is omniscient. He knew. The questions he asked were pointed and designed to illicit a truthful confession. That confession was not meant to be one of blame, or excuse-making, or justification. It was meant so that they could take ownership, cleanse their hearts, and come out of hiding. First, Adam and Eve felt the need to try everything but confession; but, ultimately, the truth came forth, along with serious consequences. No, they did not die, thanks to the Lord God, who took one of his creation, spilled its blood, and covered the nakedness of their souls. However, they were forced to leave paradise. Never again would they walk with God in the cool of the day; but when they did walk away, they did so as the “apple of God’s eye.” They added new words to their vocabulary: redeemed, restored, forgiven, and free.

What can we learn from Eve (and Adam)?

1. Satan will always attack our weakness.

2. He will always use lies, twisted truth, in order to so.

3. Believing those lies will ultimately change our behavior...and not for the better.

4. Our response (or, behavior) will always lead to hidden-ness, and we will find ourselves trapped.

5. The only way out is completely opposite of the way we got in: truthful confession. First we take ownership for our “stuff” (sin). Next, we surrender ourselves back on the altar as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God (Romans 12:1). Finally, we study His words, carefully, to correct our thinking and renew our minds (Romans 12:2). Then, we will know the will of God – the good, pleasing, and perfect will.

Hard stuff? Yep! The good news is – this is the most life transforming truth you and I will ever receive!