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!