Monday, April 25, 2011

Storyline: Miriam, #2

Were I Miriam, and able to write the ending to my story, I’d make it a good one; one that would leave people smiling.  However, this is not the way Miriam’s story ends.  In Numbers 12:1-15, we’re told that Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had remarried.  While this is the excuse they used to grumble against their brother, the real reason went deeper.  “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?” they asked.  “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?”  And the Lord heard this (12:2).  Uh, oh!

Envy put them in a bad temper.  Their jealousy set them “talking against” Moses. God heard.  He calls the three of them to the Tent of Meeting (something akin to being called to the principal’s office).  Then the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud.  Of the many things the Lord says to them, this stands out, “Why...were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” God’s anger burned against Aaron and Miriam.  When the cloud lifted, well, there stood Miriam her skin looking like a stillborn baby, and covered with leprosy. 

Now, God can do what He wants. He is God.  I have to wonder why Aaron wasn’t struck, as well...perhaps it had something to do with Aaron’s priestly duties.  However, Aaron was first to plead Miriam’s case to Moses.  Moses went directly to the Lord; and God, in His mercy, confined Miriam outside the camp for seven days.  Seven disgraceful days.  Seven long days and nights of a “time out.”  Time out to remember the past.  Time out to reflect on the present.  Time out to repent from her sin.  Time out to return to the Lord. 

Doesn’t this seem a bit severe?  I thought so...  At least until I remembered that Jesus final prayer in the Garden before his crucifixion focused on love for one another and unity.  When someone is about to die, their heart is exposed.  What is most important is laid bare.  For Jesus it boiled down to love and unity.  Jesus, we know, reflected the Father’s heart.  So, the same must hold high significance to God the Father, as well.

May those who will believe in me be one... May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me (John 17:20, 23).

The tongue is a dangerous instrument.  In this particular instance, it had the potential to set a people ablaze in disunity.  As God the Father led His children to the Promised Land, He needed a people united as one - children who would represent their Father, harmoniously standing in one accord. 

So, while God forgave Aaron and Miriam, there were consequences.  These consequences were a reminder that the tongue reflects the heart, and a leprous heart has the potential to infect an entire community.  Because God so loved His children, like a good dad, he disciplined – He disciplines the sin and always extends grace to the sinner.  Don’t you know at the end of seven days, Miriam felt that grace extended as she was embraced again within the camp?

 May her story be a word of caution to all of us to guard our tongues, look out for one another’s interests, encourage and edify our community, speak truth in love, and strive to live in symphony with each other!  When we do, the world knows that our Jesus loves them! 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Storyline: Miriam

I’m sure you’ve wondered about the randomness of these devotionals.  Really there has been no rhyme or reason to the women I’ve picked, or when I’ve picked them, except for the few surrounding the Christmas season.  So, when I sat down to write my thought for this week, I had no clue of whom I might highlight. Oddly, enough Miriam came to mind – so back to the beginning of the Bible we head again. There are three stories surrounding Miriam’s life.  The most popular one, of course, is the one that dovetails the deliverance of her brother, Moses, placing him into the care of Pharaoh’s daughter.  The next time we catch a glimpse of Miriam, we get a small YouTube version of her happy dance following the deliverance of her people from Pharaoh’s army at the Red Sea (let’s watch).

Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her, with tambourines and dancing.  Miriam sang to them:  Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea (Exodus 15:20-21).

I can hardly imagine that moment (and the heightened emotions), when the feet of every last Israelite landed on the opposite shore. What was the response when the wall of water, which had been held back by an invisible hand, came crashing down upon the enemy army?  My heart pounds, even now, trying to contemplate what they all felt. I’m picturing a long period of silence along the shoreline, at last, interrupted by Moses, leading the males of his flock (not sheep, as pertaining to his occupation, but very sheep-like) in a spontaneously written hymn of praise.  When Moses’ voice ebbed away, Miriam picked up her tambourine and the women followed suit; and, they began to repeat the same praise song, adding an ecstatic dance. 

In Israelite culture, every joyful happening was celebrated with the dance.  Life was filled with too many difficult moments, that when the joyful occurred, it was reason to throw a praise party.  Miriam, a leader among the women, a prophetess in her own right, often led the way, just as she did that day. 

I’ve had to stop to answer a few questions today.  Here they are:
ü  Has God become my salvation?  Absolutely – he is my salvation, not by anything I have done, but by grace through faith.
ü  Has the Lord proved himself to be a warrior, mighty on my behalf? Protecting me?  No question – countless times.
ü  Have the deep waters covered my enemy?  Indeed, the Lord has taken my sin that threatened to consume me, and buried them in the deepest sea.
ü  Is there anyone like my God: majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders on my behalf?  None!
ü  Has His love proven unfailing? His strength been my guide?  His redemption complete?  Time and again!
ü  Is God good?  Is He on His throne as Sovereign Lord?  Yes – he cannot be untrue to His character!

I have a reason to dance.  My God has triumphed gloriously on my behalf.  Some may trust in horses and some in chariots, but I am able to trust in the Lord God, Creator of the Universe, Savior of my soul, Righteous Redeemer, Friend, Bridegroom, Husband...  What binds my feet to the floor and prevents me from celebrating Him with joy? 

We are days away from celebrating the Easter season.  The greatest day of victory in our history!  The unparalleled event that proves our deliverance from an unprecedented enemy!  Pick up your tambourine... Let’s celebrate with song...  Let’s move our feet... 

Have a blessed Easter!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Storyline: The Proverbs 31 Wife

Please read Proverbs 31:10-31

 Ever found yourself a little embittered by the proverbial woman of Proverbs 31?  I have! I frequently skip that chapter in my devotional readings.  This gal raises the bar, sets a standard that “feels” unattainable.  Those 21 verses pack a heap of a punch and often leave us feeling like losers.  Here are some of the qualities an excellent wife exhibits.  She’s:
*       ...a fighter and a fortress (Hebrew word for noble in verse 10 comes from a military term which means to fight valiantly or could be in reference to a military stronghold).
*        ...trustworthy.
*        ...a hard worker.
*        ...a provider.
*        ...frugal and money-wise.
* who could teach a  time-management course.
*        ...generous.
*        ...hospitable.
*        ...compassionate.
*        ...sensible and practical.
*        ...kind.
*        ...fearless.
*        ...a teacher.
*        ...reputable & praiseworthy (not just at home, but in the community).
* who cares more about the condition of her inner heart than outward beauty.

I’m already exhausted just picking out her positive traits from Scripture...drained by her energy, enthusiasm, and zest for life; after all, this woman smiles at the future.  Right now, I’m not smiling.  There are too many difficult things in our world.  The future looks bleak.  However, that’s not what this thought is about.

It is about a Proverbs 31 woman, I have had the privilege of getting to know in the heart of rural South Africa.  I am privileged to have rubbed shoulders with her, walking through a few weeks of her daily journey spread out over the course of two years.  I always knew when I met a “31” woman, I would resent her.  I was sure I would dislike her; certain she would intimidate and send me scurrying like a little cockroach into hiding because of my insecurity.  These were not my responses.  I’m relieved (I can feel a bit better about myself. There’s hope that I’m not a complete loser).  You see, you can’t dislike someone who is humble, who submits to the Lord, and just lives to be His woman.  A “31” woman doesn’t work at being those things listed above.  She simply is.  A “31” woman has “died with Christ,” has focused on “reigning with Him in eternity” (which is why she smiles at the future), and worries not about the “to do’s” of today.  This woman takes every morning as a new opportunity to serve, right where she lives, no matter how obscure her town, how large the problems of her society loom, or how complicated the answers seem.  She walks with Jesus step by step, making sure her family is cared for first, opening her hands to the needy and the poor.  As a result, she is accomplishing great things for Jesus.  She is making a huge dent in her society for eternity.  She is rescuing those who are perishing, one baby at a time; one homeless street boy by one homeless street boy; one full blown HIV mother as they show up on her doorstep; and one-by-one as opportunities to teach arise,  affirming better tomorrows for those who fall under her care. 

I have met a Proverbs 31 woman (I know this gal, she wouldn’t even want her name mentioned), but I am not embittered by her, nor angry at the “standards” she has raised.  I am challenged, yes, by her God-stories.  I am spurred on to “remember Jesus” (2 Tim 2:8) and His gospel, to die to self, and be raised again a “resurrection woman” (Romans 12:1-2), allowing the Lord to live out His will in me, one step at a time. 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Storyline: Hannah, Part 2

Once again, a woman from Scripture has stuck in my brain like a little bug caught in a cobweb.  I keep meditating on Hannah’s God-story.  While this story is somewhat about letting go of bitterness, which we talked about last week, it is much more about persevering in prayer.  There are some random thoughts that have caught my attention about Hannah’s praying, and I have found myself talking at length about her this week.  So, here are those random thoughts, randomly sorted on paper, in a random kind of list:

From what I read in Scripture, Hannah’s life was not an easy one.  The community around her (including her husband’s other wife) often berated her for childlessness.  One thing and one thing only would ease her pain:  a baby.

I believe Hannah’s heart cried out in prayer often for God to open her womb and bless her with a child. 

Her prayer in the temple was just a culmination of many prayers prayed over a lifetime of prayers asking God to respond...and, as a result, s he felt like she was praying to a brick wall.

Perhaps Hannah wondered if God was good.  Did she ever feel like God was picking on her? 

Yet, through it all, Hannah persevered.  Year after year, she went to Shiloh with her husband and prayed.  Year after year, she left eclipsed (by the other women), embarrassed, and empty. 

Exhausted, she returned yet another year.  This time, so broken, so empty, so completely done (or, maybe, undone is a better word), she prayed a prayer that seemed to line up with God’s Will.  She asked, once more, for a son.  This time her prayer had an addendum:  “O Lord Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life... (1 Samuel 1:11).” 

Hannah’s prayer met heaven’s will, and heaven’s will came down to the form of a baby boy.  A baby boy who would become one of the greatest prophets Israel would ever know.   God needed a boy that He could raise.  A boy who would have God’s fingerprints all over him.  A boy who would be sensitive to the voice of God.  A boy who would be willing to speak God’s Word back to the people.  Sometimes that word would be what the people wanted to hear; and sometimes it would not. 

God blessed Hannah – not in the way she anticipated.  It was not easy to give your boy back to God, and,  to take him to the temple somewhere between age 3 and 5 and leave him there.  It was not easy to see him only once a year, and then, only to bring him a coat.  Yet, out of her brokenness.  Out of her perseverance, the desire of her heart met the need of God’s heart, and her prayer was answered.  I’m sure there are many theological implications here that I’m missing.  However I believe this to be true about Hannah’s praying, as we can relate:

Keep persevering.  Out of perseverance is born unspeakable blessing. 

It will not happen quickly, like an order at McDonald’s; but it will come. will always match God’s will, not ours.

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 
Luke 18:1