Wednesday, March 30, 2022

My Story Matters: Life Lessons from Deborah, Jael, or ??? Who Am I?

And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals. And they abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the LORD to anger.
Judges 2:11-12

Then the people of Israel cried out to the LORD for help...
Judges 4:3a

Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them...
Judges 2:16

...the LORD routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army before Barak by the edge of the sword. And Sisera got down from his chariot and fled away on foot. And Barak pursued the chariots and the army to Harosheth-hagoyim, and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not a man was left.

But Sisera fled away on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite. And Jael came out to meet Sisera and said to him, “Turn aside, my lord; turn aside to me; do not be afraid.” So he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug. And he said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty.” So she opened a skin of milk and gave him a drink and covered him. And he said to her, “Stand at the opening of the tent, and if any man comes and asks you, ‘Is anyone here?’ say, ‘No.’” But Jael the wife of Heber took a tent peg, and took a hammer in her hand. Then she went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple until it went down into the ground while he was lying fast asleep from weariness. So he died. And behold, as Barak was pursuing Sisera, Jael went out to meet him and said to him, “Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking.” 

So he went in to her tent, and there lay Sisera dead, with the tent peg in his temple.
Judges 4:15-22

Sandwiched in the book of Judges 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 gory story (not that this is good); and, on top of all this, the protagonists in this movie are women – two of them.

So, don't ever think God over-looks the strengths of women...  

Here's the story from above in a nutshell (for the entire story read Judges 4 and 5).

Let’s look at the cast of characters and you try to discern who you are in this drama. Ask yourself: Who am I in this story; and, what can I learn from each of these folks...

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 FINALLY 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 AT ALL.

Barak – God intended to bring the Israelites victory through this man.  However, Barak 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.

Most blessed of women be Jael,
the wife of Heber the Kenite,
of tent-dwelling women most blessed.

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? Deborah's message is "speak confident in God's it...obey matter the repercussions...for God can not lie, nor can He change...
Can’t say this is me…I find myself shying away if I think others might disagree. Deborah's calling is a high calling...but, it can be so hard to live it out...   

How about, Jael?  Can’t say I associate with a deceitful murderess, either.  Her storyline tells us to do whatever is necessary to protect ourselves at all costs.

Then why this devotional thought about two women to whom it’s difficult to relate?  

Because, there is another woman in the story, where I find some correlation – 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 end-story, the main life lesson, 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, for example...) 

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 God's purposes – 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.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

My Story Matters: The Samaritan Woman, Part 3 (On Leaving Her Water Jar...)

The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” 

So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the town and were coming to him.

Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

John 4:25-30, 39-42

These verses are my favorite part of this story... (here is where I relate to the story of The Samaritan Woman)...

After all the back and forth conversation, and what seems to be a lot of going in circles, Jesus declares His identity to our girl at the well.

In the Greek, here is how His statement reads: 

"I am - who speaks to you."

It's an interesting twist.

Everywhere else in John-the-Evangelist's gospel, the "I am" is followed by a description of self-identification...

    I am....the bread of life.

    I am...the good shepherd.

    I am...the light of the world.

    I am...the door.

    I am...the resurrection and the life.

But here, Jesus uses no predicate of self-identification...and, this dear woman understands immediately, when He says "I AM," that He is revealing His divine identity.

There is no question in her mind that Jesus is using the sacred name of Yahweh, which was uttered to Moses on Mount Sinai. 

...And she responds accordingly...with great excitement.

With her water jar left sitting on the ground by the well, unencumbered, she runs to town.

I am very aware that many commentators have made much over her leaving her jar...

    # representation, perhaps, of her old identity gone and her new identity come (2 Corinthians 5:17)...

    # representation of the subtle change from law to grace...

    # representation of her shame and entrapment exchanged to forgiveness and freedom... spite of my want-to to spin this action allegorically, I resist. 

I just don't know...and, the script isn't clear. 

But, this I can say, and I quote John Morris, 

"She abandoned the bringing of water for the bringing of men."

The Samaritan Woman knew she'd met the Messiah of the World.

Her encounter was immediately life-changing. 

Meeting Jesus is always TRANSFORMATIONAL! 

Her enthusiasm knew no bounds.

This is always true when we have a DIVINE ENCOUNTER WITH JESUS!

Our precious woman-at-the-well wanted everyone to know and experience the Savior, and so she offered the invitation, 

"Come, see..."

But, lest the town's folk think her crazy she added this: "He told me everything I've ever done!"

And, again, lest she come across as ridiculous, she throws out a possibility that will pique their curiosity, "Could He be the Christ?"

She had no idea who would follow...but go with her they did...

Her invitation was simple:

"Here's what happened to me. You can experience Him, as well..."

She didn't beg. She didn't insist. She didn't plead. 

She simply extended the invitation.

And, many believed in the Lord Jesus Christ and were saved that day...

This is where my story runs parallel to the Woman at the Well.

I had an unbelievable encounter with Jesus Christ, when I was 17.

My life was drastically transformed in one heartbeat.

In my enthusiasm, I wanted everyone else to experience the Savior of the World.

My attempts at invitation seemed fanatical and a bit crazy to many.

But, new life in Christ can not be hushed.

It isn't my job to look back and see who is heeding the call to "Come, see..."

It's just my job to invite. 

This is the most important part of the story of the Samaritan Woman...

    When Jesus changes hearts, He also opens mouths, to declare His name and His gospel grace! 

Our stories matter because God is most glorified in them!!!

Warren Wiersbe says this in his commentary on the Gospel of John: 

"When you consider how little spiritual truth this woman knew, her zeal and witness put us to shame. But God used her simple testimony, and many of the people came out to the well to meet Jesus. The rabbis said, “It is better that the words of the law be burned than be delivered to a woman!” But Jesus did not agree with that narrow prejudice."

So..................there's more grace to be found at the Well...

Living Water never runs out - it's still available to all who will "come, see!"

Thursday, March 17, 2022

My Story Matters: The Samaritan Woman, Part 2

(Jacob's Well in Sychar, Samaria today)

Last week, I skimmed the surface of the story of the woman Jesus met at the well in Sychar, Samaria, oh-so-many-years-ago... 

These were the immediate lesson she'd want us to hear: 

No matter how troubled we are, Jesus hears our cries...and, when the time is right He responds. He arranges a divine appointment with us; and, at the well of our discontent, Jesus shows up... His offer is always to replace that which will never satisfy us with Living Water...  

Secondly, no matter how much shame we carry on our shoulders, He wants to remove it.  He'll take those heavy jars that weigh us down, and remove them, if we're willing to let them go.

Just like we do at times, the woman at the well lived in the "if only's"...

If only I were....

If only I had...

If only I could...

If only I hadn't...

If only___________________ (you fill in the blank).

She thought the "if only's" would equate to happiness, contentment, hope and joy...

What she needed would NEVER BE FOUND in the "if only;" what she needed was the ONE AND ONLY!

Jesus knew what our girl needed.... 

So, Jesus went to Samaria.  

He'll enter your Samaria, too...


Here's the text from John 4 (verses 13-26) for today:

“Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”

“Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me this water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.”

“Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her.

“I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied.

Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband— for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!”

“Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet. So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?”

Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews. But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”

The woman said, “I know the Messiah is coming—the one who is called Christ. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

Then Jesus told her, “I AM the Messiah!”


There was no question, the woman Jesus met at Jacob's Well understood "religion." 

She had all the right answers when it came to this part of the discussion with Jesus. 

Oh, how Jesus longed for her to see that it wasn't religion she needed, but RELATIONSHIP.  

In fact, He still longs for us to see the same...

But, first, our gal needed to be down-right-honest with herself, and honest with the One who could change her "old self" with a "new."

Finally, she the very moment Jesus requested, “Go call your husband." 

“I have no husband,” she replied.  

Atta she spoke those words, she found herself at the starting gate to a new life!  

As you'll see, that can be a bit frightening...

Jesus applauded her vulnerability, and spit out the rest of the facts,

“You are right when you say you have no husband.  The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.”  

Immediately, up came the walls around her soul again, and in a desperate attempt to dodge the subject of her thirsty heart, she digressed to a topic of religious controversy.  

But Jesus, knowing what she was about, masterfully, turned her words around, and brought her to a place where He could look her in the eye, and grant her heart amazing healing, that would fill her right up:  

You are right, the Messiah is coming, and in fact, I, who speak to you, am he.”  

Yep – here I am, God’s gift.  Look to me, I am the only man who can satisfy your discontented soul. I see you need a boost upwards out of the sinking mire of your own sinful state...  And, I’m about to go to that place of death (in fact, the very same place you’re headed), so you don’t have to...I will do all this for you!

I find great delight in knowing that the first time Jesus opened his mouth to declare His true identity, it was to a woman: a shame-filled, sinful, desperate, unsatisfied woman!  

He treated her with such honor (as He does Every! Single! Soul!)...

Now, then, do you see yourself in this story (for I certainly have!)? 
Let me ask you a couple questions, I’ve asked myself: Are you satisfied?  Are you content with your life’s circumstances?  Have you found that place where you are soul-full?  Are you looking to anything else to bring you joy?  Anything else to give you peace?  Anything else to bring you contentment? 

Only Jesus, THE LIVING WATER, can fill every crevice, every nook and cranny of your heart!  

Only the GIFT OF GOD, Jesus, can be for you what you might be looking to others to be, or do.  

So, how do we apply this truth?  

Obviously, it starts as it did for this gal, with authentic honesty. 

Where do I search for my contentment?

The Apostle Paul said it well in Philippians 4, “In every circumstance, I have learned the secret of being content.”  

1)  Contentment is a learned behavior.  Contrary to what we believe, it is not just an emotion I can’t do anything about.  

2) It is found in a secret, a mystery:  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me! Christ in me, the hope of glory! 

Contentment and satisfaction boil down to seeking, knowing, trusting, and submitting to Jesus.  

Sound too simplistic?  Certainly!  But appropriating it is a daily dying to self and re-surrendering... 

Blessed (happy) are those who hunger (and keep on hungering) and thirst (and keep on thirsting) after righteousness (Jesus, the righteous one, who makes us righteous), for they will find soul-satisfaction.
Matthew 5:6

Thursday, March 10, 2022

My Story Matters: The Woman at the Well in Samaria

Now, Jesus had to pass through Samaria. So He came to a town of Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there; so Jesus, wearied as He was from His journey was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink..." The Samaritan woman said to Him, "How is that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?" (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, "If you knew the fight of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him and he would have given you living water...'"
John 4:4-10 

Ever played dodge ball?  

The story of Jesus meeting with the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well in Sychar, Samaria is a classic case of verbal dodge ball (please read all of John 4, at least to verse 28).  

This dear gal (let's call her "Samantha/Sam") came to the well during the heat of the day, at a time when she knew without a shadow of a doubt she’d not have to communicate with anyone! 

High noon...the hottest time of the day.

Imagine Samantha's annoyance to see someone waiting...and a man, no less...then to top it off...a Jew, who HATED Samaritans. 

Jesus began this interesting conversation.  

From His initial request, Samantha tried dodging every attempt of Jesus to bring her to a place where she'd admit her need, open her heart, and receive the gift of God that was standing right in front of her.  

Poor woman put up every defensive wall she could muster, and Jesus patiently chipped away at each brick.  

It was understandable, though... 

Samantha's history was soiled...

She'd been tossed about (just like that dodge ball) from husband to husband until every ounce of confidence, she may have once had, ebbed slowly away.  

She’d finally given up, and simply moved in with a man, hoping against some great odds, that he might be the answer to her need for satisfaction.  

At the same time, Samantha was sick-to-death of the sideways stares, the mocking glances, and the cruel whispers of the other women in Sychar.  

Her discontent began leading her on a downward spiral to discouragement, to depression, to desolation, and ultimately, it would lead her to desperation, if not death, UNLESS.... something, or better yet, SOMEONE, intervened. 

It's a common path many find themselves traveling... 

...and Sam was rapidly approaching that place, when Jesus HAD TO GO THROUGH SAMARIA.

I love this about Jesus.  

No matter how despicable others might think we are, He’s willing to go out of His way to find us when we’re needy.  

Face it; most people go out of their way to avoid neediness.  

Not Jesus.  

He created a DIVINE APPOINTMENT with a thirsty woman at a well in a place no righteous Jew of His day would dare set His sandaled shoe.  

No matter how troubled we are, Jesus holds the answer to our neediness, our brokenness, and our deepest pain.  

No matter how much shame we carry on our shoulders, He wants to remove it.  

So, Jesus went to Samaria.  

He didn't have to...

He wanted to...

And, no matter where your Samaria might be...Jesus will go out of His way to find you at your well of desperation to offer LIVING WATER for your THIRSTY (discontented, discouraged, depressed, desolate wasteland of a soul)...

There's so much more to this story...but stop here and ponder this amidst this Lenten season:

Where do you go to find your satisfaction?

How are you attempting to fill the empty holes in your heart to make up for your discontent?

"Thirst" always symbolically represents a lack...a unfulfilled desire...  
 What's yours?

And, where's your well? 

Jesus is probably already there waiting.

If there is one thing, Sam would want you to know about her story it's this: 

Jesus is the only thing that fills our needs...heals our brokenness...mends our hearts. 

And, she'd, also, want to tell you this:

RUN! Don't WALK (!) to the well. There, and there alone, you will find LIVING WATER...He'll be waiting for you.

Ah...there's more to Sam's story.  Come back next week (and maybe the following)...

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

My Story Matters: Mary of Bethany, #2

While Jesus was in Bethany, at the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard.  She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.  Some of those present were saying, “Why this waste of perfume?  It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.”  And they rebuked her harshly.

“Leave her alone,” Jesus said. “Why are you bothering her?  She has done a beautiful thing to me.  The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want.  But you will not always have me.  She did what she could.  She poured perfume on my body beforehand for burial.  I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
Mark 14:3-9

Jesus only had a matter of days left to live.  

He knew it.  

He’d even predicted it.  

Yet, no one seemed to take note.  

No one, that is, but one dear girl – Mary.  

While her name is not mentioned in this passage, we know who she is from the story of Lazarus’ resurrection in John 10 (at least several commentaries I looked at so concurred.)

Sweet, quiet, reflective Mary had paid close attention to the words of Jesus as she sat at His feet.  

She grasped what no one else did, the impending death of her Lord.  

So, Mary responded in ways that no one else would have the courage, or the time, to do following Jesus’ arrest.  

Thoughtfully, and sacrificially, she took the nard and anointed Jesus.   

Some important aspects need to be mentioned.
1)   The nard, we’re told, was worth an entire year’s wage.  Think of this in modern terms.  An average American holding a bachelor’s degree makes around $56,000.   That should give you some idea of why those in the room thought her so reckless.  
2)   The alabaster jar that contained the nard had to have been imported from India.  The jar, itself, was also pricey.
3)   These items were typically reserved in a woman’s “hope chest,” so to speak for a very special occasion, probably a wedding or even her funeral.  It was not uncommon that these things were purchased in advanced and reserved for these occasions.  So, Mary was giving to Jesus a very substantial part of her dowry.
4)   Once the seal on the jar was broken, the perfume lost its fragrance and its potency.  It could not be recycled, used sparingly, and saved for further use.  

Mary’s message was clear.  

Her love for Jesus was worth reckless abandonment to the things the world held dear.  

She cared not about the scorn, or the harsh rebuke...her thoughts were completely on honoring the one who had meant the world to her. 

 I believe deep in Mary’s heart, she knew what she was doing.  

Jesus was about to be sacrificed and poured out, how could she not, sacrifice on His behalf?  

“She has done a beautiful thing to me,” Jesus said. “What she has done will be told in memory of her wherever the gospel is preached.”  

I have to ask myself: 

“What beautiful things am I doing for Him?” 

 “How sacrificially do I offer the things I hold dear on His behalf?”  

I am so grateful for grace, yet, I so often find myself fearful of what others might think of my service.  

It’s hard to love extravagantly when others are watching.  

Yet, it wasn’t for Mary.  Was that a direct result of her time at Jesus’ feet?  

If so, guess I know where I want to be found more often than not!  

For from that place at Jesus feet...courage for abandonment will follow!

Today is the first day of Lent...What a perfect story to kick off the journey to the greatest act of sacrifice and greatest act of victory the world will ever know...

What a perfect challenge to encourage us to sit at the feet of our Savior during this season, reflect on His life, His legacy, His shame, His joy, His obedience, His death, and His resurrection to life everlasting...

And…May the reflection over the next forty days change our brave into courage that leads to abandonment and sacrifice…no matter the cost!