Thursday, May 23, 2019

Battles Won in Unliely Ways

When I was a young adult, we landed in a church whose biggest strength was it's Bible teaching. We not only heard expository sermons, we had many opportunities to participate in Bible Studies through the week. One of the Bible study leaders said he loved to read the Bible because it is book full of love stories, epic battles, and stories in which flawed main characters were redeemed, transformed, and thrust into the middle of God's epic story. Under his teaching I became more interested in the battle stories, especially ones fought and won in unlikely ways. These battles contain valuable lessons for us because it is written on the heart of every believer to be a hero or a heroine fighting battles, whether they be physical, emotional, or spiritual in nature. If you don't believe me, threaten a parent and you will see either a "papa gorilla" or a "mama gorilla" rise up to protect their young ones. Let's look at four different battles fought and won in the most unlikely ways.

First, we have the battle between Israel and Goliath. The Philistines gathered for battle at Socoh, which belonged to Judah and Saul and his men had essentially "drawn a line in the sand" for them. A Philistine named Goliath was a giant of a man who was dressed in heavy armor and carried a huge spear. He taunted the men of Israel twice a day, yelling for them to send someone brave enough to fight him so the winner of the fight with him could settle the battle between Israel and the Philistines. Saul and his men stayed put because they were all afraid. When David brought his brothers food, he  heard Goliath mocking Israel and asked, "Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?" David's brothers thought him presumptuous, but it didn't deter him from volunteering to fight Goliath. David armed with only five smooth stones and a slingshot approached Goliath. Goliath came closer with his shield-bearer in front of him and when he saw how young David was, Goliath cursed him, evoking the names of his false gods. Undaunted, David shouted back, "You come to me with a sword, spear, and javelin; I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. He will deliver you into my hand. I will strike you down and cut off your head and feed your body to the birds so all will know the Lord saves." When Goliath rose to meet David for battle, David slung one stone, striking the Philistine in the forehead. When Goliath fell, David took Goliath's sword and cut off his head. Israel won because David knew who how powerful His God was and trusted Him for the victory.

Second, we have the battle of Joshua at Jericho. God told Joshua he would give the city, its king, and its men of valor to him. As God instructed, Joshua told his men to take up the Ark of the Covenant and let seven priests bear seven trumpets of rams' horns before the Ark. He had armed men pass before the Ark and a rear guard follow it. He had the priests continually blow their horns as they marched around the city once a day for six days. Then on the seventh day he had them march around the city seven times and on the seventh time when the priests blew their trumpets, he had the men shout in recognition that the Lord had given them the city. When they shouted, the wall fell flat and they captured the city. I wonder what Joshua's warriors thought when he told them to march instead of waging an attack. I wonder what it would have been like to shout in joy for a victory that hadn't even happened yet. Their actions exposed their faith. Israel won, because they listened to God and did as He instructed.      

Third, we find God instructing Gideon to downsize his army so Israel wouldn't take credit for the upcoming battle. Gideon sent home 22,000 soldiers and kept 10,000. But, God told him that was still too many soldiers. He had Gideon tell the men to go down to the water to get a drink. Most of the soldiers knelt, leaning over to get their water, but 300 of them dipped their hands in and lapped water from them. God told Gideon he would win the battle with these 300 men. God sent Gideon, who tended to be fearful, down to spy on the enemy and he overheard a man telling a dream to one of his comrades. The comrade recognized the dream as a prophecy about Gideon and His army being victorious. When Gideon heard this, his heart was filled with encouragement and he worshiped God. He then returned to his camp and told the army of 300 to get up. He divided them in to three groups and gave them all trumpets and lit torches that they hid in jars. They surrounded the city, blew their trumpets and smashed their jars and cried out, "A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!" The Lord set every man's sword against his comrade. Can you imagine coming against a large army armed only with a trumpets and torches? Can you imagine seeing a battle waged and won in front of you without ever having to raise a sword? Israel won because they believed God and did what He commanded.

Fourth, we have a battle won by Jehoshaphat. His men warned him a huge army was coming to wage war. He was afraid and proclaimed a fast and went to God's House to pray. He said, "O Lord, God of our fathers, aren't You God who rules over all kingdoms and nations? In Your hand are power and might, so that none can withstand You. You drove out the inhabitants of our land and gave it to us as a forever possession. We come to you now because the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, whom You would not allow us to invade are coming against us. Will you execute judgement on them? We are powerless against them and do not know what to do. But, our eyes are on you!" The Spirit of the Lord said, "Do not be afraid of this great army, for the battle is God's. Go against them tomorrow. You will not need to fight. Just stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord." The next morning Jehoshaphat rose and said, "Hear me, Judah and believe in the Lord your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed." He appointed singers who wore holy attire to march before the army. When they began to sing and praise the Lord, the Lord set an ambush against the armies of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir so that they destroyed each other. Israel won because they believed God and stood firm.

I believe God was very intentional in about sharing these accounts with us. Maybe God put the story of David and Goliath in the Bible to remind us not to be like the men in Saul's army who were afraid because of they listened to the enemy who has a very big mouth. The enemy wants us to cower in fear, believing he has more power than he does. If we are  not careful, we can become paralyzed by  fear that is irrationally based on the enemy's lies about God. We can cower in fear as He reminds us of our insecurities, our weaknesses, and our failures. We can hide in shame as we listen to the names he ascribes to us--names that are meant to shame. Maybe God also wants us to understand that one man or one woman who has faith can defeat the enemy and impact a whole community.

Maybe God put the story of Jericho in the Bible to remind us that God uses a lot of different methods to accomplish His plans and that His methods may not make sense to our finite human brains. All we have to do is keep marching, keep trusting, keep obeying, and keep praising God for the victories He will give. Maybe He was also telling us that there is no wall too big, no enemy too powerful, no temptation too strong, and no spirit so evil that He can't defeat when we fully trust Him and are obedient to that which He calls us.

I love the battle of Gideon and his small little band of men. I can relate to Gideon having fear. He thought he was showing God trust when he sent home 22,000 men and kept 10,000 men with him. But God stretched His faith by sending home 9, 700 more men home, leaving Gideon with only 300. That isn't typically done when there is a large army nearby. I love that God understood Gideon's fear and graciously turned that fear into courage by allowing him to hear the prophetic vision to which Gideon responded with faith and worship. Maybe God put this story in the Bible so we would understand that when he calls us into new territories filled with darkness, it doesn't take huge armies to make an impact. It only takes a small band of faithful warriors bearing the light of Jesus and proclaiming God's truth to the nations. We tend to think these battles are ours, but in reality they belong to God who is sovereign over all. The enemy cannot thwart the plans of our great God.

Maybe God put Jehoshaphat's battle in the Bible so we could learn how to face down our fear by understanding its source is often our sense of powerlessness. Maybe He put it in there to remind us when we are afraid that we can unashamedly bring our fear to Him and lay it at His feet by declaring who God is, by reminding ourselves who we are in relationship to Him, and by reminding ourselves of His promises. This story also tells us we defeat the enemy through worship. Max Lucado says worship isn't about performing, preparing our hearts for sermons, or making our hearts feel warm and fuzzy, it is spiritual warfare! Worship defeats the enemy by drowning out his lies and melting our fears and doubts by reminding us who God is and what He has done and what He will do in the future. We can become victorious believers, filling our lives, our homes, our places of work, and our churches with worship. We can even be victorious over besetting sin, by facing down the strong temptation with worship when we realize temptation is nothing more than a call to worship.

The Christian life is a war zone and will continue to be so until Jesus comes. Because of this, there will be times that we experience fear. It isn't a sin as some would tell you. It is merely an emotion. What we do with that fear will determine weather or not we are victories. Our battles, like those before us, will be won in unlikely ways when we live worship-filled lives. For in worship, we find ourselves taking thoughts captive to God's truth, admitting powerlessness and focusing our eyes on the all powerful One, and becoming overcomers by the word of our testimonies. The battles are not ours, they are the Lord's. So, don't be surprised when the battles are won in unlikely ways. 

Monday, May 13, 2019

Fear is a Four Letter Word

Several years ago I wrote a book on emotions and in that book wrote a chapter called, "Fear is a Four Letter Word:. In that chapter I shared that my earliest memories of fear are from my preschool years. My dad often watched old westerns with battles between cowboys and Native Americans. At the time we lived in west Texas and we drove from Salt Flats to El Paso to get groceries. I remember being hypervigilant and watching out of the car window afraid Natives would come riding over the mountains to attack us. My mind didn't grasp that the westerns my dad watched reflected a different time period than the one in which we were living. My fear was irrationally based on childish perceptions, not on facts.

Many believers think fear is a sin, but it is a protective, energizing emotion when it is operating in a healthy way. In fact, we can't display courage unless we are experiencing fear. We know fear is built into our emotional makeup from conception as babies jump in the womb in response to loud sudden sounds. God put fear in our emotional make up so it could motivate us to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. Fear warns us of potential danger and energizes us by speeding up blood flow so that we can think and act more quickly. It motivates us to flee, fight, or play dead.

Fear can sometimes help to bond people. This occurs when we embrace fears together, especially when we do it for fun's sake. I did this watching Alfred Hitchcock's shows with my family as a young child. We  snuggled close to our parents as the show built towards its climax. Sometimes my dad would growl or yell, "BOO!" just before am exciting part. We would scream, jump, and then all laugh. Our family felt close during those times. I also experienced this when I faced my fear of heights, riding rollercoasters with my kids and climbing a rock wall with our youth group. Even though I experienced fear in those situations, I knew I was with people I trusted and we bonded as we talked and joked about our fears, encouraged each other, and then debriefed afterwards. These things provided shared memories and these memories provide points of instant reconnection when one of us says, "Do you remember that time...?"

Because we live in a fallen world, fear can becomes irrational. If this happens, it can paralyze and control us to the point it becomes a stronghold in our lives. Irrational fear, can make us cowardly if we give into it. This occurred in the book of Numbers when the Israelites were to enter the Promise Land. God had instructed Moses to send a man from each tribe to check out the land. Forty days later, the men returned with pomegranates, figs, clusters of grapes so heavy they had to be carried by two men. All agreed they had found the land of "milk and honey" God described. Yet, only two of the twelve believed Israel could take the land with the Lord's help. They had all observed people of large stature living in the land and ten of them felt so intimidated that they refused to take the land, missing many years of blessing. In their fear, they forgot about God's power and His faithfulness to them. Our fear can make us forgetful, toe.

Irrational fear sometimes has a spiritual component to it as Satan is a master deceiver and can make routine battles look unbeatable, everyday trials look insurmountable, and daily temptations look undefeatable. If we buy into his lies, Satan can turn us into cowards, experiencing chronic fear and living mediocre lives. Cowardly fear can come out in the fear of rejection, which keeps us from reaching out to others, leaving us bound by loneliness. It can come out in the fear of failure, which keeps us from taking risks that would help us develop our talents, abilities, and spiritual gifts. It can come out in the fear of abandonment, which keeps us focused on self, instead of loving others well. Hence, irrational fears can cause us to miss out on relationships and opportunities in education, jobs, and ministry.

Unhealthy fear has the potential to cause confusion, which increases the fear we are experiencing. We see this in the book of Judges when God instructed Gideon to call 300 men to surround the Midianite camp, carrying trumpets and clay jars hiding lit torches. He told them to surround the camp, blow their trumpets, break their jars to reveal their torches and shout, "A sword for the Lord and Gideon!" This caused sudden fear among the Midianites and, in their subsequent confusion, the Midianites drew swords on each other. Kind of looks like what Satan and his legions do in our churches today, doesn't it? He knows each of our vulnerabilities and insecurities and attacks in a way that causes fear-fueled confusion. This confusion paralyzes us, keeps us stuck, misconstrues reality, stirs up strife, and causes us to attack each other. Every time I have experienced conflict in the church, there was a great amount of confusion concerning it and at the root of the conflicts was some sort of fear.

When fear becomes a stronghold, it draws our focus away from God and zaps our energy, leaving us with little power to obey. We see this when Saul and the Israelites were facing Goliath. Goliath was a large man with a big mouth. He stood on the mountainside taunting Saul and his army. God had told Israel He would defeat Goliath on their behalf, but they became so afraid that no one took action. Only young David believed God and had the courage to face down the giant. Sadly, Saul's fears became more irrational as time went on. He began to fear his faithful servant, David, tried to kill him and ultimately his fear led him to commit suicide. His fear had become an idol, one that he spent much of his life trying to appease, to no avail. Fear ruled his heart and drove him to carry out ugly, ungodly actions.

In his book, Harnessing the Incredible Power of Fear, Ken Nichols pointed out that there are 366 "fear not's" in the Bible. Contrary to what many believe, these were not given to us to admonish us or to shame us. When God says not to fear, He follows it with sweet reminders of His presence, His faithfulness, and His power. Fear doesn't have to be a four letter word when we realize it gives us opportunities to be courageous and grow in faith. When we call fear sin, it is because we have forgotten the Bible is a book about a relationship between a God and the people He loves. It is not a list of do's and don'ts written from an angry God waiting to zap us. It is written with from a heart filled with love that desires to protect us and our relationship with Him. His telling us not to be afraid is similar to us lovingly telling our children not to be afraid because we are with them, have knowledge they don't have, will protect them, and can identify irrationality behind many of the fears they have. We can be thankful God won't obliterate our fear as it not only helps us stay safe, it is the very thing that drives us to Him.

(Ken Nichols, Harnessing the Incredible Power of Fear; Wendy J. Mahill, Embracing a Feeling Heart ) 

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Blessings that Come with Hardship

I remember the excitement I felt when I first found out I was pregnant. We had tried for over a year to no avail. Then when we went to my mom's for Thanksgiving, she noticed I was exhausted and falling asleep whenever I sat down. She told my sister she thought I was pregnant and my sister called to ask me about it. I didn't think I was, but went to my doctor anyways. He did the blood work and told me he would let me know the results soon. Because we had tried for so long, we were totally blown away when the doctor called to say the test was positive. I was elated and in awe of the life growing inside. I was also overwhelmed because we were preparing to move away from family and friends. I chose to stay home and held my baby a lot, singing to him, reading children's books, and sometimes just chatting with him about life. Once the baby started sleeping more, I realized I had become a more reflective person, pondering both what I read in the Bible and what I heard in sermons.

The first Christmas after our baby was born, I frequently sat across from the Christmas tree, rocking him to sleep, gazing at the lights. I contemplated how differently Mary had found out about her pregnancy. I wondered what it was like for her to be visited by the angel, Gabriel. I wondered what she thought and what she felt when he told her she had found favor with God and would conceive His Son. I wondered how much she comprehended when he told her the baby would be Jesus, the Son of the Most High. I wondered what feelings flooded her soul as she heard God would give her Son the throne of David. And, I wondered if questions ran through her mind when she was told that through Him many would be saved from their sin. I didn't know the answers to all of my questions, but I did know she had quickly embraced what the angel said and understood some of what she was told because she wrote, "My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked on the humble estate of His servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call be blessed; for He who is mighty has done great things for me and holy is His name."

I also reflected on how her birth was markedly different than mine. Mine occurred in a sterile environment, surrounded by my husband, doctor. and nurses. She was alone with Joseph in a sheepfold. I found myself reflecting on the powerful feelings that surged as our son was born and I heard his first cries. I wondered what thoughts ran through her mind and what feelings coursed through her soul as she labored, gave birth, and held the Messiah child for the very first time. I wondered if she, too, had gazed into the eyes of Jesus and counted His fingers and toes like I did when I nursed our son. I knew she, too, had entered a season of reflection, because the Word said she pondered these things in her heart.

When Spring rolled around the first year of our son's life, more thoughts, questions, and fears arose in my reflective heart. As I thought about Jesus and His ministry, I became filled with awe over His powerful teaching, the miracles He performed, the loving way He interacted with hurting people. I was astonished to learn that many of His strong confrontations were aimed at the religious leaders who lead people astray. Yet, as a new mom, my mind often wandered to Mary. Did she fear for Jesus' life? Did she long for Him to walk away from the conflict surrounding Him? Was she ever tempted to go all Mama Bear on those who flung false accusations at her Son like I did a few times? Did she ever feel the need to rush to His defense when she heard the talk surrounding Him and if so, what helped her restrain her tongue? Did she long for Him to let the crowds fiend for themselves and deal with their own hurts and their own sin? Did she struggle with doubt and confusion over the things the Gabriel had told her in light of what was taking place?

In contemplating those things, I sometimes felt uneasy, realizing I could do my best to raise my kids, but there were a lot of things out of my control. There would also come a time when I would no longer be the one protecting my kids from things that go bump in the night, from those who might want to do them harm, from those who would hurl ugly insults at them, from their own mistakes, or from those who would want to lead them away from God's plans for their lives.

As I reflected on the crucifixion of Christ, I was amazed that Mary was standing there gazing at her son, God's Son as He hung on that tree. She was gazing at a face beaten so badly it was not longer recognizable. She was gazing at a Righteous One, whose innocence didn't earn Him freedom. She was gazing at a Prophet who was so bold in His preaching, yet so strangely silent on the cross. She was gazing at a Lamb as the weight of all of our sin was placed on His shoulders. She was gazing at God's Son as He cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" I wonder how she could bear the breaking of her own heart to stand their watching as the wrath of God for our sin was being poured out on Him. I wonder if she stayed to the end to watch as they took Him down and laid Him to rest. I also wondered what joy flooded her soul as she laid eyes on the Son of Man after He had risen from the grave. How did she make sense of so much sorrow and so much joy to be born in such a short time.

As I think about the role we take in motherhood, I realize for me there was no greater joy and no greater blessing to hear the words, "You are pregnant!" I was blessed to hear them five times and was filled with as much joy the second, third, fourth, and fifth times as I was the first. Mary's story taught me that just as Mary was shown favor by being chosen to be mother of the Son of God, we are chosen to be the mothers of the children God gives us. Her story has also taught me that with that blessing comes the potential for great heartache and great sorrow. To know this is true, all we have to do is to ask the mothers whose babies died before they were birthed, the mothers who birthed beautiful babies with half of their hearts missing, the mothers of children who suffer horribly with cancer and its treatment; the mothers of children laid to rest in coffins smaller than they ever should be, the mothers whose soldiers boarded planes for war zones from which they may never return, the mothers of children who have gone missing, the mothers whose children are lost in drug-filled lifestyles, the mothers whose children have been demoralized by peers, the moms of children who has been assaulted and harmed in ways children shouldn't be, or mothers whose kids struggle hard living in the pain of adult relationships gone awry.

I think there is more to learn about motherhood from Mary. She remained faithful in loving her Son on what had to have been the darkest day of their lives. The events that seemed so hopeless and so bleak were the very events that were needed to accomplish our redemption. Just as Mary could not see everything that was happening from the view she had, we can't see everything happening when we face hardship with our children. Yet, I can't help but believe that maybe her quiet presence helped the Lord in some untold way that day He hung between heaven and earth. Maybe as we come to accept that our blessing, too, will come with hardship and that in the hard God isn't calling us to control it all. That is His job. Maybe He is simply calling us to love big and to choose to stay present just like Mary did. I believe that someday we will more fully understand the hard that came with the blessings God gave us.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Bathsheba's Story

The fourth woman in Christ's family line is Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah and the daughter of Elam, both of whom were among David's mightiest soldiers. She was also the granddaughter of Ahithophel who was David's chief counselor. Many articles about Bathsheba paint her as a seductress, an adulteress, and a manipulator seeking power for her son, which was what I heard growing up. Other articles, that took into account the role of women in Bathsheba's culture, presented a very different point of view. As I read these, my heart ached for Bathsheba, a victim of both her culture and a king, misusing power and position to rape her. She has been widely mischaracterized by commentators putting on her the blame for the actions of a king, struggling with sin. Yet, she was a woman with incredible strength who rose above horrible circumstances to become a woman of great influence.

Bathsheba's story began in the spring when kings go to battle. King David, however, sent his troops into battle without him. One afternoon he went to his rooftop to walk around and saw a beautiful woman washing herself, according to the purification laws of their time. I had always heard she bathed on the roof top, but there is no where in the text that says that. She could have been bathing near a stream, near a well, in her own courtyard, or on her roof top and would have still been visible from the palace roof. We also don't know how much clothing she had on or didn't have on during the ceremonial bathing as people didn't have private places to bathe at that time. Because of this, they often wore some type of  garment or wrap. She was doing what she needed to do to fulfill the law.

We know from the text the king saw her and lustfully chose to watch her. He could have chosen to turn away or summon one of his wives or concubines to meet his needs, but he didn't. He chose to summon his men and asked who the lady was. His men identified her through references with both her father and her husband, indicating she was a woman of integrity. It could also have been his men's subtle attempt to remind him she was unavailable and related to two of his best soldiers. Yet, David chose to send the men to summon her. When she came, he made the decision to take her and lay with her and she conceived a baby.

Some believe she had a choice in the matter, but there is nothing in the text that indicates she knew why she was being summoned to the palace. Even if she did, as a woman and as a subject in a kingdom, she didn't have the right to tell the king "no." It is also imperative we remember that when Nathan the prophet came to confront David on his actions, he used a lamb--the symbol of innocence--to represent Bathsheba in the allegory.

When Bathsheba realized she was pregnant, she messaged the king, placing herself at the mercy of David and Uriah. She knew her husband could legally take her life if he heard she was pregnant. She also knew she couldn't appeal to the law to protect her because it was the king who has violated her. She had to sit and wait as her future was decided by the choices the king and her husband made.

David chose to call her husband from the battlefield and tried to send him home to Bathsheba, hoping the baby would be passed off as his. But, Uriah, being a loyal soldier, chose defy the king and chose not to go home to his wife while his men were still in the thick of battle. So, David chose to send him to the front lines, ordering his commander to remove all support from him so he would be killed. After Bathsheba's time of grief, David chose to bring her into the palace to be in his haram.

While Bathsheba did not lose her life, she did experience many losses. She was raped by a king, literally losing ownership of bother her body and her life. She lost her husband because the king wanted to cover up his actions. She lost her home when she was placed in David's haram. She even lost the baby they conceived during the rape after he was born. And, all of this loss was because of the king's lust and the king's abuse of power. 

Later Bathsheba conceived several other children, one of whom was Solomon who was promised the throne of David. However, the fulfillment of that promise was endangered by strife that occurred as  David's sons jostled for power. On advice of Nathan, the prophet, Bathsheba approached the elderly, ailing king and informed him that his son Adonijah was plotting to take the kingdom. She reminded him that she and Solomon would be in danger if he didn't act quickly and David crowned Solomon that very day.

The story didn't end there like I originally thought. God took the painful things Bathsheba experienced and brought good out of them by raising Solomon to kingship. This elevated Bathsheba from being one woman out of many in a king's Haram to being the only mom of the king. God also used those circumstances to place her into the family line of Christ. Maybe Bathsheba was placed there to remind us that God has a heart beating passionately for those who have been victimized by powerful people.

I had always thought Bathsheba faded into the background after the encounter with David, but she didn't She remained close to Solomon and had the privilege of crowning him with his wedding crown. She was also given a place of honor as Solomon's advisor and sat on a throne that was placed at his right hand, something unheard of at the time. It would not be surprising that some of the wisdom Solomon penned was passed down to him through Bathsheba. Maybe it was even because of her experiences that he wrote these words in Proverbs 31:8, "speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute." Maybe she was placed in the family line so victims understand victimization doesn't have to define one's future. For, in Christ, each of us has been given great power and a new heritage.

Maybe she was put in the line of Christ to remind us our God is not limited by the boundaries a society or a church places on women. God alone chooses whom He will use to bring about His perfect will. No man, no government, no church leader will ever be able to thwart that. Maybe Bathsheba was put in the family line so her story would remind women that while their stories may go untold, unnoticed, or be mischaracterized, God can still use them powerfully to usher in His kingdom. He did this in the past. He is doing it now. And, He will do it in the future.

In closing, we all must wrestle long and hard with the fact that King David. whom we have grown up loving as a young shepherd boy who alone was brave enough to slay a Giant, as a loyal friend to Jonathon whose dad was a king with evil intentions, as a mighty warrior who won untold battles, and the "man who chased after God's own heart" was also a man who misused power, who raped a woman, and who orchestrated a murder. Isn't that a good reminder to each one of us that we are all one glance away, one step away from walking into ugly, devastating sin? Isn't It a good reminder that we are a people who are in desperate need of grace? Oh, that we who are in Him would choose to rise above our sinful tendencies and our victimization to live powerful lives that full of integrity--lives that honor the Savior who sacrificed His own life on our behalf.

(For more information: A Sympathetic Look at Bathsheba, by Marg Mowczko and "The Junia Project: What You Need to Know About Bathsheba, by Dalaina May.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Ruth's Story

The third woman in the lineage of Christ I am studying is Ruth. Her story began with Naomi and Elimelech, who were living in Bethlehem during a time that Israel was under God's discipline. Apart of God's discipline was a severe drought, so they decided to move their family to Moab, initiating a season of grief for Naomi. She grieved the loss of a familiar home, a familiar culture, and extended family. They moved because the rains had ceased, thirsty plants wilted, cows starved, and there family was experiencing hunger they could not fill and thirst they could not quench. They went to a green fertile place in Moab, which was steeped in pagan worship. While there, Naomi's husband died and her two sons married Moabite women, killing her hopes of ever returning home. 

Within ten years in Moab Naomi had buried her husband as well as both of her sons. Her grief became unbearable and she found herself once again longing for home. In her pain, she had come to believe the hand of God had come against her personally. She told her daughters-in-law to return to their families and to their gods so they could remarry. At first, both women protested. But when she reminded them she was too old to bear sons who could become their husbands, Orpah rose to return to her family. But, Ruth stood her ground, refusing to leave Naomi, declaring allegiance to her and to her God. Maybe Ruth believed that by holding on to Naomi she could hold on to the memories of her husband or maybe she had grown to love her and didn't want her to travel the dangerous roads alone. Whatever her reason, Ruth knew she might not be accepted in Judah and that she could possibly live the rest of her life as a widow in the midst of a culture she knew would never accept her. 


The two women arrived in Judah just as the barley and wheat fields was ready to be harvested. When the women in the community recognized Naomi they greeted her fondly, but Naomi asked to be called Mara, which means literally means "bitterly dealt with." I love her honesty and know there have been times I could relate to her feelings and wish I had been that honest with those around me instead of trying to cover up the pain I was feeling.

Ruth soon went to the barley fields to glean what the reapers left. She ended up gleaning in Boaz's fields. When Boaz saw her, he asked about her. Upon hearing she was the daughter-in-law of Naomi, he instructed her not to leave his fields and to stay with the women who were working for him. He provided her with water and with food and instructed the workers to pull grain from their bundles and leave it for her to find so she would have ample grain for Naomi and herself. He treated the young foreign widow with the upmost respect and protected her as she gleaned. This was important because a woman in her position was vulnerale to being mistreated or assaulted. 


When Ruth told Naomi about the grace and the kindness Boaz showed her, Naomi realized that her God had not forgotten her. She explained to Ruth Israel's provision for widows through a kinsman redeemer. At Naomi's instruction, Ruth bathed and anointed herself with perfume and went to the threshing floor and uncovered the feet of Boaz and laid there. He awakened and she asked him to be her kinsman redeemer. Even in the darkness of the night with a woman lying at his feet, Boaz integrity was impeccable. He listened to her and treated her with godly respect. He knew there was a closer rleative with the right of redemption, and he wanted to be able to legally take Ruth as his wife. As soon as it was light enough for her to go home safely, he sent her on her way, protecting both her reputation and her purity. He asked for the right to marry her from the relative nearer than he and it was granted. I love Boaz and his heart. He was the son of Rahab (the harlot) and Salmon (the founder of Bethlehem) and they raised him in such a way that he was a compassionate, loving, man of integrity who did everything he could to be loving and to show Ruth honor and favor. 


I love this story because it is an honest account of woman who had suffered a great loss and for a season experienced deep grief. It is also an account of a woman who in spite of the grief she was experiencing was able to rise up and choose to love her bitter mother-in-law well. And it was that love that led Ruth to follow Naomi to Judah and enabled her to leave her own culture and her pagan gods and embrace a new and different culture and the great and mighty Jehovah-Jirah.

Maybe God placed Ruth in the family line of Christ to show us the importance of being tenacious followers of God. Ruth was so tenacious she didn't let Naomi's desire to isolate deter her from walking her to Judah. She didn't let Naomi's bitterness deter her from choosing to love and care for her. She didn't let Naomi's tainted view of God deter her from fully trusting Jehovah to be her God. She was so tenacious that she didn't let Naomi's sadness or her status as a foreign woman deter her from trying to provide for her. 

Maybe God put Ruth in the family line of Jesus to show us God cares for those who are suffering in the aftermath of loss. It doesn't matter whether the losses are people, possessions, the sense of security, one's health, or one's dreams--the pain of loss is very real and our God fully understands it because of the cross. We would do well to remember though our losses cause pain, they are not proof that God doesn't love us. Nor are they proof that He doesn't care about the pain we are experiencing. Just as Ruth's losses were what propelled her from a place of poverty to a place of wealth, our losses have the potential to open up new things in our lives. Ruth's loss also propelled her to be in the place she needed to be to become the great grandmother of King David and to be a part of the family line of Jesus.  

Maybe God put Ruth in Christ lineage to show us how leaning into Jesus in faith during loss can provide us the opportunity to see God work the things that are happening in our lives out for our good and His glory in ways that we can't even imagine. God saw her faith and her heart and He honored it in the sweetest and most inclusive way. What might be the hidden treasures in the darkness we are experiencing right now?  

Maybe God put her in the lineage of Christ to show us that "God shows no partiality, but in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him." (Acts 10-34-35) This means He is an inclusive God. He doesn't discriminate on our gender, on what we believed before we came to know Him, on what family we grew up in, on the sin with which we struggle, on the race we were born into, or what country we come from. Jesus' invitation is for whoever will believe on the name of Jesus. He placed Ruth in Jesus' family line to remind us that in His family there are no outsiders and there are no second class citizens.
 
Maybe He put her in the lineage of Christ to show us that we don't need to compromise our integrity to have our needs met. We can trust a God who was willing to die for us to meet our needs on a daily basis. We don't have to manipulate or lie to get what we need. He will provide.

Ruth being in the lineage of Christ reminds us Jesus understands our grief. He understands the pain parents feel standing over the grave of a child lost too soon. He understands the pain a widow feels as she watches her spouse slip into eternity. He understands the grief that comes when a marriage ends and the grief an infertile couple feels every month. He understands the grief of watching houses burn to the ground or floods washing away crops and animals. He understands the loss experienced when a family member is injured and forever changed. 


I can't help but think that there is significant meaning in this story of a Israelite man marrying a Moabite woman being set in Bethlehem, which means "The House of Bread." I can't help think that it taking place just as the barley and wheat are harvested is no coincidence. This would be taking place during the feast of weeks and in Leviticus 23 we see that God had instructed Israel to bring two wave loaves made of flour and baked with leaven to be the first fruits to the Lord. Could the two loaves of bread possibly represent the faithful disciples in both the old and new dispensations? Could they represent the two separate, but now fused races of people who comprise the church--the Jews and the Gentiles? How neat for Ruth to not only be a forerunner of the Savior, but a reminder to every gentile that they, too, have been fully fused into the family line of Jesus. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Rahab's Story

When I was young, I thought the stories in the Bible were about good people. But, I soon discovered God's epic story was full of unexpected characters, one of whom was Rahab, the Harlot. She was a Canaanite, living in Jericho whose residence was imbedded in the city wall right next to the city gate. This made it easy for traveling men to find her and for city dwellers to notice who was frequenting her business. While she was able to hear all sorts of news from travelers who used her services, she was probably scorned by women in her community and probably maltreatment at the hands of the men frequenting her.         

Her story takes place after Moses died and when Joshua sent two spies to Jericho to spy out the Promised Land. When the spies arrived in Jericho, they went to Rahab's house and she was forthright about the state of her city. She told them she knew the Lord God had given Israel the land in which she lived and shared that her city upon hearing how the Lord had given them victory over the Egyptians and the two kings of the Amorites beyond the Jordan had become fearful. She also revealed what was in her own heart, "For the Lord your God, He is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath." She had responded to what she had heard, by believing in Jehovah. 

Someone saw the spies enter Rahab's place and reported it to the king of Jericho. He sent a band of men to her home to get them, but Rahab had taken the spies to the roof and hidden them under drying flax. She told the king's men the spies were not there and sent them on a wild goose chase. Once the band of men were gone, she went up to her roof and boldly asked the spies to deal with her with the same loving kindness she had shown them. She requested that they save her parents, her siblings and their families, and her when they came to take the city. They instructed her to remain silent about their visit, to bring everyone into her home for safety, and to hang a scarlet thread from her window. They promised that as long as she did as these things, they would be faithful to deal kindly with her and her family.  

On the day of battle the doors of the city were shut tight. Instead of coming in with weapons blazing, the Israelites came in quietly and set up camp. Then every morning for six days the men of Israel rose up and marched silently around the city walls. On the seventh day, they arose and marched around the city seven times and then blew trumpets and shouted a warrior's cry. The city walls crumbled--all except for the part of the wall containing Rahab's home. During those seven days, Rahab waited patiently, standing firm in her faith. She waited when she heard the walls of her city crumbling all around her in what had to sound and feel like a holocaust. And, she waited until the Israelites came for her and her family. 

Rahab was taken in by the Israelites. By faith and the mercy shown her, she was given a new start, which resulted in her becoming a wife to Salmon who was the founder of the city of Bethlehem and a mother to Boaz whose story is in the book of Ruth. We know Rahab was a changed woman as her husband was well respected by Israel and her son was a man of impeccable character who showed great kindness as we will see next week. Because of God's redemptions she was the grandmother to a king and was grafted into the lineage of the King of kings. 


Maybe God put Rahab in the Jesus' family line to remind us we don't have to let our past define us. In Christ, we are not victims to what we were, we have the power to make different choices now. In Christ, we can have the boldness of Rahab and become the women God created us to be. We can be mothers and grandmothers who break the bondage of generational sin to raise up godly men and women who do great things for the Kingdom of God. In Christ, we don't have to let our culture and what others say about us limit us. We can boldly ask the impossible of our God who has unlimited power to do above and beyond anything we can think or ask. In Christ, a godless heritage no longer defines us, because God places us in His family, giving us His heritage to call our own.  

Maybe God put Rahab in the family line to remind us of His faithfulness. Each of us has been given knowledge of God. It is written on our hearts at conception. It is written in nature where His splendor is on display for all to see. And, His story is being lived out in the life of every believer like an open book available to be read by unbelievers. When just one person in one community responds to what they know in their heart of hearts, to what they have seen around them, and to the testimonies they have heard, He will mercifully rescue them and set them free from the bondage of their sin. Just as God faithfully led the spies to Rahab, He will faithfully send someone to help those He has called His own.  

Maybe God put Rahab in Christ's family line to remind us our sin does not define us. No matter how bad our sin was, Jesus' love was big enough to reach out to us. His blood spilt on the cross was pure enough to cover even the sin we deem the worst. This means that when we are saved, those ugly labels like dirty, unworthy, addicted, murderer, thief, slutty, adulterer, gluttonous, defective, forgotten, invisible, weak, broken and outcast no longer matter to God. All that matters are the labels that describe who we are in Him--chosen, called, forgiven, accepted, redeemed, reconciled, restored, clean, strong, healed, worthy, gifted, and beloved children of God. 

Maybe God put Rahab in the family line to remind us we have Hesed. This is a legal agreement to cover someone with protection. It is like being under an umbrella in a storm. The umbrella can't stop the rain, but it can protect us from it. It is what Israel experienced in Egypt during the Passover when they painted blood over their doors and were protected from the angel of death. It is what Rahab and her family experienced when she hung a scarlet cord from her window and were kept safe from the walls falling and the battle raging around them. Just as Rahab was safe under Hesed, we are safe under Hesed, fully protected by the blood of Jesus from the wrath of God for sin. 

Maybe God put Rahab in the family line of Jesus to remind us faith is to be exercised by actions not just talk. Rahab was rescued because she exercised faith by hiding, protecting, and leading the spies out. She exercised faith by hanging a scarlet cord in her window, inviting her family in, and remaining in place as she waited on God's timing. Her story reminds us there will be times when life gets rocky and we experience fear. That is when we have the opportunity to exercise faith, not only through words, but through deeds and courageous restraint. We don't have to understand all that is going on, we just have to stand firm in faith, acting out of who God says we are instead of how we feel in the moment. 


Rahab responded to what she heard about Jehovah with faith--faith that resulted in her and her family being saved, in her having a new life in which she became a wife to Salmon the founder of the city of David, and a mother to Boaz the grandfather of David and a forefather of Jesus. May we be a people so touched by Rahab's story that we never forget our God is not a God who rewrites stories, but a God who takes the most sinful, ugly, painful stories and weave them into a glorious redemption story. 

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Tamar's Story

We don't often think about the women who were in Jesus' family line. So, I decided to write about them during this season of Lent. Some of their stories aren't easy to understand because the culture and laws of their day were so different than ours. However, their stories can still help us understand the depth of the Lord's compassion towards women and the graces He extended to those who are broken and bruised by life's events and circumstances. This week we are looking at Tamar whose story is found in Genesis 38.

Her story begins with Judah who had taken a Canaanite woman's daughter as his wife. She bore him three sons--Er, Onan, and Shelah. As was customary, Judah arranged for Tamar to be the wife of Er. But, Er was wicked and the Lord put him to death. It was also customary for the patriarch to send a second son to raise up children for his dead brother. Onan, knowing the children Tamar would conceive by their union would not be his legal children, spilled his seed on the ground, leaving her barren and her husbands lineage unfulfilled. So, the Lord put him to death as well. Judah was afraid that giving Tamar his third son could result in his death as well. So, he sent her to live in her father's house as a widow, telling her he would send for her when Shelah grew up.

Tamar lived as a widow, hoping Shelah would come for her. However, as time passed and Shelah had grown, Tamar realized her father-in-law had no intention of fulfilling his word. Her grief over becoming a young widow was compounded by the hopelessness caused Judah's actions. She knew the withholding of his last son from her meant her longing for companionship, love, and children would never be fulfilled. She felt forgotten, overlooked, rejected, and betrayed by a man who held her future in his hands.

More time passed and Judah's wife died. Tamar heard that after his period of grieving that Judah was going to Timnah to shear sheep. Having grown tired of life as a widow, she took matters into her own hands. She removed her widow's garb and put on the garments of a cult prostitute, which included a veil. She waited at the entrance of a city on the road to Timnah. Judah approached her and did not recognize her because of the veil. He propositioned her with a goat for her "services" and agreed to leave her his signet, cord, and staff to hold onto as a good faith promise for the goat. She conceived a child by him and returned to her father's house to her widow garments.

Judah sent the goat to Tamar through a friend, but she was nowhere to be found. He was unable to pay her the goat and unable to obtain his things from her. He dropped the matter as he didn't want anyone to think he was foolish for what he had done. But, three months later Judah received news that his daughter-in-law was pregnant. Assuming she had been immoral, Judah ordered his men to bring her to him so she could be burned for her sin.

Tamar came prepared to plead her case. She handed his things to him and told him the man to whom the things belonged was the man who had fathered her babies. Judah recognized his things and announced she was more righteous than him because he had failed to give Shelah to her. I find myself a little irritated that he acknowledged his failure to keep the custom of giving his third son to her, but didn't outright own the moral failure of hiring a prostitute.

When I was younger, I judged her quite harshly, thinking I would never do what she did, no matter the circumstances. But, if we were really honest and took a good look at our own lives I don't think any of us could stand. What did we do when we experienced the pain of unmet needs and unfulfilled longings? What did we do when we felt forgotten, overlooked, rejected, and betrayed? Maybe we didn't try to meet our needs with an act of prostitution or use the same type of deception Tamar did. But, I bet many of us have employed manipulation at some point to get what we wanted. Many of us have tried to fill longings with things that were never meant to satisfy. And, many of us have just simply numbed our longings and our desires and began to live life depressed and/or bitter. But isn't dealing with life these ways that are apart from our Creator, our Savior, our Provider forms of spiritual adultery? Isn't that just as wrong as what she did?

I wish I could ask the Lord a thousand questions about Tamar's story. But, I know that what He wants us to learn from Tamar's story could be lost in too many details. Maybe God placed Tamar in Jesus lineage to show us He is the Redeemer of those who have felt like outsiders looking in. Maybe God put Tamar in Christ's family line so we would know He is the healer of those who feel forgotten and rejected. Maybe God placed her there to show us He is the lover of the unloved, the rescuer of the betrayed, the acknowledger of those who were set aside, and the host to those who felt uninvited. Maybe He put her there to remind us that Jesus is even Savior to those who take matters into their own hands, using deception and sin to try to find what only He could give. Maybe, God put Tamar in Christ's family line so we would know there is more to the story we are living than we see right now.

Just as God placed Tamar into Jesus' story and into His family, by faith we have been placed into His story and into His family. Tamar reminds us of that that. You and I--we are loved, we are called by His name, we have been placed into His family, and our futile lives and be given significance. Jesus's family is a family full of broken, forgotten, loved-starved people just like Tamar, just like you, and just like me. It is a family full of people who are lavishly loved and in desperate need of God's grace.

Introduction

Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!