Friday, August 29, 2014

Tamar: Desperate Measures

Have you ever run ahead of God and tried to fix things yourself?

I must confess, this is my usual modus operandi. I am always trying to fix things myself. It only occurs to me later that I should have waited, that I should have prayed first. It is only later that I realize that God may not have been in this. Usually I am sure I did the wrong thing when in the end things end up all wrong.

What Tamar did to fix things herself was absolutely scandalous!

Tamar was told, “Your father-in-law has gone to Timnah to shear his sheep.” She took off her widow’s clothes, put on a veil to disguise herself, and sat at the entrance to Enaim which is on the road to Timnah. She realized by now that even though Shelah was grown up, she wasn’t going to be married to him.

Judah saw her and assumed she was a prostitute since she had veiled her face. He left the road and went over to her. He said, “Let me sleep with you.” He had no idea that she was his daughter-in-law. 

My first thought was -- this was disgusting and humiliating! But Judah had left her with no good choices. She could take her case to the city gates and shame Judah into giving Tamar his last remaining son in marriage. Or she could have remained childless and unmarried in her fathers house. Her only chance of honor was to raise sons. Her duty was to produce an heir for Judah's family. Her only chance of survival was tied to her ability to bear children. So Tamar took matters into her own hands. She was not a harlot, but a woman determined to fulfill her destiny. The way she picked may not have been right in several respects. But is that the ultimate measurement of good?

In the end, God created a fruitful result from her choice.  Did she pray first and receive God's direction and blessing? We will never know. But God used this for good. In the end, Tamar produced twin sons. God used this to strengthen Judah's character. Ultimately, God uses Tamar and Judah to produce the lineage of Christ. Ultimately we find God using this situation for His glory.

Tamar faced an impossible situation, where there was no way out. But God took her out. It was amazing  Judah did not recognize her. Amazing that she conceived in a single act. Amazing that Judah did not have her burned anyway when she confronted him with his seal, cord and staff. Amazing that he took her into his home instead and raised the sons as his own. Amazing? Or was it God's miracle? A miracle from the hand of a merciful God who delights in restoring the broken. God transforms our biggest sins into glory.

No matter who has victimized us, no matter how far we have fallen, God alone can restore.

Father, help me remember, help me trust You. We don't know if Tamar prayed and asked You.  But I can pray and ask You before I move forward with my plans. Remind me, Beloved and I will give You all the glory. 

Read all of Tamar's story in Genesis 38, and also see Matthew 1:1-16

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Lydia: A Strong Woman

What does God think of strong women?

Sometimes I wonder. Especially reading this verse from 1 Peter 3:3-5: Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands...

A gentle and quiet spirit--that's what God says is beautiful. If so, I am in trouble. I have always been more of the rowdy and rough type, the "let's get going and get it done" type. More of a Martha than a Mary. But didn't God make me that way? Is this so bad?

Yesterday in life group we were introduced to a woman named Lydia, who Paul meets in Philippi. Lydia is a successful business woman, forceful and persuasive. She also had a heart for God.

On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us. (Acts 16:13-15)

God gives us all gifts and He intends for us to use them. God gives us gifts to us for His good and His glory. This is exactly what Lydia did. She brought used her strength to bring her household to faith.

God loves strong women. I am so glad. In the end I also remember that it takes inner strength to submit, to be humble and teachable. And it takes courage to have faith.

Thank you, Jesus for making me the strong woman I am.  May I always use my strength for Your good and Your glory!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Hannah: Great Faith Grows from Difficult Situations

He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none. 

It is hard to imagine a life more difficult than to be married to a man who had two wives. Except if one of the wives was childless, and that wife was you. In two sentences, the author of the book of 1 Samuel created a picture of a heart-breaking situation.  But no, it gets worse.

Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. Her husband Elkanah would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”

So let's picture this: a life in a household full of children, none of them are yours, another woman who provokes you, and a husband who does not get it. Year after year after year. So it's no wonder that during holiday time, when the rest of the family is joyful and feasting, Hannah is inconsolable. Can you blame her?

Do you remember a Christmas, when everyone around you seemed jolly and in the holiday spirit, but your life was falling apart and it was all you could do to drag yourself out of bed? This is where we find Hannah.

Hannah in her anguish and desperation prays the scary prayer: Lord All-Powerful, you can see how sad I am. Remember me. Don’t forget me. If you will give me a son, I will give him to you. He will be yours his whole life. So God "remembers" her and gives her a son. Hannah demonstrates her great faith and integrity by fulfilling her vow, and returns her son to the priest to raise and serve the Lord in the temple.

Did you ever get so desperate that you prayed the scary prayer? The one where you are finally willing to risk all to the get the one thing from God you so urgently need?  From our point of view, it looks like God finally "remembers" us.  But God never forgot us. It is not like He is in heaven and sudden smacks His forehead and declares, "oh dear, I forget about Barbara!" No, His plans for us are perfect, planned ahead of time, since He created the world! As for Hannah and her son Samuel, God had huge plans. Samuel became a great judge and prophet in Israel, filled with the Holy Spirit.  He went on to anoint the first two kings of Israel: Saul and David. God always planned for Hannah to have a son, but He was working on Hannah's heart to be the woman she needed to be first.

As our small group read about Hannah's life together, we could not picture ourselves having enough faith to give our first child away to be raised by someone else, even if we had promised. But let's not be discouraged by our lack of faith. Instead, let's be amazed by what the Holy Spirit of God can do in a woman's life. Over years, and through circumstances, God strengthened Hannah's faith and encouraged her heart to be able to trust God with her precious son. That same Holy Spirit is working in our hearts as well, making us the women He always intended us to be. God transforms us through our prayers but also through the difficult circumstances we face day by day.

Was Hannah bitter over giving her son back to the Lord as she promised? Not at all. The Bible records her song of praise: Then Hannah prayed and said: “My heart rejoices in the Lord; in the Lord my horn is lifted high. My mouth boasts over my enemies, for I delight in your deliverance." I believe that even if Hannah's story ended here, Hannah would have had peace. But God has much better plans than that. And the Lord was gracious to Hannah; she gave birth to three sons and two daughters. Years later, Mary of Nazareth, as she rejoices in the Child in her womb, uses Hannah's words in her song of praise ( see Luke 1:46-55). Hannah's story of her faith and God's faithfulness, was used to encourage centuries of women.

Life is difficult, but God wastes none of our pain! He is working in our lives and hearts to make us women of great faith. God uses our lives to be encouragement to others. He never forgets us, but is working all things together for our good and His purposes.

Father, thank You reminding us of that, with Hannah's life!

Read Hannah's story in 1 Samuel 1 and 2. 

Read about the time I prayed the scary prayer and how it turned out for me: click here. 

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Deborah: The wisdom to know and the courage to do it

Where in your life do you long for certainty and courage?

Now Deborah, a prophet, ... was leading Israel at that time.  She held court under the Palm of Deborah... and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided. (Judges 4:4-5)

Deborah, a prophet and a Judge of Israel, possessed both certainty and courage. When she spoke, people listened, men went out to war, enemies were defeated. During a time when Israel's people were compromising in their devotion to God, when the next generation abandoned their faith, Deborah demonstrates what it means to hear from God and step forward in confidence.

A man named Sisera was the commander of King Jabin’s army... Sisera had 900 iron chariots, and he was very cruel to the Israelites for 20 years. So they cried to the Lord for help.

Because the people of Israel kept returning to their evil ways, God allowed the surrounding nations to cruelly oppress them, as King Jabin of Canaan did. Often we see the God of the Old Testament as harsh and unmerciful, but I think punishing the Israelites was ultimately a kindness. If God had not punished them, they would have never returned to the Lord for help. Evil ways lead to bad ends. Instead the Israelites returned to their faith.  

Deborah said to Barak, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go and gather 10,000 men from the tribes... Lead them to Mount Tabor. I will make Sisera, the commander of King Jabin’s army, come to you. I will make Sisera, his chariots, and his army come to the Kishon River. I will help you defeat Sisera there.’”

Deborah did not give Barak, the commander of Israel's army, just any advice, or even advice she thought was wise. Actually, it was crazy advice! Iron chariots -- and the enemy had 900! -- were like missile tanks of today. They gave the enemy a huge military advantage. Even Barak did not have the confidence to go into battle against them.  He insisted Deborah go with them. But Deborah was certain God Himself had spoken and her trust in God encouraged Barak and his army to obey. Deborah understood the risks: 10,000 lives of our countrymen were at stake. And yet, because she believed God, there was no doubt -- obedience was the safest path.

How do we hear from God like that? How do we have that kind of courage?

I think Deborah had a great deal of practice. She was tuned into God's voice and had seen that when she obeyed His word, God would show up in miraculous and powerful ways. She saw how when she followed God's word, He came through for her and her people as He said He would. Best of all the entire nation was influenced by her faith.

When we take the first step of obedience, and we see God show up for us, we can take the next step with confidence. It all starts with that first step. We must also remember that our faith, demonstrated in our actions, encourages others in their faith as well.

Father, make me like Deborah.  Help have the wisdom to know Your truth and then the courage to do it! Help me have the faith to take the next step.

Then Deborah said to Barak, “Get ready! This is the day the Lord will give you victory over Sisera, for the Lord is marching ahead of you.” So Barak led his 10,000 warriors down the slopes of Mount Tabor into battle. When Barak attacked, the Lord threw Sisera and all his chariots and warriors into a panic... Then Barak chased the chariots and the enemy army... killing all of Sisera’s warriors. Not a single one was left alive. 

Read the rest of Deborah's story in Judges 4 and 5.