Love Means a Cross

March 2, 2010 at 1:51 am (Attitudes, Love, W.O.W.) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

food-for-thought

Chew on this…

When you are not yet married, or when your marriage is over and you look back on those years with longing, it is without doubt quite possible to idealize it.  But there is one thing which enters into all of life, one thing which will keep us from idealizing life’s best and will make bearable life’s worst, and that is the Cross.  The Cross must enter into marriage.  “Who loveth suffereth too.”

The Cross enters the moment you recognize a relationship as a gift.  The One who gives it may withdraw it at any time, and knowing this, you give thanks in the receiving.  Desiring above all else to do the will of God, you offer back to Him this greatest of all earthly gifts as an oblation, lifted up in worship and praise, with faith that in the offering it will be transformed for the good of others.

This is what sacrifice means.  This is why the Cross of Christ “towers o’er the wrecks of time.”  Love is sacrificial.  Sacrifice is giving, and offering up, and the meaning of sacrifice in the Bible is the giving of life to another.

~ Elisabeth Elliot, Let Me Be A Woman, 1976

…and tell us what you think.

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Women of Wisdom: The Art of Worship

February 24, 2010 at 1:00 am (Articles, Attitudes, W.O.W., Worship) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Posted by Abigail

Once upon a time, a Samaritan woman asked Jesus the question that had divided the Jews and Samaritans for centuries.  “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews say Jerusalem is the place where we ought to worship.”  Jesus’ answer was revolutionary to the religious systems of both the Samaritans and the Jews.  “An hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.”  (John 4:7-38)

The hour was coming when true worshipers would worship at Jesus’ feet.

The story of Mary of Bethany is so sparse that many have tried to piece together her background from the airy fantasies of vivid imaginations.  But the Lord has providentially given us all that we have in His word—and all that we need to understand Mary’s love for the Lord—who had loved her first.  In each of her three appearances in scripture we read of her worshiping the Lord—in spirit and truth.

Her worship wasn’t the empty religion of her day, but was completely focused, notably quiet, evidently un-aware of her audience, forgetful of cultural protocol, and entirely extravagant.  In fact, it often earned her the ridicule of all but One.

“Mary was listening to the Lord’s words, seated at His feet.”  (Luke 10:39)

When the Master first visited the home which Mary shared with her sister Martha, He began to teach.  Mary’s heart opened to the divine words and she sat, unaware of her sister’s bustling and angry scowls, soaking up the words of Jesus.  She recognized that His words were life and she was lost in His presence.  Worshiping.  When her sister approached the Master with her frustrated demand, Mary made no excuses.  She didn’t have to.  Jesus longed for listeners.  Even at His transfiguration God sent a voice from heaven and reminded His closest disciples to “listen to Him.”  “Mary has chosen the good part,” He told Martha.  “It will not be taken from her.”

Jesus has promised us His presence, He has given us His word.  Mary’s worship was in her delight of God’s presence and His word.  Spirit and truth.  This is the worship God seeks.  David recognized that God did not seek sacrifices, but contrite hearts.  The apostles proclaimed that Yahweh did not dwell in temples made with human hands—His temple is the body of those who believe.  When the Jewish temple was destroyed and an end was put to sacrifices, the Christians recognized that the final sacrifice had been offered at the cross and an end had been made to formula religion.  God seeks for worshipers who worship not in Jerusalem, or on “this mountain”, but in spirit and truth.  Focused on His word, longing for His presence.

And those who worship the Lord have chosen the good part—which can never be taken away.  No circumstance can separate us from Christ, in whom is demonstrated the love of God.

“When Mary came where Jesus was, she fell at His feet…weeping…”  (John 11:32)

Mary’s beloved brother Lazarus had died.  Jesus had not come as quickly as the sisters might have hoped, and the last enemy had taken its captive.  As the sisters mourned, they must have mourned that Jesus had not been present—to prevent their brother’s death.  What they did not know was that Jesus had delayed.  Even the pain they were experiencing would be redeemed for the glory of God.

As soon as Mary heard that Jesus was asking for her, she rose so abruptly that she caused a stir.  And as soon as she saw Jesus, she flung herself at His feet, unaware of those who looked on.  Only once in the narrative of her interaction with the Lord does she speak.  “Lord,” she said, expressing her grief, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  Her worship extended to her grief, pressed through her pain, and inspired her to throw herself at the feet of Almighty God.  She had longed for His presence and now she grieved in it.  It hurts, her actions said.  It hurts, but I worship you.  Her worship moved Jesus.  He had known this was a difficult thing—sometimes the Lord must permit pain, grief and sorrow for His glory.  But it is never a delight to Him to see a child’s pain, and He ached with Mary.  He ached to see the pain and sorrow that sin and death cause and He longed to show her His power over sin and death—a foretaste of the great struggle which He had come to wage.

Sin and death bring pain, but we can be comforted with Mary and Martha by the resurrection on the last day.  And we can be comforted in knowing that Jesus is also grieved by sin and death.  To fall at His feet weeping, expressing our pain and confusion is worship—in spirit and truth.  It hurts, but He is still God.  He will redeem our pain for His glory.

“Mary therefore…anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair…”  (John 12:3)

A year’s wages worth of perfume were poured at the feet of Jesus in an act of extravagant worship.  I’ve heard many speculations on this perfume and how it came into Mary’s possession.  Some have constructed a colorful past for this quiet woman—after all, who would have expensive perfume, but a harlot?  And why would she be a grown woman, still living with her brother and sister?  Others have suggested that Mary’s parents had died, since she and her siblings now formed a family unit of their own.  A common practice of the time was to invest money in spices or perfumes which could be resold later.  This prized perfume, they contend, was Mary’s sole inheritance.  Others suggest Mary was a widow and this was the last vestige of her past marriage which she carried with her when she returned to her childhood home.  Still others suggest it was her dowry, something she had treasured for the day she would be joined to a husband.  As she poured it at the Lord’s feet, she was expressing her love and devotion to Him as Her bridegroom.

Frankly, scripture leaves us entirely in the dark as to Mary’s past and future.  All we know is the immense value of her offering and Jesus’ acceptance of her gift.  Is the Holy Spirit telling us that it’s not important?  Whether this offering embodied her past of sin or her future hopes, her treasured memories or simply her security and stability, it was likely the largest part of her possessions and she poured it over the feet of the Lord.  Some have suggested that Mary’s act of letting down her hair was considered immodest or suggestive.  But as Mary wiped the Lord’s feet, this lowly act of service could hardly have been considered indecent or impure.  Rather, completely oblivious to the opinions of others, she was humbling herself at the feet of her Savior and pouring out her entire being—possessions, self, heart.  She gave herself entirely in response to the gift He had promised her.

I have often wondered, based on the words of Jesus to those who criticized Mary for her extravagant worship, if she truly did understand what His disciples did not.  Certainly, Mary had chosen the good part—listening to Jesus—while some of His disciples had to be reminded to listen.  Had she grasped His insistence that He would suffer and die in Jerusalem?  Did she realize that this was her only opportunity to embalm Him?  To offer her last expressions of love to the One who loved her soul?

When she was criticized again Mary held her breath, like David who said, “I am like a dumb man.  I utter no defense, for the Lord is my defense.”

“Leave her alone,” the Lord rebuked her attacker.  Once again Mary had chosen the good part.  “She did it to anoint my body for burial.”  And it would not be taken from her.

The Lord seeks for true worshipers.  He delights and desires that we pour everything at His feet—our time, our mind, our heart, our sorrow, our confusion, our possessions, our past, our present, our future, our hopes, our dreams, our memories, ourselves.  He wants it all.  And when we give it all, we find we have chosen the good part: our joyful eternity doing exactly what we were created to do—worship God in spirit and truth.  And it will never be taken away.

Read Mary’s Story:  At Jesus’ Feet

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Women of Wisdom: At Jesus’ Feet

February 23, 2010 at 1:00 am (Articles, Attitudes, W.O.W., Worship) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Posted by Abigail

(Taken from Luke 10:38-42; John 11:1-46; John 12:1-8)

Once upon a time a quiet, little Jewish girl grew up in the hill country of Bethany, near the Holy City, Jerusalem.  Every Sabbath, as she grew from childhood to womanhood, Mary heard the sacred writings of Moses and the Prophets and listened breathlessly to the promise of a Messiah.  She listened quietly as her sister, Martha, and her brother, Lazarus, debated the time of the Messiah’s coming and speculated on His reign.  The hearts of the Jewish people drooped under the yoke of Rome.  Had Yahweh forsaken them?  Once He had led His people out of slavery in Egypt, yet every Passover the shadow of the Roman governor stretched across the meal of lamb and herbs.  And once He had rescued His people from certain death in Babylon, yet every Purim, the celebration was clouded by the echo of the Latin language in their streets.  His temple stood newly renovated and spectacular on the Holy Hill, yet often on the way to Jerusalem, the outlines of cruel Roman crosses could be seen outside the city proclaiming death to any who disobeyed the iron fist of Rome.  Each time Mary passed a Roman soldier, the symbol of her people’s oppression, she prayed that Yahweh would send the deliverer.  She prayed.  She hoped.  She believed.

Then, one day, she fell in love.

She’d heard the stories.  “He’s a prophet!” many exclaimed as His miracles were recounted.  He’d healed the sick, given sight to the blind, strength to the lame.  He’d fed thousands from a few loaves.  He’d taught with authority that challenged the hypocritical chief priests.  “Could He be–?”  Mary heard hope in the voices that had long sounded dry and weary.  In spite of the militant speculations as to this Prophet’s designs, Mary’s thoughts lingered on the women.  Many of the chief priests and rabbis wouldn’t even speak to their own wives in public, yet this Teacher reached out to heal women who were sick and suffering and even enslaved to evil spirits.  And afterwards He accepted these women’s ministrations as they sought to repay Him for the gift of a second chance.  This man was unlike any of the Rabbis she had seen and unlike any of the Messiahs she had been taught to pray for.

And this Rabbi had just entered her home as a guest.  As soon as Mary’s eyes met His, she was overwhelmed.  Lacking the pomp and circumstance of an important person, He dressed simply with a homespun mantle draped over His shoulders, road-stained with dusty feet.  He was surrounded by eager, clamoring men, yet His eyes held determination and peace.  So many voices making so much racket, yet only One voice seemed to matter.  He had so much to teach, so much to express.  And there was so little time.  How could she ever learn it all?  He was so holy; Mary felt if she could sit in His presence long enough, she would be completely washed clean, inside and out, shining like a pure star in the heavens.

Suddenly a voice at her elbow startled her.  “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone?”  Mary had hardly realized that she had settled onto the floor at Jesus’ feet, her eyes on her folded hands, soaking in every word.  He told such simple stories with such profound meaning.  But of course Martha had been stressed, bustling here and there, her home full of men—important men, if they traveled with the Rabbi.  Jesus looked at Martha and Mary watched His face as her sister continued without giving the Master a chance to answer.  “Tell her to help me.”

Jesus’ answer was gentle, yet firm.  “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only a few things are necessary, really only one.  Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

Though He spoke to her sister, Mary grasped His words about her and clung to them.  She had chosen the good part.  She had chosen Jesus.  He would not be taken away from her.

Even when Jesus left to continue His ministry across the region of Judea, Mary pondered His teachings and clung to His promise that the good part would not be taken from her.  She knew that Jesus was not like other men, nor even like other Rabbis.  She knew that He loved her—yet not in the way of a home and children.  She knew that He didn’t belong to her, and yet, in a small way, He did.  And she had given herself completely to Him.  As He traveled the region, she listened breathlessly to the accounts that trickled back of His miracles, His growing popularity and His increasing clashes with the Pharisees and Sadducees.  “He is the Messiah,” people declared.  Then came the shocking news:  Jesus had declared His oneness with God.  “Blasphemy!” cried the Jews and tried to stone Him, but He eluded their grasp and left that region.

Mary’s heart was troubled.  Didn’t they listen to Him?  Didn’t they understand His words?  Didn’t they realize that Jesus’ words were life?  What He spoke must be truth.

But her troubled thoughts were interrupted by a greater trouble.  Her brother, Lazarus, fell deathly ill.  “What shall we do?” the sisters whispered to each other as they gazed at their feeble and delirious brother.  Jesus had healed countless strangers, would He come and heal their beloved brother?  “God gives Him whatever He asks,” Martha asserted, in faith.  A faithful friend, another disciple of Jesus, was dispatched immediately to carry the word to Jesus:  “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.”  Careful not to demand His presence, the sisters wondered if it would be safe for Him to come.

Then came the waiting.  The praying.  The hoping.  The believing that Jesus would do what was right.  What passed through Mary’s mind as she watched her brother’s suffering, unable to offer more than love, wondering why the Lord delayed?  Was it because Judea had rejected Him?  Could it be unsafe for the Master to come to Bethany, since He had just escaped a stoning?  Did Mary struggle against feelings of abandonment?  Jesus had promised that the good part would never be taken from her, yet He delayed coming when she needed Him most.  And even as Jesus delayed, Lazarus weakened, faded and passed on.

Jesus had healed others.  Many others.  “If He had been here, our brother would not have died,” Martha whispered, clasping Mary in her arms their brother was laid in a tomb and a stone rolled to cover the doorway.  Mary nodded as her sister offered the comfort of those who hoped in Yahweh: “He will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”  Then they went home.

The next several days passed as a blur, friends and fellow mourners coming and going, whispering, offering consolations.  Mary thought only of Jesus.  Why hadn’t He come?  She didn’t understand.  She knew Jesus loved her.  She knew Jesus loved Lazarus.  “If only He had been here,” she mulled it over and over in her head.  “If only He had been here, my brother would not have died.”  Once He had defended her and said she had chosen the good part—the place at His feet.  She wanted to be there, now.  Life seemed so clear and simple when she sat at His feet.

“Mary,” her sister was at her elbow, shielding her face with her shawl to give them some privacy.  “Mary, the Teacher is here and is calling for you.”

All her thoughts, her questions, her tears fled as she heard the words.  Quickly she bounded to her feet and was out the door, following her sister’s directions to find Jesus.  Mary didn’t notice the Jews following her, supposing that she went to the tomb to weep.  Why would she go to the tomb to weep?  A cold stone could not hear her cry; a sepulcher was not the good part.

Then she saw Him.  He was standing just where Martha had left Him, His eyes fixed on her, seeing her before she came.  A choke filled her throat and the tears welled up, blinding her eyes as she stumbled and sank down at the Master’s feet.  “Lord,” she wept, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

She could sense the grief in Jesus’ tone as He turned from her and asked, “Where have you laid him?”  Several voices answered, “Lord, come and see.”

Then Jesus wept.

Whispers.  “Behold how He loved him.”

Other whispers.  “Could not this man who opened the eyes of the blind have kept this man from dying?”

Of course He could have.  If He had been there–

Mary’s tears flowed freely, unchecked, washing the pain, the agony, the questions, the confusion down into the abyss of things long passed.  Jesus was weeping with her.  He loved her.  He was aching for her.  She looked up into His face and saw there that same peace, that same determination.  He had more to teach her.  She stood and followed Him to the tomb.

The stone lay firmly against the mouth of the tomb, but Jesus raised His arm and said, “Remove the stone.”

“Lord,” Martha’s voice was quiet, concerned, anxious, “by this time there will be a stench for he has been dead four days.”

Jesus turned and looked her directly in the face, His voice gentle but firm.  “Did I not say to you, if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

Mary’s heart was hammering in her chest.  What was Jesus about to do?  The glory of God?  What had He told Martha?  Mary’s mind raced over all the miracles of Jesus, her heart filling with a trembling hope.  Hadn’t Martha said, “God gives Him whatever He asks for”?

As the stone was rolled away, Mary watched Jesus raise His eyes to heaven.  He took a deep breath and called out, “Father, I that You that You that You hear Me!  And I know that You hear Me always, but because of the people standing around I said it, that they may believe that You sent Me.”

Mary’s hands trembled as her mind echoed, “I do believe!”

Then Jesus’ voice rang out against the stones, “Lazarus, come forth!”

And there he was, bound hand and foot with the linen wrappings, but walking slowly from the entrance of the tomb.  Alive.

“Unbind him,” Jesus commanded.  “And let him go.”

The event caused quite a stir.  Friends and neighbors wanted to know what had happened, and the word spread quickly, and lingered long after Jesus had left for the wilderness, once more avoiding the Jews.  Mary replayed the days, moment by moment, searching them out, trying to understand, thanking Yahweh for her brother.  And she pondered the words Martha had related to her.  “He told me, ‘I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.  Do you believe?”  Martha had expressed the cry of her own heart, “Yes, Lord, I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.”

This Christ was so different from what they had all expected.  The Jews had been hoping for a conquering king, but the Christ Mary knew was a servant, a Teacher who wept and a Great Physician.  He had conquered blindness, lameness, deafness—and now death.  And He had conquered her heart.

It was almost Passover when the Lord returned to Bethany.  Again Martha was serving, busy and bustling, but without complaint.  Lazarus sat with Jesus, gladly acting the part of host.  Mary had been carefully watching the Lord’s face—it still held the peace and determination, but also seemed marked by a quiet sadness in spite the noise and excitement.  Some of His words held a strange sense of expectation, though He said little. In the folds of her shawl, Mary held her prized possession—a pound of pure nard, a perfume worth a year’s wages—waiting for her opportunity.  Finally she approached and knelt again by those beloved feet.  She didn’t notice the silence that settled or the surprised eyes fixed on her as she began to pour the perfume over Jesus’ feet, rubbing away the road-dust with her hair.  This was not just the good part, this was the best part.  Being at Jesus’ feet, pouring herself at His feet, worshiping.

“Why was this perfume not sold and the money given to the poor?” the scornful voice broke through Mary’s consciousness.

Condemned, again, she knelt, waiting Christ’s reply.

“Leave her alone, in order that she may keep the custom of anointing for the day of My burial.  For the poor you have with you always, but you do not always have Me.”

As the fragrance of the nard wafted around her, Mary’s heart grew heavy.  She would not always have Jesus?  He would be buried?  Hadn’t He promised that the good part would not be taken from her?  He was the good part.  The best part.  The only part.

Around her, the conversation continued, Judas sullen after his rebuke.  Jesus eyes lingered on Mary’s face, a tender sadness in them.  Anointed for His burial.  Jesus would die.

But deep inside, a tiny flame of hope flickered.  Lazarus had died, too.

The next several days were laced with the greatest pathos the world has ever seen as the Lamb of God was led to slaughter.  God turned His back on His own Son, leaving the Son to weep alone, sweating blood in His agony.  Women clustered around the foot of the cross, watching this innocent man-God bear their sin and God the Father’s wrath.  Was Mary with them, at the foot of Christ’s cross?  Then it was finished.  But the end was the beginning.  On the first day of the week, the women hurried to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus, but they were too late.  Was Mary with them that early morning?  She had already anointed the Lord.  When Jesus had raised Lazarus, He had said, “Father, I know that You hear Me.”  When Christ hung on the cross, pleading for the sins of the world, He was heard.  He knew He was heard, but for the sake of those on earth, God proved it in the same way He had with Lazarus.  When the women came to the tomb, the stone had been rolled away and Jesus had come forth, alive.

Whether or not Mary was present at the death and resurrection of Jesus, she certainly must have heard and understood the power of this conquering King.  He had not only triumphed over death—but also over that which caused death, over sin.  And in His promise that those who believe in Him should live eternally, she heard her happily ever after.  The good part would not be taken from her.  At the resurrection at the last day, she would be raised, to live forever, sitting at the feet of Jesus, worshiping.

Lessons from Wisdom:  The Art of Worship

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Emotional Affairs?

February 15, 2010 at 1:17 am (Attitudes, Purity, W.O.W.) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

food-for-thought

Chew on this…

Intimacy is not just about physical encounters.  When someone shares inner feelings, secrets, desires, flirts or flatters, or even places himself or herself in a compromising situation, you are being intimate.  The final analysis:  all forms of intimacy should be reserved for the marital relationship or else you are taking something away.  Something that belongs to the spouse and giving it to someone else.  That wasn’t what the vows were about.

The ultimate deterrent to all of this is a strong set of moral values, rules and standards.  These keep you from even taking the first step.  Because, for sure if you don’t take that first step, you won’t be there to take that final fatal step.

~Dr. Laura Schlessinger, When is an Affair and Affair?  (TV show)

…and tell us what you think.

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Lessons from Wisdom: The Art of Availability

December 27, 2008 at 9:03 am (Articles, Attitudes, Godly Living, W.O.W.) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

Posted by Abigail

art-of-availability

“In the fullness of time, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, that He might redeem those under the law.” (Galatians 4:4) When time was ripe, God sent His Son—born of a woman. A simple virgin from Nazareth. Why? I can’t peer back in history before the visit of God’s messenger, but God reveals His sovereignty in shaping this young woman, throughout her entire life, to be His servant and to give birth to His Son–the perfect Servant and the ransom for mankind.

The Lord’s work in Mary’s heart and life is summed up in her words “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord.” The Lord’s slave. Devoted to Him. At His bidding. Available. God uses those who are available. As the story of Jesus unfolds, Mary’s quiet part in this perfect drama is this: quiet availability to God’s needs. Humble. Pure. A servant.

Behold, the Handmaid of the Lord. (Luke 1:38)

Mary stood on the verge of a Jewish maiden’s ideal future when the angel appeared to her. A Jewish woman’s identity was wrapped up in her marriage—to a good man, a righteous man, a man with a trade, a man of good reputation and good family. As she listened to the angel’s declaration, the Lord revealed to her something not generally understood by the Jewish nation—that the Messiah would be the Son of God. He would not belong to her husband. When Mary bowed her head and expressed her willingness to do whatever the Lord asked, she opened herself up to heartache and loss. She could have lost her entire future. A woman pregnant outside of marriage was an adulteress and could be stoned. A righteous man could not, in good conscience, marry her. Forever she would be looked down upon, ostracized and whispered about. Still, she made herself available to God, trusting His eternal plan for her life—and that of the child she would bear. I remember the day that the realization dawned on me: Mary and I are not so different. The Lord’s call came to me as well—and I have been chosen to carry the truth of God’s Son as well! God seeks those who are available—empty of their own plans and dreams, so that He may fill them with His Spirit and overshadow them with His power!

Mary rose and went to Judah…and greeted Elizabeth. (Luke 1:39-40)

The angel had left Mary with another piece of news—Elizabeth was also miraculously with child. Seeking encouragement and to be an encouragement, Mary rushed to her side and spent the next three months with her. Why? As Elizabeth reached her time to give birth, she must have needed help, encouragement and companionship. Mary made herself available to this godly woman, to help her and to learn from her to be a godly wife—and mother. The Lord has placed in our lives those who are doing His will, seeking His glory. “You should serve each other,” He told His disciples in His last night with them. His desire is to see us become servants, available to encourage, assist and pour out His love to those who love Him.

Joseph rose and took Mary as his wife. (Matthew 1:24)

Even when it seemed that Mary might be abandoned, Almighty God intervened to give Mary a protector and provider. “Don’t be afraid,” the angel told Joseph. Immediately he rose from his bed and took Mary as his wife. What had her feelings been a short time before? About to be divorced by a man she admired—likely loved deeply. Suddenly he was at her door, calling her name to take her as his wife—early. Catching up her covering, she made herself ready. Available to follow his lead, to trust that he was following the Lord’s command, knowing that in following Joseph, she was doing the Lord’s will. When the Lord transferred Mary’s authority to her husband, He also began speaking to her husband and leaving Mary to hear from Him second-hand. Not because Mary was no longer worthy to hear from the Lord, but because the Lord had sheltered her under the authority of a righteous man. Joseph was her God-given head. Joseph stood under God’s authority and Mary trusted Him. Even Jesus spoke of being under the authority of the Father. The Lord places authorities in each of our lives and leads us through them. Our part is to be available to His leading through them—no matter how inconvenient.

Joseph had to travel…and Mary went with him. (Luke 2:4-5)

God had also placed Joseph under authority. No matter how ungodly the Roman empire was, God was in control and was using the decree of Caesar to accomplish His eternal purpose. As Joseph obeyed the decree, Mary made herself available to her husband, to travel with him, to be with him, in spite of the fact that she was about to have a child. Inconvenient is an understatement, I’m sure. With the discomfort of pregnancy–swelling, water retention, constant bladder pressure, dizziness, nausea–traveling the dusty roads from Nazareth the Bethlehem could hardly have been a pleasure trip. Yet Mary went accompanied her man, so fulfilling the words of the prophets of old in her availability to her husband who was also obeying the government.

They found the baby and His mother. (Luke 2:16; Matthew 2:11)

Alone and cold in a foreign town, the middle of the night she gave birth could not have been the time Mary would have chosen for visitors. Yet as she watched her baby, she opened her heart and arms to the smelly shepherds who had come to see God’s good news. Some time later, finally in the privacy of her own home, she was invaded by a crowd of foreign magi. Again she opened her arms and heart and shared Jesus with those seeking Him. God has called each of us to carry the truth of His Son—and to be available to share Him with anyone who seeks Him.

Take the child and His mother and go to Egypt. (Matthew 3:13)

The Lord’s commands don’t always seem convenient, but they should always be treated as urgent. Joseph took God’s commands seriously and immediately obeyed. His instant obedience produced a wild ride for his wife, Mary. But think how strenuous obedience would have become had Mary balked, complained, dawdled or refused. The quick cooperation of a woman who trusts her man to lead her in the Lord is the encouragement and blessing that can empower that man to do whatever the Lord has called him to do. First the move to Egypt and then the move back, turned Mary’s life upside down. As she learned to be a servant, she recognized Joseph’s obedience to the Lord and his desire to protect her and the baby, Jesus and cheerfully made her place by his side.

Didn’t you know I must be about My Father’s business? (Luke 2:49)

When Jesus was a baby, he depended on His mother and she gave Him what she thought He needed—food, sleep, baths. As He grew she had to constantly re-learn the hard fact of service: a devoted servant is attentive to the Master’s desires, wishes and needs. A devoted servant seeks to know the Master. And she learned that Her Son came to be the greatest servant of all–to give, to love, to sacrifice and to pour out His own life for the glory of God, His Master in heaven. From the mouth of her perfect twelve-year-old came this humbling reminder, “Didn’t you know…” Jesus’ first responsibility was to be about His Father’s business. Mary had offered herself available to serve the Lord. Her Divine Son was calling her to know Him. The Lord has called us to know Him as well and to serve Him by learning Who He is and what His desires are. As godly women, He has called us to know the men in our lives, to seek to understand them and the ministry to which God has called each of them and to support them in that ministry–their service to God.

Woman, My time has not yet come. (John 2:4)

When Mary informed Jesus of the lack at the wedding in Cana, His words nearly seemed harsh. Like He was irritably saying, “Leave me alone, Mom” in the very tones that used to earn me a sound spanking. But Jesus’ words are so much different than my bad attitude. His was a straightforward reminder that He did not belong to her. Her ways were not His ways. Often we seek to tell God what to do. We try to point out to Him the way in which He can serve us. Mary took the response, digested it and commanded the servants to do what? To be available. What she was learning, she was teaching. “Do whatever He tells you to do.” Then she was silent. When our heart is available, our attitude ready to do whatever He tells us to do, God can take our water and turn into the wine of life!

My mother and brothers are those who do the will of My Father. (Matthew 12:50)

How difficult it must have been for Mary to loosen her mother’s hold and let her Son be in control of the universe. When she and her sons came seeking Him, His words seemed like rejection. “Who are my mother and my brothers? He who does the will of My Father.” But Jesus was not rejecting Mary as the one who had given birth to Him and nursed Him. He was reminding her what it was she had committed herself to do. “I am the Lord’s handmaid,” she had said. Even the Lord’s mother must learn to trust Him and entrust herself to Him. She had made herself available to serve the Lord. It’s easy to imagine service as doing what I think should be done. What I think is best. What I think will bring God glory. Jesus corrected this misconception with truth: service is doing whatever the Lord asks. Doing whatever He wants. Simply put, obedience. Availability to His needs and requests.

Jesus saw His mother standing nearby. (John 19:26)

From His birth to His death, Mary was available. Even as Jesus hung from the cross, paying for the sins of the world, she stood by, watching and weeping. He saw her and He provided for her care. Did Jesus love His mother? He gave His life to redeem her, to purchase her back from sin and from slavery to the law and to make her a child of God. He bought for her, with His blood, an eternity with Him. Once upon a time, she thought He needed her. Finally she understood that she was lost without Him. As He had once been helpless in her arms, so she was helpless without His intercession. Favored of God—because of Her Son, Jesus.

Mary stored up all these things and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2:51)

As Mary watched Jesus grow and fulfill God’s purpose in His life, she treasured every moment in her heart, storing it up. Later she shared all she remembered with Luke, the beloved physician, who sought to write a thorough account of all that Jesus began to do and teach. She made herself available to listen, to watch, to remember, to treasure and available to share the precious life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

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As I studied this woman of wisdom, I wept over her sacrifices—constantly giving up her dreams, her comfort and finally her Son. “I am the Lord’s handmaid,” she had said. “Do to me whatever.” The life of a servant is availability to the Master, always near, always ready, always cheerful, always eager. Long before Gabriel visited Nazareth, God had been at work in Mary’s heart, shaping her into an empty vessel that He could fill. From the day she accepted the Lord’s call to carry the Savior of the world, Mary made herself available to the Lord, available to the authorities He had placed over her, and available to anyone who sought Jesus. Pouring herself out as a sacrifice before the Lord, she found favor. Jesus told His disciples the secret of true greatness, “He who desires to be great, must become servant of all.” (Matthew 23:11)

Read the story:  Behold, the Lord’s Handmaid

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Women of Wisdom: Behold, the Lord’s Handmaid

December 23, 2008 at 9:45 am (W.O.W.) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Posted by Abigail

the-lords-handmaid

Adapted from the gospels of Matthew, Luke and John

Once upon a time a modest little Jewish girl was born into a loving home in the  city of Nazareth in sunny Galilee. As she grew she learned to care for a home and a family and she dreamed of the day when she would marry a godly man and raise godly children. Then one day her dream seemed almost realized when she was sought in marriage by Joseph, the son of Jacob, a local builder, a man with a reputation as clear as his namesake, the son of the first Jacob who had become Israel. Though not wealthy, Joseph also traced his family line directly to King David! How her heart must have swelled with pride and pleasure as the couple exchanged their betrothal vows and prepared for happily ever after.

In the midst of the daily routine of baking flatbread and washing clothes and weaving linens and dreaming of marriage, Mary received a remarkable visit. “Good morning, God’s favored one. Yahweh is with you!” The brightness, the splendor, the purity and holiness radiating from the face and clothes of the strange man sent tiny shivers down her spine, but it was his greeting which Mary found most troubling. Brow knit, head bowed, she turned the strange words over and over in her mind. “Favored one. Yahweh is with you.” Her mind darted toward the temple in Jerusalem where Yahweh was said to dwell—unapproachably. How could He be with her? “Don’t be afraid, Mary. You have found favor with Almighty God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son and you will name Him Jesus. He will be great and be called the Son of the Most High; and God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever and His kingdom will have no end.” The angel’s voice was like a waterfall, pouring over Mary’s mind and soul and heart. She desperately tried to take it all in. Was he promising that she would be mother of the Messiah? The long-awaited Savior of Israel? But what did he mean “the Son of the Most High?” Would Joseph be the father? Was this a promise for later…or now?

“How is this possible?” Mary whispered, her hands trembling. “I am a virgin.”

The angel’s next words would remain in her heart forever, treasured and turned over and pondered upon. “The Holy Spirit will come on you and God’s power will cover you. This is why the holy offspring will be called God’s Son.”

Did the full impact of the message sink into Mary’s heart?  The Messiah would be divine. Born of a virgin. No human father. God’s own Son. She would hold God in her arms. Nurse God at her breast. Teach God to speak? Kiss God on the forehead? A shiver passed through her body as the angel continued. “In fact, your relative Elizabeth has also become pregnant in her old age—she who was barren is in her sixth month! Nothing is impossible for Yahweh!”

Overwhelmed by inexplicable emotions, Mary knew one thing with certainty—whatever God did was good. Whatever He planned would be accomplished. Whatever He wanted, she wanted. With her whole heart. She was at his disposal. “Behold, I am the Lord’s maidservant. Do to me whatever you have said.”

Then he was gone.

Then came the uncertainty, the doubt and the fear. What would this mean? Virgins didn’t conceive. To become pregnant during betrothal was adultery—and punishable by death. Her life had looked so simple and beautiful—an ideal marriage to a godly man. God had called her to something more. Might the call of God destroy her dreams? The angel had told her something else—Elizabeth was also expecting miraculously. The first opportunity found Mary accompanying a caravan to Judah.

God’s confirmation greeted her in the form of her aging cousin, renewed like Sarah of old, her face wreathed in smiles. “Blessed among women are you! And blessed is the fruit of your womb! How has it happened that the mother of my master has come to me? When I heard your voice the baby within me leaped for joy! Blessed are you for believing the word of the Lord!”

Tears sprang to Mary’s eyes as she felt the Holy Spirit burning hotly inside her heart. She couldn’t hold back the joy that poured over her spirit. “My soul exalts the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. He has regarded the humble state of His bond slave…the Mighty One has done great things for me. Holy is His name!” The words rushed from her lips like the flow of a pure fountain, washing her trembling spirit in life and light.

The next three months were times of continual wonder, being with Elizabeth, sheltered from the uncertain future, watching the miracle inside her body develop. When Elizabeth finally delivered a son and his father regained his voice to deliver a stirring prophecy, Mary’s heart clung to every word. Full of God’s unfolding plan, she turned her steps homeward, knowing she must soon share her news. How would it be received?

In the moment between Mary’s explanation and Joseph’s response, the scenes of the last three months flashed before her eyes: all the wonder, the excitement, the joy. But in the face of her betrothed she read only pain and heartbreak. Virgins don’t conceive. Only adulteresses do. For Joseph to marry a pregnant woman would mar his reputation forever—as if he accepted the bastard child as his own.  Worse yet, his own repugnance to impurity could not allow him near a fornicator.  As he turned and walked away from her, Mary’s girlhood dreams came crashing down like the walls of Jericho. Who would ever marry a woman who had given birth to a child while claiming to be a “virgin”?

In the middle of the night, Joseph heard from the Lord. His immediate response was immediate obedience—he rose from his bed and took Mary as his wife. Like a thief in the night. But he kept her pure, so that the holy child would truly be born of a virgin. Now perhaps Mary could have her happily ever after?

But the Lord was on the move again, fulfilling prophesies through the ungodly Caesar. A decree required Joseph to travel to his heritage town of Bethlehem. Willingly, Mary packed up and went with him, about to give birth. And while they waited, unable to find housing, the labor pains came on and she gave birth and wrapped her baby and laid Him in the only thing available—a manger. What must her thoughts have been as she held the newborn Son of God to her and whispered the name the angel had given her “Jesus?” Or the name Isaiah had prophesied for the virgin’s Son: “Immanuel”—God with us. Soon her tranquility was invaded by a group of noisy, smelly shepherds, eagerly seeking the Messiah. Opening her heart and arms, Mary shared with them the gift God had given her, pondering all that had been told her and storing it in her heart.

Life hardly ended with a serene crèche scene. A week later Mary, likely still cramping and bleeding, traveled with Joseph to Jerusalem to present Jesus at the temple, offering the best they could—two turtle doves or two young pigeons to redeem Him back. There they were greeted by prophetic confirmation: the elderly Anna who praised God for the redemption of Israel and the aged Simeon, who took the infant from her arms and promised her more pain, “A sword will pierce even your own soul.” Any thoughts of happily ever after must have fled Mary’s mind at these words.

Joseph found work in Bethlehem and built a house. As a devoted mother, Mary poured herself into her baby, meeting His needs, nursing Him, holding Him, wiping his little bottom, bathing His little body. Never had she realized how truly raising a baby was serving God. She was just beginning to feel at home when a large caravan arrived outside the door. Camels grumbled and snorted, horses pawed the ground and a group of elegantly dressed men with long grey beards and turbans invaded her little paradise. Again she opened her heart and watched, bewildered as they poured out gifts of gold, myrrh and frankincense. Then, almost as quickly as they had come, they were gone. Mary was shaken awake in the middle of a sound sleep by her husband. “Get up, quickly!” he urged. “We have to leave and get Jesus away from here.” Just like that, her serene life was shattered and she found herself a fugitive in Egypt, living off the gifts of the wise men. Before she could make herself at home there, the Lord had called them back home to Nazareth.

Once upon a time a quiet little Jewish girl had dreamed of a quiet life with beautiful, dark-eyed children and a gentle, godly husband. Then the Lord had called her to the most blessed role and her life turned upside down. She nearly lost her betrothed. Rumors and insults still straggled across the lips of neighbors for years afterwards. She had to give up her home and give birth in a far away place, cold and alone at night. She’d fled her homeland to save her child. Now she was home again. Finally, perhaps she would find her happily ever after.

As the child grew in grace and more brothers and sisters were added to the family, Mary began to learn more of this Son of God, born to her. The Passover feast found Him missing and her heart raced as she and Joseph searched for three days before finding Him in the temple. Struggling between pride at the report she heard of His wisdom and relief at finding Him she scolded, “Why did you do this to us? We’ve been searching everywhere for you!” His answer must have sent her mind spinning. “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I must be doing my Father’s business?” For the rest of His life, His Father’s business would be His priority. He would stay out all night, sleeping under the stars, trekking across the countryside healing, teaching and gathering disciples. Mary knew His divine mission was from God, but she didn’t understand that the sword that pierced her heart would come so soon. She didn’t know that she would watch her Son slowly proving His independence of her and her advice only to prove her dependence on Him. Yet she had to trust Him, to trust that her Son knew the best. Each time He reminded her that He knew best, it must have sent a sword through her heart. Hadn’t she nursed Him? Hadn’t she wiped away His tears? Hadn’t she poured her heart and life into Him? She admired His compassion, His wisdom and His love. But how could she let go of the tiny baby she had held in her arms so many years before and worship the Man He had grown to be—God’s Son, in Whom He was well-pleased.

One terrible night, at the height of His popularity, He was betrayed by a friend and led as a sheep to the slaughter to the hill called Golgotha. His mother stood at the foot of His cross, weeping because she could not hold Him and comfort Him and wipe the blood and sweat from His face. She stood, ready to do for Him whatever she could, helpless to do anything for Him. Once God had promised she would bear a Son who would save His people from their sins. The Messiah. There He hung, naked and shredded, gasping for breath. His eyes met hers. “Woman,” he whispered, “Behold your Son.” And his eyes fixed on her nephew. “Behold, your mother.”

In that moment, Mary knew that He was no longer hers. That He never had belonged to her. In that moment the sword pierced her heart with a searing agony. Where was the happy ending of which she had dreamed? Then darkness overwhelmed everything and He passed.

After years of devotedly seeking to serve God, Mary lost her holy Son.

Such a moment couldn’t bear repeating had God not known best, had Jesus not been in control, had not the Spirit been moving. Mary had sacrificed her dreams and hopes for her Son unaware that He would sacrifice His life for her. Just as Jesus had laid down His life, He had power to take it up again. Three days later He rose, no longer Mary’s Son, but now fully her Master. Her God. In His death and resurrection, He saved her from the power of sin and death. Through Him, she obtained the new birth that made her a child of God. Through her Son’s perfect plan, Mary obtained her happily ever after—for eternity.

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Lessons from Wisdom:The Art of Trust

December 3, 2008 at 7:00 am (Articles, Attitudes, Godly Living, W.O.W.) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

Posted by Abigail

art-of-trust

If I met Rahab on the street, I’d likely pass her by without offering admiration—raised in a foreign country, working to support herself as a prostitute, offering protection to God’s spies through lies and deceit (the only way she knew). Yet the scarlet thread of redemption is woven through her story. She recognized God’s power, His ability, His sovereignty and she cast herself entirely on His mercy. In an epic tale of complete destruction, only Rahab and her family were rescued from God’s certain wrath.

Why?

Not because she was beautiful. Not because she was wealthy. Not because she was intelligent or creative or spoke beautifully. Because she trusted Yahweh. Hebrews 11:31 celebrates her alongside Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses, the heroes of the faith. “By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient…”

In this phrase we see Rahab’s trust demonstrated: obedience. Not just a habit of obedience to anyone—an Ella Enchanted sort of docility—but obedience to the One who commanded her reverence. The essence of obedience begins with fearing Yahweh and understanding His power, His beauty and His worthiness. Because Rahab had heard of the mighty deeds of God Almighty, she welcomed His messengers in peace and offered them shelter to the best of her understanding. This might have seemed a foolish thing to the men of Jericho. The King could have discovered her treachery and strung her from the city wall! But for Rahab, the fear of Yahweh was the beginning of wisdom. Her trust wasn’t simple words. “Yahweh, I trust you. I believe in You.” She began with a declaration of her faith, “Yahweh is God of heaven above and earth below.” But her faith worked its way out through her actions, first in hospitality, then in seeking shelter, in obedience to a command and finally in forsaking her past and embracing God’s ways and God’s people. She acted on her reverence for God and trusted Him to work out the details.

She welcomed the spies in peace. (Hebrews 11:31)

Rahab demonstrated true hospitality—in welcoming strangers. We would do well to learn from her, opening our homes, our resources, our safe-places to those who do the Lord’s work, offering them peace. Jesus says, “Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you’ve done to Me.” Accepting Jesus means accepting His people for fellowship, protection and assistance. Paul said the widow worthy of honor has “shown hospitality” and “washed the saint’s feet.”

Please deliver our lives from death. (Joshua 2:13)

Rahab had heard the Lord deliver His own people from Egypt and had heard how He had sustained them through the wilderness. She had never witnessed His work for herself when she sought His protection. “Faith is the evidence of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” She knew He was able to save her as surely as she knew He was able to give Jericho into the hand of the Israelites. So she stepped out in humility and sought God’s mercy. He gives grace to the humble.

Tie this scarlet cord in your window. (Joshua 2:18)

To obey this command could potentially mark Rahab out for ridicule and danger. At the very least, it might have seemed extraneous. Must she really do something so entirely unusual? Didn’t the spies know where she lived? She obeyed a command to stand out, to mark her house as different, to appear odd. The cord served several purposes—it marked her out to all of God’s people as having received His mercy and it set her apart from the rest of the city. But even greater, it required her to trust and obey. In the end, it was the very cord that saved her. As Hebrews puts it, “All of these gained approval through their faith.” Jesus calls us to obedience as well—not always an obedience that we understand the significance of. Rahab’s obedience is a challenge to us to trust God to have a purpose in every scarlet cord.

Joshua spared Rahab and she has lived among Israel to this very day. (Joshua 6:25)

Without a backward glance, Rahab walked away from her world of wickedness, her life of sin and her heritage of selfishness. When she sought God’s mercy, she sought it with a heart to obey. She joined His people and lived in obedience to His law. Our reaction to God’s mercy should be the same. We have been spared a terrible destruction. We have been bought back from a life of sin and shame and given hope through the scarlet cord of redemption. Someone cares for us, protects us and provides for us. Our reaction should be to seek out what we can do to please Him, and do it with our whole heart! Rahab’s trust in Yahweh left behind her a godly legacy—she was the great-great-grandmother of King David, the trusting poet king, and the ancestor of Christ. Her redemption was a small scarlet thread woven into the heritage of the Redeemer of the world.

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Rahab’s trust began with her perception that Yahweh was trustworthy. Because He was trustworthy, she believed that He was able to work through any circumstance and any person for her good. But her trust didn’t end with knowledge. It was not lost in a pile of verbose language. It was living, breathing, active obedience. In the same way, our trust of Yahweh should work its way into our lives. After all, trust is a verb. “Trust in Yahweh and DO GOOD.” (Ps. 37:3)

Read the story:

Rahab the Harlot:A Scarlet Cord of Hope


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Women of Wisdom:A Scarlet Cord of Hope

December 2, 2008 at 10:52 am (W.O.W.) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Posted by Abigail

scarlet-cord

Adapted from Joshua chapters 2-6

Once upon a time a beautiful little Canaanite girl lived in the middle of the bustling metropolis of Jericho, unaware that her home had been promised to another people—by Almighty God Himself. As she grew up she discovered that her beauty earned her first attention, then praise and finally money. Soon she was selling herself to the highest bidder in order to gain independence, stability and a secure future. In her heart of hearts, her happily ever after must have been to finally find someone in whom she could trust—someone who cared for her, would protect her and would provide for her. And each night that she settled into the arms of a paying customer, she must have known she was betraying herself, deceiving herself, living an empty lie. Her beauty could never buy her peace.

Then one day she overheard the rumors—that a slave people had escaped from Egypt accompanied by signs and miracles, had wandered in the wilderness for years and had finally crossed into the land of Canaan, bent on possession. Within days they would arrive at the massive gates of Jericho. The people’s hearts melted with terror, but Rahab’s heart stirred with something more—fear, reverence, hope? Could the powerful God who rained down plagues on the Egyptians and led his people by a pillar of cloud find it in His heart to be merciful?

She knew the two men who had come to her home on the city wall were foreigners and she knew they had come to spy out the city, to measure its walls and to plan its defeat. Perhaps she longed to ask them more about their God—His power, His leadership, His purpose. She also knew they had been spotted, suspected and would soon be traced to her house and arrested. “Hide here,” she whispered breathlessly, shoving aside sheaths of flax from her rooftop. That night she met the soldiers at the door. Trembling between her torn loyalties—her girlhood home or the conquerors God had sent—she became a traitor to the world that had betrayed her and told a lie that could cost her her life. “Yes, those men came here—I didn’t know who they were. They left already. If you hurry, you may catch them yet!” The Lord’s protection stretched down from heaven on the trembling pagan woman as the soldiers listened to her words, believed her lie and left her house in peace.

Sitting in the pale starlight on the roof of her home next to two spies from a foreign country, gazing out across the land promised to someone else, Rahab made her declaration. “I know Yahweh has given this land into your hand.” She gathered her breath and forged her way onward. “We’re all melting in terror after all the things we’ve heard about your God. I know He is the God of heaven above and the earth below.” Then with a last leap of trust, she cast herself on the mercy of God Almighty. “So I beg you to swear to me by Yahweh, since I have protected you, that you will deal with me in truth, that you will save me and my family.”

Had she any reason to trust two strange men? Had she any reason to take the word of men? Hadn’t she been viewed as an object? A beautiful face to be purchased by a few coins. “Deal with me in truth,” she pleaded. “Swear by Yahweh.” Sitting cold and tired on the roof of her house, flax prickling into her legs, tears welling up in her eyes, she had forgotten about being beautiful, about independence or wealth. She sought only one thing—security. And she sought it in the right place. Gazing down at her from on high, God saw her humility, her reverence and her trust and in that moment she was beautiful to Him. When she cast herself on His mercy, she shone will the pure beauty of the saved.

“We swear,” the spies whispered huskily. “If you keep your family in your house and tie this scarlet cord from your window, we swear to protect you when Yahweh gives this city into our hands.” With a few hurried directions, Rahab lowered the men by the scarlet cord, looped it up through the window and left it to hang. Her hands were trembling as she let the end slide through her fingers. What if someone saw the rope and asked her about it? How would she explain to her family why they must stay in the house? What if the Israelites killed her by mistake? What if the spies felt that the word they gave to a foreign woman was worthless? Would the God who had sent them to destroy the land take any notice of her? Would He protect her?

The King’s men returned fruitless in their search for the spies, yet Rahab was never questioned. On their heels came the Israelite army, crossing the Jordan River on dry land and beginning a series of daily marches around the city. For six days Rahab stood watch by her window, her fingers brushing the scarlet cord, waiting, hoping, trusting. On the seventh day the men raised a mighty shout and screams erupted from around her. The ground began to quiver, then shake as a mighty roar swallowed out the Israelite shout. And then the world was ending, crashing down around her in a furious uproar as the clashing of steel signaled that the Israelites had rushed in to attack. Cowering in a corner, she heard voices and dropped her hands from her face. The floor underneath her was cool and firm, the wind rustled softly at the window, tugging at the scarlet cord. She leapt to her feet and rushed to the window, her heart beating furiously as she realized that only her house still stood. Only her house of the entire wall of Jericho, built to defy the largest armies—only her house stood firm—because she trusted in Yahweh.

Voices again and the door crashed open as the two spies rushed in, followed by Israelite soldiers. In a blur of tears and debris, Rahab and her family stumblingly followed them out of the ruins and down to the Israelite camp. As she watched the smoke rising from Jericho and heard the command of the Israelite general to spare no one, no animals and to burn everything, her heart quieted within her. Hadn’t she found Someone to care for her, to protect her, to provide for her? Someone in whom she could trust? Yahweh, Almighty God of heaven and earth had heard her plea for salvation and had reached out to her—a Canaanite harlot.

Rahab’s story goes on to picture the ultimate redemption—from a life of sin, self and destruction, God rebuilt a lasting legacy. She married into God’s chosen people and became the great-great-grandmother of King David, whose seed, it was promised, would rule the nations with a rod of iron. But even more importantly, would bring redemption to every tribe, tongue, people and nation—all those who put their trust in Him: Jesus, the anchor of the scarlet cord of hope.

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Lessons from Wisdom: The Art of Appeal

July 4, 2008 at 7:26 pm (Articles, Godly Living, Submission, W.O.W.) (, , , , , )

The contrast between the fates of Esther and Vashti is as wide as the chasm between their respective upbringings. Tradition tells us Vashti was born into royalty. Scripture tells us she fell in disgrace from the highest position a woman of her time could have held. Her crown was bestowed on one “more worthy”—little Esther the orphan Jewess.

One thing they held in common: beauty. It could not have been her beauty that bought Esther the favor Vashti had lost. It was her attitude—a deep desire to please the King. Summarized: submission.

Esther’s submission did not equal allowing herself to be trampled on. She recognized who her authorities were, and offered submission to them, receiving their protection in return. Submission didn’t mean she had to keep her mouth shut and never express her concerns or doubts or fears—or seek to save her life. The story of Esther showcases her submission in a sticky situation, one requiring her action in making an appeal to the King: an art we would do well to learn.

I have not been summoned (Esther 4:11)

When Mordecai’s urgent command came to the Queen, she answered with an explanation of the situation—she understood the King’s rules, his demands and the protocol that surrounded him. She had taken time, made the effort to study and understand his work, his schedule and even his own preferences. She understood a man who was known to swing to extremes. She understood that to go before him would be to threaten his authority. Go before him she must. Present unpleasant facts, she must. And, she must do it in a manner that would be pleasing to the King.

Esther put on her royal robes (Esther 5:1)

Instead of immediately flying to the King, tearing her hair, wailing, distressed, Esther took time to compose her thoughts, her heart and to prepare herself to be a lady. The King had been proud of Vashti’s beauty. He was proud of Esther’s. She would come to him in such a way as to make him glad and proud to see her. She would seek to be pleasing to him.

When the King saw Esther (Esther 5:2)

Even robed as Queen, Esther did not waltz in and demand an audience. She didn’t shout, “We need to talk!” Instead, she stood quietly, waiting for the King’s pleasure, outside his rooms. Clothed with care, her face earnest, yet not downcast in his presence, she obtained the favor she craved, and accepted it graciously.

If it pleases the King (Esther 5:4)

The first words out of her mouth betrayed her heart—“If it pleases you.” Submission. Humility. Vashti had been banished for disregarding the King’s pleasure, for denying his authority. Esther’s attitude made it obvious that her matter was urgent and her heart humble.

I’ve prepared a banquet (Esther 5:4)

The King had shown her grace, spared her life and now asked her petition, but Esther would not put him on the spot or shame him by making her demand in front of a court of attendants. Her appeal would be put to the King in privacy. She employed another pleasure—the King loved banquets—to set a tone of relaxation and ease in which to make her request.

I would not have troubled the King (Esther 7:4)

At last Esther could make her request. Quickly and concisely, she stated the issue. No accusations against the King for allowing such a monstrosity. No reprimands for having never asked who were her people. No anger at his having not consulted her. Then her addition, “if it had been anything less, I would not have troubled you.” A demonstration of her understanding of his busyness, her appreciation of his interest and time in listening to her plea. Even at this point, Esther did not tell the King what he should do. She only made her request for her life and those of her people.

The success of Esther’s appeal was almost nauseating. She gained favor, not because she was manipulative, like Haman, or demanded her own way, like Vashti, but because she understood her King and made her appeal in such a way that it appealed to him. She sought to please him, and in her desire he recognized submission. Her interests became his.

Friends seem aghast when they hear that I frequently e-mail my father—particularly requests or appeals. It sounds odd to us to think of Esther throwing two banquets just to ask the King for her life. Submission doesn’t mean you can never express something contrary to the plans of your husband or father—your man. It simply means you seek to please him. You seek his goals. You understand his desires, his pleasures, his rules. You work to achieve these to the best of your ability. When you come with a request, you come in a way that he can appreciate. I e-mail my father because he is very visual. He likes to have everything laid out logically in front of him where he can come back to it and consider it. He likes to have time to think it over, without an expectant face waiting for an answer, without extra people listening in on his reply. He likes to know why it’s important, what will be the effects, what will be the constraints. Esther threw banquets because the King loved banquets. He needed time to relax, time to calm down.

Your man may not be a King with weighty matters of state, but you can crown him with your devotion. He may not be my father, who likes a written proposal, but you can learn his preferences and seek to honor them. Esther’s wisdom was in understanding her man—his goals, desires, pleasures and even what he took pride in. Her discretion was in seeking a private audience to explain her dilemma, restraining from offering accusations or counsel. Her beauty was in humbly imploring the King’s favor and quietly awaiting his verdict.

Vashti had refused a summons to King Ahasuerus court, mocking him, and brought disaster upon herself. Esther appeared uncalled, risking her life—yet found favor because she’d learned the art of appeal.

Read the story: Queen Esther: If It Pleases the King

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Women of Wisdom: If It Pleases the King

July 3, 2008 at 7:10 pm (W.O.W.) (, , , )

Adapted from the Book of Esther

Once upon a time, a beautiful little Jewish girl lived in a huge city in the middle of the Persian Empire. Her envisioned happily ever after must have included migrating back home to Jerusalem to help rebuild the city, marrying a wiry man with dark eyes and a curly beard who would come home smelling like fresh air and fields. He’d catch up his little children in his arms, smiling at her over their dark heads and say in Hebrew. “Hadassah, as for me and my house, we will serve Yahweh.”

Then her parents died. Taken in by a kind relative, she still clung to her dreams for the future. Until the day she wound up in the palace as one of many candidates to become the new queen. Stripped of her heritage, her hopes, her identity, even her name, Esther faced a future no Jewish girl would desire.

This was no mere beauty pageant. It wasn’t a moment of fame, crowned Miss Babylon, given a scholarship and pointed toward success. Ahasuerus was known to be a wild man and a partier, prone to extremes. He’d banished his beautiful queen not long before for refusing to appear before his dinner guests. He’d just suffered defeat in a battle and come home to seek solace in his harem—a harem full of fresh faces. One would be his new queen, the others would retire after a single night to the house of concubines, likely to live out the rest of their days in pampering, laziness and obscurity. No husband. No children. No future. The one chosen as queen would be his royal consort—when he called for her. When he wasn’t too busy with matters of state. When he wasn’t too busy with concubines.

Why would Yahweh send a daughter of His into a Persian King’s boudoir?

He did.

Esther’s desire was to be a pleasing sacrifice. She sought to please her guardian, Mordecai, as he whispered counsel in her ear. “Don’t tell anyone you’re Jewish.” She sought to please Hegai, in whose custody she was placed, and gained his favor and guidance as she learned to please the king. Her desire to be pleasing crowned her queen, for Ahasuerus was more pleased with her than with any other woman.

And they lived happily ever after.

Until Haman the Agagite came to power, a hatred for God’s people smoldering in his breast. Matters of state become pressing on a King’s time and soon Haman saw more of the king than Esther did. With little difficulty, the Agagite obtained the King’s permission to command the destruction of every Jew in the capital city of Susa—including the Queen.

Esther writhed in agony when she heard the news. Where was the beauty in her gilded cage now? Her death certificate was written in the irreversible ink of the Medes and Persians and stamped with her husband’s seal. Then came Mordecai’s quiet urge: “Go to the King.”

Esther had expended her energy and emotion in learning to be pleasing. She’d studied the palace protocol, the King’s tempers, his wishes, his desires. Vashti had been banished for refusing to come when summoned. Coming without a summons could mean her death. “Very well,” the Queen said. “I’ll go. If I perish, I perish.”

But her desire was still to please the King. She could have come before him writhing in agony, tearing her hair, weeping and accusing him of her murder. “You don’t love me!” she could have shrieked. “You don’t care what happens to me!”

Instead she fasted and prayed. Then she sought to make herself pleasing to the king. He’d called for Vashti to appear in her royal crown. He’d ordered the queen candidates to be bathed and beautified for a year. He admired beauty. She dressed beautifully. Yet this breach of policy could appear as though she were mocking him—even as Vashti had done. She entered the royal hall, attired to delight him, yet with an air of pleading, hoping for his pleasure. And received it.

“What do you seek?” he demanded, extending the golden scepter of life.

To make her appeal in front of the whole court would have been to make a fool of the King. “What were you thinking? You signed my death warrant!” The crowds would buzz. “The King is rash and injust!” Instead, Esther had carefully planned her appeal. She remembered that the King loved banquets. “If it pleases the King,” she whispered. “Let the King and Haman come to a banquet—a private one.”

Later, alone with the King and her assassin, she finally answered his question. No accusation. No remonstrance. Simply, “I ask for my life and that of my people.” She hastened to add, “If it were anything short of our lives, I would not have troubled you.” Her thoughts were always to please him. To consider his preferences. To seek his grace.

Before Ahasuerus sat his queen and his counselor, in a silent struggle for his favor. No doubt Haman had served him well to be promoted to second in the kingdom, yet Esther received his approval. Esther found a champion. The King’s reaction to the accusation left no doubt in either mind who had pleased the King—who would live and who would die.

Did Esther get her happily ever after? Even though Haman was hanged and his position and possessions bestowed on her protector, Mordecai, Esther would never fulfill the dreams of a Jewish woman. She would never dedicate her firstborn in the temple of Yahweh, cover her eyes at his circumcision, knead unleavened bread for Passover or pour wine for her husband on the Sabbath. Her lineage would dissipate into the chronicles of the Kings of Media and Persia, swallowed in the vast history of a pagan nation. But her willingness to be a pleasing sacrifice had far-reaching effects: not only did she save the Jewish people from annihilation, tradition tells us her son became the king who ordered the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. Her desire to please the King, her man, made her pleasing in the sight of Yahweh.

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