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Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Story of Deborah and Jael, Part Three: Jael

The Story of Deborah and Jael, Part Three: Jael

My Name is Jael

"Trust God and deal ruthlessly with enemies."

I've been asked to explain why my story is in the Bible, and how it connects with you all.

That's going to be a bit difficult.

I was not blind, and I was not a fool. My name means "wild goat", and I risk much to gain much. I climb heights to reach happiness, mentally, physically and emotionally. I climb to see the big picture, the grand scheme, the way forward.

My husband and I were not Israelites. We were not "God's People". But we were connected, in a way. My people descended from Hobab, the father-in-law of Moses. We hooked up with the Jews and followed them to their "promised land", but we also kept close ties with the ruling culture. The Canannite king Jabin and my people had a deal. You leave us alone, we'll cut you a slice of the pie now and then. For Jabin's commander of the Canaanite army, Sisera, the slice of pie was literal. Sisera knew where we lived, he stopped by often and we spent time together as friends. Perhaps Sisera and I were a bit more than friends...I knew which rug was his favorite, and I knew what his favorite drink was.

But then Deborah raised an army. Out of nowhere! Out of a scattered, rag-tag has-been nation of timid, hypocritical, self-indulgent, comfort-loving idol worshippers she raised an army of 10,000 soldiers! And Sisera's elite army of 10,000 professional killers and 900 tanks were drowned in a flood of sword-wielding, song-singing farmers following Deborah.

And Deborah was following God. The God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob. The God of Moses and Joshua.

Whom was I following?

Then Sisera came stumbling into my tent. Out of breath, bloody, limping, coughing, snot running from his nose and as pale as a death shroud from fear and desperation.

I was immediately faced with a dilemma. Two terrible choices confronted me. Take care of Sisera, remain friends with Jabin the Canaanite king, which would set me up as an enemy of the God of Deborah. Or, treat Sisera as my enemy and put myself at the mercy of a God who could destroy thousands and exalt to heights of glory even the humble.

I'm not blind. I'm not a fool. I'm a wild goat willing to brave the heights in order to truly live free. I risk much to gain much.

I chose humility.

I chose to deal ruthlessly with an enemy, and trust that God would take me as his friend.

As I said, connecting my story to you all is a bit difficult. I have to echo what Deborah says about who your enemies really are. Listen to what she said, then deal ruthlessly with whatever threatens your relationship with God.

I've had to challenge a close friend with a few of his enemies. There are times when he scrolls mindlessly down his internet feed of social posts, pictures, rants and raves. He needs to realize that his desire for worth and purpose, his appetite for pleasure and comfort is being subtly sabotaged by an enemy who loves to distract, tempt, distort and entangle his heart.

My final words to you are the same as I spoke to my friend: Wanna deal ruthlessly with an enemy? An enemy within your own heart?

We'll conclude this mini-series with the story of a woman in anguish, a mother in grief.

Paulo Valdivieso / "sans titre" / https://flic.kr/p/L6ZnM3 / CC BY-SA 2.0 / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Story of Deborah and Jael, Part Two: Deborah

The Story of Deborah and Jael, Part Two

My Name is Deborah

"Follow God and fight for what he fights".

I've been asked to explain why my story is in the Bible, and how it connects with you all.

That's going to be a bit difficult.

I grew up knowing God's promise, that he had chosen us to be his people, and he would settle us in a land of our own, that we would be a blessing for the entire world because we would point to the great grace and mercy of Almighty God, Creator and Sustainer of the world. Yet my people had endured 20 years of oppressive cruelty.

I grew up trusting absolutely in the judgement of God. I never went to God in hopes of being found guilty. Rather, I always went to God with the confident expectation that he would say and do what was right and good, whether it meant for me correction or commendation.

I trusted God as my Judge. And he made me a judge of my people.

They called me The Bee. I was systematic and logical. I saw right and wrong as black and white. I listened to God, I remembered his ways and words, and I allowed his words to completely rule what I said, felt and decided.

In the midst of oppressive cruelty, abandoned farms and roadways, fear and doubt, I became known as The Woman of Splendor. God's people traveled miles to me for judgement, in much the same way as I myself went to God. They never expected a verdict of condemnation. They hoped for God's declaration of rightness. They sought resolution to conflicts and circumstances that threatened their well-being, their contentment and their security.

However, wrong is wrong.

I did not hesitate to rebuke, to reprimand, to restrict. I corrected and condemned according to what God said was right and wrong.

When God finally, after 20 years, told me to wake up, to raise an army, to fight and destroy that which cruelly oppressed us, the people listened. They obeyed, we marched, we fought and we killed 10,000 enemies.

But, how can that connect with you all? Who are the thorns in your sides, the snares that trap, the plunderers which harm and bring distress? Who afflicts and oppresses you? Who feeds on you and consumes you?

Christians, your warfare is not physical! God's apostle Paul taught truth in the Book of 2 Corinthians:

Though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.
2 Corinthians 10:3 (ESV)
We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,
2 Corinthians 10:5 (ESV)

You do not war in the flesh. You war to destroy arguments and opinions and thoughts that put yourselves above God. You force your thoughts to obey Christ. You confront disobedience with obedience.

Your warfare is against sin that dwells in your own heart. Your passions are at war within you, and you too often love yourselves above God Who created, sustains and saves you!

The apostle James wrote to you:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
James 4:1-3 (ESV)
You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, "He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us"?
James 4:4-5 (ESV)

My final words as Deborah, God's judge over you, his people: Follow God and fight for what he fights.

Part 3 will imagine Jael speaking to us directly, attempting to explain why her story is recorded in the Bible, and how it may connect to our modern, American-Christian story.

versionz / "matriarch" / https://flic.kr/p/4wLmvy / CC BY 2.0 / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Story of Deborah and Jael, Part One

The Story of Deborah and Jael, Part One

What if this story were made into a movie?

If the Book of Judges were a movie, this would surely be part of the trailer:

Judges, Chapter Two: (Judges 2:1, 11-15, 16-19)

  • God chose a people and gave them a promise
  • God's people abandoned him
  • God raised up champions and leaders to rescue his people

Judges Chapter Four:

  • Verses 1-3: Twenty years of cruel oppression
  • Verses 4-7: God raised up Deborah, "The Bee", "The Woman of Splendor", to be a judge
  • Verses 14-16: Deborah led an army to victory, killing 10,000 cruel, oppressive enemies
  • Verses 17-20: Jael, "The Wild Goat", faced a dilemma: Sisera - friend or foe?
  • Verses 21-22: Jael makes her choice

Judges Chapter Five:

  • Deborah sings
  • A mother wails in anguish

What are the lessons learned from this story?

  • God desires that we fully rely upon what he says
  • God desires that we fully love what God loves, and hate what God hates
  • God desires that we fully live with him

Why should we study the Old Testament?

The Old Testament reveals our sin, and God's hatred of sin. The Old Testament prepares us to receive God's salvation based entirely upon faith. And the Old Testament ultimately points us to Jesus. (Galatians 3)

Three Women: Deborah, Jael and a mother in anguish

If the Book of Judges were a movie, it would star three women.

  • Deborah: "Follow God and fight for what he fights."
  • Jael: "Trust God and deal ruthlessly with enemies."
  • A mother in anguish: "You do not want to be God's enemy."

Conclusion: Faith, Love and Salvation

Faith, Love and Salvation are three essential ways killing enemies, of putting to death the spiritual enemies, the arguments and lofty opinions that minimize God and exalt our own flawed hearts and minds.

  • God desires that we fully rely upon what he says
  • God desires that we fully love what God loves, and hate and what God hates
  • God desires that we fully live with him

The Book of 1 Thessalonians, Chapters 4-5 echoes the lessons learned from the story of Deborah and Jael:

  • 4:14-17 - God has made Jesus to me our Judge, our Rescuer, our Lord!
  • 5:2-6 - It is time to wake up!
  • 5:8-10 - Follow God and fight what he fights!
  • 5:11 - Encourage one another in the fight!

Next week:

Part 2 will imagine Deborah speaking to us directly, attempting to explain why her story is recorded in the Bible, and how it may connect to our modern, American-Christian story.


kynd_draw, for "justice" / https://flic.kr/p/egnoST / CC BY-SA 2.0 / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

A Devout Life, Part 5: The Source of Righteousness

A Devout Life: Part 5

The Source of Righteousness

According to 1 Timothy 6:11, righteousness depends upon five sincere, heartfelt, and intentional expressions of the heart, mind and body:

  • Wonder
  • Faith
  • Love
  • Steadiness
  • Courtesy

If Paul uses these five expressions to define godly righteousness, and our lives are to live in a manner that is "equitable", to what or to whom are our lives to be equal? What or Whom forms the standards, or the degrees, by which we are to express righteousness?

Upon What or Whom does righteousness depend?

I'm charging you before the life-giving God and before Christ, who took his stand before Pontius Pilate and didn't give an inch: Keep this command to the letter, and don't slack off. Our Master, Jesus Christ, is on his way. He'll show up right on time, his arrival guaranteed by the Blessed and Undisputed Ruler, High King, High God. He's the only one death can't touch, his light so bright no one can get close. He's never been seen by human eyes—human eyes can't take him in! Honor to him, and eternal rule! Oh, yes. (1 Timothy 6:13-16 MSG)

Our ultimate standard of righteousness is best defined by a Person: Jesus Christ, Master of all creation, immortal, glorious, supernatural, with all honor and power.

Perhaps this is the origin of distorted, perverted, unrighteous human standards of success. I've described previously my own tendency to compare myself with others in order to estimate my own personal worth. Perhaps, I am created with an echo of the image of Jesus stamped upon my soul, embossing my heart with an awareness, dim though it is, of the awesome height of perfection of Jesus.

Perhaps we all are created with this shadow of awareness.

However, if my others-based scale of comparison is ultimately due to God's hand in my creation, why does it fail me? Why would the image of God in me create a system of self-worth that brings despair and frustration?

Why might high standards of success be a negative thing?

This is a great paradox. I am created with the stamp of God's glory, yet my life on earth is one of poverty: I entered the world penniless (without a single shred of personal power or influence), and I will leave it penniless, yet a Rich, Boundless God created me.

Perhaps I so greatly desire the joy of heaven that I tend to seek for it here on earth, an earth that is wracked by sin and mortality; an earth that seems on the verge of self-destruction; an earth that cannot possibly, ultimately, provide the success I long for.

Perhaps I am failing to look in the right direction for success and satisfaction.

Go After God

Tell those rich in this world's wealth to quit being so full of themselves and so obsessed with money, which is here today and gone tomorrow. Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage— to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. If they do that, they'll build a treasury that will last, gaining life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19 MSG)

The phrase, "so full of themselves" is contrasted with the phrase "go after God". Going after God is the opposite of being "so full of themselves".

Those who are rich in this world's wealth, or those who are obsessed with gaining wealth are placing themselves sky high, lofty beyond reason, higher even than their Creator.

The obsessively wealthy, or the compulsive dreamer of wealth, are seeking a Heaven of their own making on earth. They are envisioning themselves living apart from God, higher than their impression of God, a Heaven without a meaningful God. In their minds this world is all there is, or all that counts right now, and they are their own savior.

Paul urges the wealthy or wanna-be-wealthy to seek the opposite of personal loftiness, which would place them lower than God, subordinate to God. The opposite of being full of one's self is to be full of another: God.

We must ask God to transform our desire for earthly wealth (which may take the form of time, strength, influence and property) into a desire for God Himself. We must ask God to incline our hearts toward him, open our eyes to the truth of what's he's done, unite our fragmented hearts with his heart, and satisfy us with his goodness, mercy, grace and power.

We must ask God to pile on all the true riches that he has for us:

  • To do good
  • To be rich in helping others
  • To be extravagantly generous
  • To build a treasury that will last
  • To live a life that is truly life

"To do good" means to act, work or toil as a good effort or occupation.

To be rich in helping others means to become wealthy in good works, especially in things beautiful, good, valuable or virtuous for appearance or use.

To be extravagantly generous means to be good or liberal in imparting or sharing with others, especially in the sense of a community of friends, and especially with common, ordinary-day friends.

To build a treasure that will last means to treasure away, amass or reserve away, again for things beautiful, good, valuable or virtuous for appearance or use. It carries the connotation of something foundational, as in the structure of a building, built with purpose, duty or necessity.

Finally, to live a life that is truly life means to seize life that is perpetual.

God, You are the Source of righteousness. Without Your sacrifice of Your Son on my behalf, I would not be able to even face You, much less hope for eternal life as Your child, forgiven of all sin, cleansed in the guiltless identity of Christ Jesus.

God, this world is breaking up. It's like my heart, torn and fragmented, wanting You yet hiding from You. Please remind me daily that joy and contentment, a devout life that looks upward, inward, outward, downward and all around is a righteous life that brings great wealth, wealth that is measured eternally, with limitless potential.

God, You are my Creator, Master, Savior, Companion, and Lover.

Joy!


Thanks!

Scripture taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

Evonne, for "Treasure", https://flic.kr/p/4SpSBW, Creative Commons license, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

A Devout Life, Part 4: Right-ness" is not Righteousness

A Devout Life: Part 4

"Right-ness" is not Righteousness

I use the word, "right-ness" to refer to my own personal filter of life, my own sense of what competence or success means. "Right-ness" is wrong, I believe. Instead, I should pursue "Righteousness".

But you, Timothy, man of God: Run for your life from all this. Pursue a righteous life — a life of wonder, faith, love, steadiness, and courtesy. Run hard and fast in the faith. Seize the eternal life, the life you were called to, the life you so fervently embraced in the presence of so many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:11-12 MSG)

Rather than pursuing a life built upon standards of my own creation, standards which compare myself to others, real or imagined, standards of "right-ness", Paul would have me pursue a life built upon God's standards: "righteousness".

Righteousness is best defined by our word, "equity", the quality of being fair and impartial, from Latin aequus, meaning equal.

Equal to what?

But you, Timothy, man of God: Run for your life from all this. Pursue a righteous life—a life of wonder, faith, love, steadiness, courtesy. (1 Timothy 6:11)

A devout life, a life of righteousness, is one which is "equitable", or equal to something, or someone else. When Paul says that righteousness means "equity", to what, or to whom are we to be equal?

Paul will answer this in verses 13-16, but he first primes us with how he defines "righteousness". He describes five different ways in which righteousness may be expressed...five tangible, real-life definitions of righteousness

  • Wonder
  • Faith
  • Love
  • Steadiness
  • Courtesy

Righteousness, then can be defined by looking at five ways in which God's standards of life can be expressed. Interestingly, each of the five expressions of righteousness could be illustrated by a direction in which a person might look:

  • Upward
  • Inward
  • Outward
  • Downward
  • All around

Let's look at each expression of righteousness, beginning with "wonder".

Wonder

This is the same Greek word translated earlier as "devout".

This first expression of righteousness is focused upward toward God: a sincere worship, a deep respect and a steady trust of God and what he has provided, what he is providing, and what he will provide.

Faith

The next expression of righteousness is faith.

Where wonder, or devotion, looks upward toward God, faith looks inward at one's foundation of life. What do I believe about God, and how does that affect what I see, feel, and do?

To say "I believe", requires only air rushing past vocal cords. To write "This is true" requires nothing but pen, ink and paper. But to act, to do, to live according to what we believe is true is the only valid test of whether or not we have faith in someone or something.

Righteousness is expressed first by the wonder of salvation and the glory of God's character and work. Following wonder is an expression of faith: saying and doing what we deeply believe is true.

Love

The third expression of righteousness is love.

At the heart of love is generosity. Freely giving to another something that is valuable, necessary and good, without condition, without any promise of return or profit.

The early Christians used this word to describe their meals together. They gathered all the food they had, spread the table and invited those who were hungry to eat. No payment was expected, no requirement for pay back or profit.

Love, then, is the expression of righteousness that looks outward, to the people around us, people born little differently than us, people created in the image of God, people in desperate need of contentment and satisfaction.

One critical weakness of humans, one deeply disturbing result of our inborn sinfulness, is that of preferring or trusting other people who look, sound or feel similar to ourselves. We instinctively trust a person, and thus will love a person, who seems most nearly familiar. Sinfully, we will react, often subconsciously, with suspicion and reluctance toward a person who seems different.

We may acknowlege with our intellect that all humans are born naked and needy, but as our cultures diverge, our languages become confused, our skin color changes, our definitions of “good” and “bad” degrade and evolve, we become less and less likely to reach out in genuine, selfless love.

A devout life of genuine love is able to see past the differences and see the most important needs of everyone, regardless of appearance or culture.

Steadiness

The fourth expression of righteousness is steadiness.

This fourth expression of righteousness seems similar to faith. How are the two different?

Where wonder looks upward toward God, and faith looks inward at one's true beliefs, and love looks outward at other people, steadiness looks downward toward the place in which God has placed one’s feet..

When mountain climbers prepare for an ascent, they will look upward, studying the high peak, anticipating the joy of reaching their goal. They will look inward, examining their motives, their reasons for climbing, their trust in their training and equipment. They will look outward, seeing their climbing companions, sharing encouragement, food, equipment and protection.

But when mountain climbers actually begin the ascent, when they take the first difficult step, they must look downwards. They must study the rock or snow on which they are placing their next step, the ground upon which their life depends. Each step is an expression of all that they've done previously. Each step is a new expression of their goal, their determination, their reliance upon each other, and their perseverance.

When a Christian looks down, they are seeing the place where God has put them. Or they are seeing the condition of their body in which God has set them. Or they are are seeing the work to which God has sent them. Or they are seeing the problem before which God has placed them.

Steadiness is the expression of righteousness which acknowledges the place, condition or state in which God has placed a person. More than acknowledgement, however, steadiness is the decision to persevere, to endure, to remain under the situation for as long as God desires.

What? Why? How? When? Where?

A Christian does not usually benefit by asking God “What” or "Why?". Actually, the only benefit is that it serves as an expression of faith in the Only One Who can answer the questions. It is an emotional, spiritual relief, almost a joy, to express honest questions toward God.

However, rarely does an immediate answer come. I cannot think of any time when such revelation came to me. No do detailed answers come from asking "How, When, Where?” These questions are entirely in the hand of God, and there are few biblical instances in which God answers such prayer-questions, at least not in a clear, decisive way that is immediately clear. Prophets themselves were given visions and oracles that they did not understand. The understanding came only after the prophecies came true.

Indeed, in a sense already know the answers to these questions, at least in an ultimate, over-arching sense. What will God do? He will glorify himself through his Son, Jesus Christ and his Holy Spirit which dwells within those who are in Jesus Christ. Why will God allow or do this? Because he is good, wise, merciful and just.

Always.

How will God do this? When and where will God do this?

Unexpectedly.

God’s ways are mysterious, hidden from human intellect, even when God provides prophecy, the details of why, how, when and where are hidden until God discloses it to the world.

Steadiness is standing or stepping out in trust

This fourth expression of righteousness, steadiness, is seen when a Christian stands or steps out in devout steadiness, without insisting upon immediate, detailed answers to What and Why, or How and When, or Where. A life of devout steadiness may ask God these things, expressing faith that only he can answer them, but will at the same time stand or step out, trusting the One Who Sustains and Saves.

Devout steadiness is an inclination towards God alone, a desire that God would open one's eyes, a longing for all of one's fears and hopes to be united in God's hand, and a hunger for satisfaction and contentment in God's provision.

Steadiness asks God for direction, but does not quaver or turn back when the prayer is not quickly answered. Steadiness assumes that God is rock-solid in control of the situation, that God is supremely good, all the time, and each step up the mountain is in reality a step with God.

Courtesy

We began our expression of righteousness by looking upward with wonder at God's mighty mercy and power. Then we looked inward at our faith, preaching to ourselves that which we deeply believe is true. Next we looked outward with love at our family, friends and neighbors, eager to share our abundance with their need. The fourth expression of righteousness was a downward look of steadiness, seeing our situation clearly, and stepping firmly out with God at our side.

However, Paul's final expression of righteousness seems a bit out of place, at least when it is described as "courtesy".

Courtesy seems far removed from the exaltation of wonder, the boldness of love, the warmth of love and the perseverance of steadiness.

Wonder looks upward, faith looks inward, love looks outward, and steadiness looks downward. To where shall we look for courtesy?

Courtesy is probably best illustrated by a look that encompasses all directions. Courtesy looks all around, upward, downward, inward, outward, and all around.

A Christian looks upward with wonder at God's greatness; looks inward at what is deeply held to be true; looks outward at other people, all in need of contentment and satisfaction; looks downward at the place in which God has set him; and then continues to expressrighteousness by looking all around, showing courtesy to all, speaking and acting gently, with humility.

Righteousness requires courtesy Without courtesy, where would the other expressions of righteous be?

Wonder would cease to consider God worthy of respect and honor. Faith would erode into dogmatic doctrine, controlled by the elite. Love would refuse to look outward, ignoring the needy, clinging to one's own pile of treasure. Steadiness would become a trampling, a stomping, and impatient kicking of rebellion and tyranny.

Courtesy requires righteousness

Courtesy would evaporate if the other expressions of righteousness were absent.

  • Without wonder, courtesy would become superior boasting and intimidation of others, including a secret, subconscious scorn for God.
  • Without faith, courtesy would become inconsistent, weak and vague.
  • Without love, courtesy would become harsh, judgemental punishment.
  • Without steadiness, courtesy would become automatic, thoughtless, and meaningless.

Righteousness, then, depends upon five sincere, heartfelt, and intentional expressions of the heart, mind and body:

  • Wonder
  • Faith
  • Love
  • Steadiness
  • Courtesy

God, You are my Creator, Master, Savior, Companion, and Lover.

God, fill me with Your righteousness. Not the "right-ness" of human tradition or national politics. Not the "right-ness" of safety or convenience. Not the "right-ness" of fear or arrogance. No, God, fill me with Your righteousness. Grant me the gift of wonder, faith, love, steadiness and courtesy.

Every day.

Every moment.


Thanks!

Scripture taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

Bob May, for "effacing", https://flic.kr/p/qsyF3w, Creative Commons license,https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/