Jesus – The Servant

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Isaiah 42:1- 4 Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.  He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets.  A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.  In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged til he establishes justice on earth.  In his law the islands will put their hope. (Matthew 12:18-21 is the new testament version of Isaiah’s prophecy.)

Read  Matthew 18:1-5, John 13:1-17, John 3:1-7

Matthew 18:1-5 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

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John 13:1-7  It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

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John 3:1-7  Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.[a]

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit[b] gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You[c] must be born again.’

(Bible Verses are from Biblegateway.com) NIV

 Think about what you have just read.  Jesus describes greatness, and how to be clean.  Soap and water are not really what Jesus is talking about.  He is not just washing their feet because they have mud on their feet; though that is part of the hospitality of the culture of his time.  It is a symbolic washing of the feet, meant to show how being washed by Jesus makes you truly clean on the inside and out.  You are forgiven if you have been washed by Jesus.  We use baptism as a symbol to show that we have accepted Jesus into our hearts, and been washed by Jesus.  In John 3, Jesus talks to Nicodemus about being born again.  It is important to understand that being born of water is your original birth from your mother, and that being born again is to be born of the spirit of God, which only comes from acceptance of Jesus.

In the culture of Jesus’ time when a person entered a house as a guest their feet were dusty and dirty.  After all, the footwear was a type of sandal and the roads filled with dust.  It was the custom to have someone there (usually a servant) to wash the guest’s feet.  Most folks back then did not sit at a table in a chair, but reclined next to a low table and ate in that manner.  This being so, the person’s feet were a lot closer to the table than we experience from sitting in a chair.  Just like us, most people back then didn’t like having dirt in close proximity to their food!  It was just plain good hospitality to wash the feet of the guests.

Jesus was showing his disciples that there is no shame in being a servant, and that there is no job that in the service of others is too lowly.  He was showing the disciples that if there is a job which will help people in a loving way, then it should be done with a loving spirit.  We are not to think too highly of ourselves that we would ignore the needs of others!

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Prayer for Healing

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Psalm 6:2 Be Merciful to me, Lord, for I am faint; Oh Lord, Heal me for my bones are in agony.

Read Mark 9:14-29 When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them.  As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet Him.  What are you arguing with them about?  He asked.  A man in the crowd answered, teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech.  Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground.  He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid.  I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.  Oh unbelieving generation, Jesus replied, how long shall I stay with you?  How long shall I put up with you?  Bring the boy to me.  So they brought him.  When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion.  He fell to the ground and rolled around foaming at the mouth.  Jesus asked the boy’s father, How long has he been like this?  From childhood, he answered.  It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him.  But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.  If you can? said Jesus.  Everything is possible for him who believes.  Immediately the boys father exclaimed, I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief! When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, He rebuked the evil spirit.  You deaf and mute spirit, He said, I command you come out of him and never enter him again.  The spirit shrieked, convulsed him and came out.  The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, he’s dead.  But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.  After Jesus had gone indoors, His disciples asked Him privately, why couldn’t we drive it out?   He replied, this kind can come out only by prayer.* 

*Some manuscripts say prayer and fasting – but it doesn’t appear that Jesus took time to fast before casting out this evil spirit…fasting would be a physical thing that we do ourselves and is not something that can enhance or add to the power of God.  It can help us to concentrate on God more, or to make us “feel” more sincere, but God actually knows how sincere we are already so we are inevitably really fasting for our own sake.  There are times when a person is inspired by the Holy Spirit to fast and pray and they should follow that leading in obedience to God. In that case it is the obedience which matters not the actual physical act of fasting. 

When Jesus is told that the Disciples could not drive out the evil spirit his response is that the generation is disbelieving and how long shall he stay with them.  This question is very serious and really needs some examination.  Is Jesus talking to the crowd?  or is he saying that his Disciples still lack belief?

If we look at Mark 6 there is an indication of the answer for us.  Mark 6 tells us about Jesus’ visit to his hometown.  As you can read, during that visit it says that due to the lack of faith in the town Jesus “could not” do any miracles there, except laying his hand on a few sick people and healing them.  So it seems that Jesus was actually talking more to the townspeople in Mark 9, than to his Disciples.  After all, if he were addressing his Disciples about their lack of faith, he would have spoken to them privately as he did in the end about why they couldn’t cast out the demon.    So what we learn from Mark 6  and Mark 9 is that what is required for the working of God is simply belief that God can and will work.  Please note that I am not saying that in every instance that we pray for the healing of a person that the healing will take place…sometimes the healing we wish for is not within God’s plans…sometimes there is a more important kind of healing that the person needs which is not always obvious to us.  Perhaps a healing of a different nature.

Mark 6 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph,[a] Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

So what kind of prayer would be required to cast out something like the demon in Mark 9?  Perhaps a prayer that God would bolster the faith of the people who are needing and looking for his intervention, but are not daring to believe in the possibility of God doing what they ask.  After all, the father of the boy recognized that Jesus was talking about him when he said that the generation was disbelieving…his response, “I do believe, help me to overcome my unbelief!”  So what did the father believe?  He believed that Jesus/God could and was able to help his son, but his unbelief was in whether Jesus/God would choose to help his son.  His unbelief was based on years of trying different things to help his son…it was based on experience.  Many times we are bound by our experience and that leads us to be in a state of unbelief.  A miracle is a miracle by virtue of it happening despite our experience that “such things don’t normally happen.”   Miracles are unbelievable incidents that is why they are greeted by such skepticism…our experience doesn’t want us to accept that this is possible…however, our spirit longs for the kind of childlike belief that it can.  The good news is that once we acknowledge that we have a problem with our ability to believe, then we can pray for “help with our unbelief” and God will bolster the little bit of belief that we have and help us to believe with our whole heart.  Then we start to see and know who God truly is in our lives…that is a true prayer of healing.

Closer to Thee, Lord

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I liked this image of these ladies leaping in joy and excitement…it reminded me of John leaping in the womb at the nearness of Jesus also in the womb!

Psalm 84:2 My soul longeth yea even fainteth for the courts of the Lord, my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.

Psalm 84  This is a prayer for closeness to God.  The person is acknowledging that those who are close to God are blessed and joyful and strong.  In verse 2 the musician states that his soul is faint with longing for God.

Prayer is a way to grow closer to God and understand His plans for your life, you should not only pray to have closeness to God for yourself, you should also prayer for others to grow closer to God so that they can have the joy of knowing Him.

Read Luke 1:5-25  This is the story of Zacharias the priest and Elizabeth his wife and the promise of their coming child who is to be John the Baptist.   God’s angel comes and tells Zacharias that his prayers have been heard.  This is a good lesson on waiting for answered prayer that even when we have prayed for years and don’t see the answer that God has heard us and will answer our prayers.

Luke 1:5-25  In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.

Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 22 When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.

23 When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 24 After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25 “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.” (NIV)  

If you want to know more about the priestly divisions read 1 Chronicles 23 and 24.  The main thing to note about the priestly relationship of Zacharias is that the priestly division of Abijah was directly descended from Aaron, Mose’s brother, through his son Ithamar.  So was Elizabeth, Zacharias’ wife.  It is stated in Luke that both Zacharias and Elizabeth were righteous and blameless in the sight of the Lord; that they kept God’s commands and decrees. Now the fact that they kept his decrees does not mean that they never sinned, it is just that they were in their daily life and in their hearts devoted to God and doing everything that was required of them by law to the best of their abilities.  Blameless and righteous does not mean perfect and sinless.  God considered them righteous due to their faith, the same way that he considered Abraham righteous.  It was that they had a heart for God.

Now in the worldly view of things these people had no blessing of children and they were old.  This would have made the people of their world look down on them with pity, as carrying on the family name was of the utmost importance.  It was so important that when a man was married and died childless, his brother (if he had one) was commanded to marry the widow and raise up a child as if it were his brother’s child.  Apparently, Zacharias and Elizabeth were used to the idea that they were not going to have any children…after all they were old..they were probably resigned to the fact.  Most people would be when that much time had passed, wouldn’t they?!!

Yet, they continued to follow God in their daily lives.  Their faithfulness was not based on what God could do for them.  It was on the idea that, well, “God was God, and if he wanted them to have children he would make it happen, and if not then God was God; it wasn’t meant to be”

Their attitude of faith stood them in good stead and God recognized it and sent an angel to tell Zacharias that he and Elizabeth would be having a son.  Now, here is a hiccup for you…Zacharias didn’t actually believe the angel…he could not get past the idea that he and Elizabeth were too old to biologically have a child.  His doubt cost him.  He was struck dumb until the child was born and it was time for the naming of the baby.  Now, it doesn’t seem that he was deafened, as it says that he made signs to them, but that he could not speak.  The rest of the story is that he was not allowed to speak until the time came to name the baby and he said, “His name is John.”

John the Baptist was the cousin of Jesus the Christ…there is a lot more to this story.  As the story says John was filled with the Holy Spirit even before he was born, and that Holy Spirit recognized Jesus in the womb when Mary came to visit his Mother, Elizabeth right after she was told that she would bear a child….John the Baptist  “leaped in the womb.”  In other words, he was excited to see and be near Jesus even though neither of them had been born yet.  I find this to be a pretty awesome thing!  Holiness recognizing Holiness.

That is what we are to be to God, someone who can recognize him whenever we are around him or his people.  Someone who gets excited by being around and involved with God; by being in conversation and worship with him.  Just like John the Baptist in the womb recognizing Christ…we should endeavor to draw so close to God that we can recognize him by instinct before we even can work it out in our conscious thought processes.  We can know what God is asking of us and know that it is he who is speaking to us.

Deborah’s Leadership – Make a Joyful Noise

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Psalm 66:1 Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands

Read Psalm 66  This is the psalm of praise of making a joyful noise to God. It is important to thank God for his gifts, and blessings, in the form of praying praises to God.  Just as you would thank a friend for a gift they have given you.  God gives you gifts and blessing all the time, you must thank Him in prayer.  God enjoys being appreciated.

Read Judges 4 thru Judges 5:3  This is the story of Israel being freed from captivity to Canaan, and take note of Deborah’s use of prophecy from God to bring this about, and that they praised God’s name for their deliverance.

Judges Chapter 4 – Judges 5:3  4 Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, now that Ehud was dead. So the Lord sold them into the hands of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. Sisera, the commander of his army, was based in Harosheth Haggoyim. Because he had nine hundred chariots fitted with iron and had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years, they cried to the Lord for help.

Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading[a] Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided. She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor. I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.’”

Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.”

“Certainly I will go with you,” said Deborah. “But because of the course you are taking, the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.” So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh. 10 There Barak summoned Zebulun and Naphtali, and ten thousand men went up under his command. Deborah also went up with him.

11 Now Heber the Kenite had left the other Kenites, the descendants of Hobab, Moses’ brother-in-law,[b] and pitched his tent by the great tree in Zaanannim near Kedesh.

12 When they told Sisera that Barak son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor, 13 Sisera summoned from Harosheth Haggoyim to the Kishon River all his men and his nine hundred chariots fitted with iron.

14 Then Deborah said to Barak, “Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the Lord gone ahead of you?” So Barak went down Mount Tabor, with ten thousand men following him. 15 At Barak’s advance, the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and army by the sword, and Sisera got down from his chariot and fled on foot.

16 Barak pursued the chariots and army as far as Harosheth Haggoyim, and all Sisera’s troops fell by the sword; not a man was left. 17 Sisera, meanwhile, fled on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, because there was an alliance between Jabin king of Hazor and the family of Heber the Kenite.

18 Jael went out to meet Sisera and said to him, “Come, my lord, come right in. Don’t be afraid.” So he entered her tent, and she covered him with a blanket.

19 “I’m thirsty,” he said. “Please give me some water.” She opened a skin of milk, gave him a drink, and covered him up.

20 “Stand in the doorway of the tent,” he told her. “If someone comes by and asks you, ‘Is anyone in there?’ say ‘No.’”

21 But Jael, Heber’s wife, picked up a tent peg and a hammer and went quietly to him while he lay fast asleep, exhausted. She drove the peg through his temple into the ground, and he died.

22 Just then Barak came by in pursuit of Sisera, and Jael went out to meet him. “Come,” she said, “I will show you the man you’re looking for.” So he went in with her, and there lay Sisera with the tent peg through his temple—dead.

23 On that day God subdued Jabin king of Canaan before the Israelites. 24 And the hand of the Israelites pressed harder and harder against Jabin king of Canaan until they destroyed him.  

Judges 5 On that day Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam sang this song:

“When the princes in Israel take the lead,
    when the people willingly offer themselves—
    praise the Lord!

“Hear this, you kings! Listen, you rulers!
    I, even I, will sing to[a] the Lord;
    I will praise the Lord, the God of Israel, in song.

 

Footnotes:

  1. Judges 4:4 Traditionally judging
  2. Judges 4:11 Or father-in-law
  3. Judges 5:3 Or of

***NIV via Biblegateway.com***

Now, I have run across many people over the years who are completely ignoring that Deborah was a woman who was the leader of Israel.  Not only was she a woman, but also a wife, and a prophetess of God.  It is evident that she was well respected in that position from the fact that she was able to send for Barak and tell him how many men to take and what to do with those men.  The fact that Barak actually came when she called for him, and refused to go to war without her presence shows us that he probably considered Deborah’s presence as a prophetess of God and the leader of their people to be like having God along in endorsement of the venture.

Now, Deborah’s reaction to his insistence of her going with him was that God looked upon that as a lack of faith and would give the enemy, Sisera, into the hand of a woman.  In other words, Barak wouldn’t get the glory for vanquishing Sisera.  Despite this, Barak did what he was told to do, and went forward faithfully into battle.  It came about as Deborah had said, and a woman named Jael was used by God to vanquish Sisera.  However, Barak and his men did conquer the rest of the “900 chariots” belonging to Sisera, so Sisera was running away trying to find a safe place to hide.  Jael was to Sisera like the saying of the spider to the fly…”come right in and you will be safe.”

Personally, I find this story of Deborah to fly in the face of many of the commonly held misconceptions passed down in the church about only men can lead.  Certain denominations still hold to that idea, and many are so caught up in it that they sometimes make the feminine members of their congregants feel as if they are lacking something.  There are many examples in the Bible of how important women are in God’s plans.

While the New Testament books are certainly written by men, there are many women in them also whom Jesus interacted with, and who very clearly lead their people to Christ.

We don’t have to look far…the woman at the well was responsible for leading many in her village to know the Messiah(John 4:1-42), and Jesus told Martha that her sister, Mary was doing what was important.  That is listening to Jesus and learning from him. (Luke 10:39-42) 

There are many other women in the Bible who fulfilled critical roles…Esther, Ruth, Rahab to name a few, and of course, Mary, the Mother of Jesus.

The common thing that we find with these women is that they all loved God, and recognized what a huge gift God’s love, forgiveness/grace was to them.

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When I see this teapot it gives the idea of sitting down at the table with a friend and having a chat…I get a warm feeling from the image, just as I get a warm feeling from the idea of having a chat with God.

Even Martha in her own way was trying to edify and serve God by being a good hostess to Jesus in her home.   What Jesus wanted most from her, though, was for her to give him her personal time and attention. (Another thing to take note of was that the resurrected Jesus first appeared to two women, Mary and Martha.)

When we spend time thanking God for what he has done for us, and praising him through prayer and song we are also to spend time listening and communing with him.  We are actually celebrating not just what God has done for us recently, but also celebrating our relationship with him while we are doing this.

I know this blog entry put emphasis on the women in the Bible and their relationship with God, but the act of praising God joyfully through song and prayer applies to everyone regardless of gender…the point is that God created us all differently, but wonderfully and we should always celebrate with him whatever role he has called us to fulfill in life.

Celebrate that he has loved us and given us a purpose to fulfill — to be in close relationship with him, and to help draw others into relationship with him by sharing what we know about God with them.

Psalm 16:11 You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand. (NIV)

Praying to God’s Glory

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I like this image as it shows the idea of people of all types being connected through prayer.

 

Psalm 96:3 Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous deeds among all peoples.

Read 1Kings 17:17-24 Elijah prayed for God to bring the boy’s soul back to his body or bring him back to life, and God did so.  This was when Elijah was staying with the Widow woman and her son, and her meal jar and oil cruse, never went dry during the entire drought.

God’s answering Elijah’s prayer gave this woman proof that Elijah was a man of God.

The prayer in this story was answered simply to give God glory and to build this woman and her son’s faith.  The woman in this story which has more to it if you read all of Chapter 17 you will see…she was a woman at her wits end.  She was ready to die and felt that both she and her son would die.  She had given up….then, in walks Elijah on God’s instruction…he is bold to ask her to make him a meal.  She looks at him and says, “What?  This is the last of our grain.  I am getting ready to prepare my son, and myself our last meal, then we will die as we have nothing left to eat!”  Elijah tells her that if she will do as he says that they won’t run out of food.  So she did as he asked, and God edified her faith by making sure that she did not run out of food.  

Then we have the seeming twist in the plot…the woman’s son falls so ill that he stops breathing…so of course the woman is very upset.  I mean, who wouldn’t be, right?!!  God just saved her and her son, and has been feeding them while she feeds Elijah, God’s prophet….now suddenly after she is thinking that things will be all right and they are going to live….her son just up and dies!  Her reaction is that it was some twist of fate that Elijah essentially came to call her sins to light and punish her for them by killing her son.  No doubt as a parent, the worst thing would be to live to see your child die!  

Before Elijah came into their lives she was going to be dying with her son, now she believed she would be living without him!  In her time period a woman who had no son, and no husband was in dire straits to find a way to live and feed herself. The options were very limited.   In her mind, this must have seemed like some cruel punishment from God.  I mean, she has already lost her husband, nearly starved to death, and now when things have been looking up, suddenly her son dies.

So the woman took her concern straight to Elijah, and Elijah took it straight to God.  Elijah asks God about this, and then prays that the boy’s soul will return to his body.

 I find it interesting that he stretches himself out over the boys body 3 times…honestly, I am pretty sure that Elijah didn’t know CPR which the mouth to mouth portion of didn’t exist in records until the 1700’s, but reading this it reminding me of that…so just for the record even when a person is revived from a medical procedure or any intervention of man..it is still God who is doing the reviving and it is miraculous…just as miraculous now as this story of Elijah and the widow’s son.  I am sure that person and any relatives who witness this kind of revival would agree that for them it was miraculous.  Well, I suppose there are always going to be folks who “don’t have the eyes to see” a miracle when it is there, but by and large most people in the situation of this widow who get their loved one back, would be shouting hallelujahs and praising God for his act of grace!

Anyway, the fact is that God showed this woman his character, his love, and his mercy again, by reviving her son.  He showed her that she was wrong, that he was not a God who would punish her for her past sins when she was following him.  We know that this woman was following God because she acted in faith when Elijah showed up…even on the brink of death from starvation. (Now, who knows what sins this woman had, but we all are guilty of something, and some sins do have earthly penalties for us.)

Now God edified her act of faith, but he also wanted to show her that she could trust him in all the circumstances of her life, even when things were dire.  The last line shows us that she knew from this miraculous act that Elijah was “truly” a man of God.

This may sound funny, considering that Elijah told her as we read in verse 14 For thus saith the Lord God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the Lord sendeth rain upon the earth. (KJV) So, we would think that she knew it was God who did the saving of her and her son by not letting them starve?!!  This makes you think, why would God need to further show her who he was?

Simply because she still didn’t understand his character of love, she still didn’t understand that God loved her and her son, and wanted the best for them.  Another thing to consider, is that in the Old Testament time period there were “seers” who were not necessarily people of God, but who were respected as mystical, wise men types…like the witch of Endor in the story of Saul and Samuel, and like the Pharoah’s wise men, and the King Nebuchadnezzar’s (Babylon) wise men.

God did not want Elijah to be mistaken for any of these types of people…he wanted this woman and her son to know without any doubt, that Elijah was representing the One True God!  The God who can be trusted in issues of both life and death!  The God to whom all glory is due!  Her prayers and those of Elijah were answered so that God would be glorified, respected, loved, honored and understood as the God of undying and unending love!

Prayers are answered just for that reason and that reason only to show the love of God to us and others, and to glorify him.

Read Psalm 65: This Psalm is about praising God, and God answering prayer and blessing people, God is the hope of all the ends of the earth.

God wants us to glorify him and love him sincerely, he wants us to praise him and call on him for everything….he wants us to have a relationship with him that is close and personal.

God does not want us to have empty mottos and slogans that say we glorify him, yet mean nothing because we do not obey him and love him in our hearts.  We are told that our actions strongly reflect what is in our hearts…or in other words, our faith shall be known by our deeds…what best glorifies God is our love for him and for others.

Matthew 7:15-20 15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them. (NKJV)

John 14:23  Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. (KJV)

James 2:14-19 14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

When we are praying to God’s glory we should be praying for God’s blessings to fall on those whom we are praying for, very specifically.  Just as Elijah was very specific to the person he was praying for when he was speaking to God.  Elijah wanted to show this widow God’s love for her and her son, who God was, and through his prayer life, and God’s intervention…this was done and God was glorified by it!  Elijah’s every action in this situation was in obedience to God and for the glorification of God!

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Prayer in Action

golden-wheat-field-1354390133xga2Samuel 24:24 No, I insist on paying for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing….

Read 2Samuel 24  and 1Chronicles 21 This is the story of David taking a Census of his men against God’s wishes and the penalty of doing so.  This chapter is a good story to demonstrate that when you pray, you must listen to God’s answer, and that sometimes, there is some action you must take for the answer to take place.  Note:  There is confusion in these two verses, but when you realize that in 2Samuel God is angry against Israel then you can see that what is described in 1Chronicles 21 as Satan inciting David to take a census and in 2Sam 24 as God inciting David to go and take a census is simply two ways of saying that God is sovereign and everything that happens is at his control/command…God does have control of Satan also and when God’s wrath burned against the people of Israel he used Satan to tempt David to sin by taking a census of his people.  David always had the option to not yield to temptation, which also would have lessened God’s wrath.  However he chose to go ahead and sin.  Then he had to pray to God for forgiveness to lessen God’s wrath.  God gave him a task to do to show his sincerity of repentance.  Let me be clear…the task is not what gained him the forgiveness…it was simply a demonstration of his sincerity and an obedience to God.  God does not “need” us to do anything, but does sometimes require us to do things…not for the sake of repentance (beyond accepting Christ), but for our own sake so that we can “feel” (for lack of a better word, though faith is a decision that you make, not a feeling that you have) that we have repented or that we have connected closely with God and rebuilt our faith in God.  Everything that God does or asks us to do has one goal….to bring us closer to him…to help us understand him better, and to bring others closer to him and to help them understand him better through us.  God does these things out of his extreme love for us.  After all, he is God why else would he bother with us, if he didn’t love us?!!

For example:  There is a story (not in the Bible) of a man who was living in a place where a flood was coming.  He was warned by the news, but he told his friends and neighbors who were packing up their cars to evacuate that he was going to wait for God to answer his prayer.  He was praying about it and that God would make everything all right.  After a while, the police came by and told him that he must evacuate that the water was rising quickly and he was losing time.  He assured the police that he was praying and that God would take care of the situation.  (I know that sometimes the police will force an evacuation…but this is an illustration.)   More time went by and the water had risen to the point where the man was having to go to his upstairs room.  Someone came by with a boat and offered to let him join them in the boat and get him safely away.  The man answered that he was waiting on the Lord that the Lord would rescue him as he had been praying about this situation.  The man in the boat left.  A couple hours later the man was forced to move up to his roof.  A helicopter came by, and dropped a rope for him, and told him to climb up.  The man repeated that he had been praying and was waiting on the Lord to answer him.  He refused to climb up.  You can probably guess the fate of the man, right?!!  He drowned.  Then he is standing in front of the Lord, and he asked, “Lord, I prayed to you and you did not answer me.  Why not?  Why didn’t you listen to me?”

The Lord responded to the man, “Son, my child…I did answer you, when you first prayed, I sent you the news that there was a need to leave because it was dangerous for you there.  Then when you did not leave, I sent you some police officers to make certain that you saw the authority in the order to leave.  You still did not listen.  So as things became more dangerous and perilous for you, I tried to rescue you once more in the form of a man with a boat, but you refused to get into the boat.  Finally, I sent some other rescuers with a helicopter and they practically begged you to cling to the ladder and be flown out of there.  Son, I made four attempts to show you my answer and provide for your safety, but you were so stubborn that you were only looking for the answer that you wanted.  You were not really looking for the answer I was providing.  I love you and it saddens me that you valued your home more than your life and more than your relationship with me.  That is why you perished.”

Sometimes, we just don’t recognize the answer that God is giving to us.  We are either too stubborn (in wanting our own way) to recognize it, or our prayer life and our relationship with God is taking a back seat to other “idols” in our life.  An idol can be anything in a person’s life which interferes with your relationship with God.  In the illustration above, the idol of the man’s life seems to be his home.

The illustration is an extreme example of someone who the Bible would describe as “stiff necked”.  Think for a minute about what it means to be stiff necked.  I have had a stiff neck at times, and it makes it really hard to look around.  A stiff necked person in spiritual terms is someone who refuses to turn back from their own agenda, and follow God.  There are many times that the people of Israel were called a “stiff necked people”.  Set in their own ways, and unable or unwilling to see the truth that God reveals for them.  Now a days we would call that person stubborn and unyielding.

Think about yourself…is there a time that you have been too stiff necked about what you wanted?  That you haven’t been able or willing to understand that God has answered your prayer perhaps because the prayer’s answer was not what you wanted it to be?  I know that I have had times in my life like that.  Then there may have been times when you take an action to make something turn out the way you wanted it…ask yourself..how did that turn out for you?  I know that for myself the answer would be that it usually didn’t turn out too well.  In the Bible it also didn’t turn out well when God promised something, and then told them to wait upon him….there are many examples of that…King Saul, Abraham and Sarah just to name a couple of examples.

Genesis 16:1-2 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”

In the case of Sarai/Sarah she came to regret her decision because it caused her to have trouble in her home and she suffered from jealousy and her slave, Hagar, started looking down upon Sarah.  Sarah tried to rush the God, instead of waiting on him.

This is in contrast to David, who was told to go and make an offering to God.  David had to buy the threshing floor where he was told to make the offering.  How great the temptation must have been to accept the place for free when it was offered.  However, David sets an example to us…if we are going to make an offering to God it should be something that belongs to us, or costs us in some way.

Sometimes we simply need to do something in order for a request to be fulfilled.  If you are looking for a new home, or a new job, and you pray for God to help you with that…you cannot expect the Lord to magically beam you to the new job or the new home, right?  You still have to go out and look for that new home or new job.  God will guide you to the place that will fulfill the desires of your heart.  He actually knows better than we do what the desires of our heart really are in life.

Psalm 37:4  Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.

The key thing about this verse is that you need to delight yourself in the Lord first….that way your desires will line up with the Lord’s wishes for your life and happiness.

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God’s still small voice…rest for your souls

IMG_1339Matthew Chapter 11 (NIV)

 After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee.When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciplesto ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written:

“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way before you.’

11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. 14 And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. 15 Whoever has ears, let them hear.

16 “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:

17 “‘We played the pipe for you,
    and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
    and you did not mourn.’

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

Woe on Unrepentant Towns

20 Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida!For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades.[e] For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

The Father Revealed in the Son

25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

27 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (NIV)

Deuteronomy 18:15-22 (NIV)

15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. 16 For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”

17 The Lord said to me: “What they say is good. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. 19 I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name. 20 But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods,is to be put to death.”

21 You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?” 22 If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.

When I was in church this morning Matthew 11 was the text and what caught my attention at the time was verse 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it.

There are many ways to look at this verse, but another translation of it is to say, “the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully moving forward”.  It is rather hard to wrap my mind around the Kingdom of heaven being “subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it”  after all, the Kingdom of heaven is in heaven, right?!!

However, if you look at it from the standpoint of it “forcefully moving forward” that gives a different idea, at least in the mind of the Pastor who was preaching this morning’s message, and also I can see and understand that what he is saying may be a way to look at it.  It gives the idea of God’s will be done by passionately intense people who have subjected themselves to God and the spreading of his word.  The following of his plan.  The Pastor this morning spoke about the idea that God does not want people to stand still in their faith.  He wants people to passionately reach out to others in love and compassion to show them the character of God.

What happens if all you need to do is accept Jesus and be baptized?  Then why bother with going to church, or praying or anything else? After all, “you” have been saved, so why bother with anything else?  You are not going to be any “more” saved by going to church are you?  You are not going to be any “more” saved by doing good works!  Jesus did it all and all you have to do is accept it and do nothing the rest of your life, right?!!

While it is true you are “saved” simply by accepting Jesus, you cannot just accept part of Jesus and be saved.  Jesus was/is looking for people who accept all of Him, and all of what he says.  People who are willing to give “all” of themselves to God’s service.

 Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

People who give all of themselves to God are people who are also concerned for obeying God here on earth while they are living, not just concerned for their afterlife.  They are also not just concerned for their own salvation, but are concerned for the salvation of others.

Matthew 28:19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…

This doesn’t mean that God is asking everyone to become ministers or pastors or give up their families and communities and run off across the world to be a missionary!  There are some people whom he asks that of, but for most people your missionary field is in your own backyard, neighborhood, place of work, people you meet!

This also doesn’t mean that you have to jump on everyone you meet and beat them over the head with God and God’s word as you know it!  God speaks in a still small voice, so that is the example he gives us in dealing with others. Gentleness, not being wishy washy, but being non-condemning and gentile in your explanation of who God is and what he is looking to bring into their lives!

1Kings 19:11-13  And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but theLord was not in the earthquake:

12 And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.

13 And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?

 

I remember when I was in high school and my band was doing a car wash fund raiser.  There was a woman there who got right up in my little 9th grade face and said, “Have you been born again!!!”  The way she said it actually made me feel like I had done something wrong..it felt threatening, especially because at that point I had never heard of the idea of being born again.  I looked at her really scared like and nervous, and said that I didn’t know what she meant.  She again pounced on me and said that you had to be born again to go to heaven and that if I wasn’t born again then I wasn’t going to heaven!  Now, I was not a big church goer as a child because we moved a lot, and my family didn’t go to church.  I usually went with one of my Great Aunts when I was around her and really loved going with her.  I was especially enamored with the felt board and how those little figures would stick to it was mesmerizing!  I loved Bible stories and read them a lot in the children’s Bible.  I had prayed that Jesus was going to live in my heart when I was about 4 years old, and I knew who Jesus was and trusted him.  However, the Jesus I knew was not a person who would yell in someone’s face that the needed to get born again to go to heaven.

The Jesus that I knew called to people out of trees and told them that he was going to have lunch with them.  He called to people who were fishing and told them to come along that he would make them a different kind of fisherman.  Sometimes, Jesus spoke in riddles that I didn’t understand as well as I thought I should, but he was gentle and loving with people who were trying to understand the kingdom of God, and trying to follow him.

Now Jesus was very tough on those who weren’t going to follow him, or who misused God’s word to make other people’s lives harder.  He was really tough and very direct if people who were supposed to be representing God to his people were misrepresenting God to them.

I am sure that this woman, who never got around to explaining anything about being born again to me…because I saw a car that desperately needed my attention to wash right then…had the best of intentions and was very passionate about her faith, and really wanted to share it with me.  The problem was that she was literally ferocious in her approach!  When she was talking to me, it felt violent!

There is a fine line between being passionate and sharing what you know with all the joy in your heart, and literally pouncing on an unsuspecting person and beating them over the head with the Word of God!  With most people it is much more productive to share things with a sentence here or there, in relation to a comment they have made about something than it is to just pounce out there out of the blue with the word of God.

Ex.  Someone says to you something like, “hi! How have you been today?” and it happens to be Sunday, and you have gone to church.  You can respond, “Oh, I am having a great day so far, I went to church this morning and we talked about… and this is how I feel about it or what I got out of it…” then wait for their response, you will either hear, “Oh, that’s nice! and they will change the subject…at which point that means that you give it up and move on to another conversation…or as Jesus tells us, “shake off your sandals and move on out of town.”

You may also hear another response, such as, “Oh, that’s interesting….I went to church also and we talked about thus and so today…” or “Oh, really, so I have been looking for a church around here, what is your church like…”  or “Oh, I really don’t know much about God, but I always thought that….”

There are so many responses, or so many openings and you just have to calmly carry on a conversation with the person…get them to asking questions about God and talking about what they believe, then gently tell them what your beliefs are and why you believe what you do.  Sometimes they are under the impression that “churches are filled with hypocrites” or “I am trying to fix myself up to be better before I go to church…I need to get right with God”.

The truth is that churches are filled with people who have been “saved” they have been “born again” meaning they have taken on a new life through their belief in Jesus Christ.  Churches are also filled with sinners who have yet to be saved..people who are there for different reasons than to worship God.  Churches are filled with all types of people, but there is one type of person who you will never find in a church….not til Jesus comes back, and then there will be no need for churches as he will be here…that person whom you will never find in a church is…wait for it…here it comes…”the perfect person!”  There are no perfect people in churches anywhere…there are no perfect people out of churches either.  Churches are full of all kinds of people, but there are no perfect ones…the perfect person doesn’t exist except in the body of Jesus Christ.

Face it, all of us would like to be “perfect” and if all it took to make people perfect was for them to attend church, then there would be lines of people around the block outside of churches all over the world waiting to get in so that they could be perfect too!  The fact that there are not tells us that the people in the church are only different in the fact of their acceptance of Jesus Christ as their savior, right?!!  So what does this mean?

Jesus tells us to be Romans 12:2 people who live in the world, but are not part of the world.  This means that we should be noticeably different from the non-Christian in our character and our way of life.  We cannot help but be living in the world…and God doesn’t want us to sequester ourselves away from the world.  After all, how can we reach out if we don’t interact with it?

We are told that Romans 5:7-9 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

If God loved us while we were yet sinners, doesn’t that mean he loves others who are still sinners and who have not yet accepted salvation through Christ?!! Of course it does!  Our participation in God’s kingdom is to passionately proclaim his word to others…being passionate does not mean yelling at people or getting in their face.  What it means to be passionate is that we love God, and we love his Word, and we cannot get enough of talking about God to others and sharing our joy!  If you look at Jesus’ disciples that is what we see over and over with them.  They loved God and it showed in every fiber of their being…they gave all of themselves over to God to use in bringing others to know who God is and what he did for them by way of his Son, Jesus Christ!

The line in Matthew 11 that most caught my attention is this:  Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”  I asked myself how does one stumble on account of Jesus?  The answer seems rather obvious….if you hear about him and you refuse to accept him, then you have stumbled!  Or if someone misleads you about who Jesus is, then you can stumble.  The nice thing about stumbling is that it isn’t a fall…that means that sometimes you can catch yourself, or someone else can catch you before you fall.Operation Unified Response

That leads to my favorite verses in Matthew 11:28-30  28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (NIV)

 

 

Forgiveness through Prayer

pexels-photo-290951 Samuel 7:3 And Samuel said to the whole house of Israel, if you are returning to the Lord with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign Gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the Lord and serve Him only, and he will deliver you out of the hands of the Philistines.

1Samuel 7:3-10 Samuel told Israel to turn away from the false Gods, and humble themselves before the Lord and ask forgiveness from God and be obedient to God and that God would protect them from the Philistines.  The Philistines came after them, and the Israelites told Samuel to keep praying for God to save them.  Samuel not only continued to pray for them he also made an offering of a lamb.

God heard him, and caused the Philistines (who were the enemies of Israel) to be terrified by thunder and let the Israelites chase them off and kill them. Isn’t the idea of God scaring off your enemies by thundering at them kind of amazing?!! Since God created nature making a little convenient thunder is not a chore for him at all!  

Proverbs 9:10-12 (NIV – Bible Gateway website)

10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
    and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
11 For through wisdom your days will be many,
    and years will be added to your life.
12 If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you;
    if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer.

Note:  The people of Israel were doing wrong and had a crisis which caused them to turn their attention back to God.  Think about occasions when people are far from God, and have a personal crisis in their life (or an emergency situation) which causes them to turn back towards God. 

Isaiah 55:6  Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near. (NASB)

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When those crisis occasions come about in a person’s life it is awfully nice if your relationship with God is really close and in good standing.  It’s a case of, “Why wait for a crisis?”  to turn your focus back to God.  Also think about how important it is to be in good standing (meaning have a good close personal relationship or friendship) with God when talking to him through prayer. Think about how you feel about friends who are fair weather friends, and only are nice to you when they want something.  Do you feel like giving that person what they want?  How do you think God feels when we don’t give  him a thought unless we need something? 

Think about God’s overwhelming forgiveness in this story, and how they gained forgiveness through prayer and obedience to God’s command. To get the maximum impact in your prayer life, you must have a good relationship with God.  Just as you must have good relationships with your friends for them to be there for you in your time of need.

This does not mean that you will never have troubles, but that you will never be alone in your troubles.  If you are in close communication with God, then your troubles are easier to bear.

Psalms 119:67-68  Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. You are good and do good; teach me your statutes. (NASB)

Hannah’s Son – Prayer for God’s Blessing

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This is a dress in a window display in a mall I saw on vacation it is made with the pages of books (it was a book store).  It just seems very cheerful, and it kind of gave me a mental lift of our prayers winging their way to God!

 

Roman’s 9:15-16 For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then, it does not depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.

Read 1Samuel 1:10-11 Hannah prayed for the Blessing of a son, and promised God that she would give him back to God for all the days of his life, and his hair would never be cut. God answered her prayer and Samuel was born and given to Eli the Priest at the Temple after he was weaned (1Samuel 1:22, 26-28)  God blessed Hannah with many more children after Samuel. (1Samuel 2:5)  Note that Hannah’s prayer was answered and she was blessed with more children for her faithfulness to her promise.  Hannah’s prayer included an offer of personal sacrifice of the thing wanted most.  Sometimes when a prayer is really important we can fast and sacrifice our meals or give up fun activities in order to honor the seriousness of the prayer.  We do this most often either for healing of someone or ourselves, or during the season of Lent in an effort to experience a small part of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.  Sometimes when a matter of prayer is crucial to you, you feel that just prayer alone is not enough, then it is appropriate to fast so that you can concentrate on God more.

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Read Judges 11  Here is the story of another person who wanted a blessing from God, and made a vow to God.  However, this is a case where there is a lot of controversy.  We can learn a lot from Jephthah’s wild seemingly ill considered vow.  He vows that if God will let him win a war, then he will offer to or sacrifice to God whatever first comes out of his house when he returns safely.

Have you ever made a vow or promise that you wish you had never made?  I don’t think there is a person alive who hasn’t.  I am sure that Jephthah had regrets…as his one and only child…his daughter is the one who first came out to meet him.  Now there is controversy among scholars about whether he actually burned his daughter as a sacrifice, or if she was just offered as in the case of Hannah offering Samuel to God as a servant in the temple, or maybe she was just set aside and never allowed to marry, but stayed in her father’s house.  I am going with the idea that Jephthah was known to be a man of God and knowing that God had prohibited human sacrifice he would never go against God.  (Deuteronomy 12:29-32) After all, he was chosen as a leader of his people by God.  That is why he is mentioned in Judges in the first place.

Also his daughter mourns her virginity and it tells us she never knew a man. So her mourning of her virginity in this case would be the never having a husband and children.  For a Jewish woman of her time, that was a horrible fate to have.  A woman’s worth as told to us in the story of Hannah and many other women throughout the Old Testament was based on whether she could provide sons for her husband so that his lineage could continue.  The same could be said of a Jewish man, having a son was his top obligation.  So much so that if his brother had a wife and died without a son, then he was to marry the widow and raise up a son as his brother’s child so that he would have a son to carry on his line. (Deuteronomy 25:5-6)

So when we see this story of Hannah, she was miserable and she wanted a son to validate her worth.  Jephthah had only a daughter and he, undoubtedly loved his daughter as we can see from his response to her appearance.  Jephthah was someone who had no proper family when he was growing up, and was actually rejected and ejected from his father’s house, so family was probably doubly important to him over others who were raised in a family where their Mother was respected and loved.  Saying this, it seems to me that his vow to God really was a painful burden to him.  As his daughter would not be able to provide him with a continuation of his family line, and she was his only child.

Unlike in the story of Hannah and her son, Samuel, we are not told that Jephthah suddenly started having other children.

So both of these people prayed for a blessing and tried to give something to God in return.  Hannah ended up with the greater blessing, as the scorn she received from her husband’s second wife was abated and she had many children.  The way I feel when I read Hannah’s story is that she is a woman in misery, and is praying for God with all the humbleness of her heart to remove her misery.

On the other hand, when I read of Jephthah, he seems like a person of great pride.  He is a person who is a bargainer.  When his family called him back he bargains with them to become the head of the family if he fights for them and prevails.  Then he offers God a bargain, that he will give God a sacrifice of whatever comes out of his house first if God will just let him win against his enemies.  Jephthah was not miserable in the sense that Hannah was, but he was also looked down upon by members of his family and community.  He was a “can do” type of person, his relationship with God was almost completely different from Hannah’s.  Hannah was a “can’t do anything about it” person.  She was humble and laid her problem out to God.  Jephthah on the other hand probably would have gone into battle anyway, and hoped for the best; but felt that if he offered God something that maybe God would make certain of his victory.

The thing is in both cases, God did bless these people with the desires of their hearts.  Jephthah in the end needed and desired the respect of his family after the way he had grown up.  By offering his daughter to God, he also gained more community respect.  We are told that for four days a year the Jewish girls would go into the desert to lament his daughter’s virginity.  In this case, to honor it, as well as mourn her sacrifice of having no family.  Another thing about not having a son, is that there was no one to care for her in her old age….though, as she was a “living sacrifice” to God I am sure that God made sure she was cared for.  Just as he will care for us if we make ourselves into “living sacrifices” to him. For us to be living sacrifices means that we are living our lives fully invested in following God’s plan for our lives.  We are setting aside our selfishness and our need to control things, and allowing God to work in us.

The thing is that there is nothing other than ourselves that we can offer to God…God does not do bargains.  He listens to our prayers and our repentance of our sins, and he wants to give us the desires of our hearts.  Just like any parent wants to give their children the desires of their hearts….without any bargaining!    God does not bargain…he blesses whom he will bless and he curses whom he will curse.  Generally, he blesses those who love him…maybe not the way they wish to be blessed on the surface, but he gives what the person really needs to help them grow closer to him, and to fulfill their plan.  The thing is we don’t always understand the actual blessing that God has given us when it is given to us.  Sometimes, we have to have time to see it.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:33-37 Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. (ESV)

 

 

If there are 10 Righteous Men…

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Genesis 18:32 Then he said May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only 10 can be found there?

Read Genesis 18:20-33 God tells Abraham that he will destroy Sodom and Gomorrah that their sin is too great.  Abraham prays to God that he not destroy the city of Sodom if 10 righteous men could be found in either one of them.  God agreed, but could only find 1 righteous man, Lot, and so saved Lot and his family and still destroyed  the city.  So although  the city was destroyed, God listened to Abraham, and looked for righteous people first thereby saving Lot.  Without Abraham’s intercessory prayer, God may have destroyed the entire city.  Prayer affected the outcome for Lot.

There is a bunch of history between Abraham and Lot.   Lot is Abraham’s nephew by one of his deceased brothers.  When God told Abraham to pick up and move to a new country with his wife and family, Abraham took Lot along.  He and Lot ended up having to go their separate ways after a while because their family groups were too large and their flocks were too large.  This caused a bunch of fighting between their herdsmen.  Abraham was kind enough to let Lot choose which of the new land he wanted for himself.  Lot demonstrates a bit of his character to us by choosing the best and greenest land, and leaving the desert area for Abraham. Later his area is raided and he and his family members are kidnapped…Abraham goes to the rescue with a few hundred men and gets them back.

John 3:16-21  

16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” (NKJV -Biblegateway)

Now in this story we find that the town that Lot is living in (Sodom) is about to be destroyed by God.  God has found the town to be so filled with sin that he considers it irredeemable.  In our society there is a belief that everyone is going to be redeemed.  That is simply not true.  It is purely wishful thinking…however, it is good that we have that desire to see everyone redeemed.  God has the same desire, and wants us to have that desire also.  He wants us to love others to that point where we wish the best for them, and would like to help them achieve it.

2Peter 3:9  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

The promise that is spoken about in 2Peter 3:9  is the return of the Lord…he is not slow in returning because he wants us to suffer more, but because more can have time to make the decision to follow Jesus, and gain their salvation and restored relationship with God.  God leaves people here on earth who have already gained their salvation so that they can be instrumental through their knowledge of God, and through the way they live out their faith….in bringing others to the knowledge of salvation also.

Abraham always loved Lot and wanted him to be saved, but he also did not want the people of Sodom to be destroyed either…he was hoping that there would be enough people in the town of Sodom that Lot could continue to live his life there, and that God would not destroy the town.  That there were enough people still in Sodom that they could witness to those who were living in sin and thus help them to repent and return to God.  However, as we know from the Bible, Lot was the only person left in that town whom God considered to be righteous.  If you read more about Lot in the Old Testament you will find that he wasn’t really all that righteous…he had a knowledge of God, but not necessarily a very strong character.  He tried to be obedient to God, but he didn’t seem to cling to him the way he should.  It is a good thing that Abraham was around to look out for his nephew, and to pray to God for him.  God wants us to look out for others, especially for other Christians who may be new to the faith, or weaker spiritually.  We are to lift them up in prayer and bolster their faith as much as we can.

Notice that God never got mad at Abraham for how he questioned him repeatedly about his actions.  God does not get mad at us either for wondering about what his plan is and what he is doing.  God wants relationship with us, if we have a question about what God is wanting us to do, or what is happening or why…we should feel free to pray and ask God to help us to resolve these questions, and to have a closer understanding of him and his plan.  God is gracious and loving and understands us more than we understand ourselves.  Use prayer to relate to him and he will give you answers and contentment about how he is doing things.  When there isn’t prayer/communication..there isn’t understanding either.  So pray and ask God what is going on and how to proceed whenever you are in doubt…it will definitely build your faith up…beyond your dreams!

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