Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Comedy of Errors

Today's passage:  I Samuel 5
     After a sad chapter before this, God seems to give a little comic relief.  At least, I find it humorous.  The Philistines have brought the ark back to their territories.  They place it in their fish god's (Dagon) temple.  Their whole purpose for this is to show the superiority of their god over Israel's God.  God has other plans.  The next morning they find their merman face first on the floor before God's ark.  Dagon's priests probably assumed he somehow fell over during the night. They set him upright. The next morning, God leaves them no doubts as to what actually happened.  This time fish god is headless, handless and his stumpy torso are all groundward, giving obeisance to the Ark of the Covenant.  The priests decide maybe they should just leave it alone.  But God doesn't leave the priests alone, or any of the other people in Ashdod's city.  He strikes them with boils, or in one place I read, hemorrhoids.  Sorry, there is really no delicate way to put that.  Either one would be highly uncomfortable.  The Ashdodians (is that a word?) realize it is Israel's God doing this, so they decide to be generous to their fellow Philistines and push the Ark off on them.  They transport the box to Gath.  Clueless, the Gathites agree to house the Ark.  They are cursed with the emerods (boils/tumors/hemorrhoids) too.  After figuring out this is because of the Ark dwelling in their city, they decide they shouldn't be greedy.  Wouldn't their neighboring city, Ekron, want to display the Ark for a while?  I can see the pitch.  Gathites (while itching all over):  "We, in Philistia, have decided each major city should take turns putting the Ark of the Covenant on display.  Like a traveling exhibit at a museum.  We've had a turn, wouldn't your people like to proudly display it?  Yes?  We'll have it there tonight.  Oh no, problem at all.  We want to make sure you have access to it immediately.  They are on their way now."  I love how loyal these Philistines are to each other.  I'm wondering if they don't divulge that the ark comes with boils attached would be to admit that their city's god was inferior to another city and to another country.  Perhaps there is a little god rivalry going on between the five major cities of Philistia.  None of them wants to admit they have been beaten, so they craftily think of a way to get rid of the Ark without admitting to their god's weakness.  They are secretly afraid that the next city will not have these problems, therefore showing one god's superiority. 
     After a heavy dose of emerods, Ekron decides to send the curs-ed box back to Israel.  I'm wondering how they pitched this proposal?  I mean, how do they send it back without admitting that Israel's God is superior?  They must have found some convenient excuse to get rid of it and still save face.  What would they tell the Israelites?  "You know, we think you've been on pretty good behavior, we're going to give your toy back."  or "We will return your Ark to you if you agree to the following conditions."  See, now that would be the smart thing to do.  The Israelites already felt as if their God had gone with the Ark, which was part of the problem, they were viewing God as their enemies viewed Him.  If they wanted their God back, they wanted the box back, agreeing to any terms.  The Philistines would also think that the Israelite God was attached to the Ark.  It was the physical representation of their God.  Just as their idols were physical representations of their gods.  It makes sense that the Philistines think Israel is powerless without the Ark, because they worshipped gods who were one-note.  They only had power in certain aspects of life, like harvest, or fertility, or weather.  They couldn't comprehend that Israel's God was not like any of theirs, and the fact that they were struck with boils as soon as God's Ark landed in their city seemed proof of this.  Chapter 6 goes into a little more detail about how the Philistines scheme to get rid of this thing, and hopefully all of the side effects that go with it, so I guess I'm just going to have to wonder until tomorrow.
     One thing is for certain.  My God is not like any other god.  He is superior.  The old saying, "My dad is bigger than your dad"?  Well, my dad may not have been bigger than other kids' dads, but my God is bigger than your god.  I never have to wonder about that.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Lucky Charms

Today's passage:  I Samuel 4
    This is one of those chapters in the Bible, where it is hard to find anything redeeming to mention.  It is a dark day for Israel.  I'm not sure how much time has passed between the time when Samuel had to deliver God's message to Eli, and the time the judgement would actually take place.  In the previous chapter, Eli was already losing his eyesight, so he was evidently an older man.  It seems that Samuel had been prophesying because the first verse tells us "And the word of Samuel came to all Israel."
     When looking at a map of Israel, Eben-ezer and Aphek are located about 20 miles from Shiloh.  This may seem like an easy distance, but by foot and through the hills of Ephraim, this would probably be a little arduous.  Take into account, that on the trip back, soldiers would have been carrying the Ark of the Covenant, and the trip becomes even harder.  Somehow, the older, more seasoned men of Israel get it into their gray heads that it would be a good idea to transport the Ark of the Covenant to their battle site.  They figure, after losing 4000 men, they could use some kind of lucky charm.  Eli's sons, Hophni and Phinehas, escort the ark to Eben-ezer and the soldiers celebrate as if they have already won the next battle.  Eli is aware of the ark leaving the tabernacle, because back in Shiloh, it says, "Eli sat upon a seat by the wayside watching; for his heart trembled for the ark of God."  He knew this was a bad idea, but he seems powerless to stop his sons or the elders of Israel.  With all of the whooping in Israel's camp, the Philistines start to worry.  When the information reaches them that the Israelites have the Ark of God with them, they worry a little more. But the Philistines are determined to fight even harder, to prove this God of Israel has no power over them.  It would seem they were successful.  Not only do they slaughter the Israelites, they capture the ark and take it back to Philistia.  Eli's own sons lose their lives in the massacre.  Thirty thousand men are killed, maybe more, since this number refers only to the foot soldiers. That number is about half of the number of men who lost their lives in the entire Vietnam War. 
     Who wants to be the messenger that gets to deliver this news back to Shiloh?  Who wants to volunteer to tell the high priest that his sons have been killed, and oh yeah, the Philistines have captured the Ark of the Covenant?  Who wants to be the one that has to explain to most of the townswomen that they are now widows, and their children are fatherless?  I'm thinking that twenty miles from the battle site was feeling especially far for this poor fellow.  His worst fears are realized when Eli drops dead from the startling news.  When Phinehas' pregnant wife hunches over in delivery pains, he is really wishing he had not been elected for this job.  When she dies, leaving Phinehas' newborn son an orphan, I'm sure he was wishing he had been among the casualties.
     I mean, what good thing can I take away from this passage?  Is there anything encouraging here?  It just seems like one morbid event after another.  And what about young Samuel?  Or maybe he is older Samuel by now, I don't know how much time has passed.  The man who helped raise him has died.  Two men, he probably looked at like older brothers have been killed, as well as many of the other men who had probably befriended him in his time here.  How was Samuel feeling in all of this?  The Bible doesn't tell us, but I think I can guess he was feeling rather low.  I feel low reading about it, and I didn't know any of these people. 
     I do know this, although God's glory had departed with the ark.  God had not.  The symbol of God's glory was no longer with the Israelites, but God had not left them.  He had not deserted him, although looking at the battlefield, someone might tell a different story.  These were still his chosen people, through good times and bad.  He allowed them to learn a painful lesson, that He was not a lucky charm to call on, when they needed something.  We still do this today.  We promise God if only He will get us out of this sticky situation we're in (usually one we caused ourselves), we will do anything He asks.  Sometimes He helps us out, and sometimes we follow through and actually keep our promise.  Sometimes He lets us learn the lesson the hard way.  It doesn't mean He has left us.  It doesn't mean He doesn't still care.  It just means, sometimes we will learn better through the pain, than we will through the rescue.  This was one of those unfortunate times for the Israelites.  They had taken a beating, but God had not left them, and they would be better for it.  If I ever feel like God has deserted me, that is my fault, not His.  If I ever feel as if God doesn't care, it must be because I'm depending on results.  When the results don't always meet my expectations, it is not because God has left.  It must be that He is trying to teach me something.  It might be that the results would do me more harm than good.  Every chapter in the Bible has redeeming value, and every event in my life does too.

Friday, July 29, 2011

This Little Light of Mine

Today's passage:  I Samuel 3
     "And thou shalt command the children of Israel, that they bring thee pure oil olive beaten for the light, to cause the lamp to burn always."  Exodus 27:20
     Eli had become an ineffective priest.  He had become a permissive father.  God had already told him that He would take away the priesthood from his sons because of their ungodly behavior.  One might argue, "But they were adults, what could Eli do?"  He could have stripped them of their priesthood, he could have made them pack their bags and participate in their wickedness elsewhere. Maybe he was oblivious to all that his sons were doing, but if he was, then he neglected to find out.  As parents, we must be vigilant.  We must not always trust our child's words, we must observe their actions.  I know this is sometimes easier said than done, and since I do not have teenagers or young adults yet, it would be easy to dismiss this bit of advice, but if I remind myself of this now, hopefully I will follow through when those times actually come.
     Growing up, if I were ever to misbehave in school, my mother always sided with the teacher.  Always.  I didn't know until I was an adult that she didn't care for a particular elementary teacher of mine.  She never let on that she disagreed with her.  I always knew that if I got in trouble in school, I got in trouble at home.  Why isn't it like that today?  Teachers are not perfect.  They make mistakes.  But children should never know that parent and teacher are not in agreement.  Children should never be aware that Mommy and Teacher are not on the same page.  When we take up for our children in every matter, they soon learn that their behavior is excusable.  I'm not saying we should never be advocates for our children.  But if we choose to step in on their behalf, it should be minimal, and the child should not be aware of it.  I've watched several children grow up.  I've noticed something.  Children whose parents made excuses for them, many times,  are still making excuses.  Our children will never be perfect.  But we should never excuse bad behavior.  They should always know consequences are down the line.  We should show mercy on occasion, because God is merciful with us, but not every time. 
     I'm afraid Eli made excuses for his sons.  And now it was harvest time.  God made it clear that Eli's family would no longer claim the priesthood.  The lamp of God had gone out in the tabernacle.  It went out literally and symbolically.  The priests were instructed to keep the lamp lit at all times, but Eli has allowed it to extinguish.  He had not performed his duties as a priest should.  The light had gone out in the tabernacle and in Eli's family.  God would be judging them for their misconduct very soon.  This is the message He had already given Eli, and it is the message He repeated to young Samuel. 
Samuel Tells Eli that he heard him calling--Taken from Standard Bible Readers, Book Two
By Lillie A. Faris, Illustrated by O.A. Stemler and Bess Bruce Cleaveland
 Standard Publishing Company, 1925
Eli was not surprised by Samuel's message.  In fact, he seems almost resigned, "It is the LORD:  let him do what seemeth him good."  I can almost see Eli flopping down in a chair with a sigh as he says this.  He has a well-there-is-nothing-I-can-do-about-it-now attitude.  And there probably isn't.  But what could he have done about it sooner?  Perhaps he had taken many measures to correct his sons' behavior, and God just didn't see fit to show us this, but why would they still be priests?  They should not have been in that position if they were not falling in line with Dad's (and God's) rules.  Eli should have confronted them, but sometimes as parents, we are too weak.  Our weaknesses show in the lives of our children, and since we all have faults, our kids are walking billboards, advertising every flaw in our lives.  What faults of mine will my children take with them?  If I see them now, I better try to do something, while they are still at home, while I still have influence on them.  If I leave them uncorrected, their little light may be snuffed out, and the fault would be mine.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


Today's passage:  I Samuel 2
     Hannah had a dilemma.  She had prayed a prayer, promising her son to the Lord, if He should see fit to bless her with one.  He did.  She was determined to keep her promise.  She would raise this little boy for the first few years of his life and then give Him over to God.  She would teach Samuel to respect the priests, to pull his weight, to be a servant.  The time had passed quickly and it was now time to take little Samuel to the tabernacle and allow him to start serving God.
     Any mother would struggle with this promise.  But I think Hannah struggled for an even greater reason.  In the time she had vowed this to God, the priesthood in Shiloh had become increasingly corrupt.  Eli's sons, Hophni and Phinehas were involved in immorality, the offerings for sacrifices were being tampered with, the people were refusing to even bring their sacrifices to the tabernacle any longer because of the corruption.  They would prefer to take their chances by angering God, rather than allowing their offerings to be made an abomination.  Maybe Hannah was blissfully unaware of all this, I kind of doubt it since Elkanah was a Levite which means he would have to take a turn assisting the priests during some of the feasts.  It is clear that he and the family went to Shiloh every year to offer sacrifices, I'm pretty sure they noticed the differences as each year passed.  I'm guessing that the year before Samuel was to go live in the tabernacle, Hannah and Elkanah would have had some serious discussions.
      "The tabernacle is not becoming a place we should want Samuel to be raised, " Elkanah may have argued.  "Yes, I've noticed that too,"  Hannah may have said, "But I promised God that if He gave me a son, I would let Him have the child."  Elkanah would have reasoned that God would not expect her to keep that promise in the light of these circumstances. Really?  Why not?  Wouldn't God have known what the tabernacle would be like when it was time to go live there?  Wouldn't He have been the only One to know what the future would hold for young Samuel?  Hannah may have wavered on her promise, not because she wanted to hold onto her only son, but because she was uncertain at the influences that would bombard his young, impressionable life.  I can't blame her.  If I knew what she knew, I would have to seriously reconsider my promise to God.  I might have to renege on my vow.  But Hannah chooses to honor God, and keep her promise to Him.  She has to choose to let God take care of Samuel in these undesirable circumstances, instead of thinking she knows what is best, and raising him at home.  This is a difficult choice.  When it comes to our children, we always want their best.  But their best is giving them to God, and letting Him do with them what He will.  Trusting God with our children, is probably the greatest evidence of faith we can place in Him.  Doesn't He know what their futures hold?  Doesn't He want what is best for them, and in some cases, doesn't that sometimes mean exposing them to situations we would not want?  Hannah was right to keep her promise, even if circumstances had changed from when she made it.  There would be some unfortunate consequences that would affect Samuel later in his life, because of Eli's influence, but keeping him home would more than likely have brought consequences far greater.
Samuel is presented to Eli--Taken from Standard Bible Readers, Book Two
By Lillie A. Faris, Illustrated by O.A. Stemler and Bess Bruce Cleaveland
The Standard Publishing Company, 1925
     How lightly do I treat the promises I make to God?  How many times do I commit something to Him, and later take it back, thinking, well, God understands.  Does He?  Didn't He know what lay ahead before I uttered the promise?  I need to be sure that when I tell God I will give Him something, that I follow through.  Whether it be my children or my time.  There have been times I've told God I would be involved in a certain ministry and then backed out when other unforeseen things laid claim on my time.  The little voice inside me said, "Oh, God understands you can't do that now.  He knows you didn't know what you were promising."  The problem is, He does know.  He knew when I made the promise what might creep up to keep me from fulfilling it.  Do I use it as an excuse, or do I honor the promise I made?  Promises are meant to be difficult to keep.  But they are also meant to be kept.  And that is why I need to be careful breaking them even when I'm faced with a dilemma.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Ladies in Waiting

Today's passage:  I Samuel 1
     Hannah must have felt lonely in her grief.  I have always supposed that Elkanah and Hannah together would have been sorrowful that Hannah's womb had been shut.  Elkanah tried to empathize with Hannah as best he could, he did want to have a child with her, but the truth was, he had children.  Really, he couldn't relate.  He could try.  He loved Hannah very much, that is evident, he longed to see her have a child, but he would never really be able to partner with her in the grief she felt, because he was already a father.  He knew what it had been like to hold a son, and then another son, and a daughter, and then another daughter.  I don't know how many children he and his other wife Peninnah had but verse 4 says sons and daughters plural, so he had at least four.  It is clear that Elkanah reserved his deepest feelings for Hannah.  I don't know which wife had come first, or if he had taken them together, but we see the natural consequences of bigamy.  If Hannah had been the first wife, how much more incompetent would she have felt once Penninah was immediately able to give Elkanah children?  Would Elkanah have taken on another wife to produce heirs?  I can't believe that Elkanah married Peninnah for her character, because she seems to be heartless, flaunting her fertility in Hannah's face as if she was blessed by God.  Then again, I think that was Peninnah's jealousy bubbling forth.  She would never have the place in Elkanah's heart that Hannah did, despite all the children, so she felt compelled to lash out at Hannah for this.  It was not Hannah's fault that this had taken place, it was Elkanah's.  He had put their family in this situation, by taking on two wives.
     In recent years, I have seen polygamy become more accepted.  A few years back, a former Chicago talk show host who now has her own network invited polygamist families to talk about their experiences.  Coinciding with this, was a show on HBO (not one I have ever seen, but have heard about) called Big Love, about a man who takes several wives.  I told my husband at the time, this will be the next topic that people will fight to have accepted.  On the Chicago talk show, the women of this polygamist husband tried to explain how they thought of each wife as family.  They were not jealous of each other, and they helped each other raise the kids and clean house.  One big happy family, right?  I'm guessing if I went behind the scenes in this home, I would discover something far different than what they would have me believe.  The whole purpose of going on the show, was not to expose the practice, but to plead for acceptance.  So maybe these particular wives did get along, what happens when husband brings yet another wife home? What happens when she doesn't go along with the program?  What an excuse for immorality, at least on the husband's part! 
     In the Bible we see time and time again how bigamy or polygamy did not work out.  It was never God's plan.  It always only caused strife.  Poor Hannah finds herself the victim of the other wife, and this does not endear Peninnah to Elkanah, I'm certain.
     I remember waiting what seemed like a long time to become pregnant.  Even longer was the time between my first and second son.  But the time I waited was miniscule compared to what some couples wait.  I don't know why God has the timeline He has, but am I sensitive to those who are still waiting? I would never want to be like Peninnah, who boasted about her "ability". As if she could commandeer such a thing!  Hannah is the champion for women who have not yet had the children for which they are longing.  She is the whisper in the ear of the woman who is a mother in her heart.  I have met many women who did not have children, but were mothers. Just because they could not claim those children as their own, did not make them any less motherly. I've met aunts, teachers, friends, who though they did not have their own, qualified more as mothers than some who had actually given birth.  I know that is a common frustration.  Why would God give someone a child, who will not care for it, when there are so many women out there who would sacrifice themselves endlessly for little ones?   If I could answer that question, I would be a millionaire. 
     God will not give every woman a child.  Some women are content with this.  Other women are not.  I have known ladies who were intent on being the favorite aunt, the most sought after godmother, the funnest teacher (no such word, I know, but isn't that how a kid would say it?) in a child's life.  Why not?  Who knows what special place a woman can hold in the heart of a child?  She can have just as big an influence on that child as the mother does.  She can hold memories just as special in that child's heart as the woman who gave birth to him.   She can spoil him, give him extra time, do things that maybe Mom is not able to do.  Do you think Hannah held a cherished place in the hearts of Peninnah's children?  Do you think maybe, until Samuel was born, one of the girls would take a book and settle in Hannah's lap while Peninnah tended to her brothers?  Maybe Hannah assisted one of the sons with his homework while Peninnah prepared dinner.  I don't know if Hannah had that role at all, but if she did, she would have done it well, and she would have been the Godly influence they lacked from their own mother.   She could teach them about God, while she was waiting to teach her own.  She could give them her time when their own mother's was divided.   Let's not underestimate the influence a selfless woman can have in the life of a child.  While women are ladies in waiting, they can have a profound effect on the children around them.  It can be the most blessed influence in a child's life.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Today's passage:  John 21
     "He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?  Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me?  And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things: thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep."
     There have been days when I have wondered how Peter felt after denying our Lord.  If he feels like I am feeling today, then he felt like there was no use trying to accomplish anything, because he would surely fail.  The Lord knew I was going to need this chapter this morning.  I didn't know it, but He did.  He knew I was going to wake up feeling a little like Peter this morning.  He knew that I would feel defeated because I failed Him in a particular area in my life for the umpteenth time.  Before I started reading this morning, I told God I was certain I would probably not be blessed by His Word and I would understand why.  Even though I had confessed my sin and asked Him for His help, I still felt that I would probably be of no use. 
     I'm reading about Peter's failure.  Some people may think, well, I would never fail Jesus that poorly.  That is the wrong view to take.  We all fail Jesus that poorly any time we fail Him.  But God has encouraged me this morning.  Even though I've read these events numerous times, it feels fresh to me, because I feel like Peter did.  Jesus was persistent in letting Peter know, he was still His chosen vessel.  Just as Peter denied Jesus three times, Jesus insists on him declaring his love for Him three times.  And Christ gives Peter a job to do.  I know Peter loved his Lord, even though for a few hours he wouldn't admit to it.  I know Peter was ashamed of his treachery (the gospels tell us that he wept bitterly after the rooster crowed).  I know Peter was certain that His Lord would not claim him as His disciple again.  Aren't you glad that wasn't the case?  Aren't you glad that when we have messed up, again, that God still welcomes us in His arms and allows us to serve Him?  I am.  I'm so thankful God is not done with me yet.  I'm so grateful that He allows me to ask for His forgiveness and restores fellowship with me. I know that He can help me overcome areas in my life that I am still lacking.  I know because I see areas in my past where He has given me victory.  My pastor often says he knows that God is not finished with him yet.  He knows this because he is still breathing.  This is true for all of us.  I've checked, and I am breathing today, so God is not done with me.  I don't want to be done with Him.  I want to serve Him today, better than I did yesterday.  I want to look forward to the times in my life just like Peter had, when he proclaimed Christ to over three thousand people, when God used him to heal a lame man, when God delivered him from a prison cell.  If Peter's story had ended in John 21, many of us would have given up a long time ago.  Peter's failure shows me I will fail.  Peter's humility shows me I will be humbled.  Peter's discouragement shows me I will become discouraged.  But Peter's victories shows me I can be victorious.
     Father God, thank You so much for Your Word.  Thank You that when I don't feel like reading it will accomplish anything because I have failed You so miserably, that You prove me wrong.  Thank You for knowing exactly what I need to see everyday, and Lord, with Your help, I ask for Your guidance and ability to avoid failing You today.  I know You still want to use me, just as You used Peter.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Purchasing Peace

Today's passage:  John 20
      "But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities:  the chastisement of our PEACE was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed."  Isaiah 53:5  (Bolded and capitalized word--mine for emphasis).
     When I was first married, and my husband worked the afternoon shift (which meant he didn't get home until after midnight) there were evenings that I had the spooks.  Every noise in the apartment gave me the shivers.  I would sleep with the blankets pulled up to my chin while my heart beat so hard I felt like it was going to bounce me out of the bed.  As soon as I would doze off, I would be startled awake by another sound which sent the heart palpitating again.  I would repeat Psalm 56:3, a verse I had often taught my preschool Sunday school class, "What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee, what time I am afraid, I will trust in thee, what time I am afraid I will trust thee" and that would settle my heart somewhat.  Usually the only thing that really calmed my fears completely was when I saw the cause of the noise.  When I discovered it was our large Paku fish bumping around in his tank, or a neighbor moving furniture in a nearby apartment, or old furnace pipes hissing and knocking, my heart stopped racing, and I was able to laugh at my nervousness.
     Jesus has risen.  Witnesses have told the disciples this, including two of their own (John and Peter).  They do not know where He has gone, but they are remembering that He told them what would happen after three days.  Sunday evening they are gathered together in a room somewhere.  Maybe they were going to discuss their strategy for the days ahead.  Maybe they just needed to assure each other they were not alone, because they were certainly afraid of what the Roman soldiers would do to each of them.  Their mood was fearful, maybe even paranoid.  Any person who would have tried the doorknob ("when the doors were shut") would have hushed them.  Any pounding on the windows or heavy steps outside would have them hiding behind furniture.  Perhaps this is why Jesus doesn't come through the door, He just appears among them.  He knew that anyone coming through that door would have sent them into hysterics, so He chose the way He had gone through doors before He had come to this earth, supernaturally.
     "...came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.  And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side."  Now I have always believed Jesus told the disciples to have peace because they were afraid.  It makes sense, and I believe that is one of the reasons.  But look what He does next.  He shows them something.  He shows them why they will now have peace.  He shows them His wounds.  He shows them that they will have peace forevermore because He just purchased peace with God by His death on the cross.  This makes me want to shout.  Jesus was not just talking about having peace in their present situation, He was talking about having peace for eternity.  He was talking about the only way to really have peace in our lives, by trusting in His work on the cross.  Thomas was not present in the room at the time, and of course, we all know the statement he makes about not believing Jesus has resurrected until He sees the marks on Christ's body.  Jesus appears to Him and what does He say first?  "Peace be unto you".  What does He invite Thomas to do next?  To examine the punctures in His body.  Why?  Because He wanted Thomas to have the lifetime of peace that His death had bought.  He is showing Thomas why He can have peace.  And He shows us how we can have peace as well.
Thomas Feeling Jesus' Wounds--Taken from Standard Bible Readers, Book Five
By Lillie A. Faris, Illustrated by O.A. Stemler and Bess Bruce Cleaveland
The Standard Publishing Company, 1928
     Just as my fear of the scary noises in my apartment subsided when I could justify the noise, so can my fears about my future be appeased when I realize how Christ offers me peace.  Are you at peace today?  Are you worried and anxious about where you will go after this life?  Jesus offered His body so that you don't have to wonder or fear. 
     Lord Jesus, thank you for showing us how we can have peace.  It is only through You that my heart can be settled about my eternal future and everything else in my life.  Thank You for knowing all my fears and soothing them.  Thank you for knowing everything about me, and showing me why I need never be afraid.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Passover Pictures

Today's passage:  John 19
     I am really glad that I am not a Jew living during Old Testament times.  I don't know about you, but the thought of butchering a lamb for Passover each year, makes me queasy.  The smell of blood on my doorposts makes me shudder.  It's a beautiful picture, but pictures are for the eyes, not for the nose and other senses.  I've had the misfortune of coming across dead animals, and they do not smell good.  Maybe lambs have no smell when they are dead, so that is why God chose it, but if they are like any other animal, the carcass stinks. Envisioning the father of each family swiping the blood across the doorposts is pretty in my head, but in real life, he would be covered.  The blood would have dripped like wet paint, and anyone who traipsed in or out would trudge though it and bring it into the house.  Blood spatters everywhere, it is not easy to contain.  This was messy work.  Flash forward to the day of Christ's death.
Jesus' Death on the Cross--Taken from Standard Bible Story Readers, Book Six
By Lillie A. Faris, Illustrated by O.A. Stemler and Bess Bruce Cleaveland
The Standard Publishing Company, 1929
       It is the beginning of the Sabbath day during the week of the Passover, the first day of unleavened bread.  John says, "(for that sabbath day was an high day)."  There are numerous parallels between the Passover and Christ's death.  Books have been written about them.  I've known many of them, but one I hadn't remembered before was the use of hyssop. When Jesus expressed that he was thirsty, a sponge of vinegar was offered to him.  This sponge was atop a hyssop branch.  I've read two or three explanations for what hyssop is.  One said it was a small bush similar to marjoram, another said it was like a caper plant with long branches.  For me, the second makes more sense, for how would a little bush be able to reach Jesus on the cross?
     When I was reading about preparation for the Passover in Leviticus 23, I had not realized that the way the Israelites were to apply the lamb's blood to the doorposts of their house was with a hyssop branch.  Accident?  No way.  Jesus was the Passover Lamb.  His blood was about to be applied so that God could pass over our sins.  The hyssop branch was extended to Him and I'm guessing the sponge came down with some blood on it, since by this time, Christ's blood was everywhere.  It had been dipped in blood, just as they had done in the Old Testament.  The blood had been applied, not to doorposts this time, but to the hearts of all who would believe. 
     Another thing I had never really thought about until I was reading the verses about John and Mary becoming a new family, was the fact that Christ was indeed the firstborn.  Jesus had brothers and sisters, but He was Mary's first child.  At the original Passover, the firstborn lamb (without blemish) was offered up as the sacrifice.  It's blood would spare the firstborn of every family that applied it.  Those families who did not apply the blood (Pharaoh included) found their firstborn sons dead the following morning.  Jesus took the place of that lamb.  He was the Lamb.  When God looked down and saw the blood flowing from the cross, it was acceptable to Him, and He would pass over all those who applied the blood of His Son.  He still does that today.  Christ's blood was enough, it IS enough.  All we need do is accept His death as our substitute. 
     I'm so glad I am not living back in Old Testament times.  I am thankful that I do not have a bloody mess to deal with each year at Passover.  I have a Passover Lamb that shed His blood.  He did all the work, I only had to apply it.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Gethsemane Times

Today's passage:  John 18
     I do not feel capable enough to comment on the next few passages of Scripture.  Do the chapters affect me?  Yes.  Do I take anything from them?  Yes.  Do I see anything new?  Sure.  But I feel ill equipped to explain Christ's suffering, because I have never suffered.  Nobody has suffered as Christ has, but I feel there are people close to me who have a much better idea of what testing is.  I am surrounded by people going through difficulties. It seems almost callous to sit at a computer screen some days talking about trusting in God, and allowing Him to work through me.  Sometimes it sounds so generic and fake. I don't feel that way when I'm writing it, but then I look at people who are living their faith in a tangible way, and think to myself, "What do I know?" The faith that is tangible is a cousin's family who day in and day out tend to their comatose son and his various medical emergencies.  The tangible trials are the ones of my in-laws coping with the daily struggle of her adjusting to life in a wheelchair because bone cancer has taken her ability to walk.  I'm not sure why I am going down these avenues today.  I just have been thinking recently that I can read God's Word, I can get joy from sharing it, I can feel like God has shown me something to apply in my life, but I look at people around me who understand far better than I do.  I would venture that there are people who could understand Christ's turmoil better than I can.  I am sure that persecuted Christians around the world are in their own Gethsemane right now.  These people understand that they may be facing death head-on soon.  They could empathize with Christ's arrest, trial and subsequent persecution.  I can't.
Jesus Prays in the Garden--Taken from Standard Bible Story Readers, Book Six
By Lillie A. Faris, Illustrated by O.A. Stemler and Bess Bruce Cleaveland
The Standard Publishing Company, 1929
     The more I see trials in the lives of people around me, the more I realize I don't know anything.  I've said before that I really only want to sympathize with others, I don't really want that empathy.  But then again, will I ever really understand God's work without those testings?  If you are going through some Gethsemane times in your life, I'm sure you are thinking, "Here, sister, you can certainly have mine."  I am not saying I would gladly take them, because I wouldn't.  I am just saying, you, who are going through these rough patches, are closer to God for them.  Easy for me to say, right?  Yes, easy, and hard.  Easy because I can sit here, knowing that so far, my life has been peaceful and easy.  Hard, because I don't know what to say to those of you who are having difficulties.  I can say the trite thing, "Trust God".  I can quote numerous passages of Scripture about how God can comfort you in your troubles.  I don't even know if anyone reading this today is having troubles.  I know this, someday you might be.  And so will I.  Maybe I'm writing this for posterity's sake, for when I am further down the road in my life and I look at the hurdles ahead.  When I think I can't make it over the hurdle, I can look back at the time in my life when there were none, and see how God has brought me along.  I'm obviously in a very reflective mood today, and really don't feel like I've shared much.  Yet, I feel better just getting it out there, regardless of who reads this.  Jesus went to His Gethsemane to gather strength from His Father, maybe God is just preparing me for mine.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Heavenly Home

Today's passage:  John 17
    I used to listen to a lot of contemporary Christian music.  One of my favorite singers was Wayne Watson.   There is a song he sings that kept running in my head as I was reading this passage.  The song is "Home Free" and the lyrics that especially struck me were these:
"Out in the corridors, they pray for life, A mother for her baby, A husband for his wife, Sometimes the good die young, it's sad but true, But as we pray for one more heartbeat, The real comfort is with You."
     We miss people when they are gone, but if they are saved, they are going Home. Jesus knew this as He was about to face the cross.  He was not looking forward to the pain He was about to take on, but He couldn't wait to get back Home.  I imagine 30 some years in human flesh was plenty for Him.  I imagine He was glad to leave behind the skepticism and disdain in this sinful world.  He had left Heaven, and He was about to go back.  I can't understand this.  I have never even had a glimpse of Heaven.  If God sent me a postcard with just a little preview, I'd be anxious to leave this world too.  We have become so attached to the things of earth because that is all we know.  It is kind of like going on vacation for the first time somewhere.  I may see pictures or have heard stories about a particular place, but it does not replace actually visiting. 
     A few years back, my husband and I visited Hawaii to see a friend who lived there.  I had lived there as a girl.  The year before we had vacationed in California which had thoroughly impressed my husband.  I assured him, Hawaii would be way more impressive.  I tried to describe it, I showed him pictures, but none of that measured up to just how beautiful the islands are.  When we stepped off the plane, and drove from the airport, he finally understood what I was talking about.  He wants to go back (so do I).  No description I could give was enough to help him understand what Hawaii was like.  Words could not describe it well enough.  Don't you think Heaven is the same way?  We have so many passages in the Bible that talk about it, but our words can never describe such a perfect place.  We can't get on the internet and google search it so that we can view pictures.  Nobody has come back from there to tell us about their visit.  But Jesus had been there.  He had lived there up until He was born as a baby.  He knew what it was like.  How many times in His human life, had He thought about going back?  How many times had He wished His time here on earth was up so He could return to His Father and His home? He came here to accomplish a purpose, but in this chapter He refers many times to returning to "the glory which I had with thee before the world was."  The cross is going to be hard, but going home will be easy.
     I guess the reason the Wayne Watson song kept running through my head is because I really don't get just how great Heaven is.  And when God calls someone Home, they are finally going to get to see what I haven't seen yet.  They don't want to come back here.  Why Jesus ever left Heaven to begin with is only because of His incredible love for me.  Once I've been, I won't want to leave.  This is hard to grasp, because there is nowhere on earth that compares.  We joke about wanting to live someplace we've visited for the rest of our lives, but not even Hawaii is perfect.  Beautiful, yes.  Friendly people, yes.  Laid back, yes.  But it has its problems too.  I know this because I actually lived there for a while, it would be hard for my husband who only spent a week there to see this.  Heaven is perfect.  Heaven is ideal.  Heaven is paradise. 
     The chorus of the Wayne Watson song says: 
Home free, eventually.  At the ultimate healing, we will be home free.  Home free, its more than a feeling.  At the ultimate healing, we will be home free.
     Someday we will all be home free.  And we will never want to return to this earth.  We will fully realize what Jesus left for us when we arrive in Heaven.  We will then know, words were not enough to describe Christ's Home, that He left for a little while, for me.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Today's passage:  John 16
     "A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come:  but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world.  And ye now therefore have sorrow:  but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you."
     How clearly I remember the birth of my first son.  My poor husband had just worked his shift (4PM-12AM) and had barely been home an hour when my water broke.  I called the doctor and was instructed to go to the hospital.  I didn't have a lot of pain--at first.  Around 2AM the contractions started, and were pretty much non-stop.  I was expecting a breather between each one.  I had been told that when they first start there might be five minutes in between narrowing within a minute of each other.  Now maybe my labor was different from others, but that never happened.  I would say a 30 second delay between each contraction, and that's how it proceeded for hours.  I couldn't turn over in bed without a contraction, I couldn't carry on a conversation without a contraction.  It was certainly more intense than I had ever expected.  Around 3:30AM the nurse asked me if I wanted medication.  I caved.  Mostly because I had no idea how long the labor would last, and I knew I would have no strength to push when the time came.  She administered Stadol which really did nothing but make me groggy.  I could still feel each contraction, I was just too drowsy to be able to protest.  Finally around 9AM I was given an epidural (and when you are having contractions the entire time, it certainly is nerve-wracking trying to stay still when a long needle is about to pierce your back).  In short time, I couldn't feel the contractions anymore.  I really pity the pioneer women.  I have sympathy for the pregnant ladies during the Depression.  Bless the ladies today who choose natural childbirth.  You are braver than I am.  I admit that I am a wimp and a sissy.  I can't imagine having gone another 4 hours with the contractions I was experiencing.  Thank you, Lord, for modern medicine.  Around 12 PM it was time for the most strenuous part of the labor.  Two hours of pushing, and finally my doctor had to use forceps to get him out.  (This tells you a little about the stubbornness of my first child).  I didn't cry, like I expected to when I first held him.  I was just so relieved to be done with the labor process.  No, the tears came later.  When we were alone that first night, and I held him in my arms, I admired each tiny feature and am certain no baby ever born was as handsome as he was (until my second and third son were born, and they are the only ones that I think could ever compare).   In the middle of the labor process, going through those hideous contractions (sorry expectant mothers), I remember thinking to myself, who on earth would ever do this more than once?  But that night, holding my son, I understood why.  Obviously, my first labor experience did not deter me from going through it two more times.  I'm thankful God was more merciful with my next two labors.  Each was only four hours, and far less difficult.
     Jesus is about to experience the worst pain anyone could ever go through.  This would be far more difficult than any woman's labor.  It would be worse than the torture any man has ever experienced, and I've heard of some pretty grueling tortures.  The disciples are about to sorrow as they have never sorrowed before.  They are about to have their world turned upside down.  They will be afraid, upset, discouraged, paranoid.  They will feel deserted and alone.  They will wonder what comes next.  But Jesus explains to them that just as a woman goes through that pain in childbirth, it is only for a short while, then comes the joy for a lifetime.  How true that is!  These disciples were going to have three days of pain and confusion, but following that, they would have a glorious future.  Many of them would experience death in a similar fashion as their Lord, but they would go to a Heavenly home.  Jesus would die such a painful death for me.  He knew the joy on the other side when I would someday accept Him as my Savior.  That would be worth all the pain.  If He had moments on the cross, thinking "Why am I going through this?"  He would think of the many who would believe on Him.  He would think of the joy He would have when each person, one by one, accepted His work on the cross as payment for their sins.  He would think of the disciples boldly going forth after His resurrection and proclaiming His words.  He would think of how Heaven would be filled with the people He loved.  Well, not all the people He loved.  There would still be many who would reject Him.  There would be some at the foot of the cross who would die never believing.  Knowing what He does now, knowing the suffering, the grief, the torture, the pain,  would He do it again?  Yes.  If it was the only way to purchase our salvation, He would do it again.   Why?  Because it was worth it.
     Would I have had another child if I hadn't had the medication that aided me through that first delivery?  Absolutely.  The pain was awful, but if it was the only way to have my child, then I would have no qualms repeating it.  If my second and third deliveries were as intense, I would do those again too.  Why?  Because my kids are worth it.  And for some strange reason, God thinks I'm worth it too.  I don't understand why.  I can only say this.  Maybe somebody today reads this, and can't understand why Jesus would die the way He did.  I don't understand why.  I just understand that He had to.  He had to do it to save our souls.  Nothing we do can ever accomplish what He did on the cross.  No prayer we say, no money we give, no presence in any house of worship, no kindness, no rite of baptism will ever wash away the sin nature we carry with us.  Only Jesus could take care of that.  It is only by believing that His death on the cross accomplished the payment for my sin, that I can have the joy that follows.  It is only by going through the turmoil of recognizing my filthy sins, repenting, and accepting what Christ did for me, that I can understand the eternal joy He brought.  If you have any questions about how you can know about the home in Heaven God has prepared for you, please see the page (Understanding Salvation).  He went through the pain, to bring the joy.  And you are worth it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

No Longer Looking

Today's passage:  John 15:12-27
     "If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin:  but now they have no cloke for their sin.  He that hateth me hateth my Father also."
     Ever forget to look for Jesus' coming?  Do you get up each morning thinking, "This might be the day?"  If you are like me, I think about it, but not every day.  It is certainly not the first thought in my mind.  How tired would the Jews have been of looking for the Messiah?
     One of the things that set Judaism apart from every other faith system at the time, is that it is monotheistic.  They worshipped only one God.  For Jesus to come to earth and then tell them that they are still monotheistic but their God is not one, but three in one, was probably a very confusing leap for the religious Jews to make.  They knew Messiah would come, sent from God, but they had always supposed He would be from among the people.  As early as Genesis, when Cain is born, Eve makes the statement, "I have gotten a man from the LORD."  She is already looking for the One that was promised.  This is why in the Jewish culture, a son was so important.  He might be the Messiah, the One who would deliver the people, their Moses.  Perhaps the people at first thought that Moses was that Messiah.  He had the pedigree, born among them but elevated to princely status.  He leads them out of Egypt, but then they spent numerous years in the wilderness.   This was deliverance?  What kind of Messiah would leave them in the desert?
     Maybe it would be Joshua.  He had been Moses' right-hand man.  He was a commanding general.  So maybe they hadn't completely rid the land of all their enemies, he gave it a good college try.  He dies and they are at least in the land, but they are still having to keep their enemies at bay.  Doesn't seem too Messianic.
     Saul?  He proves to be a disappointment.  David?  He is a shepherd boy who God raises up to be king.  He is a very popular king, at first.  He has to fight the enemies within his own family almost as much as the enemies in the land, but he mostly prevails. He also dies and leaves his kingdom in the hands of his wise son.  Solomon is able to keep the peace for as long as he reigns, but I don't think the Messiah would compromise his faith to do this.  I don't think the Messiah would allow other religions to worship in his palace so they would stay friends.  (Hmmm, I wish our government would learn from Solomon's mistakes.)
     What about the prophets?  Elijah?  He was taken up in a fiery chariot.  Now the Messiah would have taken the people up with him, but they were left behind.  Isaiah?  Jeremiah?  They had been carried away to Babylon as well, they didn't seem to be taking an active role in freeing the people.  The list could go on and on.  Every impressive person never seemed to fit the Messiah's profile.  This is because Isaiah 53 says, "he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him."  The Messiah would not be some charismatic leader.  He would not have a procession announcing His presence.  He would not have an entourage fulfilling a rider before each performance.  He came humbly.  He came without fanfare.  He came without all the trappings of success.  And because He came in this way, the Jews could not wrap their mind around it.  They grew tired of looking for the Messiah, until they no longer looked at all.  Maybe once in a while a child was born, and they wondered.  Maybe once in a while a leader would present himself, and they paused.  But mostly, they went about their day-to-day never giving it a thought.  When Jesus comes onto the scene, they had stopped looking for a while.  Too many false prophets had come.  Too many zealots had tried to wrest control from the Romans.  Why keep looking when you would continue to be disappointed?  By this time, they had their checklist of who or what Messiah would be.  Jesus did not fit that checklist.  That's because it wasn't God's checklist.
     I think the Jews would be rather surprised to hear that they hated God.  I think they would be offended by this statement.  I know they would.  They hated Jesus because He exposed their sin, but they also hated Him because He was another in a long list who had not fulfilled their Messianic ideal.  They were tired of looking. 
     I may not seem like I'm tired of watching for Christ's coming, but when it is not the first thought each morning, and the last thought each night, and many thoughts in between, I must be.  When I am not grabbing each person that passes by and telling them about Christ, my actions show that I am not watching.  When I am not keeping things in order, confessing my sin each day, it is evident that I have become indifferent about His return.  Do I keep a checklist of when I think Christ will return?  Sure, the Bible gives some hints, but it could be any day.  It might be today.  Am I looking?  Or have I grown too tired?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Weeds and Wildflowers

Today's passage:  John 15:1-10
     I have mentioned before that I had been doing more gardening this year than in years past (How Does My Garden Grow?).  I had weeded most of my flower beds, sown some perennial wildflower mix, watered and was waiting to see what would grow.  Pretty soon, shoots were appearing, only I couldn't be sure if the shoots were for the seed I had sown or for the weeds that had already been residing in the soil.  We went on vacation for three weeks, and when I returned, all of the beds I had labored over were lush with wildflowers and weeds.  So I  started the process over.  My biggest problem?  I couldn't really tell what was weed and what was wildflower.  Some of the weeds I recognized right away.  I know dandelion stems and leaves and promptly removed those.  I'm pretty familiar with clover so I uprooted that.  The clover was difficult because it entangled itself among the wildflowers. Several wild vines have been growing beneath the fence line (our fence is just basic chain link).  Every year, my neighbor and I pull at the root, chop at it, and every year it continues to grow back and then it takes root in the ground and produces blooms.  The flowers are sometimes pretty but they bring the bumblebees and prevent anything else from growing there.  Something else I've noticed about weeds.  They can have started in a neighbor's yard and as the wind carries the seed, it will transplant itself in other people's yards.  My neighbor and I questioned why the flowers we want to see grow won't do that.  Why is it that the flowers and bushes I want to do well have to be nurtured, watered every day, given the right soil levels, and weeds can grow anywhere whether I want them to or not?  As I was sitting on a stool, pulling these weeds one by one, because I had to be careful not to tear out the wildflowers I had sown, I noticed something else.  My wildflowers had delicate stems and leaves.  If I pulled out a weed that was close to it, sometimes it would uproot with it, or it would lean once the weed next to it had been pulled.  The weeds all had sturdy stems and strong leaves.  Some of the plants had a bud that had not bloomed yet.  Was it weed or wildflower?  How would I know?  I would have to wait for it the flower to open.  I would have to see its fruit.
Garden of Flowers in the Rain--Taken from Standard Bible Readers, Book Two
By Lillie A. Faris, Illustrated by O.A. Stemler and Bess Bruce Cleaveland
Standard Publishing Company, 1925
     In this chapter Jesus says He is the true vine.  This tells me that there have been other vines that have come before Him that have not been the true vine.  There have been impostors.  There have been weeds passing themselves off as wildflowers.  Jesus tells us that if I am a branch that is not bearing fruit I will be cut off.  Why?  Because nobody can tell what I am.  Nobody will know whether I am from the true vine or an impostor vine unless I produce fruit.  This is different from purging.  Purging is cutting a plant at a key junction so that it can produce more branches.
      Jesus tells me that the way I am to bear fruit is to abide in Him and Him in me.  This is not a partnership.  He is the lifesource.  If the main stem of any plant were to be cut, all the branches attached would die with it.  If a tomato plant lost some branches and they tried to fuse themselves onto a cucumber vine, they would soon die.  Why?  Because the vine did not produce those branches, and they will not produce the right kind of fruit.  Sometimes it might take a little while to recognize branches that are not producing fruit, or branches that have tried to attach themselves to the vine.  When the fruit is produced, they will be recognizable and can then be cast off.  Sometimes fruit looks very similar.  Berries look a lot alike.  A person who has been gardening awhile will know the difference.  If I am reading His Word and abiding in Him, I too will know the difference between the fake vines growing up around me and His Vine.  I will be able to identify those branches that do not belong to the Vine and not be fooled by their fruit.  I shouldn't have to wait for their flowers to bloom to be able to identify them.  If I am abiding, I will know them as soon as they start to branch out.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Starring Role

Today's passage:  John 14:16-31
     When I was in high school, I enjoyed being involved in theater.  My junior year, we performed "Our Town".  I had a bit part as a girl who questions someone in the cemetery.  By default, I ended up playing one of the principal characters, Mrs. Webb (the mother of George, one of the two main characters.)  It is a long story how I ended up with the role and cost me a friendship through no fault of my own.  My senior year, we performed "Grease" with major editing, and I was really hoping to be a pink lady but instead ended up playing the school principal rather than a principal role.  I was really disappointed.  I whined and complained about it.  I grumbled that even people in the chorus were in more scenes than I was.  I look back now at how I reacted, and wish I could take that girl by the shoulders and give her a good shaking.
     "Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him:  but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you."  I have something that not everyone has.  As a believer in Christ, I have the Holy Spirit dwelling in me.  He wants to be a major player in my life.  He can be if I allow Him.  I wonder if there are times when the Holy Spirit is disappointed that He doesn't have more of a starring role.  Maybe there are times He has had a principal part, and other times when I have designated Him as the supporting cast.  I thank God for being my Father, I thank Jesus for dying for me.  I thank God for the Holy Spirit, but do I ever acknowledge the Spirit Himself.  He is the third person of the trinity after all.  Doesn't He want to be recognized?  Do I ever pray, "Holy Spirit, thank You for Your work in my life."  Some denominations overexaggerate His work in our lives, but I think some denominations maybe deemphasize what He does for us.  Without the Holy Spirit, I wouldn't understand a single word in my Bible.  Without the Holy Spirit, I could not be convicted of my sin.  Without the Holy Spirit, I would not have the comfort and peace that God shows me.  It is through Him (the Holy Spirit) that I am able experience any of these things.  He is God, He should get more credit. 
     If you have ever been to live theater, you may notice that when the play is over, the actors come out on stage to take their bows.  The smaller roles come out first, with people applauding of course.  The major roles are saved for last, as the applause builds and sometimes culminates in a standing ovation.  The Trinity all have major roles.  God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit all deserve the credit in my life.  They have been equally involved in how He has worked in my life.  The Holy Spirit would never demand my attention, but I ought to give Him more credit than I do.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Today's passage:  John 14:1-15
     In the previous chapter, Jesus has just finished telling His disciples that He is about to die.  They are visibly upset.  Jesus starts Chapter 14 with words of comfort.  He tells them not to be troubled.  Then He tells them a little about Heaven.  He tells them about the mansions there.  I'm wondering why He tells them about this over every other thing in Heaven.  He doesn't talk about no pain or death (which is what He is about to go through), He doesn't tell them about how there will be no sadness there (which is what they are feeling), he tells them about the homes.  Why?  These men have been following Jesus for almost three years.  They had left their regular jobs, some of them had left families, they had left their homes.  Now Christ's ministry was at an end.  What were they supposed to do now?  They did not know what the future held for them.  They did not know that God was going to use them to spread the Gospel.  I think their greatest fear was, "Where am I going to live?"  They were wondering how they would make a living.  They had stayed in people's homes because they were Christ's disciples.  Nobody would invite them in now.  Jesus wants them to know, that even if they are homeless here, they have a home in Heaven.  And not just a place of belonging, but an actual house.  A big house too!
In my Father's house are many mansions--Taken from Standard Bible Readers, Book Two
By Lillie A. Faris, Illustrated by O.A. Stemler and Bess Bruce Cleaveland
Standard Publishing Company, 1925
     I just find it amazing that Jesus was about to go through such agony in a few hours, and He doesn't dwell on that, He doesn't discuss how hard it will be for Him.  He focuses on what is troubling His followers. It would seem that with everything about to take place (and the disciples have no idea what is about to happen) wondering where they would live would seem the most trivial thing to worry about, but not to Jesus.  He never finds a single care in our life meaningless, He never regards any of our feelings as irritating. 
     As a mother, how often have I trivialized my children's fears?  How often have I just said, "Oh, don't worry about that."  Jesus recognizes my fears, and helps me to overcome them.  He sees what troubles me and gives me comfort.  Do I really try to understand when my boys are legitimately afraid of something?  Do I try to toughen them up by telling them they shouldn't be afraid of those things?  Of course they shouldn't be afraid, but sometimes they just need to be told that I understand why they are.  Jesus did not give the disciples any evidence that their problems for finding earthly homes would be solved (in fact, they wouldn't need any) but He acknowledges their fearfulness and tells them about their certain future.  I may not always be able to offer a solution to the scary predicaments my kids will face, but I can assure them by taking their hand, and helping them along the way.
     The disciples might not have had a home on earth to return to, but they would be far happier in the one God had prepared for them.  And knowing that, was motivation to get them through some hard days ahead.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Snake Bite

Today's passage:  John 13/Genesis 3
     "I speak not of you all:  I know whom I have chosen:  but that the scripture may be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me."
     For a couple of years now, I have been struggling with pain in my heel.  It started slowly, sometime after I had my third child.  When I would get out of bed in the morning, it would be difficult to put any weight on it. The pain some days was almost unbearable.  I tried wrapping it, massaging it, medicating it, nothing seemed to work. Obviously the first question would be, "Why didn't you go to the doctor about it?" Many moms will understand this, sometimes we are too busy to take care of ourselves the way we ought to.  Mommies tend to put off what they need to do for themselves to take care of their families.  My husband had taken on sidejobs in addition to his regular job, and his health issues (which seemed far more serious at the time) were the only ones we could schedule appointments for on his actual days off.  When I finally was able to get to the doctor, she guessed that I have plantar fasciitis (an inflammation of the heel tissue) with a possible bone spur.  She recommended avoiding backless shoes (goodbye my beloved sandals) and stretching the heel muscles with some physical therapy exercises.  I followed her recommendations.  I started doing the stretches, but my youngest was only a few months old at the time and still in the unpredictable sleep pattern stage.  It seemed no matter how early I would get up to do these, he would wake up in the middle of my stretching.  It was hard to get into a routine, and I got out of the routine for so long, that I forget to even do them now.  I need to put a message on my alarm in the morning that says, "Stretch!"  You would think that hobbling around the house on one foot for the first part of the morning would be reminder enough, but I'm so focused on what I need to get done, it doesn't even occur to me.  I've lived with the pain for so long, it is just second nature.
     I am thinking back to the verse in Genesis, when God is rebuking the serpent in the Garden of Eden.  "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel."  The heel that would be lifted up against Christ was an infected heel.  It was a heel filled with Satan's venom.  It would do a lot of damage in the coming days.  It was the heel of Judas Iscariot, the betrayer. 
     We have been subjected to Satan's devices for so long, we are practically immune to them.  We notice a little bite at first, maybe we try to do something about it, but eventually we get used to it.  The pain continues.  We limp from place to place, hardly noticing that our whole foot is infected and the infection is spreading. Eventually, the infection weakens our heart.  We haven't taken any medication to counteract its effects, we've become accustomed to parts of our body not functioning properly.  It is not surprising when we make ungodly decisions because we haven't had proper therapy.  We haven't read our Bible, we haven't prayed, we haven't attended church, we haven't guarded our eyes and our minds. Satan's poisonous bite, without proper medical attention will destroy us.  If I don't take the time to tend to it, I will do something I will regret.  I wonder if this is what happened to Judas.  He had no idea that Satan had possessed him because it started in his heel, the farthest part from his heart, and worked its way up until it was too late.  There is a remedy for a snake bite.  Destroy the snake.  Christ did that when He died on the cross for me.  When I accepted Christ, I have the power to bash the serpent in the head, and prevent him from injecting his poison.  He will scurry away and find another victim.  In God's time, Satan will not be able to infect anyone else.  But how many will fall prey before his time is up?
     The obvious solution to my heal mending would be to follow the doctor's orders.  I should remind myself every morning to do those exercises before my heel becomes an even worse problem.  If I have become accustomed to the pain, I really ought to do something about that.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Bandwagon Fans

Today's passage:  John 12:12-50
     I am a converted Cubs fan.  Actually I am a converted baseball fan.  I never really watched major league baseball before I was married, because it moved too slowly, but I have always been a sports fan in general.  Watching games with my husband in our early years of marriage, convinced me that either I better start enjoying this sport or I would be in for some long nights of boredom.  It wasn't hard to start liking it, especially in the years they were doing great, like 1998, which happened to be our first year of marriage.  The following seasons were a little slower until 2003.  Any baseball fan knows what happened to the Cubs in 2003.  In Game 6, at Wrigley Field, five outs from going to the World Series (they had not been since 1945), an incident with a foul ball flustered the Cubs and cost them the game.  They squandered their opportunity in Game 7 and Cubs fans around the world were heartbroken.  Since 2003, the Cubs made back-to-back appearances in the first round play-offs only to be eliminated after the first three games both times.  This year is the first season I have not watched a single game.  I just became so disillusioned with management decisions, with favorite players being traded, with getting so close and never getting there, that I had to stop watching.  Maybe next year is the Cubs fan motto.  Well, maybe next year I can start watching them again, I just couldn't stomach it this season.  Some might think that I am a bandwagon fan, because I am not watching them while they are losing (and I assure you, they are not having a great season).  I take exception to this.  In thirteen years I have watched plenty of losing seasons.  Would I watch them this year if they were winning? More than likely.  But even genuine fans can get fed up.
     What on earth does all this have to do with the passage in John?  This is the passage of the Triumphal Entry.  It is Passover week.  This means that Jerusalem will be packed with people.  Jews from all over the country (and maybe some other countries) will travel to Jerusalem to worship for the Passover feast.  The marketplace will be brimming with produce to attract customers.  Innkeepers will prepare every vacant room for the influx of guests.  The Temple will be filled to capacity.  Then Jesus comes riding into the busy city on the back of a donkey.  The people see this, many of them followers of Christ, and create a path of palm tree branches and colored coats. 
Jesus Riding in on a Donkey--Taken from Standard Bible Readers, Book Six
By Lillie A. Faris, Illustrated by O.A. Stemler and Bess Bruce Cleaveland
The Standard Publishing Company, 1929
What a sight to see!  If I had been in the market, and heard this commotion, I more than likely would have put down my bag of pistachios to see what was taking place.  If I had been offering up prayers in the Temple, and saw a throng of people gathered at the Jerusalem gate, I may have abandoned my prayer shawl to hear what was happening.  Jesus did have genuine believers in that crowd, but He also had a lot of bandwagon fans who were completely happy with Him when He was performing miracles and challenging the Roman government.  When He said things like He said in verse 32, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me." they were not so happy.  They didn't want to think about what He really came to do, because it made no sense to them.  It would be like telling a Cubs fan that her team plays baseball but not for the purpose of going to the World Series.  Verse 34 tells me exactly what the Jews' mindset was, "The people answered him, We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever: and how sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up?  who is this Son of man?"  Now I have a question.  They said they had heard this out of the law.  Usually the law is referring to the first five books of Moses.  Had they read past that?  Did they read the whole Book?  Plenty of places in the prophetic books told them of the death of the Messiah.  Why were they ignoring those parts?  Don't I do this sometimes?  Don't I want to cling to certain passages, and forget about others? 
     I have referred to Philip and Andrew before in one of my other posts, but I need to refer to them again.  After Christ has made his entry, there are some Greeks who want to talk with Jesus.  I'm guessing they are Greek Jews because it says "them that came up to worship at the feast."  To whom do they make their request to address Jesus?  Philip.  He then asks Andrew, and together they tell Jesus about the Greeks desire.  It seems to me, even though Philip and Andrew had different outlooks on life (see my post, Anticipating Andrew, Pessimistic Philip) they were the most approachable of all the disciples.  People felt they could talk to them.  Isn't that the first step in bringing someone closer to Christ?  If a person doesn't feel like she can talk to me, how will I ever be able to share my Lord with her?
     Are these Greek Jews bandwagon fans of Jesus?  Maybe.  They haven't been in this country to see what Jesus has done, although I'm sure His miracles were news fodder throughout Mesopotamia.  They had only heard the highlights, they hadn't seen an actual game.  Maybe that is why when Jesus is entreated here, He responds with His mission to die.  He makes it clear that they will have to be satisfied with the highlight reels, because His miracle work seems to be at an end.  He will be going to His death in a few short days.  Can you imagine the disappointed "Awwww" from these Greeks who wanted to see some action?  What was their real motivation?  Were they true followers or were they just jumping on the bandwagon?
     I'm afraid that even today, Jesus has some bandwagon followers.  They will follow Jesus as long as He is doing something spectacular in their life.  Do I treat Him so callously?  Do I treat Him like I've treated my beloved Cubs this year?  Have I said, "Lord, you haven't done anything for me lately, I will worship you again next year."?  Haven't done anything for me lately?  How about, I saved your soul.  How about, I've given you every breath in your body.  How about, I've let you live in a country of freedom and plenty.  So many blessings, He has given us, and yet some people fail to see them.  Lord, help me never to treat You so lightly.  Help me to never take for granted all that You have done.  Help me not to tune You out when I'm not happy with Your answers.  I want to be Your follower in good times and bad, not just when it looks like You are winning the game.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Today's passage:  John 12:1-11/Matthew 26:6-13/Mark 14:3-9
     I have never been much of a goal-setter. I know people who have a timeline of exactly what they want to happen in five, ten, fifteen years.  This is not a bad thing, I am not being critical.  I should do more of it myself.  I just know I would get very frustrated when I looked at my goals and found that I was nowhere near to reaching them.  It is my goal to become a published writer someday.  I have taken very small steps towards that goal, but if I had set a timeline on it, I am probably about 10 years past it.  It is frustrating, but I would not change the events that have kept me from that goal.  Having three kids in that timeline is a pretty good excuse for not getting it done, and if God gave me three more and pushed my timeline further down the road, I would be perfectly happy with that (don't tell my husband I said that).  Sometimes our goals are not in God's timeline.  Sometimes our goals are not even in God's plan for our lives.  Maybe I've learned to accept that to the point that I just do not set any goals at all, which is not really a good thing either.        
     When reading only the verses in John, it would seem that this event is taking place at Lazarus' house.  Lazarus is sitting at the table (I always picture him at the head of the table), Martha, as always, is serving, and Mary comes from her bedroom with this stark white box.  This is the picture I have always had in my head.  In the other passages of Scripture, Mary's name is not specifically given, so I always forget that she is the one who has made this great sacrifice.  This is not how it happened at all.  They are not at Lazarus' house, they are in Simon the leper's house.  In the other Scriptures, it does not appear that Simon is present (this would make sense since lepers had to live out of the city).
      I heard an excellent sermon once about the fact that they were in Simon the leper's house.  After Lazarus had died, it might stand to reason that if the man of the house was no longer living, his property would have been sold off and the sisters would have to find someplace new to live.  Since Simon is not mentioned in the passage here, just that it was his house, it would seem logical to think that if Simon was still leprous and living outside the city, if he had no family to inhabit his home, he might have rented his home out to another family.  This would make Mary's act of worship even greater because she might have been able to use this perfume as payment for another property.  Verse 2 says "...but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him."  This wording makes it sound as if Lazarus might be a guest too. If he and both of the sisters are visiting in this home, than something here really struck me.  In the past, I have always envisioned Mary, overcome with devotion,  fetching her box and spilling its precious contents upon Christ.  But if they are a guest in this home, she would have brought this box with her.  That means she was not just overcome, she had planned this.  She had given this careful thought, and had decided that she was going to surrender something to Christ. 
Mary Anoints Jesus' Feet--Taken from The Children's Friend (Part 4)
By Mrs. Adelaide Bee Evans
 Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1911, 1928
Have I considered the things I should surrender to my Lord?  Or do I wait until I just can't stand it anymore and I'm bowled over by emotion before I give up the things I should already have given up?  Goal-setting is a great thing.  Have I ever set any goals as to what I want God to do in my life?  Have I ever told the Lord He can have something before He even asks for it?  There would have been nothing wrong if Mary was living in this house and did suddenly decide to do this for Jesus, it may have happened that way.  But God should not always have to ask us for what is already His.  He should not have to break us down to the point that we are finally willing to surrender.  Remember, just a chapter earlier, Mary had lost a brother and then had him resurrected.  She could have waited for another tragic event to take place before she decided to make this sacrifice.  She could have held back, resisted the Spirit's leading, and held on to her valuable package.  She chose to give it up, but it took some heartache to get there.  Maybe God could spare us some heartache if we would evaluate some things in our life beforehand and put them at His feet before He makes the suggestion.
     Notice that she was not only willing to surrender the box, but everything in it.  I may say to God, "Here I am, Lord" but if I don't yield everything in me, I am only giving Him part, not all.  My God deserves all that I have to give.  He deserves so much more than what I do for Him.  Lord Jesus, help me to examine my life today, and see what You want from me before You have to ask for it.  Let me surrender things before You have to take them.  Let me make plans and set goals on how to serve You better before having to be told.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Today's passage:  John 11:47-57
     "Then from that day forth they took counsel together for to put him to death.  And the Jews' passover was nigh at hand:  and many went out of the country up to Jerusalem before the passover, to purify themselves."
     Reading verses 54-55, is it no wonder that Jesus called them vipers and hypocrites?  One day they are consulting how to have Jesus killed, and when I say consulting, I don't mean just referring to it, I mean they were studying all avenues how to be rid of Him.  It was a war counsel.  They were deciding where it would best be done, who would take the lead and when it would be carried out.  They had to plan carefully because He had multitudes following Him. They couldn't simply go in and arrest Him, the people might riot and then chaos would ensue.  Perhaps this is why in a few chapters, we will see them take Jesus in the early hours of morning, they knew not many people would be awake.
     So each day, they are having these war counsels, trying to finalize plans, it must have been more than one day because the verse says, "...from that day forth..." but the Passover is approaching, and they will need to start making preparations for that.   During the day they are inspecting lambs, cleaning the Temple for the feast, apparently purifying themselves, but at night they are plotting someone's death.  This purifying must only be outer, because there is certainly no inner cleansing taking place. 
     I'm wondering how often I harbor hate, bitterness, envy, jealousy, pride during the week, and then go for my ritual purifying on Sundays and Wednesdays as if everything is fine.  Do I confess these sins on a daily basis?  Most weeks I try to, but there are days I'm certain I don't.  I'm no different than the Pharisees when I argue with my husband just before a church service and then walk in with a smile on my face and shake hands with the greeter.  I may as well be having a war counsel if I walk into the church building ready to avoid someone I have had a confrontation with, toward who I may still have bitter or hateful feelings.  I shouldn't enter God's House hoping that will make me pure, I ought to enter God's House pure already so that my heart is ready to receive what He has for me that day.  How many times have I missed blessings in church because I have unconfessed sin in my life?  How often might a person in the service have received Christ, but because of lugging my unexamined sins with me, the Holy Spirit was hindered?  This is serious stuff.  Too often I go to church to purify myself, when I need to evaluate my daily activities to rid myself of the impurities before I walk in the door.  Am I a hypocrite?  I would say no, but its hard to guard against all hypocrisy. Am I a viper?  I think specifically of a snake coiling around and sinking his fangs into someone's back--backbiting.  The Pharisees were guilty of this, so am I.  I don't like to think of it as that at the time of the conversation, but when I say something negative about another person, and that person is not part of the conversation, that is what I am doing.  Guilty as charged.  How much more effective would all our churches be, if we learned not to do this?  How much more could we accomplish if when we started to do this to one another, we would shush each other.  Literally, shush someone who is starting to talk negatively about someone else.  I wish I had been shushed a few times this week. 
     It is Wednesday.  This means I will be going to prayer service tonight.  I have a lot to confess to the Lord in the next few hours.  I want to go to church purified on the inside, not just on the outside.
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