Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Prayer requests

While Paul was in the Roman prison, he wrote a letter to the church at Philippi, and in it he stated that he was praying for the Christians in Philippi:

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you,
I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first
day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you
will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:3-6)
James commands us directly to pray for one another:

Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing
songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church
to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer
offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he
has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray
for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful
and effective. (James 5:13-16) 

Jesus even told us to pray for our enemies, and he prays for all of us in the passage in John 17. Truly we are to be people of prayer.

Please take time to leave a comment today and let us know if you have a prayer request, or would like to tell us of a praise and answered prayer.

Let's pray for one another.

Monday, June 29, 2015

A sense of justice, Tamar

The story of Tamar in Genesis is one that we may have some difficulty with, in our present day. It's tough to "get our heads around" a story of prostitution and fornication. It's tough for us to imagine the world of a childless woman of that era, even though we touched on it in the story of Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist. We need to dive in and explore this, for her story is another that we can learn from!

I'd like to ask you to read Tamar's story in Genesis chapter 38, and then come back to our study. We'll wait right here. I promise.

All done? OK, let's dive in!

You remember Judah, don't you? He was one of Jacob's sons, and was party to their sending Joseph off to Egypt as a slave. But perhaps by now he was a little nicer, no? He was married, and had three sons now; he arranged a marriage for his eldest son, Er. The passage told us that Er was wicked in the sight of God, and that he died, leaving his wife, Tamar, childless. That left her pretty low in the pecking order of the tribe. Let's re-visit Deuteronomy 25:5-10, shall we?

                     If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son,
                     his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother
                     shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her.
                    The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that
                     his name will not be blotted out from Israel. However, if a man does not
                     want to marry his brother’s wife, she shall go to the elders at the town
                     gate and say, “My husband’s brother refuses to carry on his brother’s
                     name in Israel. He will not fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to me.”
                    Then the elders of his town shall summon him and talk to him. If he persists
                    in saying, “I do not want to marry her,” his brother’s widow shall go up to
                    him in the presence of the elders, take off one of his sandals, spit in his face
                    and say, “This is what is done to the man who will not build up his brother’s
                    family line.” That man’s line shall be known in Israel as The Family of the
                    Unsandaled. (Deuteronomy 25:5-10)

Wowser. They considered it very important to keep a family line going, right? Well, think about this: remember the genealogies in the Bible? Do you pass over them and resume reading after the list is done? (Grin) They are actually pretty interesting, and there's a point to be made here. In Matthew's gospel, he lists the genealogy of Christ Jesus -- there are forty-one male ancestors listed. There are also five females . . . . three of those have stories that are colored by details such as incest, prostitution, murder, and more. Tamar is one of them.

The passage in Deuteronomy provides for two things. First, all of the members of the tribe, or family, would be provided for -- whether their father or husband was alive, or not. Secondly, it was considered a right for women to have children. These are the two cornerstones of Tamar's story. . .

Under the law laid down in Deuteronomy, Onan, Er's younger brother, was obliged to give Tamar a child. Judah sent Onan to Tamar in good faith, trying to be the father-in-law that the law guided him to be. But Onan was crafty. Any child that he fathered with Tamar would be considered Er's child, and would participate in the inheritance from Judah when he died. Possibly because he'd rather have his own children inherit from Grandpa Judah, instead of his brother's children, he "spilled his seed on the ground" and did not impregnate Tamar.

Now, Onan did avoid the public confrontation that was laid out in the law. It doesn't seem like much to us nowadays, but it was a public shaming at the time, and would have been extremely humiliating. (The disgrace would have been remembered for quite a while, perhaps even after his death.) But, Onan was guilty of two things -- he didn't fulfill the obligation of the law, and he also disobeyed his dad.

He died, and the Bible notes that it was for his wickedness.

When Tamar came to Judah and reminded him of his duty, he told her that Shelah, his third son, was way too young to do that duty, and she needed to go home to her family and wait for him to mature. At this point, Judah may still have been operating in good faith. But as time went by, and Tamar waited patiently in her widow's garments, it began to be clear to her that Judah had changed his mind. Perhaps he thought of her as a jinx -- after all, two of his sons were dead -- the same thing might happen to his son Shelah!

Enough time passed for Tamar to be convinced that Judah was not going to obey the law.

She's going to take matters into her own hands.

Join us next time and we'll continue to study Tamar's story!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Friday slowdown

Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments;  (Deuteronomy 7:9)

Forever God is faithful.

Forever God is strong.

SO much to learn this week!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

A question of timing, Elizabeth conclusion

As she looked down at her strong young son, Elizabeth's thoughts went back to the events of the last few months.
Mary had stayed with her until John was delivered, and then gone back to her home. How they three had rejoiced! Over and over they had said to each other, "God keeps His word!"  He had kept "His end of the bargain" for sure. And a baby boy was cause for rejoicing at any time, but to these older parents, especially, it certainly was a joyful occasion.

Shortly after that, on the eighth day since the babe was born, he was circumcised and named -- oh, what a commotion that caused! Elizabeth smiled, recalling the events.  The priest from the nearby synagogue and all the neighbors had come up the hill, crowding into the house and laughing, celebrating. They clapped Zechariah on the back and congratulated him, and peered at the precious bundle that Elizabeth held in her arms.

When the ceremony was over, and they asked what name to record, everyone assumed the child would be named for his father, Zechariah. A hush fell over the people assembled there, when Zechariah shook his head "no" and began to write. They murmured in astonishment when Elizabeth, even before her husband finished writing, told the priest, "No, his name will be John -- Zechariah will tell you." Sure enough, they looked at the tablet and saw that she was right! He had written that the child would be named John, meaning "Jehovah's gift."

At that moment, God loosed Zechariah from his silence, and he began to rejoice and praise God. Did he talk about how great a dad he would be? Nope. Did he whine about how long it took for them to receive the blessing of a child? Nope. His words were not about what a miracle it was for this child to be born to aging parents. He wasn't all excited about the fact that now, after nine months he could say, "I told you so."  He was totally engrossed in telling about the goodness and faithfulness of the great I AM!  He prophesied of the Christ, and of John's role:

                        Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to
                        his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a horn of salvation
                        for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy
                        prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand
                        of all who hate us— to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember
                        his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue
                        us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without
                        fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
                                 And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you
                       will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people
                       the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because
                       of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us
                       from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of
                       death, to guide our feet into the path of peace. (Luke 1:68-79)

At the proper time.
Just when it was needed, he regained his speech.
Just when it was time, John was born, and Luke tells us that he grew and became strong in spirit, and then lived in the wilderness until it was time to "prepare the way of the Lord."

Biblical scholars tell us that there is a gap of about 400 years between the final page of our Old Testament, and the book of Matthew. For 400 years the Hebrew people did not receive messages from God, through His prophets. God was silent.

No prophet was saying, "Thus saith the Lord." Or unfurling a scroll and telling what the Lord had told him.
Just 400 years of stillness.

In that time, six different flags had been flown over the Hebrew nation. There were six different occupying governments, and some of them were benevolent; some were not. God was working behind the scenes, and was leading all of these events and governments. He was preparing the world for Jesus to come.

Did you know that Alexander the Great united the entire world with a language for trade? It was "koine" Greek.  Koine means "common" meaning that the dialect was shared by many, in many regions. The historians tell us that the language preceded and then coincided with the Roman language, Latin, and was used and understood in all walks of life.

So when the message of Christ was to be preached and written down, it would be in a language that everyone could understand!

What are the Romans known for? Among their many accomplishments are the amazing roads that we can still see remnants of, today. God used the Romans to make pathways, allowing the gospel to be spread all across the civilized world!

And then, when the timing was right, they heard the "voice of one crying in the wilderness -- Prepare the way of the Lord!"

So what should we take away from our study of Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist?

First, God always keeps His promises!

                           But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will
                           rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like
                           calves released from the stall.  (Malachi 4:2)

                          And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a
                          Branch shall grow out of his roots: (Isaiah 11:1)

                          Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign; Behold, a virgin
                          will conceive, and bear a son, and will call his name Immanuel.
                          (Isaiah 7:14)

                           Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ
                           Jesus came into the world to save sinners. (I Timothy 1:15)

Secondly, we serve a creator who shapes and knows every child in the womb!

                          For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my
                          mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonder-
                          fully made; your works are wonderful. I know that full well. My
                          frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.
                          When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes
                          saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written
                          in your book before one of them came to be.  (Psalm 139:13-16)

Thirdly, Elizabeth leaves us a legacy of prayer:

                          Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her
                          will be accomplished! (Luke 1:45)

Oh, hand me that box of bandaids . . . in the light of the first two applications, this third one really hits home. He keeps His promises; He knows me, has known me since I was in my mother's womb; how can I not truly believe that He will accomplish all that He has said?

But sometimes I don't. Sometimes I have a "Zechariah moment."
Lord, please strengthen me; I know in my heart that you will accomplish all you have said.  My head sometimes gets in the way and I start wondering "how?" 
But that's not my department. (Grin)
It's yours, Lord. And I will trust you to keep your promises!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A question of timing, Elizabeth continued

When we met Elizabeth and Zechariah, they were sitting on the bench in front of their little home. Let's rejoin them . . .

Zechariah held out his small wax tablet to her; "who is that, coming up the hill?" he had written. Elizabeth peered down the path and saw a slight, young figure carefully stepping up the hill toward their home. She considered carefully, and then her face lit up. "Why, it's Mary!" Zechariah helped her to her feet, and then nodded at her, disappearing into the house. He knew that his wife would want to welcome her visitor and then catch up on all the news. He would rejoin them when they'd had a chance to do that.

Elizabeth walked to where the path began its steep descent to the valley, and watched as her cousin came toward her. The girl waved at her cheerily, and then called out a happy greeting.

Elizabeth planted her feet as a wave of strange feelings came over her, at the sound of Mary's call. She felt the baby within her jump and turn, as if leaping about inside her!

She burst out with a greeting of her own for Mary:

                               "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child
                               you will bear!  But why am I so favored, that the mother
                               of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your
                               greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.
                               Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill
                               his promises to her!” (Luke 1:42b-45)

As she reached her older cousin, Mary began to praise God as they embraced. With joy, she blessed the Lord who had reached down into both of their lives and fulfilled promises.

                                And Mary said: "My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices
                                in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of
                                his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for
                                the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name.
                                              His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to

                               generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;  he has  
                               scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has
                               brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
                                             He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away

                               empty.  He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful
                                             to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our

                               ancestors.” (Luke 1:46-55)

As they sat down together, the older woman and the young girl, their faces were radiant with the joy they felt, and with their adoration of the Lord. Surely He was using them for great purposes, but neither one showed the slightest sign of pridefulness -- only a devotion to God and a desire to do His will.
Surely their example is one that we need to take to heart!

We'll conclude our study on Elizabeth tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

What are we listening to

Music sung by Christians lifts up the soul.

It develops that yearning for God in us.

Because this type of music talks about human experiences, it also shows our relationship with God.

We use music to ask for God’s help, to praise Him, to thank Him and to serve Him through Christ.

Christian music lyrics connect us to Biblical truths.

Have you ever noticed how easily singing comes to children? Their joy bubbles up and they just "let loose!"

Are we as free with our singing as children are? We have so, so much to sing about! Praises, thankfulness, joy in our salvation!

What are you listening to (singing about) today?

Monday, June 22, 2015

A question of timing (Elizabeth)

Looking down at the hands in her lap, the woman contemplated the prominent veins, the callouses, and the tiny scars that spoke of years of work. She spread those hands over her rounded belly and smiled, inwardly, reveling in the fact that after almost forty years of prayer, dashed hopes, and catty remarks from the other women, a wee babe was growing there.

Zechariah, sitting beside her outside their little home, glanced over at her and smiled. Always quiet, he'd been unable to even speak since the day of The Event. She always thought of it that way. What a startling, unbelievable story he had written when he came home from the temple six months ago!

As a daughter of the priestly tribe, the Levites, she was well aware of the duties and responsibilities of a wife when she and Zechariah met. Their parents had arranged the marriage, and they'd first laid eyes on each other about a week before the ceremony. Luckily for them, the attraction was instant, and they'd been happily in love for all these years. But the Lord God had not blessed their union with children. Oh, how they'd hoped and prayed. How she had examined her own heart for sin, and Zechariah had joined her in penitence and sacrifice. But years had gone by. Years marked by sly glances from the neighbor women who seemed to get pregnant so easily. Years of "maybe there is some sin you have not yet repented of." Years of feeling a little ashamed that there were not little feet tripping through the house, and no childish peals of laughter heard there.

But then The Event happened. Zechariah had been at the temple, as his branch of the family's allotted time came up on the temple schedule. And lo and behold! News had come back to her in the village, that he'd been chosen to offer incense in the Holy place. A once in a lifetime honor!

The incense was offered daily; it was done before the morning sacrifice and after the evening one. The priests on duty drew lots to see which ministries they would perform -- some would never be chosen to offer incense, and no one was permitted to do it more than once. As the sacrificed animal burned outside, the chosen priest would pour incense over a live coal on the altar of the Holy place. Then, as the smoke billowed upward, he would pray a prayer for the blessing and the redemption of Israel -- a prayer that would plead for the Messiah to come.

Zechariah had written down for her to read, what happened next: an angel had appeared! To say that Zechariah was frightened was putting it mildly!  His knees and had been knocking against each other, and his face was so, so pale. His heart was pounding as he listened to what the angel said.

                                  Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your
                                  wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the
                                  name John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will
                                  rejoice because of his birth, 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. He will
                                 bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 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.   (Luke 1:13-17)

Not only had his prayer moments before been heard, but all of the prayers for all those years. You see, Luke also noted that these two were exemplary people: Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. (Luke 1:6) So the angel was saying that all of your prayers have been heard, Zechariah!

Zechariah was ecstatic! He began to joyfully clap his hands and praise God . . . but as his eyes fell on his "old man hands" he allowed a doubt to creep into his mind. Oh, how Elizabeth wished he'd not done that! He had asked the angel HOW this could be, for he and his wife were getting on in years. What an important slip of faith . . .

He was questioning God's ability to do what He said. The angel then spoke these words to him:

                                The angel answered, "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.
                               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 proper time. (verse 20)

At their proper time.
Remember that, OK?
We'll continue our story next time; it's familiar, I'm sure, but I hope we will find fresh applications for our own lives.
Join me next time, won't you?

Friday, June 19, 2015

Friday slowdown

This old hymn seemed perfect for our study this week.....we can avoid sin and disobedience if we "trust and obey."

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Salt by any other name (Lot's wife)

Have you been thinking, as I have, about why Lot's wife would have been drawn to look back at the city of Sodom? The angel had given them a very clear warning. Was her heart still longing for everything that she had left behind in the city? Was she sad to leave a life of pleasure, of comfort, and ease? Were they leaving some relatives or long-time servants behind?

Perhaps it was one or more of these things that caused her feet to slow; then she dropped behind Lot and their daughters, and finally she turned back to look. By her own choice, her own volition, she chose judgment instead of mercy that was offered to her.

Remember what Jesus said? "Remember Lot's wife." In Luke 17, He tells us how it will be when He returns. These words are meant to pull us away from the sin and wickedness that is in our world, and lead us to God's arms of mercy. 

What should we remember? Well, the most obvious thing is that she didn't do what God said! We need to take God seriously, to take Him at His word. He has given us specific instructions on many things: how we are to live, and what we should and should not do.

Let's look at some of those instructions:

                  God is serious about prayer: Pray continually. (I Thess. 5:17)
                  He also cares about our priorities: But seek first his kingdom and his
                   righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matt. 6:33)
                  He's instructed us on belief: Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved,
                  but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:16)
                  He is serious about evangelism, too: He said to them, “Go into all the world
                  and preach the gospel to all creation. (Mark 16:15)
                  God's serious about our behavior: Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue
                  righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord
                  out of a pure heart. Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid
                  arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s
                  servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to
                  teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope
                  that God will grant them repentance... (II Tim. 2:22-25a)
                  He's serious about repentance: Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized,
                  every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your
                  sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)

Along with doing what God says, another thing to remember is that our lifestyle can influence our children and our grandchildren. It doesn't tell us in the Bible passage we read, how Lot and his wife lived their life together. The commentaries all seem to give them the benefit of the doubt -- that they were not actually participating in the immorality of the city. But by living there, they were subtly condoning what went on around them.  They were living in a Godless environment, with immorality all around them. Remember what David said in Psalms 1?

                  Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in
                  the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose
                  delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and
                  night. (Psalm 1:1-2)

The third thing to remember is that God's mercy is always available. Even in the most difficult of circumstances, in the hardest of times, He is there, holding out His hand of mercy to us:

                  Then the Lord will turn from his fierce anger, will show you mercy,
                  and will have compassion on you.  (Deuteronomy 13:17)

                  ‘I will frown on you no longer, for I am faithful,
                   declares the Lord,‘I will not be angry forever. (Jeremiah 3:12)

One last thing . . . do we spend too much of our time looking back? Do we regret decisions made? Do we mourn for lost opportunities? Are we yearning for ended relationships? Let's strive to do as Paul did, for he had a past that he would rather forget!

                  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of
                  it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward
                  what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which
                 God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)

Let's look forward, not back!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Salt by any other name (Lot's wife)

When we paused our study, we were spectators while a mob was beating on Lot's door, and he had amazed his wife by offering the mob their two daughters, in place of the two strangers that had come to their house . . .

“Get out of our way,” they replied. “This fellow came here as a foreigner, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them.” They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door.
10 But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. 11 Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door.
12 The two men said to Lot, “Do you have anyone else here—sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, 13 because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the Lord against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.”
14 So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were pledged to marry his daughters. He said, “Hurry and get out of this place, because the Lord is about to destroy the city!” But his sons-in-law thought he was joking.
15 With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.
16 When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them. 17 As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!”
18 But Lot said to them, “No, my lords, please! 19 Your servant has found favor in your eyes, and you have shown great kindness to me in sparing my life. But I can’t flee to the mountains; this disaster will overtake me, and I’ll die. 20 Look, here is a town near enough to run to, and it is small. Let me flee to it—it is very small, isn’t it? Then my life will be spared.”
21 He said to him, “Very well, I will grant this request too; I will not overthrow the town you speak of. 22 But flee there quickly, because I cannot do anything until you reach it.” (That is why the town was called Zoar.)
23 By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land. 24 Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the Lord out of the heavens. 25 Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, destroying all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land. 26 But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.

In the midst of this story of mercy (bringing Lot, his wife, and his two daughters out of Sodom before it was destroyed) we have a couple of heart-wrenching scenes.

Imagine, if you will, Lot's impassioned plea to his future sons-in-law, trying to convince them to leave Sodom with him. They thought he was joking. Why didn't they take him seriously? Perhaps this was the first time Lot had spoken to them about God, and about sin. Maybe he hadn't mentioned his faith in God to them before. Perhaps his family and his future sons-in-law were not accustomed to hearing him talk about sin and debauchery, and about staying away from those things.

Imagine, too, the angels urging Lot to "hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters..." and Lot hesitated? Why? In spite of the horrific events of the night before, was he still thinking of the posh, affluent life of Sodom? Was he thinking wistfully of the leadership role he had assumed in the city? Was he reluctant to go back to the simple, nomadic life in tents that he had lived before becoming a resident of Sodom?

The angels had to take Lot, his wife, and his two daughters by the hand to make them leave!! Remember when we studied Proverbs? We learned that it is truly important who we "hang around" with; it's important whom we choose as friends. Personally, I have to think that the friends of Lot, his wife, and his daughters must not have been good influences, right? Maybe they had to be dragged out of Sodom by the hands because years of living amongst worldly people had weakened their faith. Or, maybe they just couldn't believe what was happening.

And then, the saddest of all . . . Lot's wife disobeyed the angel's words, and looked back. No matter how simple a command from God may seem, we need to take it seriously! God said don't. But she did. If we were to look at other translations, we would see that the words mean that Lot's wife wasn't right by his side. It appears she was lagging behind. Dragging her feet. She was some distance behind the others, and then it happened. She turned to look.

Maybe she was worried about the friends she was leaving behind. Or maybe she was thinking of her spacious home that would be destroyed, or some belongings that were her "treasures." Perhaps her heart was really in Sodom, and she was dreading leaving, and returning to the life of tents and herds.

Whatever the reason, she disobeyed.
We'll conclude our study tomorrow by seeing what each of us can learn from Lot's wife.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Verses that inspire

Isn't it wonderful how the Spirit guides us when we read the Word? He brings us to verses that contain just what we need.

When we are sad, we can find uplifting words in our Bible. When we are troubled, we can find comfort and reassurance. When we are frightened, we find refuge.

There is something there for all of our situations. And it's always just what we need.

Proverbs 25:11 tells us:

Timely advice is lovely, like golden apples in a silver basket.
Another translation puts it this way:

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.

Have you found a verse in your studies recently that inspired you? Have you been comforted or reassured by a passage?

Share those verses with all of us -- you never know who might read your comment and be blessed!

II Corinthians 1:2-4 tells us that we can encourage others with what we have experienced:

                         Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus
                         Christ. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
                         the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,  who comforts
                         us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble
                         with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

Please leave a comment with a verse that has blessed you.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Salt by any other name (history first)

Sodium Chloride

Na Cl


Salt is one of the most common and most utilized chemical compounds in God's creation.

I expect that you already know which lady in the Bible we will study this week, but before we get to her, we need to go back a little for a history lesson. We might find her easier to understand, and the principles we learn easier to apply, if we know the background.
Ready? Let's dive in!
Way back in Genesis chapter 13, Abram and Lot had a problem. Don't get me wrong, it was a great problem to have . . . they were so prosperous, that they had to split up! Lot was Abram's nephew, and usually families of that era stuck pretty close. The problem was that each of the men had huge herds of oxen, goats, and other animals. If they all were in one area, the vegetation would be munched down to nothing. It would also tax the water resources. Their herdsmen were in conflict, because they were all tasked with keeping their boss's animals healthy. So, they had to split up. Abram was awfully gracious -- he gave his nephew the first choice. He told him that if he went one direction, Abram would move in the other direction.
Lot looked around and saw green, fertile valleys and pastures of the lush Jordan region (and a couple of cities that we'll talk about later) and chose his path. Abram, bless his heart, was left with the more desert-like area of Canaan. So, Lot pitched his tents in the valley . . . and then later moved those tents closer to Sodom.
Lot is captured in a war between kings who wanted to control a trade route, and Abram hears about it, and comes with his hand-picked men to rescue him.  After that, we don't hear much about Lot until chapter 18, and even then we don't hear his name. We just know that Abram is thinking of his nephew as he pleads with his visitors to spare Sodom if just ten righteous souls can be found within its walls.
Just ten . . .
What do we think of, when we hear the name of those cities? Especially Sodom? It was a cesspool. It was known for unspeakable immorality and abominations. There are many places in the scripture where it is held up as an example of sin, and as an example to be avoided.
But we find in chapter 19 of Genesis that Lot has moved his family from the tents outside the city to a nice condominium inside the walls . . . Seriously, though, he is a part of the city now, and perhaps a figure of some authority, for in verse 1 we see that Lot is sitting in the gateway of the city. Elders and judges of the city sat in the gate, and conducted business and legal affairs. So, Lot is a leader now in Sodom.
The two angels that spoke with Abram in the previous chapter had arrived in Sodom. It was common for travelers in that time to spend the night in the town square. That part of the city had many uses; as an open area usually in the center of town, it was their market square, the place they gathered for festivals, and more. It may have been that they decided to sleep in the square to appear like mortal travelers. Lot wouldn't hear of it. He insisted that they come to his house. Surely, he must have been thinking of the horrible fate that would have been theirs, if they'd stayed in the square and become prey to those in the city that would abuse them. As a city dweller, he was well aware of the condition of the city, and may even have witnessed attacks on other strangers, so he probably feared for their safety. 
Lot's wife would have been involved in making the preparations for the strangers' meal, for hospitality was a sacred thing back then. She would have used her finest ground flour, perhaps pulled out some special dried fruits that she was saving for an occasion just like this, and placed it all on their best plates for their guests. Later, as she went to bed, she would have heard the muffled voices at the door . . .
 Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”
Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.”

What? Her daughters? The two young women who were engaged to be married soon? What was Lot thinking?  She had raised them so carefully, preparing them to be wives and mothers, dreaming in her days in the tents about how they would have a much more prosperous life -- and now he was offering her babies to the mob?

Stick with us . . . we'll explore this more next time.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Friday slowdown

I came across this song and it spoke to my heart. We often find that our path goes through pain; it sometimes goes through persecution. The Spirit will help us to believe and encourage us in our faith.

Under His wings I am safely abiding,
Though the night deepens and the tempests are wild,
Still I can trust Him; I know He will keep me,
He has redeemed me, and I am His child.

 Under His wings, under His wings,
Who from His love can sever?
Under His wings my soul shall abide,
Safely abide forever.

Under His wings, what a refuge in sorrow!
How the heart yearningly turns to His rest!
Often when earth has no balm for my healing,
There I find comfort, and there I am blessed.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Jochebed, a faithful woman, conclusion

Our story continues . . .

Pharaoh's daughter saw Miriam peeping at the group as they clustered around the basket, and gesturing to her, asked her to come closer. Summoning up all of her courage, Miriam asked this imposing woman if she'd like for her to fetch a Hebrew woman who would nurse the child for her?

I wonder sometimes if the Egyptian woman smiled, inwardly, knowing that the girl would fetch the baby's mother? If when she placed the baby back in Jochebed's arms, did she know the joy that filled that mother's soul? Did she realize how fervently Jochebed thanked the great I AM as she tenderly kissed her babe's little cheek?

Jochebed would nurse the child until he was about five years old, the scholars tell us, and then deliver him to the Pharaoh's daughter for his education as her adopted son; she would name him Moses, for as she said, "I drew him out of the water."

For forty years after that, Moses lived the life of a prince, in the Pharaoh's palace. God kept Moses safe in the alligator filled waters of the Nile, and He kept him safe in the courts of Pharaoh, too. He grew up right under Pharaoh's nose, so to speak -- the child of Hebrew parents who defied his decree that all male Hebrew babies were to be killed! Moses received an education that prepared him for his life's work, and made him more effective as a leader of his people, in the years ahead.

I can imagine Jochebed looking wistfully at the palace, straining for a glimpse of her son; I'm sure she watched with pride as he strode out from the palace on occasion. As did Mary, I expect that she pondered in her heart, wondering at the faithfulness and providence of God. And her example of bravery, ingenuity, and incredible faith is one that should inspire all of us that want to be "women of God."

As we will see in so many of our studies, God used something ordinary to bring about something extraordinary -- that wonderful basket!  He is pleased to carry out His plans and bring about His will through ordinary items, and through ordinary people. This is just as much the case now, as it was in Jochebed's day. If we are open to His presence, and to His will, He can use us to accomplish great things.

Did Jochebed know that she was a part of preserving the life of one who would rescue the Hebrew people from slavery? I think when she hid him in the basket, she was hoping for one more day; for one more moment. She placed her trust in God and let Him handle it. He was putting into motion a plan that would end the oppression that she was rebelling against. Isn't that the way it happens in our lives, too? If we will put our trust in Him, and let Him handle it . . . . He can use circumstances, people, and ordinary things, to put into motion His plan. We may not see it. We may not understand it.  But He is working in our lives; we must ask as the official asked Jesus: "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"  (Mark 9:24)

                         The plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of His heart
                         through all generations....The eyes of the Lord are on those who
                         fear Him, on those whose hope is in His unfailing love. (Psalm 33:11,18)

Yes, Lord, I believe; help me overcome my unbelief!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Jochebed, a faithful woman

Imagine, if you will, the joy that Jochebed must have felt, as she and Amram looked at the handsome, healthy baby boy that had just arrived. As the midwife scampered away from the house, looking furtively about to ensure that none of the Pharaoh's spies spotted her, Amram and Jochebed exulted in ten tiny fingers and toes, and they smiled as he nestled closer to his mother's breast.

Even then they may have heard a scream in the distance as a soldier wrestled a babe from a Hebrew's mother's arms and killed him before her disbelieving eyes. Jochebed must have looked pleadingly at Amram, and promised to keep the child quiet; only let her try to keep him safe from the Egyptians. Amram would have looked at this brave daughter of the Levites and nodded; himself a Levite, he would have valued life as all of the Hebrews did, and he counted himself lucky to have had the services of Shiphrah, one of the midwives who told the Pharaoh she could not kill the male babies because "the Hebrew women would deliver before she arrived." And so, Jochebed planned and trusted God to honor her commitment.

The Bible says that she kept him safe until he was three months old. We can scarcely visualize what was involved . . . reminding the older children not to mention the new brother, keeping the baby satisfied and entertained so he didn't cry, breathlessly watching as soldiers marched by, maybe even passing off the baby as a girl, if approached in the market or the public square!

Perhaps she thought about Pharaoh's edict on her bed at night, with Amram breathing quietly on one side, and the babe sleeping on the other. Pharaoh had said all of the male babies must be thrown into the Nile . . . well, her baby would go to the Nile, but not in the way Pharaoh had envisioned!

She took something very ordinary and made something extraordinary from it. Baskets were such a part of life in that time: they were used for storage as well as for carrying things. Women would make use of baskets (perhaps constructing them, too) for storing things in the home, and would carry things to and from market, too. Travelers used baskets to carry their belongings. Laborers used baskets to carry raw materials to work sites. The priests in the temple stored things in more elaborate baskets, perhaps, but in baskets, nonetheless.

They were usually made of some form of plant matter, whether they were woven of twigs and bark, or plaited from grasses. They came in all shapes and sizes, from a small one that a woman could balance on her head, to one large enough to conceal Paul as he escaped out a window in Damscus. Oops, we are getting too far away from our story. (Grin)

Jochebed coated the outside of her basket with tar and pitch, making sure that every nook and cranny was coated, so that no water could seep inside to the precious cargo that it would hold. I'm sure that she also went over the inside very carefully, to make certain that no edges or stalks would poke the baby. Then she probably chose one of her softest cloths to line the interior, and placed her baby inside.

Placing the basket carefully into the river, she must have whispered a prayer to the great I AM as she relinquished her hold on the edge of the tiny vessel. I expect that she wiped tears from her eyes as she turned to wade back onto the dry bank (I'd have been bawling, I'm sure). She instructed Miriam, her daughter and the baby's sister, to keep watch over him. No matter how brave she was, and how strong her faith was, she must have worried about alligators and other dangers -- but surely this was better than sure death from a soldier of the Pharaoh!

Then, according to God's plan, as his big sister watched, and as the basket bobbed gently among the river reeds, the Pharaoh's daughter came to bathe.  Surrounded by chattering servants who attended to her every need, she looked for a spot where the water had no trace of mud from livestock being watered, or from boats whose paddles would stir up the bottom. She caught a glimpse of the tiny watercraft, and sent one of her slave girls to fetch it for her. Folding back the soft cloth, she saw the handsome baby; perhaps sleeping, or perhaps looking back at her. His brown eyes may have met hers, or perhaps he reached out with a chubby hand to grasp her finger. It must have been love at first sight. The Nile had brought her a child -- she could not save all of the innocents from slaughter, but she could save this one.

We'll conclude our story and draw some thoughts for our own lives tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Prayer requests

If you're like me, there are times when sleep just doesn't come easily. Our brains sometimes don't want to "turn off" and take a rest, even if our bodies do.

There are some nights when we glance at the clock hopefully, thinking perhaps we have drifted off to sleep and it's almost morning . . . only to realize that it's just a few minutes since we last checked.

Even King David must have had this problem. He mentions the night watches - most people say that the first two watches are before midnight, and the third is from midnight 'til 3am. The fourth and final watch is from 3am to 6am.

                   My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate
                   on your promises.  (Psalm 119:148)

                   On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the
                   night. (Psalm 63:6)

I wonder if sometimes we are kept awake because we are fretting over something that we should have turned over to the Lord?

Are we tossing and turning because we don't have the peace He promised?

                     ...do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and
                     supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
                    And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard
                    your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

Or is this a special time that can be turned toward Him? Can we use our sleepless times as periods of thanksgiving, and of supplication? Can we think on His blessings and praise Him? Can we think of others that we know of, and pray intercessory prayers for them? We may know of some that are close to us, or we may know of others who are far away, and perhaps we know of their needs because of a blog like this one.

Think of people that need His love. Think of some that don't yet believe. Think of some that need His healing.
Lift these up in prayer, and thank Him in advance for what He will do.

Do you have a prayer request or a praise that you can share today?