Friday, July 31, 2015

Friday slowdown

If there is one thought that we take away from this week, I'd like for it to be this encouraging one: no matter what we are facing, God can help us to overcome it.
First we must believe.
Then we must trust.

Blessings to all of you. Thank you for studying along with me.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Blame it all on Eve? (Conclusion)

When we finished yesterday's study, we noted that Eve made a bad choice. And we said she was deceived . . .
Let's go back and see what else we can glean from the Word!

I wanted to share with you a verse that supports our study yesterday. Check this out in I Timothy, where Paul tells us:

                  And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived
                  and became a sinner. (I Timothy 2:14)

I guess I always figured both Adam and Eve were fooled by ole Satan. But that isn't what Paul says!
Eve was deceived.
Adam wasn't.
Wellllllllllll, so we shouldn't blame it all on Eve?
Let's dig in deeper!

You'd never know it from some of the sermons you hear, but if you look throughout the New Testament, you won't see Eve named as the bad girl of the story! The blame is really on Adam.

Look at these verses in Romans:

                      ....sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin.
                      Romans 5:12

Oops! It doesn't say "one woman," it says very distinctly "one man."

                      Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of
                      Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as
                      did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.  (Romans 5:14)

So Adam was not deceived . . .
Let's check back to our passage:

                      When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food
                      and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she
                      took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was
                      with her, and he ate it.  (Genesis 3:6)
Oh, dear. Where does it say Adam was?
He wasn't back at the pool, chillin'.
He wasn't out naming some animals.
He wasn't home tidying up.

He was there with Eve when Satan deceived her.
Oh. My.
He was right there when Satan said that God lied to them.
He was right by her side when Satan said, "You won't die."
He was there when Satan deceived Eve into thinking that they would have the advantage of wisdom, if they ate that fruit.
And Adam was not deceived. That means he didn't believe what Satan said, even though Eve did believe him.

Why in the world didn't he grab Eve's hand and run? Why didn't he tell God that evening when they walked together? Why didn't he argue with Satan, and say, oh, no, you have it all wrong?

Why in the world did he disobey God? He chose to disobey. Are you wondering why? I sure am!

One of the commentaries that I studied suggested that perhaps it wasn't that Adam had a "belief" problem. He believed God. It may be that he had a "trust" problem.

Let's look at this through Adam's eyes . . . He knew that God said that the day they ate of that tree, they would die. And Eve just ate from the tree. What's going to happen to Eve? She's going to die, right? Right. He will lose her. This is the woman that God made for him, that Adam called "bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh." This is the woman with whom he has shared so much, and whom he has grown to love and cherish.

Perhaps Adam thought, "I sure don't want to lose her; but God will kill her for this. And he doesn't understand just how important Eve is to me. I don't know if He will take care of this the way that I want Him to."
Translated: "I can't trust Him to take care of this. I can't trust Him to fix this, so I have to fix it."
That is such a dangerous way to think.
Personally, I've learned lately that if I turn my seemingly insurmountable problems over to our Father, instead of trying to solve them myself, He has rewarded my faith my moving the mountains for me, either partly out of my way, or completely. Instead of my shoveling and shoveling and trying to do it myself. Just sayin'. (Grin)

But Adam may have thought, "Well, if I eat the fruit too, maybe God won't kill both of us. He might take one of us, but He loves us, and maybe He wouldn't want to lose both of us. So I think I will make God solve this my way . . . "

He believed what God said, but he didn't trust God. He didn't trust Him to fix this. That's called . . . wait for it . . . . a lack of faith.
Paul tells us about that one, too:

                    And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who
                    comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who
                    earnestly seek Him.  (Hebrews 11:6)

Believing in God, and trusting Him, are at the core of being a Christian. We need to trust Him, because if we don't, we'll be oh, so tempted to fix the problems in our lives OUR way. On OUR timing.  Or, like Adam, we'll be tempted to try to force God to do things our way. Not such a good idea.
When we are faced with trials, and problems, and even temptations, we need to a.) believe, and b.) trust Him. We must believe that not only does God exist (that part is easy, right?) but that He will take care of us. He will reward us when we sincerely seek His will in our lives. After all, as many mistakes as we humans make, to whom would we rather relinquish control, than to Him?  He has told us in the words of Jesus, that no One is a better Father -- no One knows better what we need:

                      If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your
                      children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to
                      those who ask him!  (Matthew 7:11)

And just because we don't understand what He is doing, or why, that's no reason to take matters into our own tiny, impatient, sinful hands:

                      As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than
                     your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.  (Isaiah 55:9)

But Eve didn't do that.
And Adam didn't, either.
Eve failed because she didn't trust God's words.
Adam failed because he didn't trust God to be faithful.
They ate one of the priciest meals in history; we can learn a lot from them, no matter who was to blame.

(Pass the bandaids, please?)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Blame it all on Eve! (continued)

We mentioned yesterday that in this passage of scripture, Adam and Eve ate one of the most expensive meals ever. And the terrible thing is, it wasn't even the best thing on the menu that day, or any other day! God gave them every tree to eat from except that one -- there were plenty of other wonderful trees to eat from . . . luscious apples, juicy peaches, you name it!
Verse 9 of chapter 2 says that the trees were pleasing to the eye, and good for food. It's just that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was off limits.

Well, we may ask if they had all those other trees to eat from, why did they do it? It all boils down to the fact that they chose to do so. They chose to pick the wrong item on the menu. They chose to disobey God.

Yes, the serpent may have talked her into doing it, but hey! She knew what God had said. He told her He didn't want them to eat of that particular tree. He also told them that those who ate of that tree would face death.
But she chose to eat of the tree anyway.
We all make bad choices sometimes. Eve did.
Her first bad choice came even before Satan said a word to her. What was it?

Look back at the passage (verses 1-3) :

                Satan said to the woman, "Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any
                tree in the garden’?" The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from
                the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree
                that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’

Did you notice anything?
God told them "don't eat the fruit."
Eve says, "He said don't eat it or touch it."
Eve chose to add that little restriction, and add to God's commandment. She chose to improve on what God said.
Oy. That was all the wiggle room that Satan needed, to begin his mind games with her. Once we get used to the idea that we (mere humans, total sinners) can improve on God's Word, we begin to think we can do other things, too. We believe that we can change it when we want to. We believe that we can improve on it in other places, too. And we get used to being the ultimate judge of what is acceptable and unacceptable -- instead of letting God do that. Oh boy, is that ever wrong!
Take a look at what Jesus said:

                   They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.
                   (Matthew 15:9)

Once we humans get accustomed to accepting "improvements" on what God has said, our worship becomes vain. When we add the commandments of men to the commandments of God, our worship is empty, or worthless . . . in vain. Why? Why is it such a "big deal" about these additions, or improvements? It's because the only way that we can handle the trials of this life is by hanging on the pure Word of God. The only way we can deal with the temptations of life is by immersing ourselves in the Word.

So, Eve made a bad choice, in adding to God's Word. And that is where Satan focused, in order to deceive her. Look again at how the serpent tempts her:

                   You will not certainly die . . . For God knows that when you eat from it
                    your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and
                    evil. (Genesis 3:4-5)

Eve had become accustomed to not fully trusting God's commands, by adding her own words to His. So, Satan just took her a little further down that path; he pretty much told her that God had lied to her.
"Aw, come on, Eve, you're not going to die -- you won't even get sick! There aren't really any consequences to your choices." Does this sound like what we hear today? "You can mess around with this sin or that one, and it's not really going to hurt you. You can be lustful, and sexually promiscuous; look at pornography, too -- nothing will happen. You can be hateful to others, and be spiteful and bitter -- no consequences. Go ahead and be proud, self-righteous, and selfish -- it's not going to make a difference. "

"There really won't be any consequences. Forget what you've been told."
"There's no shame or guilt, and forget about judgment and hell -- that's bogus. No eternal regret. Just do what feels good. It's all going to be OK -- God lied to you about that."

Satan was trying to convince Eve of the same thing that he wants to convince us of today: God was lying to you. He doesn't want the best for you -- He doesn't even want you to have any fun. He doesn't want you to enjoy life. So you need to throw off those ole "do's and don'ts" and have a great time! No consequences!

Eve begins to think about that. And then she begins to look at the tree.

                     When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food
                     and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she
                     took some and ate it. (Genesis 3:6)

Does it say that Eve was hungry? Nope.
Does it say that all the other trees looked terrible? Nope.

                     The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground - trees
                     that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the
                     garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good
                     and evil. (Genesis 2:9)

But Satan's lies were taking root. What she really saw was that the tree was ALSO desirable for gaining wisdom. And what she really thought was that God had not told her the whole truth about the tree. After all, that just wasn't fair, was it?
So, she chose to disobey God.
But at least Eve had an excuse -- she was deceived.

Tomorrow we'll finish this study; I hope you'll join us!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Prayer requests

I hope that this break for prayer is something that you look forward to. I know it's special to me. I'm honored to be able to pray with you for requests that are near to your heart, and to praise Him with you, when blessings come.

I'd like to let you know that there has been progress on a request that I mentioned a good while back, and I'm grateful to those of you who have joined me in prayer. God has blessed in the situation, and we are hopeful that good things will continue.

I'd like to ask if you would help me in praying for peace and wisdom for our middle child; he is taking the bar exam this week, and it is a truly stressful experience! He has worked hard to prepare, and we hope that his efforts will pay off. (I think he'll make an awesome attorney.)

What about you? Is there a request that you'd like to mention? You don't have to give us details if you prefer not to; just tell us it's an unspoken request, and we'll bear it to the Lord and ask His blessing.

Let us know, too, if you've had an answer to prayer -- it's encouraging to hear.

Let's pray.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Blame it all on her! (Eve)

Just a quick note to let you know we have much to be thankful for -- our friend and sister in Christ, Carole, is recovering well from her surgery! Thank you to everyone who joined us in prayer for her!
Also, a note to Jessica Munden, who commented on our last post - thank you for stopping by. I wasn't able to respond to you directly, because your settings are on no-reply, but I wanted to let you know that you are appreciated. So glad you are participating in our studies!

Imagine with me if you will . . .

Imagine that you've just opened your eyes to a lovely morning; the dew is glistening on the soft, lush grass, and on the flowers around you. The trees arching overhead shield you from the sun, but its rays are peeking through and warming your skin. You don't have a stitch of clothing on, but you are neither embarrassed nor are you looking around for any to put on.

It's time to stretch, and rise, and walk about in the beautiful garden that is your home. Your husband is walking beside you, and he snaps a cluster of grapes off the vine at his shoulder, and hands it to you -- both to satisfy your hunger and sate your thirst, for these are grapes at their best; they are firm and juicy and full of flavor.

All of the flowering plants and vegetables that you see are ripe and healthful, and the animals pause to gaze at your solemnly as they stop grazing to watch you choose your breakfast. Laughing, you and your husband race to the pool formed by the stream; rippling over the waterfall, it fills the pool with cool, clear water, and a refreshing swim is a wonderful after-breakfast activity.

Soon, you hear a Voice, calling to you from nearby in the garden. You are not ashamed, but welcome the opportunity to walk and talk with your Friend (and Creator) again.

This is the idyllic world that Eve found herself in. "No worries" wasn't something they needed to say, because they had no idea what "worry" was. At this time, they didn't know what embarrassment was, or misunderstanding, or hurt, or envy, bitterness, grief, or guilt. Husband and wife had all that they needed and wanted; there was nothing that was not supplied for them. They walked with God, and they talked with Him face to face. He came down to talk with them in the cool of the day.

One day they ate a meal that would turn out to be a very costly one. It may have been one of the most expensive meals in history.
Let's dive in!

Our passage is the entire third chapter of Genesis. It's lengthy, so I'm asking that you read it and think on it, and we'll study next time.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?
The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?
12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”
The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
14 So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,
“Cursed are you above all livestock
    and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
    and you will eat dust
    all the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity
    between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
    and you will strike his heel.”
16 To the woman he said,
“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
    with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
    and he will rule over you.
17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”
20 Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.
21 The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. 22 And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” 23 So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Friday slowdown

This week we learned how important it is to "see the big picture" and be open to all that God has for us to know and learn.
I thought this song was just right; I hope you enjoy and receive a blessing.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Wearing blinders -- Martha, conclusion

Martha just has to see the big picture . . .

                      Martha,  Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset
                      about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only
                      one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away
                      from her.”  (Luke 10:41-42)

Martha and Mary had two distinctly different personalities. Martha was what we might call a "doer," a woman who was capable, efficient, and at this moment, wrestling with self pity.
Mary was a thinker, interested in ideas, and completely absorbed in learning all that Jesus had to teach her.

I just bet that when Jesus gently rebuked her, Martha probably felt embarrassed. It probably startled her, too. This was a wake-up call to let her think about what she had been missing. She was so focused on serving Jesus that she did not let herself for one moment truly enjoy Him. She was so distracted by what she felt were her responsibilities, that she could not listen and learn from Him.

I wonder, too, if she felt a little envy. Here she was, working as hard as she could, and there was Mary, ignoring the traditional role that Martha thought was uber important! Jesus was encouraging Mary to think and learn . . . He was upholding her right to develop her mind, by listening to His words and thinking about them. He was silently saying that she should not be limited to the tasks that society laid down for her, but she should be granted access to ideas and philosophies, just as Jewish men were. When Martha objected to the fact that she had to work while Mary listened, Jesus said that Mary had made the better choice.

Now, let's make sure we don't go down the wrong trail here . . . Jesus had already encouraged the idea of service among His followers, so He was not saying that Martha's role of service was unimportant. He was making the point that being a disciple, and learning about the ideas He was explaining, was even more important.  He wanted Martha to know that while it was important to tend to the household chores, it was also important to hear the Word of God.

Here is something really interesting that we see in Martha -- yes, she was distracted, and she seemed to believe at first that her frantic activity would produce something of lasting importance. But look at the way that she interacts with the Lord. She shows us what it's like to have a relationship with Jesus that is so solid, and so close, that there is no need for hiding her feelings. No need for "pulling her punches." She is free to be herself in His presence, and she brings her frustrations directly to Him, for Him to help her.

Do we always do that? Are we that close? Is the relationship that solid?

Back to our "blinders" . . . Martha seems to be someone who took ownership for her faith -- she asked questions, she challenged, she requested Jesus to "fix" what had gone wrong. One commentary I read noted that her faith was similar to that of Jacob, who wrestled with the angel, or that of Peter, who ran headlong into situations, but learned from his mistakes. She was being challenged to remove her blinders and see the "big picture."

Later, after Lazarus had died, we see Martha running from her house to meet Jesus. She greets Him with her blinders on:

                          Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother
                          would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give
                          you whatever you ask.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise
                          again.”  Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection
                         at the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.
                         The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and
                         whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

It's when she answers Him that she begins to reach up and pull those blinders off:

                                     27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son
                         of God, who is to come into the world.” (John 11)

I think she sees the big picture! But right after her awesome expression of her faith, she pauses, and she almost doesn't pull them off.  When Jesus tells the men to roll away the stone from Lazarus' grave, she blurts out:

                          “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

Oh, Martha, your common sense is over-riding your faith.  You need for Jesus to stretch your faith, and rebuke your small, narrow vision of the world -- and show you what the power of God can do!

I really feel like when she saw her brother Lazarus appear in the opening of that tomb, that Martha's "blinder days" were over. I think that she now knew and understood that her Friend was also the Resurrection and the Life. I think she realized that she'd placed too much importance in activity, and not enough in sitting quietly with Him. I believe we can say that now she saw that big picture, and would act out her love for Him not just in service, but in listening and learning, just as Mary did.  We can learn from her to be confident in His love for us, and to freely love Him in return.

Lastly, in our own lives, if there is someone who is causing us trouble? Are we frustrated with someone? Let's not tell our tale to anyone that might listen -- let's take our problem directly to the Lord. Let's tell Him everything that is bothering us about that person. And then let's ask Him to give us wisdom about how to respond to this person; and if it is ourselves that needs the changing, ask Him to give us grace to do just that.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Wearing blinders - Martha, continued

Did you identify with Martha in our story on Monday? Some of us are more like Martha in our Christian walk, while others are more like Mary. Personally, if I'm honest about it, I am a "Martha" more of the time than I am a "Mary." Maybe you are like that, too -- we have qualities of both women within us. Sometimes we may let our busy lives of service distract us from spending time with Jesus and listening to His word. It's important to note, though, that while Jesus gently admonished Martha for being worried and upset, He did not say that serving was a bad thing. Service is indeed a good thing, but sitting at Jesus' feet is best.
Let's dive in again!

We saw in our scripture passage that it was Martha who was head of this household (a woman named Martha opened her home to him. Luke 10).  There were two siblings who were part of the household: Mary and Lazarus. No parents are mentioned, so perhaps these were siblings whose parents had passed away. Apparently, they'd left a comfortable home for them to live in, since it was large enough to accommodate Jesus and the disciples, as well as others who would travel with Him and listen. The three seemed to be affluent, since they had a large house, and since Mary could afford the expensive perfume that she applied to Jesus' feet in John's gospel (chapter 12). As we studied previously, it was a special gift, not something used everyday.

These three people were friends of Jesus. (Pause for a moment and let that sink in. Awesome, eh?) They behaved with the Son of God in a friendly, natural way; they spoke to Him in much the same way that they would speak to each other. There was neither formality nor fear here. They spoke their thoughts openly, and Jesus seemed very comfortable in their company.  It was perfectly natural that they would open their home to Him, and offer Him hospitality and fellowship.

Women in that era had a multitude of tasks to complete each day -- check this out:

              Drawing the water for the household's use for the day
              Only after the water is drawn can you wash dishes and utensils
              Wash family's clothing
              Clean the house (Get ready for Jesus to come!)
              Grinding grain for bread or unleavened cakes, then mixing, kneading, baking
              Purchasing vegetables and dried fruits at the market
              Choosing and purchasing meat for an important occasion's meal
And don't neglect the carding, spinning and weaving of different thread to make items for the house, for the family's clothing, and for the servants' clothing, as well . . .

No washing machine and dryer. No dishwasher. No microwave or bread maker. No sewing machine. And just because you were affluent enough to have servants, you still had to make endless decisions and supervise, supervise, supervise. Instructing the servants in how you wanted things done was an almost never-ending task!

Then, when an important visitor came to call, all of these everyday tasks became even more important. The "to do" list could go on and on . . . and it's not so different from the lists that we make for ourselves today. The tasks may seem overwhelming, and they may be exhausting. But they are not unimportant -- and that is a significant distinction. Jesus' words to Martha shouldn't be taken to mean that these tasks can be ignored. But these should never, ever take the place of daily contact with the Lord of our lives!

Let's change gears here, just a little. Have you noticed that sometimes Jesus would upset a few apple-carts in peoples' lives? He didn't necessarily obey the "norm" for its own sake, did He? We've seen examples when we studied John's gospel that Jesus didn't mind doing or saying things that other people considered unusual.

He did that here, too. It was a little bit unusual for a single man to be a guest in the house of a single woman. Not to mention that he'd brought twelve of His closest friends! (Oy. No wonder Martha was distracted!!) 
Secondly, the person who received the closest tutoring, the privilege of sitting right at the feet of the rabbi, was usually the highest ranked male student in the temple. Not a female. Not Mary. Mary was quietly breaking the rules that said study was for males.

Is it possible that when Martha burst into the room and demanded that Jesus tell Mary to help her with the household preparations, that she had some blinders on?

Was Martha missing the "big picture?"

We'll conclude our study tomorrow.....

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

What are we listening to?

Are you and I sealed vessels?

Or are we opened?

Do we allow the life and joy inside us to spill out?

One way to do that is to sing and enjoy music; it's a wonderful way to praise God and to lift our own spirits, as well as the spirits of those around us.

Recently I remembered this children's song and it "got stuck" in my head:

I am a C
I am a C-H
I am a C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N
And I have C-H-R-I-S-T
In my H-E-A-R-T
And I will L-O-V-E E-T-E-R-N-A-L-L-Y.

Did that bring a smile to your face? It did to mine! Isn't it amazing how a song can impact our mood and our day?

What are you listening to, today?

Monday, July 20, 2015

Wearing blinders -- a study on Martha

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.  She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.  But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things,  but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
(Luke 10:38-42)

We also studied Martha in our studies in John's gospel. Remember in the 11th chapter, when Lazarus was raised from the dead? Just before that happened, we hear Martha and Jesus talking:

When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

But then, when Jesus asks for the stone to be rolled away, we hear this:

But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

Remember what "blinders" are? You might never have seen them used, but maybe you have heard of them, or seen them in a movie? Pieces of leather attached to the horse's bridle, they block out the sight of what is behind (and in some cases, beside) the horse. They allow the horse to focus on where he is going, and not be frightened by something that suddenly looms up beside or behind him.

In human terms, blinders could be good or bad. Of course, we're speaking figuratively, since we don't wear leather bridles with bits and reins. But looking at the analogy, we could say that blinders could be a positive thing, if they allow us to focus on what's at hand -- the task before us -- and block out things that would cause us worry or harm. If we look at them another way, blinders could be something that we should actually remove -- so that we can see the "big picture" and not be accused of having a narrow field of vision, missing out on some important things.

Martha is a good study for us; we're going to learn a lot from her!

Let's dive in!

Martha watched her serving girls scurry about, tugging on the grass mats under the tables, fluffing up the cushions on the divans where the guests would recline to eat. Suddenly rolling up the sleeves of her outer garment, she said, "Miriam, no, no, that's not right! It needs to be like this!" and instructed the girl on how the table utensils should be arranged. Place the bowls there, and the small jugs for olive oil and other condiments here on the side, and Oh! Don't forget to check the screens in the decanters . . . how embarrassing it would be to begin to pour the wine and find debris in the screen! Oy.

Stepping back, she caught a whiff of the aromas from the kitchen, and remembered the stew. Rushing into the melee of cooks and assistants, her imposing figure commanded respect. They gave way to her, to let her come closest to the cooking vessel. Handing his mistress a wooden ladle, the cook watched her face intently. Was the stew flavorful enough? Was the broth hearty? Would she smile and nod approval, or frown, and say to add an ingredient? Only occasions such as this, or perhaps a festival, would find the use of meat at a meal . . . usually the evening meal was vegetables, bread, platters of figs and dates . . . to have Jesus come to the house meant that special hospitality would be extended, and special things offered at the meal!

The cook had nothing to fear. Martha handed the ladle back to him with a smile, and patted his shoulder, "Excellent!"  An audible sigh of relief was heard from all those assembled, and as Martha looked around, she told them all how important it was for this meal to be "just right." As she walked back toward the banquet and reception room, she caught a glimpse of two girls giggling and wiping down the pottery to be used. A jug slipped from one girl's fingers and shattered on the tile floor! The girl glanced furtively about and then began to gather up the pieces. She was startled to find her mistress bending beside her, picking up shards of pottery. Biting her lip, she murmured an apology for her clumsiness. She was expecting to be punished, but Martha, tight-lipped, simply told her to make certain it did not happen again.

As she straightened up, Martha caught a glimpse through the archway, of Jesus and the disciples in the courtyard of the house. Seated at Jesus' feet was her sister, Mary. Her gaze never left His face as she drank in all that He said.

Exasperated, Martha entered the courtyard and approached the group. "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"

We are probably all familiar with His answer, but hopefully the next time we study, we will glean some new insights and apply them to our own lives.

See you next time!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Friday slowdown

Today I'd like to ask all of our readers to join me in prayer for one of our sweet followers. Carole is undergoing major surgery today, and I know that she would appreciate our thoughts and prayers at this time.

Let's ask the Lord for wisdom and guidance for her surgeon, and for strength and knowledge for the nurse attendants. Let's pray for her to gain strength and heal in a timely manner, with no complications -- knowing that Carole and we will give all the glory to Him!

We studied this week the story of one woman's faith - a tenacious, don't-let-go kind of faith. I thought this song would fit.

Blessings to all.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

"Snapping turtle" faith, Conclusion

When we began this study, we noted that snapping turtles are known for hanging on, for not letting go of something. We have seen that this Greek woman, known in the Bible as the Syrophoenecian woman, had "snapping turtle" faith.
Let's look one more time at our passage for the week.

Jesus told the woman, "Because you said this, you may go. The demon has left your daughter."

It's a very simple truth that the words we speak in a time of crisis reveal our faith, our humility, and our persistency. If we are lacking in any of these areas, it will be revealed!
We've uncovered some nuggets here that I'd like to remind myself of:

First, Jesus reaches out to everyone. Both the woman who knelt before Him, and her child whom He healed, were both females -- and they were also Gentiles. Jesus looked past these "issues" of their cultures and saw their worth, their value -- and honored the mother's faith.

Second, our heroine would not take "no" for an answer. She had already humiliated herself in the eyes of others in her culture, by pleading with a Jewish person to save her daughter. Desperately, she refused to give up, even when Jesus apparently rebuffed her. It was her quick repartee that turned things to her advantage.

Third, it doesn't matter if we are separated in time from Jesus. We can still know Him, receive Him, and be guided by Him. Three times in the gospels Jesus healed someone at a distance (the nobleman's son, the centurion's servant, and this woman's daughter). He is still in the business of healing us from sin today!

Also, evil spirits are not just things we read about in our Bible. We, too, must fight evil powers in our own lives. Every day we are faced with this fight. But we have an advantage -- Jesus won the ultimate victory on the cross, and as believers, we share in His victory. He gives us authority over the evil that we face, if we only will seek Him and receive that authority and power.

                         Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. (Eph. 6:10)

                         The One Who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.
                         (I John 4:4)

As believers, we have already experienced the deliverance of God. And though most of our children, relatives, and friends may never suffer from demonic possession, we often worry about the spiritual battles that they face.  While I can't reveal the details, I can affirm that we can receive miracles from our God. Our Father has been so faithful to me in recent months, and showed His mercy and love. Our prayers are heard, and indeed, they are answered in His time!

When we feel anxious or even hopeless about these situations, let's turn to Psalm 46 or Psalm 91, and let the Spirit comfort us as we read.

Pray for these who are in battle, and pray this scripture:

                       Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be
                       shaken but endures forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
                       so the Lord surrounds his people, both now and forevermore.
                       (Psalm 125:1-2)

What a precious promise! Let's ask Him to increase our faith; ask Him to make it a "snapping turtle" kind of faith!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

"Snapping turtle" faith, Part II

And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and cried, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon." 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, "Send her away, for she is crying after us." 24 He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me." 26 And he answered, "It is not fair to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." 27 She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." 28 Then Jesus answered her, "O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire." And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15:21-28) 
24 And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house, and would not have any one know it; yet he could not be hid. 25 But immediately a woman, whose little daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Greek, a Syrophoeni'cian by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 And he said to her, "Let the children first be fed, for it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." 28 But she answered him, "Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs." 29 And he said to her, "For this saying you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter." 30 And she went home, and found the child lying in bed, and the demon gone. (Mark 7:24-30)

Are you surprised by the woman in this story?
Are you surprised by the way that Jesus responds to her?
Let's dive in!

This was a mom who was desperate to save her child. We aren't told what the demon caused her daughter to do, but as we discussed earlier, it could be anything from talking to air, to throwing oneself into the flames. It was scary, and it was harmful.  The mother heard that Jesus was in the area, and approached Him.

That in itself is worth looking at: the Jewish people looked down upon the Greeks, and snobbishly call them "dogs."  In addition to the Jewish snobbery against the Greeks, the Greeks themselves felt that the Jewish people were inferior to them. They pointed to their great thinkers and mathematicians and enjoyed the prestige that they afforded them. In spite of these differences, this woman admitted that Jesus' wisdom and His power exceeded those of humans, and she felt that He alone could rid her daughter of this problem.

She cried out for Him to help. His disciples suggested that He needed to do something about it. She was "causing a scene" and they wanted Him to have some peace and quiet. Matthew's account says that He replied that He came "to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." Mark notes that He said, "let the children first be fed" meaning that the Jewish people were His first priority, and that when the timing was right, the Gentiles would be a part of the equation. (It's interesting to note, though, that the only other time that Jesus healed a Gentile was the centurion's servant....again in that passage, He remarked at the faith of the seeker, and He healed from a distance. Nothing is too hard for our God!)

It's hard for us, too, when we see what we think of as rudeness, coming from our Lord. Scholars tell us that this is not the usual word for dogs, those that would fight and scavenge in the streets of the city, but a word used for little pets that would be in the household.  Jewish families did not keep dogs as pets, for they considered that to be unclean. Greeks, however, had dogs that were indoor pets, much as we keep our pets today. They were sometimes considered part of the family.

So, kneeling at His feet, she may (or may not) have understood His remark, but her quick and nimble mind came back with a reply that turned His apparent rebuff to her own advantage. (Oh, to be as quick-witted as she! She humiliated herself and begged for help, but she still was "thinking on her feet"!)

"True, Lord, but even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs."

It certainly seems that Jesus was impressed and pleased with her answer. It was an answer of humility, and we read in Proverbs:

                        He mocks proud mockers but shows favor to the humble and
                        oppressed. (Proverbs 3:34)

Her answer also pleased Jesus because it was a statement of her faith in Him.

                       And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who
                       comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those
                       who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

Finally, I believe that her answer pleased Him because she was persistent. Remember the passage in Luke 18:1-8? It's a story of a persistent widow, who finally received justice against an adversary because of her persistence. (Go back and read it -- it's inspiring!) Also, Jesus said that we should be persistent in our prayer life, and expect to see our prayers answered (Luke 11:9-10).

Jesus remarked on her great faith, and then sent her home -- with the assurance that her daughter was healed! She got her miracle!

We'll have some more thoughts on this passage tomorrow as we wind up our study of this woman and her faith.


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Verses that inspire

I found this quote recently and it meant a great deal to me:

God’s unfailing love for us is an objective fact affirmed over and over in the Scriptures. It is true whether we believe it or not. Our doubts do not destroy God’s love, nor does our faith create it. It originates in the very nature of God, who is love, and it flows to us through our union with His beloved Son.  ~ Jerry Bridges
Then I was reminded of these verses:

                       But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which
                      he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive
                      together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— (Ephesians 2:4-5)

If you've a verse or a passage that has inspired or comforted you recently, won't you let us all know, by leaving a comment?

Thank you.

Monday, July 13, 2015

"Snapping turtle" faith - the Syrophoenecian woman

There's a funny thing about snapping turtles . . . have you ever seen one? They look pretty fierce.

They are well-known for their tenacity -- the old saying here in the South is that they "won't let go until the sun goes down." In other words, if they bite something, really get hold of it, they will not let go!

The woman in our study this week had that kind of faith; she had a fierce tenacity that was rewarded, and is an awesome example to moms and to Christians everywhere.
Let's dive in!
The Syrophoenician woman's story is found in two of the Gospels: Matthew and Mark. Scholars call her that because of the geography and the politics of the time. The area of Tyre and Sidon, two notoriously ungodly cities, was called Phoenicia, but that region was controlled by the Syrians.  The Jews called the people who lived in this region "dogs" but Mark called the woman Greek, implying that she was (to him) a pagan.

Our story takes place shortly before the final scenes of Christ's life as a mortal; after this we'd see His transfiguration, His raising Lazarus from the dead, and His final trip to Jerusalem. The crucifixion and the resurrection would come after all of those events. But before these, Jesus traveled northwards into the Syrian controlled region. Perhaps he was in this province seeking solitude, or perhaps he journeyed here for another reason. Solitude would be in short supply here; His fame had gone before Him, and the crowds had found Him. They gathered and swirled around Him, begging for healing and for the wisdom that only He could give.

One of those in the crowd was this desperate mother. Her precious daughter was possessed by, and controlled by, demonic forces. Christ met many tormented souls in His time on our earth; one man was host to many demons, and a boy kept throwing himself into the fire because of demons. The outward signs were obvious and frightening.

While demons are mentioned only twice in the Old Testament, they are mentioned over seventy times in the New Testament. They are fallen angels, sent from Satan to oppress and enslave humans, and to accomplish Satan's plans. Did you know that they have special powers here on earth? If we look at I John 4, we find that:

                 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see
                whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone
                out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God:
                Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh
                is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not
                from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is
                coming and even now is already in the world.  (I John 4:1-3)

They know the truth, and they will try to hide it! And in Mark, we read that they recognize Jesus as God's own son:

               He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus,
               Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” (Mark 5:7)

And then, in Luke we see that demons can have supernatural strength:

               .....Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot
              and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the
              demon into solitary places. (Luke 8:29)

They may have intelligence, and a great deal of strength, but they are not as powerful as God, or as His Son Jesus. Whenever they come face to face with Christ or His power in the disciples, demons call out, and tremble, and do as they are told.

I suppose one could make a case for the demon-possessed having an illness of some kind; it could be physical or mental. I guess the scholars could debate that for a long time. (Grin) We can see that later in Mark (5:15) the man delivered from a demon was sitting "dressed and in his right mind." But in other cases, possession rendered someone mute or blind, or gave them convulsions. One thing is for sure, though: demons were (and I'm sure still are) real, and caused fear and desperation.

When Jesus ascended, He sent the Holy Spirit to indwell us, and to be our defense against the forces of evil in this world. Whether we are suffering from demonic pressures, or from physical or mental stresses, we possess His power within us as His children. His power is a hedge of protection for us.
If we will keep that close, sweet relationship with Him, He will strengthen, protect, and comfort us.

We'll continue with this woman's story next time.


Monday, July 6, 2015

Fourth of July week

Here in the United States, we celebrated an important day -- this past Saturday was July Fourth! For us, it's an occasion marked by family gatherings, picnics, music and fireworks.

We celebrate more than just a day. As citizens of this country, we celebrate that two hundred and thirty nine years ago, fifty-six men solemnly signed a document that made them all wanted men. They put their signatures on a document that told a king across the ocean that the people living here had different ideas of how things should be done! The strength and the goodness of this nation came from the principles laid out in our Declaration of Independence and in the Constitution which followed it.

Principles like representation -- we are governed by people that we elect, and choose to make laws for all of us. Principles like the separation of powers into three distinct branches of government. And principles like limited government. These are concepts that have come under attack many times since our country's birth, and some will continue to attack them now and in the future.

As citizens of this country we honor and we show our gratitude to those who serve as first responders and as our military forces. They give so much, so that we can have so much.

As Christians we celebrate the freedoms that we have in these United States; we have freedom of religion, of speech, and more. Not just the we are free to worship as we please, but we celebrate our freedom in Christ at the same time that we praise Him for our country. He came to bring freedom to us, since we were captives of sin.
As Christians this July 4th, let's add to our prayers some sincere requests for the leaders of our country. They need it. (Grin) 
We can be joyful as we spend time with our friends and family. Whether we are listening to patriotic music, chasing fireflies, or playing softball, be joyful!
Enjoy the beauty of God's creation - look up into the night sky at the stars. He spoke them all into existence! Praise Him for the beauty and then enjoy the fireworks.

I hope you will bear with me as I take some time with family and rejoin you all next week!
Happy Fourth of July!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Friday slowdown

This week's study was pretty intense, wasn't it? I feel like the Spirit blessed us with insights, and that we learned a lot.

Who knew when we started this study, that we would be led in so many directions and see so many applications to our own lives! Our great God is good!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

A sense of justice, Tamar (conclusion)

Yesterday we read that Tamar had sent a stunning message to Judah -- in effect, she was telling him, "You are the guilty man. You are the father of my child, out of wedlock. You see, here are the seal, cord, and staff you gave me as pledge, to prove it!"

Judah was confronted with the truth. This was a man who had quickly passed judgment. This was a man who had used a double standard. "It's OK for me to have sex outside of marriage, but not for you!" He was taken up short by the revelation of his own sin.

Judah acknowledged that she was correct, and that she "was more righteous" than he, since he would not give her his son, Shelah.  He confirmed that she was acting according to the law.

Tamar insisted on her rights, and showed Judah that he was in the wrong; the Bible tells us that she was blessed with not one child, but two. These twins were fighting for position even before they were born, as another set of twins earlier: Jacob and Esau.  The midwife saw one of Tamar's boys thrust out his hand while she labored to deliver them, and she tied a red cord on the little wrist. The first tiny body that appeared had no thread on his wrist -- they named him Perez, which means "breaking out." The other little one was born, and they named him Zerah, meaning "scarlet," since it was he that had the red cord on his wrist.

Perez was recognized as the first born, and it was through his line that King David, and eventually our Lord Jesus, would come.  Judah had shown very little concern for the continuation of his name and his line. Tamar, shamed by her barrenness and determined to find justice, ensured that the tribe of Judah would not only continue, but that one day the "Lion of Judah" would be born to a sinful world. Her actions were unorthodox, but saved Judah from doing what was wrong, and kept the line alive.

Tamar's story might make us uncomfortable. We might not like to think of the details of her prostituting herself, and we might want to look away, and read a different passage. But our God is a God of surprises.  Our God can take the unfit, the sinful, the sordid parts of lives and use them for His own purposes. Tamar may have been completely unaware of God's working in her life. She may have been solely focused on her situation, and on her sense of being wronged and seeking justice. Nevertheless, God was at work, bringing good out of tragedy. He blessed less than respectable events with using them for His own purpose.

It is His power to bring positive things from negative, even sinful events of our lives (and the lives of others) that we celebrate in this study. He is just as much in the business of working in human lives today as He was then. We might not see it, or understand it, but we can trust Him to do what He enjoys doing -- bringing blessing to us in spite of ourselves!

                        Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God?
                        (Psalm 77:13)

                         And we know that in all things God works for the good of those
                        who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
                         (Romans 8:28)

Let's celebrate today and praise Him that He can help us to avoid being like Judah, and using a double standard to judge others. He can heal our hearts and show us how to avoid being judgmental - to realize that we, too, have sinned.
And then let's praise Him that He can use even the sinful events in our lives for His purposes. He can use everything and everyone to bring about the results that He has planned.

Yes, we see Tamar in Matthew's list of Jesus' ancestors. God promised the Hebrew people that they would continue through many generations; He also promised them that a Messiah would come. God's plan unfolded through the unorthodox methods of a woman determined to get justice.

I learned a lot in this study; I hope you did, too. Please leave a comment to tell your insights from Tamar's story.