Friday, April 29, 2016

Friday slowdown

Come let us sing
Sing to the Lord
Come let us shout
Let us give all
Our praises to Him
He's the great God
The King of kings

'Cause Jesus is the rock
Of my salvation
And He is the lover of my soul
Come let us praise His name
And give Him the glory
He is King!

I can imagine the joy of Deborah and Barak, and of all the children of Israel, when they sang about their victory, and how God delivered them!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Deborah - conclusion

We can learn a lot from the story we have been studying . . . we can learn from the children of Israel, and from Barak, and from Deborah.
Let's dive in!

Living according to what is right in our own eyes means that we will make loads more mistakes. Just like the children of Israel, who kept running after false gods and making poor decisions, we will end up in bondage. We may not have to worry about a general with nine hundred chariots, but we sure as the world will end up in bondage to our sins, and feeling miserable. We need to be quick to respond to God's discipline, and repent from our hearts.
There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death. (Proverbs 14:12)
          I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel 
          you with my loving eye on you. (Psalm 32:8)

The simple cry of desperation from a human soul (like when the children of Israel cried out to God) really grabs God's attention -- we need to remember when we have made some poor choices, or when we're just overwhelmed, we can humbly call out to Him. We can be in circumstances and situations that we seek deliverance from: our jobs, our financial worries, our health, or even people that are difficult to deal with. We should also daily cry out to Him for forgiveness and deliverance from our sins; whether they are destructive habits, bad attitudes, hurtful words we've sent flying, or ungodly behavior. He will hear our cry and deliver us.
The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. (Psalm 34:17)
God can use the most unlikely people to do His purposes; it may be that they are used to resist evil and to restore righteousness -- make certain that you are always available to Him. Barak wasn't even from the same area of the country that Deborah was residing in, but He chose him to do the job. He was reluctant and lacking in faith, but God still used Barak to accomplish His purpose. Just one person can inspire others to face their enemies and resist bondage, to own up to their sin and ask for deliverance.

God always has a specific plan for victory; it's up to us to listen carefully and follow with passion and determination. Oh, so often we think to ourselves that we have a better plan. Don't we? Yep, if we're honest about it, it's true. God's way may seem totally impossible. Totally illogical. But don't forget His words:
"My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways," declares the LORD. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8-9)
God was ready to empower Barak so that he could have won the battle on his own. He didn't really need Deborah; he only needed to trust the Lord, for He had promised victory. He wasn't hearing God clearly, as Deborah was. If he had trusted in God's strength . . . . but then we wouldn't have the story of Jael to study later, right? (Grin)

When God promises us, and when He goes with us, who can stand against us? No one!
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)
Deborah and Barak set a wonderful example of how we can give praise to God when He delivers on His promises. The whole of chapter 5 of Judges rings with praise to Him. It's a great example of how we should celebrate and give thanks for the victories that God gives us. In our lives, today, He will give us the victory over sin and over our troubles:
But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (I Corinthians 15:57)
Deborah heard God clearly -- this gave her confidence and peace, and these can be ours, too. When we ask the Spirit to help us, we can hear God's voice apart from the "background noise" of our lives. In our prayer times, we need to focus on Him. Yes, it's good to praise Him, and to ask Him for the desires of our hearts; but take time to "be still" and listen for Him.

When we follow these guidelines, we can experience victory!
Hear this, you kings! Listen, you rulers! I, even I, will sing to the LORD; I will praise the LORD, the God of Israel, in song. (Judges 5:3)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Deborah - hearing God clearly

Last time that we looked at our passage in Judges, we met the king of the Canaanites (the Jabin) and we also met Deborah.

Deborah was a very special woman; she was wise, and she had a close relationship with God. She listened when God spoke, and she heard Him clearly. This was the secret of her leadership. People came to her for arbitration in disputes, and they also came to her when she spoke as a prophetess. We can all aspire to be like Deborah -- it is an attitude of our heart when we are sensitive to His voice. It doesn't require a special talent or skill. It's a matter of passion, of giving priority to seek Him with all our hearts.

God knew that Deborah would listen, so He spoke to her and laid out the plan for deliverance of the children of Israel. He not only gave her the plan, but He told her the person that He wanted to lead the war.

So, Deborah summoned Barak, who lived in another town, in another whole section of the country. And when he arrives, she gives him a seemingly impossible mission . . . she tells him he needs to recruit ten thousand men, and go to war against Sisera, the general of the Jabin's armies.

What does Barak tell her?
"If you go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go. (Verse 8)
I wish we had more details, don't you?
Was Barak afraid? Was he stubborn? Was he overwhelmed? Did he want the assurance of God's being with him, by having God's prophetess alongside?
When we look at Deborah's response, I kinda think we can guess that he was reluctant, and perhaps a bit afraid . . .

             I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the honor shall not be yours on 
             the journey that you are about to take, for the Lord will sell Sisera into 
             the hands of a woman. (verse 9)

God had commanded him to go; He had chosen him by name; He had promised that He would deliver. But that wasn't enough. Barak said he would only go if God's representative went with him.
There are consequences for the times that we are afraid; there are consequences for our lack of faith. God can use us mightily if we just put ourselves in His hands and trust Him to deliver on His promises . . . but what about when we don't?
Deborah's words are so telling here . . . our lives really are journeys. And the way that we respond to God's call, and the choices that we make, will determine what success, and what honors come along the pathway. In this instance, God didn't disqualify Barak. He didn't choose someone else. He says, you will still be the warrior here, but the glory will be diverted.

So, Barak recruited his soldiers, and Deborah, Barak, and the ten thousand men went up to Mount Tabor. Word came to Sisera, the general of the Jabin's armies, that Barak the son of Abinoam had gone there. Sisera gathered all of his warriors, and all of his awesome chariots, and assembled them on the plain. Deborah told Barak to "get moving!" (well, actually she didn't use those words) and he went down from the Mount with his soldiers.

                   Arise! For this is the day in which the Lord has given Sisera into your
                   hands; behold the Lord has gone out before you. (verse 12)

And the Lord delivered on his promise. He put the general, his men, and all his army of chariots into a panic. The victory song and the commentaries tell us that they forced those iron chariots into the area of the river Kishon. They apparently got bogged down in the mud and sand and some were swept away in the water. God can use anything that He wants to, to accomplish His purposes, right?
So, Barak and his men were able to kill every last one of them, except Sisera. He fled on foot, to the tent of Jael. And that is another story for us to study, another time. (Grin)
The kings came and fought; then fought the kings of Canaan at Taanach near the waters of Megiddo;They took no plunder in silver. "The stars fought from heaven, from their courses they fought against Sisera. "The torrent of Kishon swept them away, the ancient torrent, the torrent Kishon.O my soul, march on with strength. "Then the horses’ hoofs beat from the dashing, the dashing of his valiant steeds. (Judges 5)
When God goes out before us, when He promises His deliverance, who can overcome us? The Bible says that God subdued the king of Canaan, and the children of Israel were delivered.
So God subdued on that day Jabin the king of Canaan before the sons of Israel. The hand of the sons of Israel pressed heavier and heavier upon Jabin the king of Canaan, until they had destroyed Jabin the king of Canaan. (from Judges 4)
We started our story with a wise woman who could hear God clearly. What does she do when God is faithful to His promises?
We see in Judges 5 that she sets an example for the people by singing a song of victory. That song started right where it should -- with praise to God for His intervention and His deliverance!
Then Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam sang on that day, saying, "That the leaders led in Israel, that the people willingly offered themselves, Bless the LORD! "Hear, O kings; give ear, O rulers! I—to the LORD, I will sing, I will sing praise to the LORD, the God of Israel. "LORD, when You went out from Seir, when You marched from the field of Edom,The earth quaked, the heavens also dripped, even the clouds dripped water. "The mountains quaked at the presence of the LORD, this Sinai, at the presence of the LORD, the God of Israel. (Judges 5:1-5)

Deborah and Barak re-told the story in their song, to remind the people of their misery in bondage, and of the wonderful way that God delivered them. They finish with a blessing that all who love the Lord will shine like the rising sun.

What a testimony!
We'll conclude our study of Deborah tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

What are we listening to?

We've talked before about how music can help us approach our day with a more positive outlook; it can lift us up when we are down.

Did you know it can ease pain? I didn't know that!

Studies in England have found that music can reduce chronic pain from RA and osteoarthritis by over 20%! Research in Italy showed that listening to calming music can lower blood pressure, and scientists in Finland discovered that stroke victims improved when they listened to two hours of music each day.

Instrumental and soothing music can produce calming, immune-boosting as well as mood-improving results.

No wonder the scriptures tell us that:

               ....David would take his harp and play. Then relief would come to Saul;
               he would feel better..... (I Samuel 16:23)

And Paul encourages us to speak to one another:

             .....with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music
             from your heart to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:19)

What are we listening to, today?

Monday, April 25, 2016

Deborah - hearing God clearly

This week we will meet a lady that you may not have studied too much before; her name is Deborah.

Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel came up to her for judgment. Now she sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali, and said to him, “Behold, the Lord, the God of Israel, has commanded, ‘Go and march to Mount Tabor, and take with you ten thousand men from the sons of Naphtali and from the sons of Zebulun. I will draw out to you Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his many troops to the river Kishon, and I will give him into your hand.’” Then Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go.”She said, “I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the honor shall not be yours on the journey that you are about to take, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman.” Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh. 10 Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali together to Kedesh, and ten thousand men went up with him; Deborah also went up with him.11 Now Heber the Kenite had separated himself from the Kenites, from the sons of Hobab the father-in-law of Moses, and had pitched his tent as far away as the oak in Zaanannim, which is near Kedesh.12 Then they told Sisera that Barak the son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor. 13 Sisera called together all his chariots, nine hundred iron chariots, and all the people who were with him, from Harosheth-hagoyim to the river Kishon. 14 Deborah said to Barak, “Arise! For this is the day in which the Lord has given Sisera into your hands; behold, the Lord has gone out before you.” So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with ten thousand men following him. 15 The Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army with the edge of the sword before Barak; and Sisera alighted from his chariot and fled away on foot. 16 But Barak pursued the chariots and the army as far as Harosheth-hagoyim, and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not even one was left. (Judges 4)
Let's delve into the background on this story, for it has a lot to do with Deborah, the villain Jabin, and her advice to Barak.
First, let's look at the location of our story, and then we'll look at the characters.
I love to check out commentaries and articles, to find out more about what we are studying. This time I had a real geography lesson. My kiddos were always super awesome at geography; me? Not so much. Our story, at least the battle portion of the drama, takes place on "the" great battlefield of the world. What do I mean? Well, that area in our story is called by many names, depending on the language and the culture you are coming from . . . the Plain of Esdraelon, the Plain of Jezreel, the plain before Megiddo . . . and from the Greek into the English, it is called Armageddon. Generations have fought their battles here, and one final battle will be waged in the future!

In all that area, the plain is as flat as it can be, and very large. On the southern side, running along the base of Mount Carmel, is a river called Kishon. Sometimes this river is more like a creek; sometimes it rages with lots of water. It will be important in our story, so remember it!

Now, let's meet our main character: Deborah. The fact that she is a leader of the people runs contrary to the customs of that day. We don't have that many women who are statesmen and lead wars even today; but it was even more unusual at that time. Deborah was a prophetess; she was a consecrated and godly woman who prayed and knew the Lord. She lived in Ephraim, between Ramah and Bethel. Deborah was a wise woman: she heard God clearly, she had great faith, and she had a tremendous spirit. As she worked with and counseled her people, she saw the despair that was overtaking them. Why?

Let's meet our villain -- for it is he that is causing the people to despair. Jabin could be his name, but it is also (the scholars tell us) a title, similar to "pharaoh" or "emperor."  Jabin oppressed Israel mightily for twenty years . . . he was helped in this by his nine hundred chariots of iron.
Come again?
Yep, nine hundred of those bad boys. Probably decked out with all kinds of things that made them intimidating and menacing, too.
I guess it helps if we put ourselves in their shoes -- the people of Israel, I mean. Maybe the chariots don't sound so bad to us, but think about this . . . the people probably ran for the hills to seek shelter when the enemy armies came. So there they are, trying to eke out a living in the hills and the mountains. Now, a chariot wouldn't work well there; it wouldn't go over the gullies and ravines and such. But down there on the plain? Oh, yeah, those chariots could roll along and nine hundred of them would sure make the ground rumble!

Now, since he controlled the plain, Jabin had pretty much cut the country in pieces -- Dan and Asher were in the west, while Zebulon, Naphtali, and Issachar were in the north, and in the south were Ephraim, Benjamin, Judah, and Simeon. Since he controlled the plain, there was no way for them to communicate with each other. No way to travel to support or help defend each other. And the people peeked out and watched as the chariots rumbled around, and they lost heart. He seemed invincible. They began to despair that things would ever change.

But there was one thing that Jabin didn't count on. He probably strutted about and boasted, and felt like the little country of Israel was right under his thumb. But what he didn't realize was that the only reason he had any control over them at all, was that the Lord God allowed it. Israel had done evil in His sight, and the Lord gave Jabin of the Canaanites "free rein."

We'll continue our study of Deborah next time . . . join us, won't you?

Friday, April 22, 2016

Praise week - Friday

I'd like to finish our week of praise for God by offering Him praise for the talents and spiritual gifts He gives us, so that we can help others and glorify Him.

We've been focusing on what has been "incoming." What we have received.
I'd like for us to think today on "outgoing," what we can do to bless others. This is one time that re-gifting is required, not frowned upon!

We all have talents. Some have more than others. My grandma used to say I had a talent for getting into mud to have fun, but we're talking about something else, here. (Grin) We may have talents and skills that enable us to do many things. But a spiritual gift is something even more special -- when we accept God's gift of salvation, and the Holy Spirit takes up residence, He brings with Him the gift (or maybe gifts) that God has given to us. We don't choose them; God does. He doesn't give us a list to choose from, or a "gift card" that we can use to select what we want. He decides.  Our decision is whether or not to "unwrap" and use our gift, or to "hide our light under a bushel basket."

Here's what we are talking about: a spiritual gift, according to one of my commentaries, is a "God-given assignment, capacity, and desire to perform a function within the body of Christ." Kind of like a birthday present for your new life in Christ.

Ephesians 4:12 tells us that God gives gifts "for the training of the saints in the work of ministry." The commentaries will tell us that that word also carries other meanings which all could be involved in our using our gift: not just training, but preparing, and repairing. In other words, helping other people live their lives. Helping them as they seek to train themselves to better serve Christ, perhaps preparing them for obstacles they may face, or restoring them after a time of sin or sadness.

How do we know what our gifts are? Well, is there a need at your church or in your community that you can fill? Work hard at that . . . and then step back in prayer and thought, and evaluate. Is your work giving you joy? Is God providing you energy and strength for the work? Are you seeing God glorified? If so, you may just have found your gift, or at least you are zeroing in on it! If not, try again, to find a way to work and bring glory to God.

Let's use the gifts that God has given us so freely, and glorify Him!
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17)
Thanks for joining me on this week-long journey of praise! I hope that we will continue to praise Him as the days go by!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Praise week - Thursday

Today I would like for us to focus on the blessings that God gives us in our relationships with family and friends. We can praise Him for these!

Our relationships here on earth are a gift of love from our Father, whether we are talking about husbands, children, or other godly women. I'm grateful for the friendships that God has blessed me with; with our travel and our rural home, I have more internet friends than physical ones, but oh, how God has blessed me with those! I'm happy that I have been able to maintain good family relationships, and happy for friends that make life pleasant.

                   A friend loves at all times. (Proverbs 17:17)

We all know that our truest and closest friend is our Savior. He is our most genuine friend, because His love for us has nothing to do with what a good friend we are to Him, nor what we can do for Him, nor what we look like, or anything else that can influence other mortals!  He laid down His life for us while we were still sinners:
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13)
How precious to have Him call us His friends; though we were so undeserving. He is always faithful and forgiving -- and what an example He is to us, in our relationships here on earth. We should cherish those friendships that God has brought our way, for they can bring us encouragement and joy. In an even more important note, we need to nurture and honor those friendships, and show our appreciation in these ways:

               1. Be a good listener
               2. Encourage our family and our friends to grow more like Him
               3. Be gentle, patient, and understanding.
               4. Offer comfort when needed, but do not intrude where we don't belong.
               5. Pray for our family and our friends.
               6. Laugh and make memories.

We can be a true friend to the family and friends that God has blessed us with. Let's praise Him today for these blessings!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Praise week - Wednesday

Are you finding that as we focus on praise this week, you find more opportunities to thank God for His blessings?
I sure am!
I'd like to focus today on praising Him for answered prayer, and for His faithfulness to hear our cries.

There are so many wonderful verses about prayer; some of them are so familiar to us:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. (I John 5:14)
Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. (Jeremiah 29:12)
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. (John 15:16) 
As I wrote on Monday, I'm a testimony to the fact that He answers our prayers. Yes, sometimes the answer is "No, that's not good for you." Or sometimes it might be "Yes, but not yet."

But what peace we have, when we focus on Him, instead of our troubles! Let's praise Him today for His faithfulness in answering our prayers and giving us His peace.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Praise week - Tuesday

I hope that you are looking forward to the rest of this week; we will be focusing on the gifts and blessings that our Father gives to us, and praising Him.

Today I want to guide our thoughts to the provisions that God makes for us. He is the all-powerful Yahweh, but He willingly, freely gives us strength, food, shelter, and more.

Remember in Matthew, and again in Luke, the words "give us this day our daily bread"?

We recognize our dependence on God, when we speak or think those words . . . after all,

                  ...the earth is the Lord's, and everything in it. (Psalm 24:1)

The bread, the veggies, the meat . . . all the things we are accustomed to buying at the local store, they belong to God. They are provided by Him, as is the money that we use to purchase them!
In the passage in Luke, the words carry a slightly different meaning: give us "day to day" our daily bread. We are given single days in this life;  we are "authorized" if you will, to ask for daily sustenance. Even if, like the widow in the Old Testament, we have but a tiny bit of oil and a small scoop of flour, we need not be afraid. God has not forgotten us. And He is fully aware that humans can really only handle one day at a time! We can ask with confidence, for He cares for us, and will provide.

He will also provide us with the strength that we need for each day.

Look at these wonderful verses:

                 Seek the Lord and His strength; seek His presence continually!
                 I Chronicles 16:11)

                 The Lord is my strength and my song, and He has become my
                 salvation; this is my God, and I will praise Him ... (Exodus 15:2)

When we feel we are almost overcome, and overwhelmed, we need only to look to Him for our strength. He is faithful, and He will make good His promise!

I hope you will leave a comment today in praise for His provision for us.              

Monday, April 18, 2016

Praise week - Monday

Recently I was moved to have an entire week on our study blog that gave praise and glory to God. Yep, an entire week of praising Him!

Cool idea, right?

At least I think so! You see, I was bowed under a load of worry and care. Each day I would commit these cares to God, and each day I would grab them back into my own puny hands before I even got up off my knees in front of His throne of grace!

Oy vey.
I need to practice what I have been preaching, no? Yes.

This went on for a couple of weeks. I could feel more hair turning gray, I swear.
Then I realized that Satan was at work in my life. I was allowing him to turn my thoughts to the problem, instead of to the God that could solve it for me.

I needed to focus on Him.
I use a devotional book each day, and a major theme in the book is to re-focus our thoughts as many times each day as needed. To keep looking at Him, instead of looking at our surroundings, and staring at our problems. To simply breathe, and say, "I trust you, Jesus."

You might not believe how freeing, how liberating, how peace-filling that one phrase can be, uttered by a heart that sincerely wants to commune with Him.

When I began to think that I was too small, too sinful for Him to help me, God also used verses to point me in the right direction:
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (I John 4:9-10)
Surely my Father was reminding me of His love, and His interest in my problems! He also showed me this verse:
I love those who love me,    and those who seek me find me. (Proverbs 8:17)
And lastly, it was "Satan, get out of here!" when I read this:
Therefore tell the people: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Turn to me,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty. (Zechariah 1:3)
First, my loving Father reminded me of His gift of salvation; then He reminded me of His daily availability for me; then He reminded me that I had only to turn to Him, and I would find Him.

One day later, God moved in my life and solved my problem! Praise Him! He is so faithful to His promises, and loves us so!

I wanted to share this in case someone reading here needed some encouragement. I'm a walking billboard now, and I want to share how good God has been to me -- starting with my salvation from sin. Please, if you have never accepted His free gift of eternal life, look on the sidebar and read the post that explains how you can accept His grace and live a changed life.

And this all made me want to encourage all of you to join me in praising Him. Let's have a week of praise, shall we? Let's glorify Him! Today, let's concentrate on thanking Him for our salvation!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Friday slowdown

This familiar old song is always special to hear and sing.

Trust and obey our Father . . .

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Miriam and her power play

In our posts this week, we've seen that Miriam had been given talents that made her a good leader, and she'd been gifted by God with opportunities to lead the women of the nation of Israel.  So, how did things change, and she and Aaron went against their brother?
Let's dive in!
Here is our passage:
Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the Lord heard this.
(Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.)At once the Lord said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, “Come out to the tent of meeting, all three of you.” So the three of them went out. Then the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud; he stood at the entrance to the tent and summoned Aaron and Miriam. When the two of them stepped forward, he said, “Listen to my words:“When there is a prophet among you,    I, the Lord, reveal myself to them in visions,
    I speak to them in dreams.But this is not true of my servant Moses;    he is faithful in all my house.With him I speak face to face,    clearly and not in riddles;
    he sees the form of the Lord.
Why then were you not afraid    to speak against my servant Moses?”
The anger of the Lord burned against them, and he left them.10 When the cloud lifted from above the tent, Miriam’s skin was leprous—it became as white as snow. Aaron turned toward her and saw that she had a defiling skin disease, 11 and he said to Moses, “Please, my lord, I ask you not to hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed. 12 Do not let her be like a stillborn infant coming from its mother’s womb with its flesh half eaten away.”13 So Moses cried out to the Lord, “Please, God, heal her!14 The Lord replied to Moses, “If her father had spit in her face, would she not have been in disgrace for seven days? Confine her outside the camp for seven days; after that she can be brought back.” 15 So Miriam was confined outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on till she was brought back.16 After that, the people left Hazeroth and encamped in the Desert of Paran.

Wow. Just sixteen verses in this chapter, but it packs a wallop. (Grin)
Let's put ourselves in Miriam's sandy shoes for a moment or two . . . do you think that probably Miriam had continued to feel responsible for Moses since the day that she saved his life? I've not had that honor, but it seems like it could be difficult to shake that feeling. The verses say that Moses was a humble man, and that he waited for God's guidance. Awesome. I wish some day that someone will be able to say that about me. But maybe that irked Miriam a little bit. Maybe she wanted things to move more quickly. For decisions to be made and things move forward. Have you ever been in a situation where you felt like you wanted to prod someone to make something happen?

Maybe she began to feel some ambition, too. It was always the three of them in leadership, but bless it, Moses always had the last word! Why weren't they equals? Maybe instead of being thankful for the influence that God had gifted her, she wanted more power and more authority. So, now that Moses is eighty-two, and Zipporah had died, Moses has taken another wife. She's a Cushite. There's nothing in the Law to forbid him from marrying this woman -- the Law said "no Canaanites" and "no Moabites" but it didn't say no to Cushites. So Moses is OK here. But Miriam and Aaron began to gossip about the new couple. To each other first, and then to the other people. The women began to talk as they gathered the manna. The men (don't forget, Aaron was in on this, too!) began to question things, too. You know how it starts in a church or group of Christians . . . questioning the judgment of someone, saying you're disappointed in something they did, etc.  Next thing you know, they're fussing about why they aren't equal with Moses.....this is jealousy and rebellion!  (James was right when he said the tongue is a fire, wasn't he?)

So the Lord summons the three of them to a meeting, and He defends Moses and says that Moses is His faithful servant. And He makes it clear that they are rebelling against Him, not just against Moses! You see, as long as our leaders, whether we call them pastors, elders, or whatever, are obedient to the Word of God, we are to support them and follow their guidance.

Rebellion is what brings judgment to Miriam here. God is swift to discipline her. When the cloud of God's presence lifted from the tent, there stood Miriam, leprous. Why wasn't Aaron stricken? I think we have to assume that she was the instigator, the catalyst of the power play.  It must have been her that started this, and God confirmed it in front of Aaron and Moses. Leprosy meant that she would have to go outside the camp -- and stay there until she was well. Miriam, who had made her power play, and wanted more power, more influence with the people, would now be outside, with no contact with people.

What did Aaron do? He acknowledged his part in the sin, and pleaded for her to be healed. He's shocked by her condition, and confesses his own rebellion. Moses cries out to the Lord, and He says she will be OK in seven days, and can come back. She would be outside, alone, with only her thoughts to keep her company. What do you think she thought about? Wonder what she felt like, when she was able to return? I bet she would feel embarrassed, not so sure of herself. I think she would not have had as much influence as she once did. The other women would not have been so prone to "put her on a pedestal," but I truly believe that she was still a leader among the women. What an example, to be able to show that yes, sin does have its consequences, but we can still be instruments for God's glory after we repent!

Miriam lived for thirty-eight more years under Moses' leadership, and it doesn't mention that she challenged his authority again. We actually don't hear of Miriam again, until they are on the border of the Promised Land, and the scripture records her death.

As Christian women, our attitudes must always be those of freedom to be all that God wants us to be, but we must be careful. We cannot be resentful of restrictions that are placed upon us -- as long as they are biblical. (We talked about this a few weeks ago.)
Miriam was very influential; she played a unique role among the women of the Hebrew nation. She lost her influence because of her power play.
We, too, are influential; we are responsible to God to use our influence for good, not for bad. Are we serving him wholeheartedly? Wherever He has placed us, are we happy that this is our calling? Or are we looking at someone else's life, thinking the "grass is greener" over there?
Whatever stage of life we are at, whether we are single or married, whether we are guiding growing children or have an empty nest, every stage of life can be rich and full of God's blessings and glory. As long as we are determined to love, serve, and obey Him, He is going to shower us with joy and peace.

                            He replied, "Blessed are those who hear the word of God and
                            obey it." (Luke 11:28)

                             You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on
                             You, because he trusts in You. (Isaiah 26:3)

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Miriam and her power play

I'm sure that Miriam watched and was happy that her brother was doing well in the Pharaoh's palace. . . . since she had been vitally important in how God saved Moses' life, she probably took a real interest in how things went for him. Her family wondered if he might be the one to rescue the children of Israel from the Egyptian taskmasters.

One day, though, all of her hopes were dashed. Moses, who had become very powerful (a general) in Egypt, attempted to rescue an Israelite from being harshly beaten by an Egyptian, and in doing so, he killed the taskmaster. At the age of forty, he was fleeing for his life into the wilderness of Midian. (I'm guessing that Miriam was about fifty then.) Her hopes for her brother being the deliverer were crushed. And it was forty more years before he returned.

I'm not sure what Miriam and the family thought of him. Let's see, he was a fugitive, running from the "law," and had stayed forty years in Midian, caring for sheep. Not exactly the high position that he'd held before. In fact, the sheep he cared for didn't even belong to him -- they belonged to his father in law. (He'd married and he had two sons of his own, now.) But that was the man that God spoke to from the burning bush, and he's the man that came back to Egypt to convince the Pharaoh to loose the children of Israel from slavery.

Now, Miriam saw her "little" brother, Moses, and Aaron, his spokesman, fearlessly approaching the Pharaoh and speaking the words of God. And she is seeing God confirm their messages, by the great miracles that are taking place. First one plague and then another, coming to devastate the Egyptians. Their priests were humiliated because they could do nothing to stop Miriam's brothers and their God. This went on for six months! I expect that as she watched them proudly proclaim God's words, she wanted to help. They were reminding the Pharaoh (and the Israelite men) of God's promises, so I wonder if she did the same for the women? I picture her in my mind, in a place of leadership; she would rally them and encourage them to prepare for departure, for it would happen! The abilities that we saw in the little girl would be utilized by God again in the grown woman -- the leadership qualities of courage, quick-wittedness, and resourcefulness. God had truly equipped her to be a leader of women.

Then the fateful night came, when Israel left the land of Egypt, with the cries of grieving Egyptian parents ringing in their ears. God had kept his promises! Miriam was in the group when they came to the seemingly impassable Red Sea. She was there as they looked behind and saw the dust clouds that signaled the chariots of the Pharaoh were following. And she walked with all the others on dry ground, between the two walls of water to the other side of the sea. Then Miriam and the others watched as the sea closed on the men, the horses, and the chariots . . .

They were free! Moses taught them a song, and we can read the words in Exodus 15:

                       I will sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted. The horse and its
                       rider He has hurled into the sea. (v 1-2)

I hope you will read the rest of the song; it's a moving and inspiring way to glorify our Father.
Look what happens next -- we read this when we discussed the godly work of women in church settings: Miriam the prophetess, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women followed her in singing and dancing and praising the Lord. She is a leader of the women again, outside of Egypt. They follow her, and she utilizes her musical ability to praise the Lord -- she has a godly influence.

Miriam was a gift from God to the people of Israel. Look at Micah 6:4:

                   I brought you up out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you
                   from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron
                   and Miriam. (v4)

As the children of Israel journeyed to the Promised Land, Miriam was involved and a leader. She heard the complaining when the water ran out, and she saw God provide water. I'm sure that she tried to encourage the women as they traveled, camped, cooked, and washed, and she heard the complaints about the food, too. Then the manna came. She listened with the rest as the thunder rolled from Mount Sinai, and Moses brought the Law to them.

Then the excitement of building a tabernacle - God would dwell with them in the camp! Everyone did their part; men who were artisans with metals and wood worked tirelessly. Women brought their jewelry, fabrics, and yarns, and they worked at weaving and sewing the coverings and curtains for the dwelling place of God. Exodus 35 tells us that Miriam was leading and encouraging those efforts, too.

But something happened to Miriam . . . she changed from being Moses' protective sister and the prophetess who led the women and supported her brothers, into being Moses' rival! What happened here? Did she become jealous? Did she become puffed up with pride because all of the women looked up to her?

We'll conclude our study of Miriam next time....

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Verses that inspire

The LORD makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him;
(Psalm 37:23)

This verse inspired and comforted me recently. To me, this verse says that if we are walking with Him, and delighting in His word and His companionship, we can step out into the unknown of each day with a firm and confident step.

When you are a caregiver for an older person, you find that their steps are tentative, perhaps shaky. They are not confident that they are putting their feet somewhere that is "OK" to step on, nor are they too sure of their own strength to make that next stride. 

Is that how we are going through our Christian lives?

God has promised us that not only will He make sure the path in front of us is "OK," but He will give us the strength to take those next steps.

                    The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand. (Psalm 37:23-24)
Have you a verse or passage to tell us about, that has helped you recently? Leave a comment to tell others -- it may bless them in ways that we cannot imagine!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Miriam and her power play

This week we are going to study one of the powerful women of the Old Testament: Miriam, Moses' sister. Miriam has some lessons that we can learn . . . she experienced many things in her long life: despair and hope, slavery and freedom, even prominence and humiliation. She was just like us -- we are not perfect each and every day, and neither was she! She would, just as we can, experience the discipline of our Father.
Let's dive in!

We first see her mentioned when she was a young girl, maybe seven to twelve years old, in Exodus:
Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it. She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said.Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?”“Yes, go,” she answered. So the girl went and got the baby’s mother.Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” So the woman took the baby and nursed him.10 When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses saying, “I drew him out of the water.” (Exodus 2:1-10)
From comparing texts and verses in other places in the Bible, we know that Moses' mom and dad were named Amram and Jochebed. They are lauded for their faith and integrity . . .  but we're studying their daughter here. Miriam's older brother was Aaron, and their younger brother was born at a very inopportune time as far as living more than a day was concerned. If you will remember, the Pharaoh and the rest of the Egyptians were alarmed at how many Hebrew people there were now....their nation had multiplied and God had blessed. And they'd multiplied more. So much so, that the Pharaoh decided that all of the boy babies needed to be killed as soon as they were born -- thrown into the Nile. Imagine being a Hebrew mom or expectant mom . . . oh, how sad and frightened you would be.

So, in this passage we meet Miriam, because her mom and dad decided to hide their baby, and not allow the soldiers to find him. They saw that there was something special about this child, and by faith, they disobeyed the Pharaoh and Jochebed devised her plan, and made her basket.
What characteristics can we see in Miriam, in our story above? Well, she is protective of her little brother, and she is brave, because what she did would have taken a lot of courage! She is capable, and quick-witted, too, and clever. Look at how she assessed the situation -- she saw that the princess' heart was touched by the wee babe, and she realized that not one of her companions would be ready or able to care for a child -- so she quickly suggested to the princess that she could run and find a suitable nurse for the child.

It must have been a wonderful feeling for Miriam to know that she was instrumental in saving her brother's life. We can imagine that she would have taken a huge interest in him, for the rest of his life, even when he left their home to go and live in the Pharaoh's palace. In fact, the whole family had high hopes for him. After all, he was special when he was born, and then God worked to save his life in a miraculous way. . . why, maybe he will be the one to deliver Israel from servitude in Egypt! (Moses thought this about himself when he was forty years old. You can read Stephen's words in Acts chapter 7, and he says that Moses thought his people would realize God was going to use him to rescue them. But they didn't.)

So, Moses is living in the palace, and his family is in the slave neighborhood. Their lives are vastly different now, but I'm sure that they tried to stay in touch somehow. We've seen that Miriam is clever and resourceful -- I expect she found ways to get messages in and out of the palace!

We'll study more of Miriam's life next time . . .