Wednesday, February 23, 2011

R.E.A.L. Women Devotional - Dirty Jobs

Jeff likes to watch a show on the Discovery channel called "Dirty Jobs." The host Mike Rowe works jobs that are unusual. Most of them are jobs that the average person doesn't work because it is very unique as well as very dirty.

We began the book of Leviticus this past week. The book of Leviticus was written as an instruction book for the priests. I thought of something this time that I hadn't before, the priests had a unique job that the average person could not do and it was kind of a dirty job. We look at offering sacrifices as almost being romantic because it is the cleansing of one's sin. But as I started reading about all that the actual duties of the priests, it made me realize that getting clean requires getting dirty.

The key verse in Leviticus is 19:2 which says, "Be holy because I, the Lord your God am holy." The priests were responsible for the peoples holiness. The priests were the only ones consecrated to enter the most holy place and perform the different sacrificial offerings. (Leviticus 8:12 & 13) The Grain offering wasn't too bad. They were to season the Grain offerings with salt, which is a symbol of covenant. When I read about what they had to do for the Fellowship, Sin and Guilt offerings, it was messy. The animals brought had to be butchered in such a way and the blood was to be drained and sprinkled to make atonement.

I remember being in Israel and seeing a model of the area where the people were to bring their sacrifices to the temple. We don't really have a concept of what that would have been like because it is not done today. When our tour guide explained it, the blood drained from the animals would have completely filled the area and the smell of the dead animals surely would not have been pleasant. Once the animals were properly handled they were placed on the alter and the smell of the burning offering over powered everything. Leviticus 1:9 says, "
You are to wash the internal organs and the legs with water, and the priest is to burn all of it on the altar. It is a burnt offering, a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the LORD." God did invent the barbeque.

The priests also had the job of determining skin diseases and infections. They were to examine a sore or sores on one's skin and tell the person whether or not they were considered clean or unclean. I can't imagine telling someone they were unclean. Then the person would have to cry out, "Unclean! Unclean!" (Leviticus 13:45)

As I thought about the responsibility that was placed on the priests, it made me think of pastors today. Pastors don't have the job of butchering for sacrificial offerings as the priests did because Jesus already took care of that. What it did bring to mind the job pastors have is to help people separate the unclean from the clean in their lives.

A pastor has to be willing to roll up his sleeves and get dirty when helping people clean out their lives. It's like those shows where people live in homes piled with "stuff" that they can't get rid of it because it has become apart of them. A psychologist or therapist has to help them separate the unclean from the clean. In almost every situation, the person struggling with the issue can't let go of the "stuff" because they have lived with it so long it is now apart of who they are.

I am so grateful for what Jesus did for us by taking on my sin so that I could be considered clean. Once we have received our salvation, we are so clean that now the Holy Spirit takes residence in us. 1 Corinthians 3:16 says, "Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?" Remember the priests were the only ones allowed in the temple because they had been consecrated before God and could survive the presence of the Lord. If they were not consecrated they would die immediately. So the average person could never be in the presence of God. But because of Jesus, we now have that same presence living in us. Jesus took on the dirty job of carrying our sin and becoming the sacrifice so we could not become consecrated before the Lord. Think about that, the very presence that could kill a man if he was not considered holy, now dwells in us and allows us to live eternally because of Jesus' sacrifice. I'd say Jesus had the dirtiest job of all, but I am thankful that he was willing to do it.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

R.E.A.L. Women Devotional - Forever After

Locked in her room, Cinderella sits on her knees, one hand on the door knob the other in her lap. She's feeling as though all is lost. Just outside the door are two mice carrying a key up several flights of stairs. As Jock and Gus make their way up the stairs carrying the heavy and awkwardly large key, Lady Tremaine and her two daughters try on a tiny glass slipper. Each sister was doing everything possible to get that shoe to fit.

Finally the two tiny mice make it to the door and just as they slip the key under the door, Lucifer the cat grabs Gus, along with the key and hides him under a cup. The mice and birds begin to try and distract the mean cat, but nothing seems to work. His focus is keeping Gus from escaping. The tension in the scene grows as the two sister's finish trying on shoes and it is time for the men to move on to the next house. Finally, some breakthrough when Cinderella remembers the dog Bruno is the only one who the cat will run from. As Bruno chases Lucifer away, Cinderella unlocks the door and runs after the men asking if she could try the shoe on. Just as she sits down, Lady Tremaine trips the clumsy footman and the glass slipper flies in the air and shatters in a million pieces. For a moment, it seems that all is lost. Then out of her pocket, Cinderella pulls out the matching shoe. And so the story concludes with, "And they lived happily ever after."

Much of the events lately in my life seem to resemble the stress in this last portion of the movie, Cinderella. It seems we just miss breakthrough by a margin. Rather than moving closer to a conclusion, it would seem the farther away from a solution and deeper into the hole we get.

This past week in Psalms I read chapter 32. Verses 6 and 7 says this, "Therefore let all the faithful pray to you while you may be found; surely the rising of the mighty waters will not reach them.
7 You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance." How many times have you found yourself in a place that it seemed the mighty waters of life were over your head and you barely had enough in you to come up for air. I know this feeling all to well. All you can do is to hang on to the life preserver of "promise" that God will rescue you.

The other morning I woke up thinking of some people that must have surely felt this way. Joseph, had found himself in prison. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, had found themselves in a firey furnace. And Daniel, had found himself in the lions den. All these men had "done the right thing" and yet God had allowed them to be put in positions that seemed hopeless. I'm sure they had moments that they wondered how in the world did they get there. God actually made them "go through" rather than deliver them before hand.

After thinking about this for a moment, I began to think about what Jesus did. Jesus was perfect and did nothing wrong, yet he had to "go through" with his death on the cross. In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus tells Peter, James and John, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death." (Matthew 26:37 & 38). As Jesus prayed, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will." (Matthew 26:39)

If you have seen the movie "The Passion of the Christ" we know what Jesus had to endure. God did not choose to let that cup pass, but rather he had to "go through".
Because of this unselfish act, not only did he conquer his own death, but he conquered death for all of mankind. John 3:16 says it all, "For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him will have everlasting life."

There are many stories of young maidens who are held captive by some evil step mother or queen. They did not do anything wrong, but found themselves being blamed for the other person's sin. In those stories there is always a prince who is willing to fight for her life to the point he is willing to die himself so that he may prove his love for her.

Our lives are written much like these stories. Sometimes we are held captive by others sin. What I mean by that, what others impose on us without our consent. That is what Jesus did for us. We imposed our sin on him, but he was willing to endure the cross because of his love for us. He was willing to give his life for us. In return we are then protected from any affliction the enemy would try to impose on us. Psalm 34:18 says, "Many are the afflictions of the righteous, BUT the Lord delivers him out of them all."

As I think back on Joseph, Daniel, and the three Hebrew children, they may have had to "go through" it, but they were set free to the point that Shadrach, Meshach and Abenego did not even smell like smoke and Daniel did not have one scratch when he came out of the den of lions (Daniel 3:27 & 6:23). We can make it through whatever difficulty we find ourselves in. We are victorious in every situation because Jesus rescued us 2000 years ago so that we will live with him not only happily ever after, but forever after.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

R.E.A.L. Women Devotional - Purified Water

Who doesn’t like a refreshing drink of water on a hot day? My husband has his favorite brand of water that he prefers. Most of the good bottled water has minerals added for flavor. Who would have ever thought a piece of wood could do the same.
The first miracle in the desert after God had opened and closed the Red Sea was about a piece of wood and water. The small section found in Exodus 15:22-25 (NIV) caught my eye as I was reading. It reads, “22 Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. 23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah. [e] ) 24 So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, "What are we to drink?" 25 Then Moses cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became sweet.” Another translation says it became “good to drink”.

As I read those 4 verses, I wondered why a piece of wood? Did the wood represent hope that there could possibly be trees found in this desert region? I wonder if Moses wondered why God would choose a piece of wood as opposed to a rock which probably was more available, especially since rock is made up of minerals from dirt. I’ve been to one of the desert regions near the Dead Sea and there weren’t many trees around, just rocks. Not to mention, it was so hot I couldn’t drink enough water to satisfy my thirst.

I wondered if this was God’s first clue to His children that one day, He would send His son die on a piece of wood to redeem the people from the bitterness of sin. I believe this was God’s visual illustration to show His children what was to come. Even then, God wanted the people to ask the question, what are we to drink? Jesus referred to himself as the “living water” when he encountered the Samaritan woman. He said to her in John 4:13& 14 (NIV), “13Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

Could that piece of wood thrown into that bitter water possibly be the picture of Jesus? Jesus, the living water was hung on a piece of wood to redeem mankind so that we all could have the opportunity to drink from this well. For a moment there Jesus became all sin and bitterness for us. Just as he said in verse 14, if we drink from the water he gives, we will never thirst and that water will well up inside of us and will give us eternal life. The conclusion I have come to is, that piece of wood where the “Living Water” hung made salvation sweet for all of us.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

R.E.A.L. Women Devotional - Labor and Delivery

It was the February 29th, 1996 and I was getting closer to the delivery of my first born. At about 10:30pm, the nurse and the anesthesiologist came into the room to see if I was ready for my epidural. About an hour earlier, the nurse had given me pitocin to increase the contractions as they were irregular. My baby must have been comfortable because he was slow in getting here. The nurse said that it had been too many hours from the point of my water breaking and now we were getting to the point it could be dangerous. Once she gave me the pitocin, my labor pains became more intense and much closer together. It was shortly after that, I had the epidural which relieved the pain.

Around midnight, I remember lying there comfortably. All was quiet and content in my room, but in the distance I could hear the a woman, screaming at the top of her lungs. The nurse came in to check on me and I asked her what was going on. She replied, "Sweetie, some ladies want to heroes." Apparently that mom-to-be had opted out of the epidural and chose to endure the labor and delivery process.

This week, we began the labor and delivery process of the Israelites. Joseph's influence in Egypt had begun to subside. About 400 years after the Israelites settled in Goshen, they found themselves with a new king who did not know Joseph and had become a people greater in number than the Egyptians (Exodus 1:8 & 9). The scripture goes on to say that the Egyptians oppressed them with forced labor and made them work ruthlessly and that they made their lives bitter with hard labor making brick and mortar and working the fields (Exodus 1:11-14).

The people began to cry out to God to deliver them from their pain. God hears them and sends them one of their own, Moses. When God came to Moses, he was in Midian country. Maybe like me, he wanted to avoid the pain that he might experience because he heard the cry of his people, like I heard the the woman down the hall. He argued a bit with God trying to pass on the "hard labor" he might face when confronting Pharaoh about the release of his people. As always, God's plan prevailed and Moses was off to Egypt.

In Chapter 5 of Exodus, we begin the early stages of contractions. The Israelites were already experiencing, what I might call "Braxton Hicks". They are contractions that don't hurt too bad that happen weeks before actual labor takes place. It it the process of preparing the body for the day of delivery. The Israelites were suffering under the rule of new Pharaoh, but they didn't know what labor was until Moses requested their release. Verses 6 through 9 it says,
" That same day Pharaoh gave this order to the slave drivers and overseers in charge of the people: 7 “You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw. 8 But require them to make the same number of bricks as before; don’t reduce the quota. They are lazy; that is why they are crying out, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to our God.’ 9 Make the work harder for the people so that they keep working and pay no attention to lies.'" Moses' request was like giving the Israelites pitocin. Their labor became "hard labor."

We begin to see the contractions become more intense for the Israelites. We all know that the contractions must be stronger and closer together before delivery can happen. I believe this was the first stage of hard labor for the Israelites. God had already promised them 400 years earlier that He would deliver them (Genesis 50:24). Little did they know they would have to go through the whole labor process before they could be delivered.

I believe this is a visual illustration of what we experience as we mature spiritually. When we first come to Jesus, that is our first experience of deliverance. Much like Jacob and his sons had when they had relocated to the land of Goshen. Life was good because they were now going to be taken care of. As time passed, they were growing in number and became a threat to the Egyptian people. Much like what happens as we grow spiritually. The more knowledge and understanding we gain as followers of Jesus, the more of a threat we become to the Enemy. So our suffering becomes greater. Psalm 34:19 says, "Many
are the afflictions of the righteous, But the LORD delivers him out of them all." (NKJ)

Labor in a spiritual sense is never easy. Over my life as a follower of Jesus, I have discovered there isn't a "spiritual epidural" that can be administered when life labor pains intensify. Oh how I wish there was because there are times in my life that the pain is unbearable. As we push through the process not only is glory to be birthed, but the hope we need to believe is being produced. Romans 5:1-5 says this, "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us."

It is through Jesus' suffering, or should I say, his labor pains, that deliver us from sin to receive salvation. Romans 8:17 says we will share in his sufferings and in order that we may share in his glory. Jesus is like the the mom-to-be that I heard that night I was about to give birth, he chose not to opt out of the painful process, but to be a hero and deliver us.

As with the women in those days and throughout generations, labor and delivery is never experienced alone. A midwife was used to help the coach the woman through the birthing process, much like midwives, nurses, birthing coaches and husbands coach women today. I believe the Holy Spirit is our "husband" to encourage and coach us during our labor and delivery.

Maybe you have found yourself in in a season of "hard labor." Personally, this has been a season in my own life that I have been experiencing labor pains and they seem to be getting more intense and closer together. In child birth, the actual time of delivery is unknown, unless one has a "scheduled" C-section. Like the "spiritual epidural", there is no "spiritual C-section" in our delivery process. We have to p.u.s.h. (pray until something happens) until we have been delivered. With these words, let me encourage you as well as encourage myself, don't give up! Or in another word, do not abort what God is about to birth in your life. The delivery of God's promise will outweigh the pain of labor and the joy that will follow will be more glorious than you can imagine.