Monday, December 1, 2014

Something I "Fig"ured Out

Over these past weeks, I've really enjoyed reading Isaiah and now Jeremiah. I don't know if I've mentioned it before, but I'm on my third time of reading through the Bible. There is a saying that the third time is the charm. I have to say, I do feel like now it is all beginning to make sense and its all beginning to come together for me this time around.

Chapter 24 of Jeremiah is titled "Two Baskets of Figs." Let me show you what I figured out today as I read. Here is what it says, "
1 After Jehoiachin [a] son of Jehoiakim king of Judah and the officials, the craftsmen and the artisans of Judah were carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the LORD showed me two baskets of figs placed in front of the temple of the LORD. 2 One basket had very good figs, like those that ripen early; the other basket had very poor figs, so bad they could not be eaten.
3 Then the LORD asked me, "What do you see, Jeremiah?"
"Figs," I answered. "The good ones are very good, but the poor ones are so bad they cannot be eaten."
4 Then the word of the LORD came to me: 5 "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'Like these good figs, I regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I sent away from this place to the land of the Babylonians. [b] 6 My eyes will watch over them for their good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up and not tear them down; I will plant them and not uproot them. 7 I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.
8 " 'But like the poor figs, which are so bad they cannot be eaten,' says the LORD, 'so will I deal with Zedekiah king of Judah, his officials and the survivors from Jerusalem, whether they remain in this land or live in Egypt. 9 I will make them abhorrent and an offense to all the kingdoms of the earth, a reproach and a byword, an object of ridicule and cursing, wherever I banish them. 10 I will send the sword, famine and plague against them until they are destroyed from the land I gave to them and their fathers.' "

I read up on figs and they are a very common fruit tree found in the middle east. They grow best in sub-tropical climates. The first reference made to fig's is in Genesis when Adam and Eve use a fig leaf to cloth themselves after they had disobeyed God.(Genesis 3:7) Off the record, God does everything intentionally. You'll see where I'm about to go.
As I began reflecting on this chapter, I realized that the figs that God was showing Jeremiah was representing Judah. By this time in the time line, the kingdom of Israel had already been taken captive by Assyria. Only the southern kingdom, Judah existed. Remember they broke in two after King Solomon's reign.

So the Lord was showing Jeremiah what was to become of the figs. Judah was also going to be divided. You see, God was still making a way for the Messiah. He was narrowing it it down to who was the most obedient. At this point, no one was being obedient to the Lord, but in His mercy and grace he still found one group who would obey. I began to research the timing and Nebuchadnezzar was a clue. Daniel and Shadrack, Meshack and Abenigo were the "fearsome foursome" during that time. So I realized that God has used those four to begin to separate out the "good figs." But I believe this is where Esther comes in. She was the one who saved the Jewish people from complete destruction from the plan that Haman had set out for them. God had preserved the good figs because out of this tribe He promised the Messiah would come.
Here is another story found in the New Testament about figs. It is found in Mark 11 verses 12-14. "The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. 14Then he said to the tree, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." And his disciples heard him say it."

Jesus came from that special tribe of Judah that was preserved through Daniel, Shadrack, Meshack, Abednigo and Esther. Jesus was the "fruit" of the "figs." I know it sounds kind of funny. But the tree wasn't bearing any fruit. The Jewish leaders did not recognize who he was and therefore kept the Jewish people from truly receiving their Messiah. Therefore, Jesus cursed it and said it would never bear fruit again.
If you look at a fig leaf, it's a pretty large leaf, when its on the vine. When we were in Jerusalem, Jeff pulled a fig leaf off of a tree in the Old City. It was bigger than my hand. I placed it carefully in my booklet so I could preserve it to take home. I was collecting rocks and leaves as souveniers. At the end of the day, I pulled my fig leaf out and to my surprise it had shrunk considerably. I've never seen anything like it. All of the water had evaporated from it and it was now half the size of my hand. Jesus called himself the "living water." After that fig leaf was disconnected from its life source it shrank. Jesus said that He is the vine and we are the branches and if we remain in him and him in us, we will bear much fruit, but apart from him we can do nothing. (John 15:5)

Now back to the symbol of the fig leaves that Adam and Eve used to cover their disobedience. Figs represent God's chosen people. The fact they covered themselves with that particular leaf even clues us in that God had a plan for man's redemption. That he was going send a plan of salvation through a special group of people that he would call his own. In Jesus' family tree, Zerubbabel was one of his great grandfathers and he was one of the first released from Babylon after being in captivity for 70 years. He was the first to begin rebuilding God's temple and saw it to completion. That line of people were protected because Jesus was going to be born through them.

God's Word is so amazing to me. The more I study and read, the more it comes to life and it truly is part of my spiritual nutrition. Figs are good source of vitamins, but also help rid the body of the waste that we eat. Jesus too is a good source of "life" for us. When we spend time with him daily. He died for us too so we could get rid of the waste in our lives, but also he also gives us what we need to live. Not only here on earth, but eternally as well. I know this may seem a little over thought, but God is very creative and I wouldn't put it past Him to draw this kind of picture for us.

Friday, August 22, 2014

R.E.A.L. Women Devotional - Tarnished

A white satin tablecloth, fine china, crystal stemware, polished silver and candles set a perfect table for a special occasion. One of my favorite things about entertaining is setting the table. There is something that makes one feel special when sitting down to a well dressed table. There are also those who prefer not to use their special dishes, but instead display this precious dinnerware in a china hutch.

This past week, I began reading the book of Daniel. As I read Chapter 5, I was reminded of a study I went through a few years ago by Beth Moore on the book of Daniel. This particular chapter begins with a great banquet given by Belshazzar, the King of Babylon. He was the grandson of King Nebuchadnezzar and co-ruled Babylon with his father Nabonidus. Belshazzar watched over the affairs of the kingdom while his father worked on reopening trade routes that were taken by Cyrus and the Persians.

The banquet Belshazzar was having, was not your everyday shindig. What I mean by this is that, traditionally the custom at that time was that women did not attend the same banquets with the men. Remember Queen Vashti's banquet for the women in the book of Esther? He had invited his nobles, his wives, and his concubines to this party. They had been drinking wine and were possibly acting out immorally. The King wanted to kick it up a notch, so he ordered that all of the gold and silver goblets that his grandfather, Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple in Jerusalem to be brought in for them to use. (Daniel 5:1-3) Verses 3 and 4 read, "So they brought in the gold goblets that had been taken from the temple of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them. 4 As they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone."

These articles from the temple were holy and undefiled. They belonged to God and were to be kept in the temple. God was angry with what Belshazzar had done. If you read the rest of this passage, God writes with his finger on the wall in an unknown script that only Daniel can interpret. God wrote on the wall for Belshazzar and for everyone else to see. The inscription said that his kingdom and life would be short lived. That very night he was slain and King Darius the Mede overtook Babylon.

When I went through this study, Beth Moore brought something to my attention. These gold and silver goblets were important to God. They were special and holy vessels. Not only did Belshazzar use them immorally, but they praised their gods with them. This was defilement at its best and it was detestable to God. Under the Old Covenant, these cups were to remain in the temple because they had been anointed by Moses and placed in the temple where God's presence dwelt. The temple is where these vessels were protected. Much like a china hutch that keeps special dinnerware protected.

Now that we live under the New Covenant, we are considered God's gold and silver vessels. 2 Timothy 2:20-21 says, "In a wealthy home some utensils are made of gold and silver, and some are made of wood and clay. The expensive utensils are used for special occasions, and the cheap ones are for everyday use. 21 If you keep yourself pure, you will be a special utensil for honorable use. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work." (NLT) Hebrews 10:10 says, "we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all."

Unfortunately, we find ourselves tarnished from the pollutants of life. (See above photo) Satan is always looking for ways to use us to celebrate his cause. He wants to defile us, just like Belshazzar did the temple vessels. His goal is to make us think we aren't holy enough for God. He can't take our salvation from us, but if he can make us think we are unholy, then he's already got a foothold on us.

The amazing conclusion of these defiled vessels is that they were sent back to the temple in Jerusalem by King Cyrus of Persia. (Ezra 1:2-8; 8:28 &29) In the book of Ezra, these vessels were now being given back to God's people and were to be reinstated as holy. We too can declare ourselves holy, even if we have been used for unholy acts. Jesus paid that price for us when he shed his blood. 1 John 1:7 tells us that the blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin. I'd like to think of Jesus cleaning us, just like that popular brand of silver cleaner/polish. Remember those commercials of the tarnished spoon and when it was dipped into his miracle cleaner, it sparkled like new? Jesus' blood is greater than any silver cleaner or polish. Even if we have defiled ourselves over and over, God see's us marked with His name and declares us holy! It doesn't matter what you've done, you are a permanent vessel in God's china hutch!

If you are feeling today a little tarnished from the pollutants in your life, know today that no matter what, you belong to God. Pray this prayer with me:

Dear Heavenly Father, I am holy because your Holy Spirit lives in me. You are the Most High God who has declared me holy because you are holy. I commit today that I will believe and start believing everyday from here on out, that I am your holy vessel. Help me to think of myself as holy. Help me to recognize the schemes of the enemy who wants to treat me as if I am not holy. You are God! Your Word is the truth and it WILL set me free. In the purifying and cleansing name of Jesus! Amen.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

R.E.A.L. Women Devotional - Skeletons in the Closet

The Bible reading for this particular day lands on Ezekiel 37 entitled The Valley of Dry Bones. For those who are unfamiliar with this particular passage, it is a vision of Israel's restoration physically and spiritually to the land God promised them. God showed Ezekiel a valley full of dry bones. God told Ezekiel to prophesy over those bones and tell them God will breathe life back into them and that He will attach tendons and make flesh come upon them and they will come to life. (Ezekiel 37:1-6) It is a promise of hope for God's people.

As I was reading this morning, the phrase that came to mind was, "skeleton's in the closet." The more I read on, the more this picture the Lord began to give me was that this passage is an illustration of salvation. Bear with me on this, but I want to look at it under the New Covenant of the New Testament.

So many of us come to Jesus with skeleton's in our closet. Sometimes the skeletons come after we've come to Jesus too. Those skeletons represent the sin in our lives that even after becoming a follower of Jesus, we sometimes have a hard time getting past. What I mean by that is, even after receiving our salvation, we allow the things of the past and sometimes present, to haunt us. They are a hindrance that keep us from fully becoming what God has purposed for us, which is to become like his Son. Instead, God wants to take those dry bones and use them in our lives for His purpose to do good. Those skeletons are canceled out according to Romans 8:28 - 30 promise that says, "And we know that in all things (including the bad) God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed into the likeness of his Son, that he might be the first born among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified he also glorified."

Verse 10 in Ezekiel 37 says, "So I (Ezekiel) prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet - a vast army." Verse 13 and 14 goes on to say, "Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord." Sounds like God is taking something dead and resurrecting it for His glory. Just like He did with his son, Jesus. Colossians 2:13 and 14 says, "13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross."

Chapter 37 concludes, beginning in verse 15 entitled One Nation Under One King. It says in verse 16 & 17, "Son of man, take a stick of wood and write on it, 'Belonging to Judah and the Israelites associated with him. (Jesus came from the line of Judah) Then take another stick of wood, and write on it, 'Ephraim's stick, belonging to Joseph (Joseph is often used as a parallel to the life of Jesus) and all the house of Israel associated with him.' 17 Join them together into one stick so that they will become one in your hand." The picture the Lord showed me as I read this, the only way for two sticks to be joined together would be in the form of a cross. A symbol of Christianity. The cross that brings complete redemption and wholeness to our lives. The cross that brings life to the skeletons in our closet. Like the vision the Lord showed Ezekiel by bringing the dry bones to life. The cross is a symbol of hope for us being conformed into the likeness of God's Son. That the spirit living in us is the life of the Holy Spirit and eventually we will settle in our eternal home which is the Kingdom of Heaven.

I hope you are able to track with me on this. I pray that the Lord would use this to encourage you today about those skeletons that might be stashed away in your spiritual closet. Know that from this day forward that they can be used for good works and purposes that will ultimately glorify the good work that the Lord is doing in your life. Just as Ezekiel prophesied life to those dead and dry bones, you too can prophesy over those dead, dry bones in your life, to be resurrected under the blood of Jesus and used to glorify God and God alone!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

R.E.A.L. Women Devotional - I Wonder...

Over the past week, we've been reading through a few of the minor prophets. There are many "I wonders" in these books. I am one of those "I wonder" people. As we look at a few of these books, I would like to leave you with some thoughts.

The Book of Amos is not one of the more "quoted" books, but there was a verse in the book that caught my attention. It is Amos 8:11. It says, "The days are coming," declares the Sovereign Lord, "when I will send a famine through the land-not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord." Hmmmmm, could this possibly be the warning to the people of the four hundred years of silence between the Old and New Testament?

In Micah 5:3 it says, "Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites." The New Testament begins at the birth of Jesus. God's silence is broken. Think about that. Whenever God speaks it is life-giving. For four hundred years God was quiet. He did not interact with His people. I could not imagine not interacting with God for one day.

Obadiah had another interesting "I wonder" verse. Verse 15 &16 says, "The day of the Lord is near for all nations. As you have done, it will be done to you; our deeds will return upon your own head. 16Just as you drank on my holy hill, so all the nations will drink continually; they will drink and drink and be as if they had never been." I know this is another warning, but it is interesting that it says the nations will drink. Jesus is the living water (John 7:37) and because of him, anyone, from any nation has the opportunity to receive him as their Lord and Savior. It is also a reminder to me that sin can leave you dehydrated.

Most of us are familiar with the Book of Jonah. Jonah is a man running away from God because he's scared to do the job God asked him to. In the mean time, he runs in the other direction, gets on a boat in Joppa (pictured above) and a big storm comes. He tells the men to throw him overboard, which says he was even afraid to do it himself. He gets swallowed up by a big fish. After three days, the fish spits him out and he finally does what God tells him to. We usually end the story there. Actually chapter 4 is just as important because it exposes Jonah's heart and God's. Jonah runs from God, yet God still protects him and then he's angry with God because of his mercy on a sinful people. Like Jonah wasn't sinful disobeying God? Jonah didn't seem to be a particularly happy man. He asked God to take away his life. He'd rather die than live. God challenged Jonah by asking him why he felt he had the right to be angry. Jonah decided he wanted to hang out and see what God was going to do with this city. Then once again, God provided shelter for Jonah with a vine. This vine protected him from the scorching sun. But the next day a worm ate it up. Again Jonah was angry with God for taking away his shelter. God once again confronted Jonah on his attitude. God asks Jonah why he is concerned about this vine even though he did not make it grow or tend to it. The people in Ninevah mattered to God. But here is the "I wonder" in this book. It is the only book that ends with a question. God says to Jonah, "But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?" (Jonah 4:11) This does say a lot about God's mercy and compassion on the people who don't know Him. It shows how much God desires us to partner with Him. It also reveals man's selfish nature, even in being obedient to what God's asks of us. It truly is a matter of the heart.
This book leaves us with a cliff hanger. I wonder if it is God's way of asking us, how conerned we are about others. I believe it also reveals how much God loves us and wants us to recognize any selfhishness that we may have, so that He can remove it from our lives. There are many Believers today who live their lives like Jonah, including me. Like the vine in chapter 4, insecurity and fear is what shelters our selfishness. The dictionary defines selfishness as devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one's own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others. I must confess, I land in that category more often than I would like to. Take some time to reflect on times when you've allowed insecurity or fear to shelter you from what God has asked of you. Get to the root of that vine and allow God to send the worm to eat it up. Don't be angry with God or yourself if it does show up. This is another plot the enemy uses against us to keep us from moving ahead. Instead, repent and ask the Lord for forgiveness and forgive yourself as well.
Every story in the Bible is a brush stroke in the bigger picture of God's plan. I wonder if while we are reading God is pointing His finger at a verse or passage that He wants us to see, but sometimes we miss it because we're to busy "wondering" about our own circumstances. Be careful what you allow yourself to "wonder" about.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

R.E.A.L. Women Devotional - Blood Moon

Blood Moon

New Moon

A Big Moon
Morning Moon

When my children were little, I used to tell them that God made the moon as a night light for the earth like the one I kept in their room. But what's been up with the moon lately? From 2013 to 2014, the moon has made sure that we knew it was up there. There was even a "Blue Moon." That is when the moon appears to be an iridescent blue color.

We often take photos of beautiful sunrises and sunsets. The sun seems to always get the attention. I never thought about it much, but it would seem the moon has been trying to show off it's beauty and importance lately.  
On April 15, 2014, we saw the first of four blood moons to come. There have been three other times in history that the blood moon appeared.  It was in 1492, 1948 and 1967.  All three years have been significant in Jewish history.

I don't think this was a coincidence that in the chronological reading for April 14, 2014, Psalm 81 is one of the passages to read.  The first five verses say, "Sing for joy to God our strength; shout aloud to the God of Jacob! Begin the music, strike the timbrel, play the melodious harp and lyre. Sound the ram’s horn at the New Moon, and when the moon is full, on the day of our festival; this is a decree for Israel, an ordinance of the God of Jacob. When God went out against Egypt, he established it as a statute for Joseph." (Psalm 81:1-5) In the "One Year" reading plan the passage was from Joshua 10. The day God made the sun stand still!

On April 15, 2014, just after midnight, was the first of four lunar eclipses to happen over the next 18 months. This eclipse caused the moon to turn a copper color. This is due to the earth's atmosphere with sunsets around the earth reflecting onto the moon due to it's position. But as unusual as this phenomenon is, earlier in the evening, it was also the the first night of Passover. 

As I stood there at 12:30am looking up into the sky at this wonderous sight, I thought about the significance of the this particular lunar eclipse being referred to as "blood" rather than by color like the "Blue Moon" was.  Being that it this was the first night of Passover it reminded me of the the lamb's blood being marked over the doorposts so that when the Angel of the Lord passed over the Children of Israel, their first born would live. The placement of blood over the door was across the top and down both sides, but not across the threshold. Apparently the directed placement of this blood has significance because it is also the symbol of the eighth letter in the Hebrew alphabet. It is pronounced "chet" which is the letter that means "life."  The more I thought about that, it reminded me of that Passover night over 2000 years ago when Jesus, God's first born, became the Passover lamb. That night he became the focus of the people when like a lamb, was led to the slaughter. That night he was wounded for our transgressions and bruised our iniquities.  He went to the cross covered in blood, his blood. There he was held up with his arms spread out like the frame of a doorpost covered with blood.  As I reflect on that it has become more of a symbol of the Passover blood that gave the Hebrew children "life" and now because of Jesus shedding his blood by way of the cross, if we choose to receive him as our covering and Savior, we too can have life, but not just mortal life, but eternal life.

That "Blood Moon" last night was a reminder to me that there is life in blood. I heard a spectator on television of this event say this was exciting because we need a chance to look up because we are always looking down at our cell phones. There is some truth to that.  I wonder if God has been painting beautiful sunrises and sunsets and allowing these unusual lunar events to get us in the habit of looking up. Jesus himself said in Luke 21:25-28, "'There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.'"

The next three "Blood Moons" will appear at Sukkot, October 8, 2014, Passover, April 4, 2015 and again at Sukkot, September 28, 2015. All on Jewish holidays. I don't believe this either is a coincidence.  This is all by God's perfect design.  With tensions rising in America and around the world, God is giving us a chance to look up and see that He has set a plan of salvation in place for us, through His son Jesus.  All we have to do is believe in our heart.  The "Blood Moon" is a good reminder that there is "life" in the blood and even in the darkest hours of the night, it is available to us. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

R.E.A.L. Women Devotional - Duck and Cover

Warm days and Cool nights. What does the weather have to do with anything, you might ask? For those of us who have lived in California for any period of time, we would call this earthquake weather. Just like the South has hurricane season and the Midwest has tornado season, we too have earthquake season. I think it is because the ground expands during the day when it is warm and contracts at night when it cools down. I believe there are seasons in our spiritual lives as well.

We should be preparing daily for a "spiritual earthquake." Many friends that I have talked with lately seem to be experiencing tremors.  Much like a planter will shake a bush to get the dead leaves and/or fruit to drop, the Church can be shaken up to see who is standing firm on the Rock of Jesus. The book of Isaiah talks about a people who have conformed to the culture and have become unstable. This actually shook me up a bit. (No pun intended.) I must confess, I have. It says, "You have abandoned your people, the house of Jacob. They are full of superstitions from the East; they practice divination like the Philistines and clasp hands with pagans. 7 Their land is full of silver and gold;there is no end to their treasures. Their land is full of horses; there is no end to their chariots. 8 Their land is full of idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their fingers have made. 9 So man will be brought low and mankind humbled— do not forgive them. 10 Go into the rocks, hide in the ground from dread of the LORD and the splendor of his majesty! 11 The eyes of the arrogant man will be humbled and the pride of men brought low; the LORD alone will be exalted in that day. 12 The LORD Almighty has a day in store for all the proud and lofty, for all that is exalted (and they will be humbled), 13 for all the cedars of Lebanon, tall and lofty, and all the oaks of Bashan, 14 for all the towering mountains and all the high hills, 15 for every lofty tower and every fortified wall, 16 for every trading ship and every stately vessel. 17 The arrogance of man will be brought low and the pride of men humbled; the LORD alone will be exalted in that day, 18 and the idols will totally disappear. 19 Men will flee to caves in the rocks and to holes in the ground from dread of the LORD and the splendor of his majesty, when he rises to shake the earth. 20 In that day men will throw away to the rodents and bats their idols of silver and idols of gold, which they made to worship. 21 They will flee to caverns in the rocks and to the overhanging crags from dread of the LORD and the splendor of his majesty, when he rises to shake the earth. 22 Stop trusting in man, who has but a breath in his nostrils. Of what account is he?" (Isaiah 2:6-22) What's that phrase we learn as children in school? Duck and cover? I think that is what verse 19 means.

For those of us who have experienced earthquakes, most of the time we don't see too much damage. Partly because here in California we have built our buildings and prepared our land to handle them. There have been places that experienced such devastation when an earthquake happened, that it wiped out a whole city. As a follower of Jesus, this is why it is so important to be in the Word, in worship and prayer every day. We are building a foundation that will withstand any spiritual earthquake that may come our way. If we will hide the Word of God in our heart, then when the earth is shaken under our feet, it's like having a spiritual earthquake survival kit on hand. It's all stored up and ready to be used in time of need.

Friday, March 14, 2014

R.E.A.L. Women Devotional - PG 13

Disobedience, idol worship, a woman doing a man's job, deals, deception, murder, rebellion, lust, and violence are found in the book of Judges. This past week, I began reading the book of Judges and all I can say is, it has the makings of a Hollywood movie. From the Israelites turning from God to Baal worship, Jael driving a tent peg through a man's temple, Gideon putting out his fleece and Samson, the man of strength yet weak in spirit, losing it all because of a woman. The theme of this book is "And the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord." This book should have a rating of PG 13.

Judges has been known to be a graphic book. There was a story in Chapter 11 that was a bit disturbing to me. I read it a few times before and even noted in my Bible "be careful what you ask for." Starting in verse 30 and it reads like this: "And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD : 'If you give the Ammonites into my hands, 31 whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the LORD's, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.' 32 Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the LORD gave them into his hands. 33 He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel Keramim. Thus Israel subdued Ammon. 34 When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of tambourines! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter. 35 When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, 'Oh! My daughter! You have made me miserable and wretched, because I have made a vow to the LORD that I cannot break.'36 'My father,' she replied, 'you have given your word to the LORD. Do to me just as you promised, now that the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites. 37 But grant me this one request,' she said. 'Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry.' 38 'You may go,' he said. And he let her go for two months. She and the girls went into the hills and wept because she would never marry. 39 After the two months, she returned to her father and he did to her as he had vowed. And she was a virgin.From this comes the Israelite custom 40 that each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite."

I don't know what this man, Jepthah, was thinking when he told God that whatever comes out of the door of his house he would give to God as a sacrifice. Now, I don't know if they had dogs and cats as pets in those days and possibly he was hoping his family pet dog (maybe he barked too much) would come running to him. The scripture says that he had no other children. So I wonder if he and his wife weren't doing so well and maybe he was hoping that she'd come walking through the door to greet him. I think that is why this story bothered me so much. What was he expecting to come through his door? His wife? Pet? A servant he didn't like? Maybe his mother-in-law?

The story of Samson is quite a disturbing one as well. Here is another barren woman desiring a child. She conceives this child who is to be set apart from everyone else for God. He is to have no wine or unclean food and most of all, never to cut his hair. So what happened to Samson? A rebellious teen who is probably had such strict parents that he rebelled and did as he pleased. God gave him strength unlike any other and he abused his gift. It is possibe he was very prideful. The fact that he stopped at the lion carcass that he had mamed earlier with his bare hands and reached in, with the bees swarming, and ate the honey, tells me something was not right with him. (Judges 14:5-9) Would you eat honey out of a dead animal? Then he defiles his family by giving it to them to eat too.  Maybe his parents were too permissive because he was their only child and spoiled him rotten. Maybe they didn't know what to do with him. No Dr. Phil in those days. In chapter 14:1 & 2 says, "Samson went down to Timnah and saw there a young Philistine woman. 2 When he returned, he said to his father and mother, 'I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.'"Pretty demanding if you ask me. He intermarried, the very thing God had warned the Israelites about. Here is a Nazirite man who is supposed to be set apart, doing exactly what God had told him not to. Yet when he called on God to help him out of a bad situation, God was there. Then what does he do? He goes to Gaza and spends the night with a prostitute. Only to end up meeting Delilah who deceives him and as the scripture says, "nagged him day after day until he was tired to death" to tell her the secret to his strength.

I have to ask the question, what is the strength of my spirit? It must be like when my kids keep wearing me down about something and then finally after the third time, I either give in or put my foot down and say "no!" I do know that when I'm tired my spirit it tired and I find myself much more easily swayed. It says that Samson was asleep when Delilah tested what he said. Over and over she tested him and wore him down. Although he was physically strong, his spirit was weak. He abused his gift of strength from God for his own purpose. Jesus said that we are to pray and watch because the "spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. (Mark 14:38) In Samson's case it was just the opposite.

Finally the end of the story, after he's lost not only his strength, but his eye sight, which I believe is significant. Everything he did prior to this event, it was what he wanted because he "saw it". Now he was blind to everything and could only focus on his purpose as to why God chose him. This is why it is better we choose to humble ourselves before God sooner instead of later so we don't bring humilation upon ourselves. Now Samson was ready destroy the Philistines that God had originally intended for him to defeat. He destroyed more Philistines that day than in all of his "strong" years. You see, no matter what, God's purpose will prevail, even if we mess it up. I think that is the moral of the stories in this book. We can learn a lot of lessons from the people in this book so we don't have to learn the hard way.

Monday, March 10, 2014

R.E.A.L. Women Devotional - Silver and Gold

The phrase “silver and gold” often makes me think of a song sung by Beryl Ives in one of those Christmas clay-mation movies.  But instead, this phrase was something I read in Exodus about God telling Moses to tell the Israelites to go and ask the Egyptians for clothing and articles of gold and silver (Exodus 11:1-3).  God was going to strike the Egyptians one more time with a plague and after that Pharaoh would let them go. Exodus 12:35 & 36 says And the people of Israel did as Moses had instructed; they asked the Egyptians for clothing and articles of silver and gold. 36 The Lord caused the Egyptians to look favorably on the Israelites, and they gave the Israelites whatever they asked for. So they stripped the Egyptians of their wealth!” (NLT)

I’ve always heard that the Israelites left Egypt wealthy and had everything they needed for their journey.  I’ve wondered about some of the items they received from the Egyptians, silver and gold.  What would they need with silver and gold in the desert? Maybe the silver and gold could be used when they reached the Promised Land to buy and sell with.

I began reading and looking at the scripture in more detail and it was soon after they reached the wilderness and Moses was up on Mount Sinai getting the Covenant or Law that they used that wealth to build a golden calf (Exodus 32:1-7).  What I really find interesting is that Aaron told them to remove their "gold earrings." Imagine how many earrings were piled up? What caught my attention was that it was gold earrings, not "jewelry." I realized that the gold earrings had been what marked their slavery in Egypt.  In ancient times, slaves were marked by a ring in their ear or nose. In their ignorance, they must have thought they were doing something good. 

When Moses returned with the law, the first two commandments had had already been broken, no other gods or images. The people may be broken the law, but Moses was so angry he literally broke the law.  God was angry and wanted to destroy this stiff-necked people, but Moses pleaded with God not to destroy them.  In Moses anger with them, he in turn melted the gold down into dust and had them pour it into the water and drink it.  I know God must have been angry that they made an idol out of it to worship, but they didn’t yet know about the law that Moses had been working on with God.  So to some degree they were ignorant.  Yet, I wonder if God was angered because that gold was for something else.  Kind of like when He blesses us financially and we spend it on our own pleasures before we give Him his portion. With God it’s all about sharing.

As I read on, I realized that God had them get these precious minerals for the building of the tabernacle. In Exodus 25 God gives instructions on what to use to build the Ark of the Covenant which is where the Law would be kept and the tabernacle that would hold the Ark and for His presence to dwell.  It was important for God to be able to come down and dwell among the children of Israel.  I’ve heard that gold represents “diety” in the Bible.  God being the great I AM would require a dwelling place that represented who He is.

After reading about all this silver and gold, I was reminded of Peter and John going to the temple and meeting the lame man there. Interesting that it was at the temple (formerly the tabernacle) where this event happened right after the Holy Spirit had come to them in the Upper Room.  Acts 3:6-10 says “Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. When all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.” 

These two stories, I think are divinely connected.  Under the Old Covenant, God was restricted to live in a building that He instructed man to build for His presence to dwell.  And even then, only the Priests were allowed to even go into the tabernacle and temple.  God needed the silver and gold to physically show them who He was and to give Him a dwelling place.  But after Jesus died and rose again, God was no longer bound to a building, but instead released to dwell in man.  Because of that no longer was silver and gold a necessity.  God’s spirit was now able to dwell in man and there was no longer a need for the temple.  Instead we are the temple (2 Corinthians 6:16 & 19 ). Interesting that the first act that Peter and John did after receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit, they demonstrated God’s power in them by healing a lame man.  They were now living under the New Covenant which Jesus bought and paid for with his own blood that every one of us has the opportunity to receive. A gift of eternal life which more precious that silver and gold.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

R.E.A.L. Women Devotional - Possessing Promises

 In the back ground I hear the swell of violins, horns, a bass drum and cymbals as God is telling Joshua that "it's time to possess the land."  Like something you might see at the end of a motion picture as your heart's been racing throughout the movie. As the ending draws near and you finally catch your breath with relief. “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them. “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:2-9.

It would almost seem that the first chapter in Joshua is the perfect ending to the story of the children of Israel coming into the Promised Land.  Instead, it's a new beginning of a new story or chapter as they cross over the Jordan River.  God instructed Joshua that once again he had to send spies to check out the first city that they needed to conquer.  Conquer?  I thought God was giving this land to them.  This is where my thoughts begin.

God was going to hand this land over to them, but it didn't come without a fight. When God gives us promises we have to "drive out" the inhabitants of doubt in our lives.  The first instruction God gave to Joshua after crossing the Jordan, was to build a memorial of twelve stones from the Jordan River.  This was to serve as a reminder for generations to come of them crossing the Jordan on dry ground (Joshua 4).  

What really caught my attention was the names of the inhabitants of Canaan.  Back in Genesis 9 when God cursed Ham for having looked upon Noah in his nakedness, he sent him away.  Canaan was a son of Ham. Genesis 10:15-20 says "Canaan was the father of
Sidon his firstborn, and of the Hittites, 16 Jebusites, Amorites, Girgashites, 17 Hivites, Arkites, Sinites, 18 Arvadites, Zemarites and Hamathites. Later the Canaanite clans scattered 19 and the borders of Canaan reached from Sidon toward Gerar as far as Gaza, and then toward Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboyim, as far as Lasha. 20 These are the sons of Ham by their clans and languages, in their territories and nations. These are the names of the inhabitants of the land that the children of Israel were to conquer.  That's when I realized that God wanted this land redeemed.  Just like He wants our heart's redeemed from sin.

Before Joshua and the people could begin taking their inheritance, God instructed them to go through a circumcision, again (Joshua 5:2).  They did this once in the wilderness, but this was a new generation that God was with. Under the New Covenant, God is concerned with the circumcision of our heart (Romans 2:29).  This is why it is important for us to daily "clean our hearts" of the trash that gets thrown in.  Whether it's by others or by our own admission. They were also to celebrate a Passover supper to remind them of what God did for them in Egypt.

After the fall of Jericho, God became angry with His people because of "sin in the camp." It was one person, Achan. He had taken a robe from Babylonia some gold and silver and had hidden them under his tent (Joshua 7:20-21).  Some translations call these the "devoted things."  Unforgiveness is kind of like these devoted things.  We treasure our hurts from other people in hopes that it will punish them.  When in reality it destroys us.  God doesn't want us to be devoted to our unforgiveness of others and even against ourselves.

In Joshua 9, Joshua and his men come across the Gibeonites. They were deceptive people in the fact that they had heard what the Israelites were doing to the cities in Canaan and thought if they came to them as travelers from a distant land they wouldn't kill them.  Just as they thought, Joshua believed them and made a peace treaty with them.  Because Joshua had made an oath to them, they were never driven out of the land and this caused them grief throughout history.  I think we often make "peace treaties" with our circumstances.  We say, "it is what it is." That's okay because often we can't do anything about our circumstances. I like to look at it like this. The definition of "circum" is to go around. The definition of "stance" is a position while standing.  Put this together and life is going to happen around us, but it's our stance that holds us in place with the hope of victory. We can live with our circumstances if we choose to live victorious rather than defeated.

After they had driven out the inhabitants and allotted the inheritance Joshua 21:44 & 45 says this, "The Lord gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their ancestors. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the Lord gave all their enemies into their hands. 45 Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to Israel failed; every one was fulfilled."  God wants to fulfill his promises to his children, us.  We have to fight against the inhabitants of sin and unforgiveness.  It is crucial for us to keep our heart's pure and humble before the Lord. Jesus fought the battle for us at Calvary. He already won the battle. We already have victory. Like the Passover before they conquered Jericho, Jesus is our Passover sacrifice that conquered sin and redeemed us so that we could possess the promises of God in our lives.