Our Final Post


CherylHello Ishshah’s Story friends,

Have you noticed that God frequently moves in our lives by the principle of seasons?  Just as the coming and going of natural seasons seize our attention with changes in the atmosphere around us – leaves turning from green to red, daylight hours becoming shorter, temperatures rising or falling – so do seasons of the Spirit arrive and depart when God’s purposes for them have been accomplished.

Here at Ishshah’s Story we are sensing just such a seasonal adjustment. Gentle breezes of change re-directing our attention to new areas of priority are causing our editorial team (Cheryl, Nancy, Pat and Charis) to sit up and take note.  It seems to all of us that the time has come to retire Ishshah’s Story so each of us can focus more fully on areas of life and ministry needing deeper investments of time and commitment.

Ishshah’s Story launched in late July 2014. Since that initial posting we have shared around 130 articles from our editorial team and a delightful group of guest posters, always with the desire to encourage, release and motivate God’s daughters into the fullest possible expression of Christ’s Life within them.  We hope that in some way, however long you have journeyed with us, we have done that.

May I here express my gratitude to my three co-editors, who you will hear from briefly below, for their demonstrated commitment to Ishshah’s Story, evidenced by the wonderful articles each one has regularly and wholeheartedly contributed. They are not merely team-members, but faithful friends. Thankyou also to the gifted Melody Lowes who was with us in the early stages and shared her beautiful poetry with us.  To each of you who contributed one or more guest posts, thankyou for enriching the journey for all of us.  And finally, to our small but very supportive group of subscribers, thankyou also for allowing us to walk part of your journey with you.

Remember that you can still connect with each of our editorial team at our personal websites: Pat at Women for the Nations, Nancy at Wellspring of Life, Charis at Subject To Change and me (Cheryl) at Bread for the Bride. Though this is our final post, the Ishshah’s Story blogsite will remain online for a while so you can revisit or share the wide variety of thought-provoking posts available here.

At the end of this post we have shared a recent poem published at Christians for Biblical Equality by Rachel Elizabeth Asproth, entitled A Prayer for Women in 2017.  This too is our prayer for women, not only in 2017, but well beyond.

Cheryl McGrath


Nancy BentzIt has been a privilege to serve on the editing team of Ishshah’s Story. When Cheryl first extended the invitation to prayerfully consider becoming a team member, I received it as a gift from the Lord who sees and knows my heart. He has unwrapped His gift further through those with whom I have written. From His generous and giving heart, the gift deepened in its outflow of opportunity to write to you our readers.

The heart of Jesus for every single ishshah remains open and steadfast. His pure love for women throughout the ages has awakened hearts and transformed lives. When the truth that He places value and worth upon us penetrates our defenses, our life story becomes witness to the power of His redeeming love. To this end I write of matters of the heart and the faithful ways and means of our Beloved through the Person of the Holy Spirit. Though the season with Ishshah’s Story has come to a close in the natural, my heart rejoices with eyes of faith for the fruitful harvest this season will yet yield.

I’ll continue to write for the ministry and coaching blogs, Wellspring of Life and Nancy Bentz, Life Coach related to the ministries my husband and I steward in Spokane, Washington, USA. You are welcome to visit and journey on in this companionship of the Spirit whereby we ishshahs may heal, grow and bloom.

Nancy Bentz


patjoyce2The Lord has a calling for each of our lives.  My calling has been to reach women with the good news that the Bible does not support the theology that restricts women because of gender.

Beginning with God’s Word to Women back in the 90s on through the Women for the Nation’s course, She Shall Be Called Woman, that Cheryl and I wrote and taught, and recently through Ishshah’s Story – a way has been provided to spread the word.  I rejoice to see the tide turning as many ministries, websites and blogs herald the news.

I’ll miss your comments and questions as well as the wonderful fellowship with the editing team but God says move on and, while I don’t know what’s next, I trust the Guide.

Pat Joyce


all thinwhite flower avatar 2x2In the past few years I have seen an acceleration in the things the Lord has been teaching me. He has invited me into experiences with Him and arranged connections with other sisters and brothers in the family of God that I never expected. The result has been a deeper appreciation of His ways, the wonderful unity to be found in the Spirit and the joy expressed in creativity and the diversity of modes of worship.

When people work together it often takes a long time to feel each other out and find a comfortable rhythm. Not so here. I felt immediately at home when I was asked to join the contributing editors. I am so grateful for our international team here at Ishshah’s Story. These are connections that shall go on into eternity. Learning to follow God’s leading means being willing to do so quickly, without argument and without demands to understand everything. One night I heard in a dream “If I tell you where I am going with this, it removes the element of faith.”

So, in faith, we move on, each of us to different assignments. But the connections made here, the truths taught here, the encouragement offered to women here, the love and joy expressed here go on. Bless you all! May we continue to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Charis Psallo


Woman Sitting Church Religion Concept

A Prayer For Women In 2017 by  Rachel Elizabeth Asproth

God of Hagar, Tamar, and Mary Magdalene
Of Sarah, Rebecca, and Rachel

God of Ruth, Esther, and Rahab
Of the Woman at the Well and the Woman They Would Have Stoned

God of the unseen, unwanted, and unheard

God of the silenced
Of those rendered invisible

God of those who wait
God of those who struggle
God of those who rise

God of the broken
Of the healing and the healed
Of the hopeful and the hopeless

God of the forgotten, who never forgets, we pray

Remember your daughters in 2017

Remember the women who wait—
the women who ache to hear the church call their names,
the women who press their skin against stained glass,
searching frantically for cracks
Remember the women who serve in the shadows,
the women who long to lead,
the hungry women, the thirsty women, the tired women,
the women with a revolutionary Word resting on their tongues

Remember the women who wait

God of Hagar,
remember those who wander the deserts of your church
Open the floodgates and bathe them in hope

May their waiting be over,
because their time has finally come
May the church call their names loudly
May painted glass crack and shatter

Remember the women who survive battles they never asked to fight—
the women with scars and bruises,
and the ones who bleed unseen from the heart,
the women who said no,
and the women who were too afraid to

Remember the women who are violated and hurt
trafficked, assaulted, raped, harassed, and demeaned
the women who walk through fire,
the warriors who rise from the ashes,
scarred but strong

Remember the women who feel broken,
afraid, and alone—
the ones who hold their breath in the night
Because of pain they can’t forget to remember

God of Tamar and Dinah,
God who sees sorrow we can’t name,
remember the women who walk out of the furnace alive
unconsumed by the flames

May your love salve their burns
May your church bind their wounds
May your people see justice done
May survivors be safe in your house

Remember the women who are tired—
the women who labor,
and labor
and labor
unseen in the background of history,
unseen in the church,
unseen by their families
unseen in their workplaces
unseen by their world

Remember the women on the fringes, God of the Woman Who Bled And Was Healed

Remember the women the world loves to forget,
the women who lead nations,
the women who plant churches,
the missionaries, the pastors, and the teachers

Remember the women who love beyond reason,
the women who build their homes brick by brick,
who care for their children and parents without recognition,
the women who carry jugs of water on their heads for miles
and give up their portions so others can eat

God of Naomi,
Remember the women who are tired,
the women who have lost much,
the women who weep and mourn,
who long for brighter days

Meet them in their sorrow,
when the road seems far too long,
and fill them again

Remember the women who are excluded—
dismissed by their own brothers and sisters

Remember, God of the unheard and unseen,
women of color—
betrayed and silenced,
and the women with ten dollars to their names
who ask for help and receive none,
and the women we try to erase
because they speak or dress differently

God of the Samaritan Woman,
remember the women who are excluded
Empower them as only you can

May your church listen better
May your people see justice done
May women of color,
women with disabilities,
women experiencing poverty,
and all women who have gone unheard
be safe in your house
May they be honored in your sanctuaries

Remember the women who fight—
the advocates and activists
the women who turn water into wine,
and then pour it out
Remember the marchers and the sitters
the women who could not and would not be moved

God of Deborah,
remember the women who lead revolutions,
the ones who give up everything
so that others might be free

Remember those who struggle ferociously against the tide
pushing onward,
onward,
onward,
exhausted but ever enduring

May you be the storm at their backs,
a furious wind that drives them through the waves
God of Jael, remember the women who fight.

God of the forgotten, who never forgets, we pray

Remember your daughters in 2017
Remember the women your world loves to forget
Remember the women your church overlooks
Remember the women your people try to erase

Remember your daughters in 2017

Amen

Re-published from the CBE International blogsite.

The Mystery of Jesus’ Birth

birth-of-jesus

I love a good mystery.  It’s fun to watch the clues come and the story unfold until at the end it becomes clear what really happened.  In December of last year I wrote an article called Celebrating Christmas where I stated that “Clues from the Word let us know that the birth of Christ actually came during the Lord’s fall Feast of Tabernacles in 4 or 5 BC.” [1]  I have been known to be wrong, and I think that may have been the case.[2]  Let’s take a look at the evidence together and see what you think.

This is not a plea to dump December 25 as a time to celebrate the birth of our Lord.  The Christmas season is a joy at our house, filled with wonderful traditions and memories.  What early church leaders did in melding Jesus’ nativity celebration with pre-existing midwinter festivals[3] misses the wonder of seeing God’s hand in the timing of His birth.  Proverbs 25:2 says, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.” NIV  We will take evidence from the Word and history to seek truth.  The first two chapters of Luke will give you a refresher on the Christmas story.

In Luke 1 we are told that Gabriel came to Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, while he was serving in the temple in the course of Abijah and told him that his wife Elizabeth would conceive in her old age and have a son who was to be called John.  The scripture leads us to believe that right after he went home, Elizabeth conceived.  Then six months later Gabriel comes to Mary with the astounding news that she is the prophesied “chosen one”, the virgin who would bear the Son of God.  He also tells her about Elizabeth.

Have you ever thought about why God had Gabriel tell Mary about Elizabeth?  I hadn’t.  There seems to be at least two reasons.  One, to let her see that the impossible had already happened for her cousin.   Two, to lead Mary to a wise older woman for a prophetic word and three months of preparation discussing what she would face.  Look what happens.  Mary doesn’t wait to see if she’s really pregnant; she goes immediately to Elizabeth.  There were no telephones, Elizabeth did not know Mary was coming, she certainly didn’t know she was pregnant but the first thing out of her mouth is confirmation of Gabriel’s words.  Don’t you know they spent the next three months talking about what had been written in scripture as well as what they were experiencing with their pregnancies?

Now back to looking at the clue about the course of Abijah highlighted above.  We know from 1 Chronicles 24 that David divided the priestly descendants of Aaron into 24 groups.  The week each group served was called a “course.”  If we knew when the course of Abijah was, we would have some idea of when Jesus was born.  Problem is, each group served twice a year so we will need even more evidence to confirm the time.

Daniel 12:4 tells us that knowledge shall increase until the time of the end.  Well, it was nearly 2,000 years before the information became available that would let us know a date for the course of Abijah that related to John’s birth.  There is a calendar in the Dead Sea Scrolls from which the dates can be figured and a specific course date is confirmed by a writing in the Talmud that gives the date the temple was destroyed and what course was on duty.  From there with computers, we can go back.  “…by the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every fact be confirmed.” Matt 18:16 NASB  Guess what, they are the same date.

Another clue comes from Luke 2:8-11.  From Luke 2:8 where the angels announce the birth “to shepherds abiding in the field,[4] keeping watch over their flock by night.”  The writings of the rabbis say shepherds took their flocks to the fields in Spring and stayed until Fall.  But the time of keeping close watch is a two or three week period in Spring when the lambs are born.  In Israel flocks were pastured in wilderness areas except for those kept around Bethlehem that were the sheep intended for sacrifice in the Temple.  Could it be that the Lamb of God is born in the same place and time as the lambs raised for sacrifice?

John 1:14 says “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us,…”   The word translated dwelt means to tabernacle or pitch a tent.  Christ’s flesh – His body was His earthly tent, His tabernacle.  The shadow[5] of that Body is found in the Tabernacle of Moses.  Moses got the plans for the Tabernacle from God and was told to build it exactly as directed.  Amazingly, it is about nine months from the giving of the plans on Mt. Sinai to the day God said for it to be built.  Exodus 40:1-2 tells us that Moses was told to erect the tabernacle on Nisan 1.

Nisan is the first month or of the sacred calendar thus the beginning of the new sacred year.[6]  Yom Kippur is known as the Jewish New Year, but it is the beginning of the civil rather than the sacred year.  The dating of the feasts of Israel is by the sacred calendar.  The feasts Jesus has fulfilled were done in order; first Passover, then First Fruits and finally Weeks (Pentecost).  Tabernacles will be fulfilled at His coming. The birth has been fulfilled, so it should come first and on a specific scriptural day.

The life of Jesus brought about a calendar change.  Now the calendar is set up by BCE, before the Christian era and AD, Anno Domini, which means in the year of our Lord, not after death.  It is time measured from His birth.  And when would that be scripturally?  Exodus 12:2 says, This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you.  God then begins to give the details for Passover so we know that the month is Nisan and the date Nisan 1.[7]

What year?  We know Herod was alive when Jesus was born and he died in 4 BCE.  The Magi don’t come for a couple of years so the star must have risen in 6 BCE.  There are other clues, but 6 BC is the probable year of His birth.  As to the date, it was in March – some say the 20th, some the 21st.

There are two Messiahs described in scripture, one the suffering servant and one the King of Kings.  We expect the King of Kings to fulfil the Feast of Tabernacles.  Was the suffering servant born then too, or was it in the Spring on the first of Nisan?  Take a look at the evidence and you decide.

Merry Christmas!

Footnotes

[1] The case for Fall birth can be found at biblelight.net/sukkoth.htm

[2] This article was inspired by a YouTube video by Johnathan Cahn.

[3] December 25 was the last day of the pagan Saturnalia Festival.

[4] “Abiding in the fields” means to live in the fields, be under the open sky, even at night

[5] An earthly shadow or type is used to give information about the “real thing.”

[6] Ex. 12:2 “This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you.

[7] Nisan was called Abib, meaning sheaf of ripened grain, before the Captivity in Babylon.

Women and Priesthood

Recently one of the world’s foremost Christian leaders reiterated his organisation’s official stance excluding women from the priesthood. Elsewhere in the Christian world woman’s entitlement to ordination on an equal basis with her male counterparts is still being hotly debated and is far from settled. Women who believe they are being called by God to serve His church pastorally or in other leadership capacities are anguishing about how to both obey God and fall in line with their denomination’s opposing stance on the matter.

The arguments from both sides of this debate obviously can’t be covered in one article and there are many resources available for study on this blog and other websites. In this particular post I want to focus on three core elements and consider each of these from a Biblical perspective: calling, priesthood and ordination.

Calling

Whatever pathway we choose in service to God, most Christians would agree His Word is our first guidepost, accompanied by the conviction of the Holy Spirit that God is desiring us to follow a specific direction in which our God-given gifts can be best utilised for His people and His glory. This sense of deep, consistent conviction is what most of us would recognise as a ‘calling’ from God in a specific area of service to Him (1 Tim. 1:9; Eph. 4:1-7).

There are certain areas of calling that are universal for all Christ followers, including the call to take up our cross and follow Christ, the call to love one another and our neighbour, and the call to share the good news of the gospel. Individual Christians, regardless of gender, can also experience a personal calling to a specific area of ministry, such as a deep desire to serve God in a particular location or within a certain people group.

Throughout Christian history women have sensed God’s calling to serve Him in the same way in which men have felt called to serve God. The Holy Spirit has not been poured out on females in a lesser measure or in a more limited way than on males (Acts 2:17). A man sensing God’s calling on his life may struggle with issues such as finance, education or social and cultural barriers, but a man is never restricted from serving God on the basis of gender. On the other hand a woman sensing God’s calling is frequently told she may not serve God in certain capacities simply because she is not a man.

Great swathes of Christianity still place severe limitations on the expression of a woman’s spiritual calling, regardless of how gifted she may be, based on a narrow, biased interpretation of some New Testament passages which are held above the fuller counsel of the whole of scripture.

Certain trailblazing women throughout history have challenged these restrictions and had fruitful ministries, usually at great personal cost. For the most part though, untold numbers of Christian women have historically been locked out from officially pursuing their calling to ministry by a church firmly dominated by male leadership and a culture of gender discrimination that does not reflect the words or the teachings of Jesus Christ. As the link in the first paragraph of this article demonstrates, in some powerful Christian circles things have not changed: calling and gifting take second place to gender.

Priesthood

So, despite this male dominated atmosphere, does the Bible shed any light on whether or not a woman who feels called to serve God in ministry can be a priest?

Under the Old Covenant, the whole nation of Israel, i.e. men, women and children, were appointed by God as a holy nation of priests among the nations (Ex. 19:6). Within that national calling to priesthood a specific priesthood from the tribe of Levi was also set apart from the general Hebrew community. Their role was to minister to God, observe the ritualistic Law, and serve as the people’s mediators before Him (Ex. 28:41; 29:44).

In the New Covenant, however, Christ alone is the one mediator between God and His people. Only He is designated specifically as our Priest and Great High Priest (Heb. 3:1; 4:14,15; 6:20). Christ has replaced the Levitical priesthood and became the eternally risen mediator between God and humanity (Heb. 8:4-11; 1 Tim. 2:5).

Under this New Covenant of grace all God’s people are called equally to priesthood, regardless of ethnicity, age, class or gender (1 Peter 2:5,9). Neither is there any hierarchy in this universal priesthood of believers, for all are set apart and placed ‘into’ Christ, in Whom there are no divisions (Gal. 3:26,28). The book of Revelation confirms this new priesthood of all believers (Rev. 1:5,6) and declares that this priesthood will reign with Christ during the Millennium (Rev. 20:6). Again, there is no indication in these scriptures that this universal priesthood is exclusively male. It is a priesthood of believers, not based on gender or any other factor, but solely on faith in Christ.

It is vitally important for anyone sensing a specific call of God on their life to understand this truth. All believers belong to God’s spiritual priesthood, set apart for God’s purposes and for His glory. In the Kingdom of God women are joint heirs with Christ and as such have been appointed as serving priests on the same basis as men (Rom. 8:17). The right to serve in any capacity to which God calls her is a woman’s inherent entitlement under the New Covenant.

Ordination

The problem area is around the word ‘ordination’. Generally speaking, ordination is acknowledgement that an individual can officially serve in leadership within a Christian denomination. It is recognition that they have undertaken the required educational process and have the desired spiritual attributes to function within that denomination in an official capacity. The dictionary defines it as the act of receiving ‘holy orders’.

Ordination, however, is not known in the New Testament. It is a practice that, like many other church practices, gradually crept in to church life as Christianity grew and increasingly merged with the religious cultures of the world. There is no New Testament evidence that the earliest Christian leaders distinguished themselves from fellow believers either by wearing certain items of clothing or taking such titles  as reverend, bishop, priest, pastor, etc. Some were called apostles, some elders, others deacons, but these were descriptions of recognised function, not titles.

Neither Peter or Paul in their letters introduced themselves as Apostle Paul or Apostle Peter, but as ‘an apostle’, in the same way as they described themselves as servants, or bondslaves (Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 1:1; Gal 1:1 ; Titus 1:1; 2 Pet. 1:1)

As Christianity began to embrace the practices of the surrounding world and formalised itself into rankings and heirarchy, a special title and specific clothing became necessary to set apart an individual from other believers and indicate his position in church leadership.

As an example of how Bible translators have sometimes interpreted scripture to support this creation of a priestly class let’s consider the following passage from 1 Timothy 3:1 in the KJV: “This is a true saying, if a man desires the office of a bishop he desireth a good work”.

In the original NT language, the word translated ‘man’ is not gender specific – it is a Greek pronoun meaning ‘whoever’.   ‘Bishop’ is the Greek word ‘episcope’ which means someone who takes general oversight (not a title but a function). And the word ‘office’ is not present in the original Greek at all.

The nearest thing to ordination we find in the New Testament is the ‘laying on of hands’ which is mentioned in relation to the filling of the Holy Spirit and impartation of spiritual gifts (Acts 8:18; Acts 9:17; 1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6; Heb. 6:2).

In Acts 8 we read about a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit in a city of Samaria during which ‘both men and women were baptised’ in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 8:12). When Peter and John arrived to witness what was happening, they laid hands on these new believers and they were filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17). There is no indication at all that the laying on of hands was something reserved only for men in the early church.

Whether denominational ordination is God’s pathway for her is something each woman sensing a calling to ministry must work out prayerfully for herself. However, I firmly believe no Christian woman should ever believe herself disqualified from God’s holy spiritual priesthood on the word of any Christian leader or institution. If God is calling you, you have received your ‘holy orders’ – follow that call, even if it leads outside the walls of your denomination. God has not disqualified you, men have.

Summary

  1. Every Christian woman or girl is a member of God’s appointed priesthood by virtue of being ‘in Christ’, regardless of the rulings of human leaders and their institutions.
  2. Any Christian woman or girl may experience a calling from God and this calling is not Biblically restricted on the basis of her gender. It is restricted only by individual denominational doctrines.
  3. Some Christian women feel their calling to serve God lies within their denomination and therefore seek ordination within their chosen organisation. This decision should be respected, but denominational ordination should not be confused with God’s calling or appointment. God has already appointed women to His priesthood.

The full, equal and unrestricted priesthood of women and girls in Christ cannot be Biblically disputed. What continues to be sadly lacking is the ability and willingness of some Christian institutions to recognise and act on this foundational Biblical truth.

The Difference a Day Makes, Part Two

unsplash-sunrise-on-wheat-ii-rose-erkul

I encourage you to read Part One for the
background and set-up for what follows next ~ Nancy

There’s a lot more chronicled in this palace story than there is time and room to delve into here. As I stated in Part One, it was the difference a day makes – and what transpired in just twenty-four hours – that stood out to me. Let’s step back into the story …

Three Players (setting the stage)

Xerxes. Haman. Mordecai. We’ve already established that Xerxes as king, given what’s recorded in scripture, was a guy with an eye for beauty and an insatiable palate for wine. He also had a recurring problem with his temper. When Queen Vashti refused to come at his command delivered through the king’s eunuchs, scripture tells us “… the king became very angry and his wrath burned within him.”8 In fact, that’s the first mention of his anger. As you read on through Esther’s ten chapters, there’s a distinct connection between his drinking and being a merry-hearted, liberal sharer of wine or becoming easily incensed upon hearing something he did not like.

Once he sobered up and realized that ship had sailed with what he had done to Vashti, he could do nothing but try to save face for men and husbands throughout his kingdom. Onward, not necessarily upward. His weakness seems to have been wine and women. He was as fickle as females are claimed to be when it came to banishing Vashti, only to turn around after he’d crowned Esther queen and offer her anything she wished up to half the kingdom! Remember in part one that Esther was bringing herself to the mix? So had Vashti, and God was about to use her courage to hearten Esther’s when ‘such a time’ came.

Chapters 1 and 2, quickly covering a four-year span, chronicle the fall and rise of these two queens, Vashti and Esther. One who counted true nobility of more value than skin deep beauty and a crown; the other on a fast track to learning the ways of palace life and hospitality so foreign to her life as a Jew. Oh, and what not to do to tick off the king! It’s not hard to imagine Esther had the ‘fear of Vashti’ put in her. At least the fear that what happened to Queen Vashti could happen to her if she didn’t toe the line. She determined to put no dainty foot in Xerxes’ line of sight before any summons came. It was a safe plan.

Haman. What he was up to before this? Scripture doesn’t say. It intimates that he impressed his way in good with the king – with his own anger problem in tow.9 Another reminder that what we are comes with us. Chapter 3 recounts Haman’s rise to power and glory by the king with words like promoted, advanced, established authority, the king’s servants at the gate who bowed down and paid homage as the king had commanded concerning him. Is it any wonder Haman’s pride went before his fall?

Every bow in homage puffed more hot air into his conceit. There was just one that could get his goat and enrage him every time he saw him at the gate neither standing up nor trembling before him. That dis-re-spect-ful …

Mordecai. Now we’re getting to the heart of the story where he, Esther, a nation in which dwelled God’s people, and now we are concerned. History changes as hearts are turned. The difference a day makes!

The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD;
He turns it wherever He wishes.
Proverbs 21:1 NASB

It only takes a read through the book of Esther to see the kind of man Mordecai was: a man of devout faith who did not bow to human flesh. Instead, he stood humbly before his God and paid honor to Him only, while sitting among the others at the king’s gate. Thank the Lord there are honorable men among us today who walk humbly before Him and have wise counsel to share if we will receive and heed it.

Scripture tells us that Esther did where Mordecai was concerned. He who had taken her in, adopted and raised her as his own, and walked daily outside the harem courtyard to see and know what was happening to her after she had been whisked away from their home. He did not abandon her or forget about her. He continued communicating with her via messages through the chief eunuch into whose care she had been given. The same valet whose favor she immediately gained and under whose personal tutelage she was trained in the ways of the palace and the king. Concurrently, Mordecai’s counsel and wisdom was not withheld at the most dire time. In fact, when Esther told him ‘Nuh-uh, I’m not approaching the king before I’m called!’, it was then that he spoke frank truth because he loved her and cared for her very life and those of his countrymen:

“Do not think that because
you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape.

For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews
will arise from another place,
but you and your father’s family will perish.
And who knows but that you have come to royal position
for such a time as this?”

Esther 4:13-14

That got her attention. Being human, I don’t think it was just the ‘for such a time as this’ part that roused her to action. I believe the thought of her life and those of her people being exterminated had a great something to do with screwing up her courage to set her toes timidly, if not daintily, in un-summoned sight of the king. There was the weight of truth in Mordecai’s words: “Do not think that because you are … you alone of all … will escape…if you remain silent at this time…”

Not to mention Mordecai’s challenge to her sense of leading a life of impact and legacy wrapped around the thought of someone else rising up when she was already there in the right place at the right time.

How like the Holy Spirit (as portrayed through the vessel of Mordecai) to remain ever present to us as Friend, Counselor, Protector releasing courage and strength to us in the very day that is going to make a difference in the turning of hearts.

Hearts (in the hand of the Lord)

Vashti and Esther both held the same position. What did they each model for us? I was challenged to look deeper. As I did there were some things that strike me as pertinent to us ishshahs even now:

♦ Vashti knew royal protocol. When commanded to throw it overboard in favor of ‘obedient’ self-degradation for man’s pleasure, she stayed true to herself. Likewise, Esther did not stop doing what she had been doing before she became queen. She listened to Mordecai. The other two key players in this saga (Xerxes and Haman) bent their ear toward those who told them what ‘pleased’ them.10

Christ-followers or not, humankind has been given a conscience with a sense of right and wrong. Vashti modeled holding to that which was of value: moral decency and personal integrity. She said ‘No’.

– Esther knew the Voice she needed to hear in order to move moment by moment in faith, not fear. We too should not stop listening and being guided by the Holy Spirit if and when we are raised to position.

♦ Vashti refused and sent back word to the king stating as much, choosing a personal high road of dignity and self-respect over the commands and demands of human tradition. It cost her dearly in the natural.

– God-given conscience empowered Vashti to stand for what was noble and right. Though she likely did not know Esther’s God, Esther’s God knew Vashti and preserved her life. We are wise to not discount the rest of her story, unknown to us but fully known to God. Centuries have not changed His heart of honor.

♦ Esther too initially refused to go before the king and sent back word to Mordecai stating as much. Yet she chose to share her fear with Mordecai whom she trusted and with the God whom she loved, which led to further communication and instruction that would be a high mark in the difference a day makes.

–  Vashti was in a set of circumstances different from where Esther found herself. Each ishshah has varying degrees of support and trusting relationships or lack thereof. At a deeply personal level, the Lord desires that we come to Him who understands how He made us, for what purpose, why He has us where He does, and how to turn our heart in accordance with His will for us, for others and the demonstration of His grace and glory.

♦ Vashti’s removal led to Esther’s acquisition of the crown. However, that was only the first of many steps she would take. Once Esther came into agreement with Mordecai and the Holy Spirit, she was empowered to take the next step. And she did. Now it was she who replied to Mordecai with clear instructions which he carried out. At the end of the appointed three days she would present herself before the king, even if it meant her life. Both she and Vashti modeled becoming women of resolve.

–  Once we come into agreement with the Holy Spirit and the Word of the Lord, we are empowered to take the next step. And so we do. Agreement turns our heart in a way that makes a big difference for us and causes room for the Lord’s will to be brought about.

Though more, I’ll close with my favorite insight that sparked the phrase ‘the difference a day makes’

♦ Once she had followed through on her resolve, passed the feared ‘off with her head’ test, and extended her banquet invitation to the king and Haman, Esther did not rush to answer the king that first evening. She bought some more time, whether out of some remaining trepidation or a check in her spirit. Extending another invitation to another banquet the next day changed the course of history again.

There is no way Esther could have known what Haman was going to set in motion as he left the king and queen. Even Haman didn’t know yet at that point until he listened to his wife and friends. Add to it King Xerxes’ sleepless night. Haman’s humiliation the next day as he paraded Mordecai through the streets on the king’s horse and wearing the king’s robe. Haman whisked off to banquet number two. The awful revelation of Haman’s intent; the king’s rage and getting a grip in the garden, only to return to Haman’s ill-timed plea to Queen Esther for his life. Twenty-four hours later Haman was the one hanged on the gallows he intended for Mordecai. Through it all, the LORD’s will prevailed. Centuries later, it still does.

♦ Esther at any given time only knew her third of the story. Xerxes and Haman held the other two-thirds.

We see in part and do not know how or when salvation and victory will come, but don’t ever sell short the LORD.

Oh, the difference a day makes! ♦

8Xerxes: Esther 1:12; 2:1; 7:7-10
9Haman: Esther 3:5-6; 5:9-10
10Esther 1:21; 2:4; 2:17; 3:9-11; 5:2,14; 6:7,13 (big turnaround!); Ch 8; 9:24-25
Nancy’s Note: I encourage you to read the biblical Book of Esther. For more on Vashti, see:
https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/all-women-bible/Vashti
http://day1.org/1066-the_woman_who_just_said_no
https://godswordtowomen.org/vashti_esther_1-3.htm
photo credits: Unsplash by Rose Erkul │PicMonkey enhancements

The Difference a Day Makes

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Esther’s story has so often been told and re-told to the point that I’m tired of hearing the phrase ‘for such a time as this.’ Where’s the encouragement in that?! you say. Bear with me, for I know that phrase presents a necessary challenge to stand up! speak up! do something! at times we may be tempted not to or to, as we’ll see in a bit, rise up to meet the challenge in a less than optimum way. In a recent re-reading of the book of Esther it was as though I stepped into the story for a bit with the real people in their real situations. What stood out to me was the difference a day makes, largely hinged upon the motivation of one’s heart. Due to its length, part one and part two will follow a day apart. Submitted with prayerful love and care for all ishshahs ~ Nancy 

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A lot can happen in twenty-four hours. Think about it. History has been redirected so many times on the pivot of one sunrise/sunset/sunrise, it’s like watching a tennis match. Oh, the difference a day makes!

The Bible is full of such stories:

Adam. Eve. One day living Life together with the Life Giver in pleasant Eden. The next, ushered out stage east to begin the demise of life, as we know it.1 No need to rehearse their story. We’re well acquainted.

Noah. Six hundred years and seven days later. A week onboard with his family and the ark door wide open for whosoever will to come. They didn’t. A day later, the door shut by the Lord and a flip of the deluge switch above and below. Eight people and animal sevens and duos of every kind safe and sheltered within. Loss of all other life that remained without.2 History began again. Or continued.

Saul. One day king of Israel (reigning forty years, mind you); the next un-king’d in Spirit by a repentant LORD.3 Saul’s spiritual dethroning and actual death set the stage for David to ascend to the throne promised him years before.4

King Xerxes. Queen Vashti. Hadassah commonly known as Esther. 5 The story of a king and two queens whose rise/fall/rise changed history – over some years and overnight. Oh, the difference a day makes!

One Virgin (of many)

Esther, Jewish orphaned but adopted by her cousin Mordecai Susa girl, knew the difference a day makes.

  • One day she had a father and a mother. The next day she had neither.
  • One day she was living life as she now knew it. The next she was whisked away to the king’s palace and handed over to the keeper of the harem, along with a likely minimum of 127 other virgin girls, given there were 127 provinces under King Xerxes’ rule. One would think there was at least one beautiful virgin in each town! Beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder. King Xerxes had ordered a kingdom-wide beauty beholding brigade.
  • One day she was doing her and cousin Mordecai’s laundry and pounding out flour for their next loaf of bread. The next she had seven maids awaiting; twelve months of grooming; and eating honeyed fruit from the pear tree.

Hers was a life dotted with critical twenty-four hour junctures that, added together, positioned her to be in the right place at the right time to move the heart of the king. But guess what?

Esther only knew the half of it. Or one-third, actually. The only thing she knew about ‘such a time as this’ was the circumstances of the day she was in at any given time. Let’s look at the difference a day makes.

Two Queens (in the palace)

Ah, Vashti. Whenever I read her story in Esther 1:1 through 2:4, a few things stick out. Her husband, King Ahasuerus (Xerxes) was filthy rich. He liked to party and he liked his wine. However, the people liked him because he was not a stingy rich guy who only shared his wealth with the nobles. He was quite generous. The least to the greatest was invited to a weeklong palace banquet where the decor was gorgeous and the wine was abundant ‘in keeping with the king’s liberality’.6

Meanwhile, Queen Vashti was partying with the women in another part of the palace. Well, every party needs a pooper and Vashti was it. Summoned by a drunken husband (I like how the Bible records it – merry with wine on the seventh day – and that after six months of similar celebrating gone before!) to display her beauty to (read be ogled by or worse) the male partygoers, she put her dainty foot down and refused to honor the king’s command.

Ah, Vashti. It took courage to say NO. To count your own soul worthy of respect, honor and dignity even if it cost you dishonor and being deposed from the royal role you held. I, for one, am grieved that as a result of bravely drawing a line for yourself, you were banished from the presence of the king and your royal position given to someone ‘better than you’. By suggestive counsel of the seven nobles closest to your husband the king, you and women everywhere were put in their place – or rather, where the men wished to put and keep them. History may have changed overnight, but some things in history haven’t changed much.

Protocol ensured you lived in occasional proximity of the king, Vashti; the frequency determined by his desire and possibly others’ alliances. You had a fair idea of what made him tick and what ticked him off. How many concubines suffered compromise before this summons you received? You were the queen and such treatment, in a sober state of mind, would have been ill-advised.

From our historical vantage point centuries later is it safe to say that, for you, the day arrived when too much water had flowed under that Susa bridge? While there was partying in the palace on the outside, your brave stance pointed to a different story playing out on the inside.

You could have been put to death that day. But you weren’t. Whether you knew of a living, loving God or not, even then the king’s heart was being turned7 for your ultimate protection.

How many of us have wrestled with ‘role’ and ‘heart’ and hard-won freedom that costs us something!

We’re having to learn, just like Vashti and Esther did…

Ah, Esther. While the king’s men were intent on preventing disrespect of husbands everywhere (by making an example of Queen Vashti), you were oblivious to the role you were about to play as a history changer, not to mention becoming the next Queen of Persia.

While the king’s men were intent on commanding respect by a royal decree proclaimed kingdom-wide (not realizing, wise men that they were in matters of law and judgment, that one cannot rule hearts), you were soon going to bring who you were, along with your own advisor, to the mix.

Ah, Esther. You challenge us women eons later. But, like those of us trying to learn and follow the Divine order of love in matters thrust upon us, you only knew your third of the story too. You were one of us – unwittingly poised to show ishshahs across cultures and centuries the difference a day makes.

To be continued in Part Two.

1Adam & Eve – Genesis 3
2Noah – Genesis 7
3Saul – I Samuel 13:1; 15:35; 16:14
4David – I Samuel 16:12-13
5Esther 2:7
6Esther 1:7
7Proverbs 21:1
photo credits: Unsplash by Rose Erkul │PicMonkey enhancements

Guest Post: Find Your Voice

kbonikowsky

We have a great guest post for you this week from Kay Bonikowsky.  Kay describes herself as a Missionary kid. Mother. Wife. Seminarian. Opinionated. And Grateful.  Check out more of Kay’s excellent articles at kbonikowsky.com.

 

Clipart courtesy of Disneyclips.com

Clipart courtesy of Disneyclips.com

The story of Ariel, The Little Mermaid, is a story of a young woman learning the value of her voice. Ariel traded her voice for legs, only to learn her silence nearly cost her life, her father’s life and her lover’s. Disney’s make-believe tale highlights the tendency in many cultures and ages to keep women quiet, to silence their voice, for no better reason than female provenance. Sadly, Christianity has been no different. But, a woman’s voice is of great worth in God’s kingdom as the Bible relates through a multitude of stories. Like these biblical women and Disney’s Ariel, we moderns must speak up. You must find your voice.

Be quiet.

It is hard to find our voice, though, when we are told with authority to “Be Quiet,” isn’t it? Princess Tamar, the daughter of King David, had been pursued and raped by her half-brother Amnon. She pleaded with him to marry her, but he refused to listen to her. And when she raised her voice in public sorrow and shame, she was told, “Be quiet.” She agreed and traded her voice for a lifetime of silent, secluded desolation (2 Samuel 13). How many women over the millennia have kept their mouths shut simply because they were told to “be quiet?” How many women have felt the ache in the pit of her belly from a ball of unsaid words? Words that should have been voiced, but weren’t? There is a time for women (and men) to be silent, and there are times for women to speak!

Listen to me.

Let us consider the tales of women recorded in the Old Testament who found their voice and did not accept a silent life.

In 2 Kings 5, a young, Israelite slave-girl pipes up to guide her master to Elisha, the prophet who would cure him of leprosy and introduce him to the Almighty God. In 1 Samuel 25, young Abigail defies her foolish husband’s orders and asks of David, “May I speak to you? Will you listen to me?” She eloquently articulates two paragraphs of her responsibility toward David and the faith she placed in his destiny. Queen Esther refuses to remain silent when she is faced with the persecution, abuse, and even holocaust of her people. Her words deliver Israel in Esther 7.

Ruth, a woman of few words, spoke a marriage proposal to Boaz in Ruth 3. These assertive words rescued her mother-in-law from destitution and childlessness. Huldah was required to speak. She was summoned to interpret the Word of God for King Josiah’s advisors and instructed the king on repentance in 2 Kings 22.

The wise woman in 2 Samuel 20 demands, “Listen to me!” Her words and decisive actions avert a war. Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milkah and Tirzah spoke before the entire nation of Israel in Numbers 27, challenging the Law of Moses. They appealed for their father’s inheritance since they had no brother, and God concurred. Their combined voices altered God’s law! These anecdotes from the Hebrew Bible describe the many ways women’s speech altered the course of Israel’s history.

Let them speak.

Women’s speech also altered early church history. Psalm 107:2 grants women a voice by declaring, “Let those redeemed by God speak!” Seeing a pregnant Mary, Elizabeth declares her belief out loud that Mary will birth The Promised One of God. She corrects the crowd at the birth of her son to declare obedience to God in naming him John, not Zechariah (Luke 1). Mary sang her hope of salvation and declared faith in God’s promises to her people (Luke 1).

Anna, a prophet, spoke to anyone who would listen about the Redeemer of Israel – a baby she met in the Temple (Luke 2:38). A Samaritan village is first to believe Jesus is the Messiah because of a woman’s words (John 4:42). A woman’s speech illustrates God’s words over a repentant sinner. “Rejoice with me!” she says (Luke 15:9-10). Mary Magdalene first proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus to the Twelve (John 20:18). Women began to speak publicly in droves after Pentecost fulfilling the prophecy of Joel that even female voices would be heard declaring the Lord’s coming (Acts 2:18). The Apostle Junia taught the early church (Acts 2:42, Romans 16:7). The Apostle Phillip’s four daughters edified the church through spoken words (Acts 21:9, 1 Cor. 14:14). Priscilla instructed Apollos (Acts 18:26).

There must be another understanding.

The Bible has many stories of women who used their voices to help others and elucidate the Word of God. Would these women have been muted in a church setting due to the injunction of two baffling verses demanding women to be silent and quiet (1 Cor. 14:34, 1 Tim. 2:12)? God forbid! There must be another understanding.

I suggest we go deeper than a straightforward interpretation of these verses in the same way we examine troubling verses such as Matthew 5:38, John 6:53 and 1 John 3:9. Matthew 5:38 says we must be perfect to go to heaven. In John 6:53, Jesus says we must eat his flesh and drink his blood to share in his kingdom. 1 John 3:9 teaches a Christian cannot sin! Yet, no mainstream church teaches perfectionism or cannibalism. We reject an unqualified interpretation for these verses. We know there must be another understanding. Then why do we halt at a simplistic interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14:34 and 1 Timothy 2:12 that gags the mouths of women? To do so flies in the face of millennia of God-fearing speaking females. There must be another understanding.

Break the shell of silence.

At the end of the cartoon, The Little Mermaid, the shell that imprisons Ariel’s beautiful voice is broken into pieces at her feet, and her song is returned to her. Those witnessing the event, shake their heads to clear the fog cast by the sea witch’s spell now broken by Ariel’s voice as if to say, “That’s right! Ariel can speak. She isn’t a mute. Somehow I knew this, but I had forgotten!” The shell of 1 Corinthians 14:34 and 1 Timothy 2:12 that silences women in churches must be broken. Woman of God, find your voice.

What Am I Doing Here?

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“I was the worship leader of a large church. What am I doing behind the bar of a coffee shop? I don’t even like coffee,” he said.

“I know I am called to be a missionary to the third world. I’ve studied pediatric nutrition, I’ve been to seminary, I’ve learned the language, I’ve jumped through red tape hoops, but instead I’m teaching privileged college students who are semi-comatose under the spell of entitlement. What am I doing here?” she said.

This is becoming a familiar conversation as I listen to friends and family whose lives have taken a detour. I know a lot of people who are asking the question, “What am I doing here? This was not in my five-year plan.”

I’ve seen some interesting career shifts: a former chaplain working as a tinsmith, a refugee physician pushing a broom, a former pastor working as a carpenter, a former geologist bathing patients, a former journalist weighing deli meat and many more.

The Lord often gives us a vision of the future by placing dreams in our hearts. Sometimes he even gives us a precise picture of what he has called us to be and do. We head toward the mountain. Then he leads us on a road going the opposite direction.

I love taking my camera and exploring the wide valley where I live. Sometimes I take panorama shots and sometimes I use a zoom lens to foreshorten the distance between here and there. The problem is that, as in this photo taken with a zoom lens, we can’t always see the valleys that lie between us and the goal. There’s a major river flowing in a valley beyond the trees in the foreground. You need to turn and travel some distance to find a bridge. But it’s an important river that provides water and power for people in two countries.

It is in the valleys that we are given provision for what lies ahead.

In the Bible we read many stories of people whose lives took a detour just when it looked like they were making progress. We read about a former prince working as a shepherd, a former palace musician and warrior hiding in caves, a former boss working as a prison helper, a former daughter of Israel living as the property of a son of Canaan, a former academic religious expert living in the desert as a student.

I’ve spoken to mature leaders who can look back on their detour experiences, whether they lasted forty days or forty years, and tell me it was there they were given tools or connections or placement that enabled them to climb higher later. In times when it seems that nothing is going the way we planned we are often reduced to being able to trust no one else but God and to use nothing else other than what he has placed in our hands. Our natural talents and skills are almost useless in this place.

Sometimes we need to lose something, like self-confidence or arrogance, so we can exchange it for God-confidence and humility.

Sometimes we need to gain something, like the ability to love difficult people, or the quiet, joyful endurance that wears opposition down.

Sometimes we need more practical skills, like knowledge of how to keep livestock alive in the desert, or how to administer a task force, or how to disengage hindering emotions in a crisis – or even how to sink a tent peg with one blow.

Sometimes we need to become more acquainted with the voice and character of God through experiences that turn theoretical concepts into deeply rooted faith. Sometimes when we find ourselves on a rugged detour it’s because there are treasures there that cannot be found any other place.

This morning I was thinking about my Dad, who is now with the Lord. He spent most of his working life as a salesman. It didn’t suit his temperament and frankly, he hated it. Every Monday he drummed up just enough courage to face a week of cold calls. For a sensitive, artistic person rejection was particularly discouraging. Eventually commissions dwindled and he found work as a church janitor. He felt like a failure and asked himself what he was doing there.

This church had a school attached and the children loved his stories. After awhile the principal noticed and asked him to be a regular part of school assemblies as a story teller. His tales were so entertaining someone suggested he write a book. He did. His experience as a salesman taught him how to market effectively. It was soon in its second printing. Calls began to come from schools, nursing homes, theaters, and even from a film maker who featured him at an avant-garde film festival.

His stories were about God’s faithfulness, about strength in adversity and endurance through hard times. His failure as a salesman positioned him for the role God had for him. Thousands listened.

This week I read about a woman who seemed to have little influence and whose destiny seemed to be determined by the whim of others. I don’t know that it can be proven but some scholars have suggested that Jael was a captured wife, a sex slave if you will. She was a Jewish woman married to Heber the Kenite, a descendant of Canaanites who were known at the time to take women by force. The story,  told in Judges 4, is that the commander of the king of the Canaanites was on the run after a lost battle led by Deborah and Barak when he came to her remote tent.

Jael was not a warrior. She was not a judge like Deborah. She had no back-up and no defender but God. She had only the tools and skills of a nomad’s woman living in isolation. But she used them and freed her people from oppression by driving a tent peg through her enemy’s head.

Sometimes we look at the detours our life has taken and wonder what we are doing here. We can ask, like a complaining student, why we need to learn this stuff. Will it be on the exam?

It could be.

Are you in this zone? Look at what God has placed in your hand. Is it a staff, a slingshot, a tent peg, a mop, a steering wheel, a wooden spoon, a paintbrush, a pen? Has your detour brought you into contact with those you never expected to meet? Can you say, despite disappointments, “’Tis grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home?”

Or do you find yourself in this in-between valley seeing the mountain but struggling to hold on to the hope that you will ever get there?

Wait. The Lord loves to put us in impossible situations, because when he moves through us we know without a doubt that it was his doing.

The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
The LORD has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
(Psalm 18:22,23 NIV)

Watch. He’s up to something. This is going to be good.

Save

Save

Relationships

linda-pat

Last month I picked up our local paper and found the obituary of a woman who had been a close friend.  She moved a number of years ago to an assisted living facility that was closer to her daughter but about a hundred miles away.  I missed her and for a while we would talk occasionally but I did not make an effort to continue the relationship.  Looking back I realize that she was the one who would call, I don’t think I ever did.  I thought of her occasionally, even thanked God for her, but never made the effort to keep or get back in touch.

While I don’t believe God calls us to pursue every relationship that becomes separated by space or circumstances, there are some that we should not lose.  This was one of them.  My friend taught Bible studies in her new assisted living home and I heard of the impact she made there.  She had made an impact in lots of other places too—including my life.  Her deep and abiding relationship with the Lord made her words ones to be valued.

We were part of a fellowship that came apart when sin was found in the leadership.  The consensus was to throw out everything we had learned there, but I was relieved to find that my friend and I were among a very few who realized that much truth had been imparted and should be treasured rather than dismissed.  Years later, when I was no longer welcome in the next church because I believed in, and taught, biblical equality, she went out of her way to support and encourage me even while being led to stay within their ranks.

Why did I not realize the importance of such a relationship?  Probably too much self and not enough abiding.  Whatever the reasons, my heart broke when I thought that it was now too late.  Yes, we’ll see each other for eternity, but the relationship during this life was lost.  If she needed my support during those years, it was not there.  I can’t fix what’s over and done, but I can learn and hopefully not let it happen again.

Those the Lord Gives

I was pretty sure the Lord wanted me to write about my friend and Christian relationships and why they must be treasured, but when I read an article by Paule Patterson who wrote our guest post last week, it confirmed this leading.  The article spoke of the fact that sin “not only damaged our relationship with God, but it also equally damaged our relationship with other humans.”[1]  However, this is not about the need to forgive and keep relationships positive.  It is about not losing contact but cherishing and holding close those the Lord has given us.

God is the author of relationship.  Once the wondrous “Hound of Heaven” got hold of me, I began to realize that there are special bonds that were given by Him.  While most are lifetime, some have been just for a season.  The list includes family, neighbors, co-workers, friends, and even some organizations.  These are to be kept on the radar for prayer, a visit or call, a book, text, email – whatever fits with the still small voice that prompts action.

Doing is good, but praying is the major thing when it comes to ‘the list.’ I asked the Lord a number of years ago what was really important, what was His desire for my folks.  The bottom line has come as a prayer that His will be done in (their) earth as it is in heaven.  (In the “Lord’s Prayer” the word translated on can also be translated in.)  We Christians are redeemed earth, a temple of the Holy Spirit, thus the prayer for His will in the earth that composes our bodies.  For those on my list who don’t know the Lord, I believe the prayer fits as well or better—even the organizations.  Such a prayer won’t become rote if it is accompanied by requests for insights into what the Lord is doing in individual lives.

Wake-up Calls

Sin is self-centered.  Self is a major problem for relationship.  “Me” is more pressing than “they.” My friend’s death made me recognize that there were God given connections that were slipping away through neglect.  I am thankful for the wake-up call.  I’ve confessed and I’m forgiven—the point is, what have I learned and has it moved from my head to my heart?!

But it is not just doing; most of the time it is being.  Who we are speaks so much louder than words or planned actions.  This is the “letting our light shine” that goes out way past our friends or even acquaintances.  I no longer expect spiritual goose bumps or deep feelings of love for an individual when God uses me.  What’s important to another is usually something that we would not count as important. This is the being part, the just living part.  Confirmation of this truth comes when someone tells of a word or action that was critical in their lives when we had no clue that we were being used.

Despite the fact that we are often ignorant of God using us, that’s not always the case.  I take that to mean, pay attention to the Holy Spirit prompts.  Things like a person coming to mind repeatedly, or seeing something on social media, or knowing that your friend is going through a rough place. What is the Lord prompting us to do?

I get lots of prompts that get ignored because it’s inconvenient or just through laziness.  The Lord says to redeem the time, or as it says in the NIV, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”  Ephesians 5:15-17  I suspect, for me, He’s indicating fewer games on the iPad, or missing a bit of football, or putting down a good book—but it’s whatever counts as our favorite way to veg out.[2]  Relationships are far more important—as is obedience.

I thank the Lord for using my friend as a wake-up call.  If you needed a push, I’ve shared mine with you.

Footnotes

[1] Paule Patterson, It’s Not About A Personal Relationship with Jesus on the blog Live His Love

[2] To “veg out” is to spend time just relaxing—we all need some time like this but it can be overdone.

Finding Photini–Light On The Woman at the Well

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We are pleased to introduce a new guest author, Paule Patterson .  Paule is the Student Ministries Pastor at Real Life on the Palouse in Moscow, Idaho, USA, where he frequently preaches. He has three children and has been married to his best friend for over 11 years. He is passionate about guiding people into a better perspective of Scripture and of themselves. He attempts to ask questions that are often glossed over and to challenge the most basic of assumptions, looking for the shades of grey and color beyond the black and whites.  Check out his website at  validambiguity.com 

angelika_kauffmann_-_christus_und_die_samariterin_am_brunnen_-1796

The Samaritan woman at the well in John 4 is perhaps one of the church’s most beloved stories. Countless sermons and devotions have centered around it. Yet it still exudes an air of peculiarity, as if we’re missing a part of the story. The type-face on our Bible pages whisper of nuance and mystique. It hints that there just might be more to the story than what is printed on the page before us, if we could just find a thread to pull on. I would like to offer you two such threads. The first thread is the identity of the woman. The second thread is the reason Jesus picks this town.

Concerning her identity, it has often been assumed that she led a promiscuous life. This is presumed based on her five marriages, her living with a man not her husband, and her coming to the well alone mid-day. To begin, it’s important to remember that women in that time and culture did not have the ability to divorce except in cases of abuse. It is also doubtful that she would have had so many adulterous relationships in the town of Sychar, which would have only had one to two hundred residences. Don’t forget that adultery was considered criminal and worthy of capital punishment. What is more likely is that she either was shut out because her husband grew tired of her, was widowed, or was in an obviously abusive relationship. In all probability, it was a combination of some of these since it is unlikely that all five marriages ended the same way.

So what of the man she was living with? Three possibilities. First, she could have been taken in by another family. The head of this household would have been the patriarch and so she would live under his care. Second, she could have been in a Levirate marriage, in which a man dies without an heir so his brother takes his widowed wife and bears a child in his name (Deuteronomy 25:5-6). In these cases, the widow would not be necessarily considered the brother’s wife, at least until a child was born. A third possibility is that she could have been in a form of common law marriage. If a woman no longer had a male representative who could enter a legally binding contract and pay the legal transactions (called a ketubbah), then the simplest way to get married was an arrangement where the two lived together for about two years, after which they were legally considered married. This was considered completely legitimate and ethical. It allowed those without a family or wealth to enter into marriage.

Ok, but why is she at the well all alone during mid-day?” Because she needed water. While it is true that most women go to the well in the morning, it is not uncommon to find women there during all parts of the day. What is more, we do not know if John is using the Jewish way of keeping time (which would have been twelve o’clock) or the Roman way (which would have been six o’clock).  Many scholars prefer the latter since John was written much later than the other Gospels and to an audience who would have operated on the Roman clock.

Once we allow this assumption to fall away, what we find instead is a woman of sorrow and loss. She was a woman full of hurts and broken relationships. By the time John 4 happens, she was past the age of being a suitable bride. So, when Jesus, a 30-something year old Jewish man began a dialogue with her, she was taken aback. To approach a woman in public, even in the most formal of settings, was considered scandalous, even promiscuous. John even highlights the awkward nature of this by alluding to every other story of a man and a woman meeting at a well in the Old Testament where each one of those stories ends with a marriage (Isaac and Rachel, Jacob and Rebekah, and Moses and Zipporah). This is why the Apostles were jaw-dropped and speechless when they returned. It’s as if Jesus was performing the modern equivalent of asking her on a date.

Of course, he wasn’t. What he was doing was approaching a woman who felt unapproachable, noticing a woman who felt invisible, and loving a woman who felt insignificant. Through this carefully constructed moment and his calculated statements, Jesus lured her into beauty and fidelity. The Messiah had chosen her. He went looking for her and had found her. Rather than being a deep well on the outskirts of a city, she would become the gushing water in the heart of her village. Later, the Eastern Orthodox Church would name her St. Photini (the light). This story is about empowering those held in darkness to shine brightly. It’s about empowering the victim, restoring the forgotten, and giving the voiceless back their voice. This is what Jesus does.

But Jesus isn’t done yet. There is still more to what Jesus is doing. We read in John 4:4 that Jesus “had to pass through Samaria.” Was it just for this woman? If so, it would have been enough. Thus is the relentless love of our Lord. Yet, it is this same relentless love that drove Jesus to not just this woman but also to the Samaritans. Samaria was a people long divorced by the people of Israel. They were considered half-breeds and religious heretics. Jews, refusing to even pass through their land, would skip the quicker route through Samaria to Galilee and would walk around Samaria.

It was not always this way. Samaria was once just as Jewish as Judah and Galilee. It was a part of the kingdom of David and they were considered brothers. This changed when Rehoboam oppressed his people and the northern kingdom broke off. They then attempted to build their own religious system since Jerusalem housed the temple in the south. Unfortunately, they immediately compromised their faith by blending it with pagan elements. Eventually, after failing to heed God’s many pleas for them to come back, they were conquered and all but wiped out by the Assyrians. What was left in the void of those who were either killed or kidnapped were the few poor in the hill country. Into that void, Assyria would traffic other people groups to occupy it. Over the years, these two groups would intermarry and their bloodline would merge. The Samaritans would eventually attempt to restore their “Jewish” faith by having their own temple, priesthood, and even Torah. These, of course, were rejected by the Jews as blasphemous knock-offs and would only further the hate between the two groups,

So when Jesus “had to pass through Samaria,” he was attempting to restore a bond with an ethnic group long cast off and rejected. And he was using this woman to start the whole process. Later, his apostles would pick up what Jesus started and would preach “the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans” (Acts 8:25). This is why the Eastern Orthodox Church will refer to the Samaritan woman as the first apostle since it was she that first brought the Gospel to others. Jesus is not only about restoring the victim but also healing age-old rifts between peoples. The work of Jesus is to both restore the person and the relationships between persons. May this also be our work. May we restore the forgotten, the outcast, the oppressed, and the marginalized. May we heal the rifts between ethnics, genders, classes, and persons for “blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).

Picture:  Angelik Kaufman – Christus und die Samaritein am Brunnen 1796

Reclaiming The Magdalene

Religious sculpture of a woman carrying a cross.

Who was Mary Magdalene? How much of what we think we know about her is myth, innuendo, or fabrication? Can we clear away the false from the true, remove the layers of unsubstantiated church tradition, Hollywood fiction, rock musicals and imaginings of modern novelists to discover the real Mary Magdalene, friend and disciple of Christ and eye witness to both His crucifixion and resurrection?

Mentioned by name in each of the gospels, it is believed Mary was called the Magdalene as a reference to her home town, Magdala, on the shores of Lake Galilee. Many scholars believe she was unmarried, as married women were usually known as ‘wife of’, rather than by their birthplace.

Though she is most often depicted in art and film as a young woman, we have no indication in scripture of Mary’s actual age and no reason to assume she was not in the same age group as Jesus’ mother and some of the other older women who sometimes travelled with Him.

Historically, Mary of Magdala has frequently been confused with several other women in the gospels also named Mary. This confusion between the ‘Marys’ has been instrumental in creating the inaccurate picture of Mary Magdalene still held by many. Mary, or the Hebrew Miriam, was a common Jewish name in Jesus’ time, and other Mary’s mentioned by the gospel writers include the Mary who was Jesus mother, Mary of Bethany, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary the mother of James and Joses.

We do know Mary was just one of a number of women Jesus had healed, some of whom travelled with Him and supported Him financially (Luke 8:1-3).  Mary’s hometown of Magdala was a thriving centre for the sale of fish and it’s not beyond reasonable possibility she may have been an independently wealthy woman with a commercial background in this trade.

In some Christian traditions Mary’s greatest claim to fame has been that of a repentant prostitute who after conversion became a symbol of chastity and virtue. However, there is nowhere in the Gospels or other New Testament writings that state or even imply Mary was ever a prostitute. Luke tells us Jesus delivered Mary of seven demons. While we may wonder about the nature of her oppression what is clear is that she was severely unwell and Jesus healed her. There is nothing in scripture, however, to suggest her oppressive illness was in any way sexually related.

The picture the gospels paint of Mary is one of faithfulness, strength, and devotion to Christ even at personal risk. Contrary to the traditional but false stereotype of a repentant prostitute, Mary should rightly be remembered as one of the ‘many women’ who remained at the crucifixion after the majority of Jesus’ male disciples had fled, and the first person to whom Jesus chose to reveal Himself after His resurrection (Matt. 27:55-56; Jn. 19:15; Mark 16:9).

Mary of Magdala was also entrusted by Jesus with conveying the momentous news of His resurrection to His disciples, prompting Thomas Aquinas, an early church father, to call her an ‘apostle to the apostles’ (Jn. 20:17).

For the first six hundred years of Christianity Mary was known and respected as a prominent disciple and close, trusted friend of Jesus. As the young church increasingly succumbed to the influence of the Roman world around it, hierarchical male dominance, once rejected by Jesus, re-emerged, and women were relegated to subservient roles under male authority. Within this climate, Pope Gregory 1 (c540-604) gave a series of sermons in the year 591 that dramatically altered the image of Mary of Magdala held by the Christian church.

In his sermons, distributed throughout the then Christian world, Pope Gregory 1 incorrectly aligned Mary with the unnamed ‘sinner woman’ of Luke 7:36-48 who poured her alabaster jar of ointment over Jesus. With no Biblical basis he furthermore identified Mary’s seven demons with seven deadly sins: Lust, Greed, Gluttony, Sloth, Wrath, Envy, and Pride.

“She who Luke calls the sinful woman, we believe to be the Mary from whom seven devils were ejected. And what did these seven devils signify if not all the vices? ….It is clear brothers that the woman previously used the unguent to perfume her flesh in forbidden acts. What she therefore displayed more scandalously she was now offering to God ….She turned the mass of her crimes to virtues in order to serve God entirely in penance.” (Homily XXXIII)

The false teaching of Pope Gregory 1 redefined Mary’s story and perpetuated myths about her that have passed down through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Reformation and into our own modern Church era¹. The Mary Magdalene of the gospels and early church was lost somewhere in history and kept there by a male-dominated church for which the idea of a strong, female role model with leadership skills equal in status to the male apostles was undesirable².

The true Mary of Magdala was further obscured through paintings and artwork that depicted her as a repentant sexually fallen woman, cementing her newly-created reputation as a former prostitute, despite the fact that scripture alludes to no such history for Mary. (This is the reason why you will sometimes see Renaissance paintings of Mary dressed in red – traditionally the colour symbolising harlotry).

Sadly, organized Christianity and Christians in general have been complicit in perpetuating the myths about Mary and continue to do so. Even in the 21st century contemporary Christian films are still being produced depicting Mary of Magdala as a woman who had made a living as a prostitute.

Throughout the centuries Mary Magdalene has been persistently misrepresented by church leaders and in popular legend as a notorious former prostitute turned repentant saintly mother figure. The Bible depicts her as neither of these, but as an ordinary Jewish woman healed from serious ailments by Jesus, who became His faithful disciple.

Mary Magdalene is one of us, a woman doing her best to follow Christ in a world that is opposed to Him. She is neither to be revered or objectified to serve the purposes of fallen men; she should, however, be respected as a foundational member of the Body of Christ, honoured as the first person sent by Christ to preach the gospel, and celebrated as yet another life whose course was eternally impacted by our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Paradoxically, Mary’s story historically parallels the story of womankind since The Fall destroyed the perfect harmony and equality between the original man and woman.   The Fall resulted in the default setting of equal partnership between the genders becoming dysfunctional. Sadly, for many men, including in the Christian church, it is still easier to view women as sexual temptresses than deal with their own gender bias.

So many false images of Mary Magdalene have been conveyed and insinuated through sermons, artwork, film, novels and misinformation, I believe it’s time for all sincere Christ-followers to start rejecting her misrepresentation and celebrating Mary for the woman the Bible says she was. It’s time for truth honouring Christians to reclaim the Magdalene.

Mary of Magdala, the woman who walked with Christ alongside His male disciples, who stood by faithfully at His crucifixion, the first person He chose to meet after His resurrection, His apostle to the apostles, has been stolen from us. Those of us who have knowledge of the truth about Mary can take an important role in correcting that which is false by spreading the truth about her. We can start by challenging the myths and false assumptions that surround her whenever we hear them repeated.

Will you help reclaim the Magdalene?

¹Matthew 27:56, 61; 28:1; Mark 15:40, 47; 16:1-19;Luke 8:2; 24:10; John 19:25; 20:1-18

²It should be noted that The Eastern Orthodox church took a different view of Mary Magdalene and have always held her to be a different person to the woman who was ‘a sinner’ in Luke 7.

³It was not until 1969 that the Catholic Church declared Pope Gregory was mistaken and that Mary Magdalene was not the penitent woman in Luke 7:36-50. Furthermore, the Church clarified that Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene were two different people.

Further Suggested Reading:

5 Things You Should Know About Mary Magdalene, Junia Project

What The Bible Says About Mary Magdalene, New Life

Martha Martha

pitcher-glasses-ch-16

“Who’s coming over, Ma?”

I had just washed the floor in the entrance and dining room, vacuumed the living room, started the dishwasher and was scrubbing finger prints off the fridge door.

“That’s not fair!” I told my son. “You guys always say that. What makes you think someone is coming over? Maybe I’m cleaning because it’s messy. Don’t walk on that. I just washed it.”

“Because you only work at this speed when someone is coming over.”

He was right. Someone was coming over.

One day, after the kids grew up and left home (and I couldn’t blame them for the mess anymore), I was racing around picking up newspapers, manuscript paper, student’s unmarked assignments and unwed socks when my dog got up and waited by the front door. He knew someone was coming over.

My kids used to joke about my tendency to be distracted by more interesting projects when it came to housework. I’m afraid that keeping the place sparkling has never been as interesting as painting, or sewing, or making music, or reading, or writing or, well, practically anything really.

I grew up in an immaculately clean home. A germ would not dare traverse Mother’s floor. She probably had OCD but I resented the inconvenience that level of attention to cleanliness caused in my life. I missed out on free time my brothers enjoyed because I, being the girl, was expected to stay home and scrub things I didn’t think were dirty. We were often late for important events because Mom couldn’t leave the house unless it was spotless. She was afraid if she suddenly died someone might enter and see it in an untidy state.

When I told my daughter this story she said, “Mom, if your house is spotless after you die, we’ll know for sure someone was tampering with the evidence.”

Maybe I have gone too far the other direction, but I’m not a Martha Martha.

Martha Martha is what I have always called women who are obsessively meticulous housekeepers or who a mount a magazine-worthy production when entertaining guests. You know the type? She’s like Martha in the Bible, who Jesus chastised for asking him to make her sister, Mary, help with proper preparations for company.

Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her,” Jesus said. (Luke 10:41, 42 NASB)

I have a friend with a gift of service who becomes upset by the criticism Martha-types receive whenever this passage comes up. She says, “Well somebody needs to put dinner on the table. It ain’t gonna get there by itself!”

Sometimes women with a desire to exhibit true hospitality, and who find their creative outlet in homemaking based on wanting to make life more comfortable for others, feel dishonoured by judgment from those who would rather think than do. I am re-examing this lately.

Perhaps Jesus was not chiding Martha for working in the kitchen. Women in that culture didn’t usually have the option of studying at the feet of a master teacher and he wanted to free them. I don’t think that Jesus was the type of person to be ungrateful for her contribution or that he liked Mary’s personality more. Could it be the problem he saw Martha struggling with was about being distracted with the burdens of expectations that kept her from developing a closer relationship with him?

I once spent hours in the kitchen when relatives visited for a few days. I didn’t enjoy it and was getting grumpy, but I was taught this is what a good hostess does. Where two or three are gathered someone serves dessert. Meanwhile, the rest of the family played board games and said later they missed me at the Trivial Pursuit table. A bowl of peanuts was really all they wanted .

So often we do things to try to honour God because someone has told us this is the proper way to do it, but we forget to listen and pay attention to what HE wants. Sometimes he doesn’t want fuss; he merely wants us to sit quietly beside him, enjoy his company – and pass the peanuts.

When our efforts at serving the Lord rob us of peace and motivate us to be critical of others who are not doing anything to relieve us of our self-imposed workload, we are missing something vital. We are still trying desperately to win his approval. We don’t realize we already have it. He longs to lavish grace upon grace on us.

I realized recently that Mary was not immune to distraction either. When Jesus came to Bethany after their brother Lazarus died, it was Martha who went out to meet him. Mary, who once sat at the Master’s feet, Mary, who in former months paid full attention to the Master’s teaching and was commended for choosing the better part on the day of the kitchen spat, ignored the news that Jesus was approaching. Mary, the scripture says, chose to stay in the house.

When I do something like that it’s because I am angry. Was Mary too distracted by her emotions to run to him like Martha did? Did she sit in the house in a passive/aggressive expression of disappointment and grief?

In the discussion with Jesus about life after death, while he was still on the road, Martha said this: “I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.”

What a declaration of faith! Martha had the insight that Jesus was the Christ. Martha made this profound statement even as she grieved the loss of her brother in the midst of disappointment that Jesus didn’t come in time to heal him before he died.

People talk about Peter’s great revelation when he made a similar statement at Caesarea Philippi and now there’s a huge cathedral in the middle of Rome with his name on it because of that moment. What did Martha get? She got to see Jesus do what Jesus does, raise our dead hopes and show us what true life in him is all about.

The next mention of Martha is at the dinner where everyone wanted to see Jesus and her formerly dead brother. That evening her sister, Mary, with her profound insight, anointed Jesus with costly perfume in preparation for his death. Martha, the scripture says, served the tables. (John 12)

This time, I believe, she willingly used her talents to serve the guest of honour knowing who he really was and knowing who she really was — a beloved friend of the Messiah.

Throughout history we have thought of Mary as the better of the sisters. But Martha listened. Martha learned. Martha changed. Martha is worthy of honour. Give the girl a break.

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” (John 11:5)

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Numbers in Scripture – Part 2

numbers-2

It  occurred to me after posting the first article on numbers that I had not mentioned one of the activities I find enlightening when I come upon any list of things in Scripture.  For example, look at 1 John 1:1 and count how many things are stated concerning the Word of Life; 1. That which was from beginning, 2. which we have heard, 3. Which we have seen with our eyes, 4. Which we have looked upon, and 5. our hands have handled–five things.  Isn’t John speaking here of the undeserved favor that we call grace?  In 1 John 1:5 there are two witnesses to the truth, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all, God and John.  I’ll point out some other examples in the numbers we study today.

SIX – Fallen Unregenerate Human Beings – Beast – Satan

The number six has to do with people without God.  Rev. 13:18 confirms the meaning,  “Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His number is 666” — fully fallen, man as beast, Satanic. Only six generations are given for Cain, who refused to do things God’s way (Gen. 4:17-22). In Revelation the sixth seal is the judgement of unregenerate people (Rev 6:12-17), at the sixth trumpet one-third of unbelievers are killed (Rev. 9:13-21), and the sixth vial is the battle of Armageddon (Rev. 16:12-16).  Jesus bore God’s wrath for six hours to redeem us (Mark 15:25-33).

SEVEN – Completeness — Spiritual Perfection

While six is negative, there is hope in seven which is God’s number of spiritual perfection and completion.  On the sixth day a human was created and became a living being [1] when God breathed in the breath of life.  This God life was lost in Genesis 3 and the fallen nature took over.  Thereafter we begin to see God’s plan for redemption unfold as six moves on to seven (Gen. 1:27).  Six days were given for labor before getting to God’s day of rest [2] (Ex. 3:12);   Hebrew slaves were to serve six years and then be freed (Ex. 21:2); Moses waited six days on the mountain before God revealed Himself (Ex. 24:16);  the children of Israel marched around Jericho for six days, then on the seventh day trumpets sound and the walls fall (Josh 6:4).

Seven marks completion in the days of the week, notes of the scale, colors in the spectrum.  Spiritually we find seven pieces of furniture in the Tabernacle, seven covenants,[3] seven saying of Christ from the cross, the book of Revelation is filled with sevens; churches, seals judgements, trumpets, thunders , plagues, vials and on and on…[4]

EIGHT – New Life —  New Beginning, Jesus

Eight represents new beginnings.  A new week begins on the eighth day, and a new scale on the eighth note.  In the Bible, eight people are resurrected from the dead excluding Jesus and those who rose with Him.[5] Jesus rose on the end of the seventh and beginning of the first, or eighth day [6] (Matt. 28:1). Eight came through the flood to begin again (1 Peter 3:20). The eighth day will bring a new heaven and a new earth (2 Peter 3:8).  Letters in Hebrew have numerical value and the numerical value of the name Jesus (Yeshua) is 888.

 NINE – Fullness – Finality — Holy Spirit

 Nine is the last of the digits and three times three (the number of the Godhead).  It takes nine months for human gestation. There are nine Beatitudes. Jesus was crucified from the third hour to the ninth hour when He died [7] with the last words, “It is finished”  (Mark 15:25, 33-34).  The Holy Spirit is clearly seen in the nine gifts and the nine fruits (Gifts, Cor. 12:1-12 and Fruits, Gal. 5:22).

TEN – Completeness in Divine Order — Human Failure — Testing

 With the number ten the pattern for all numbers is completed.  The Law was given in ten commandments, the flood judged the earth after ten generations, ten plagues caused Pharaoh to release Israel, the destruction of kingdoms, represented by the ten toes and ten horns of Daniel 2 and 7, ends ungodly rule (see Revelation 13 and 17). There were ten spies sent into the Promised Land who brought back a bad report (Num. 13:32), the ten northern tribes were judged and the people dispersed.  The Passover lamb was taken on the tenth day (Ex. 12-3),  Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem was also on the 10th day—our Passover Lamb.

ELEVEN – Judgement — Disorder

 Eleven symbolizes what happens when we add to God’s Divine Order or subtract from God’s Government.

TWELVE – Divine Government

Twelve is the number of Divine Government. The twelve tribes of Israel came from the twelve sons of Jacob, twelve stones were on the breastplate of the High Priest, there are twelve signs of the Zodiac which give us the Gospel in the Stars[8],  twelve judges are listed in the Book of Judges.  In Revelation we see the woman wearing a crown of twelve stars (Rev 12:1). The New Jerusalem, where there is no darkness, is marked with the number twelve (Rev. 21 & 22); there is nothing in God’s City that is not perfectly governed.

THIRTEEN – Depravity – Rebellion

 If you count the things Jesus listed as being in the depraved heart of human beings it comes to thirteen (Mark 7:21-22).  The word Dragon, symbolic for the devil, is found thirteen times [9] in the Book of Revelation.   In Esther 3:8-13 Haman instigated a plot to kill the Jews.  It was signed on the thirteenth day of the first month to be carried out on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month.  There are actually thirteen tribes because Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, were adopted by Jacob and replaced Joseph in the lineage.  A study of Israel’s rebelling is fascinating and laced with the number thirteen.

FORTY – Trial – Testing

 Forty is an important  number.  Moses spent forty years in Egypt, then forty more in Midian (Acts 7:23,30), then forty years in the wilderness when they did not trust God to take them into the Promised Land–including two forty day stints on the mountain receiving the Law,  once before the golden calf and once after.  Jesus was tempted forty days and nights, was on earth forty days after the resurrection, and it was forty years from the crucifixion to the destruction of Jerusalem—to list only a few of a multitude of examples.

There is some disagreement over the exact meaning of numbers, but these have stood the test of time for me.  It is my hope that you will be more aware of numbers and continue to explore[10]  as this is only a bare introduction.

Footnotes

[1] Jesus said, “Let the dead bury the dead.”  Without being born from above we are spiritually dead.

[2] One day of rest—the number one is associated with God

[3] Adamic, Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Levidic, Davidic, Messianic,

[4] Look up seven and seventh in the Blue Letter Bible—just the reference list fills pages.

[5] 1 Kings 17:17-22, 2 Kings 4:30-37,& 13:21, John 11:38-44, Luke 7:11-17, Mk 5:35-43 Acts 20:7-12, Acts 9:36-42  www.pathlightspress.com/resurrection.html

[6] The wave offering of a sheaf of first fruit on the day after the Sabbath was a symbol or type predicting the resurrection, Lev. 23:10-11.  I’d read this  whole chapter on the feasts.

[7] 360 minutes, there are 360 degrees in a full circle, 360 divided by 9 is 40 – the number of testing – amazing!

[8] There are two great books, one by Bullinger and the other by Seiss on the fact that the Gospel was originally written in the stars.  Satan changed God’s truth to astrology—avoid it.

[9] Count in Revelation chapters 12, 13, 16 and 20.

[10] It is important to keep the original numbers found in the Bible and not change them.  Putting size or weight into modern terms destroys the truth held in the original measurements.

Numbers in Scripture

Fridge magnet mathematics

I don’t remember exactly when I began to see the spiritual truths found in patterns and numbers in the Bible but it has been an ongoing discovery that has continued to open my eyes to this day.  The consistency of meaning throughout a book written by different people over thousands of years testifies to God as the underlying author.

The importance of knowing the Biblical meaning of numbers is not something you hear often in sermons or even find in books.   I was surprised that friends who were well versed in the Word knew little or nothing about this topic.

There is no way to get more than a taste here, but my hope in this article is to whet your whistle with a little information along with a prayer that the Spirit will lead you to explore the topic more deeply.[1]

Kevin Connor in his excellent book Interpreting the Symbols and Types gives the following as basic principles for the interpretation of numbers.

“1.  The simple numbers 1 through 13 have spiritual significance.

  1. Multiples of these numbers or doubling and tripling, carry basically the same meaning only intensifying the truth.
  2. The first use of the number in Scripture generally conveys its spiritual meaning.
  3. Consistence of interpretation. God is consistent, and what a number means in Genesis, it means throughout all to Revelation.
  4. The spiritual significance is not always stated, but may be veiled or hidden, or seen by comparison with other Scriptures.
  5. Generally there is good and evil, true and counterfeit, Godly and Satanic, aspects to numbers.”

Let’s take a look at some of the more commonly used numbers.

ONE – Unity, Source, Beginning, First

Being indivisible and not made up of other numbers, one represents unity. It is first, the beginning, the source of all other numbers and as such, independent of them.    Genesis, the book of firsts, opens with “In the beginning God…” who is first, the source, all begins with Him. What a profound symbol for God.

The meaning of unity is demonstrated in the two Hebrew words for one: echad  and yacheadEchad means a collective or compound unity, as in “one crowd.” It is used in Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one Lord.” [2]  Examples of the concept of compound unity can be seen in Gen 2:24 and 1 Cor 6:16 “the two shall be one flesh,” andI and my father are one,” John 10:30, and over and over in the prayer of Jesus in John 17.

On the other hand Yachead shows absolute unity, as in “my only” like Isaac as the only son[3] in Gen. 22:2.  In the New Testament absolute unity is found in John 1:14 “only begotten,” and in passages asking Jesus to heal an only child in Luke 7:12, 8:42 and 9:38.

TWO – Witness and Testimony or Comparison, Separation, Division

I was taught that two was the number of witness, “by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established.” Deut. 19:15 (also in Deut. 17:6, 2 Cor. 13:1 and 1 Tim 5:19.)  Jesus sent his disciples out two by two.  The Law hangs on two commandments, loving God and neighbor.  Matt. 22:40.

Later I discovered that two was also used to compare, separate, or divide as light and darkness, good and evil, joy and sorrow, life and death, earthly and heavenly, flesh and spirit etc.  People are compared like Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob, even Adam and Jesus.  We see the comparison on testimonies in the witness of Joshua and Caleb vs the 10 who thought the God was not able to overcome the giants in the Promised Land.  There are two natures at war within us but we overcome by the blood of the lamb and the Word of our testimony and we do not love life or fear death.  Rev. 12:11 (my paraphrase)

THREE – Divine Completeness and Perfection

When I think three, the first thing that comes to mind is the complete perfection found in the Godhead, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Divine completeness is found in the three major feasts, Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles; three sections of the temple, Outer Court, Holy Place, and Most Holy Place; the symbolism of three is found repeatedly in the last hours of our Lord, and we see the perfect witness in the Spirit, Water and Blood, 1 John 5:8.

God also demonstrates completeness in the natural realm with the number threeConsider: the heavens with sun, moon and stars, matter in the categories, animal mineral and vegetable, time divided into past, present and future, the geometric completeness of a triangle, the three dimensions of length, width and height, the scope of human capability found in thought, word and deed — the list goes on and on.

FOUR – The Creative Works of God, Earth

Four concerns God’s under the sun creative works.  There are four seasons, four phases of the moon, four cardinal directions, N. S. E. W.  Scripture speaks of four corners of the earth, Rev. 7:1; four winds, Matt 24:31, four horsemen who bring disaster to earth Rev. 6:1-8.

FIVE – Grace

From the beginning God has made provision for us.  Letters in Hebrew are also numbers.  The fifth letter is H with the numeric value of five.  God inserted the H in Abram and Sarai making Abraham the father of multitudes and Sarah noblewoman.[4]   The Levitical system had five offerings, and five ingredients in anointing oil.  The structure of the Tabernacle (a picture of Christ’s ministry to us and how we move into maturity in our relationship to Him) is filled with multiples of five.  These are only a few of the places that show God’s Grace active in the Old Testament.

Examples of five representing grace in the New Testament include: the five wounds of Christ offseting the five I will’s of Satan,  there are five weapons of our warfare, 2 Cor. 10:4-6; and five ministries to bring us to maturity, Eph. 4:11-15.

Grace is a gift of undeserved favor from the God of the Universe.   For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not as a result of works so that no one may boast. Eph 2:8-9 

Next week we will look at numbers six through thirteen with forty thrown in for good measure.

Footnotes

[1] A bibliography is found under theses footnotes

[2] I see the doctrine of the Trinity supported in echad and reinforced by the fact that the word God (Eloheim in Hebrew) is plural—a compound unity!

[3] Isaac is the only son of Sarah, the only son of the promise- see also Amos 8:10

[4] H is in YHVH the unspoken name of God

Bibliography

Abbot,Shari. “The Meaning of Numbers in the Bible?” www.reasonsforhopejesus/the-meaning-of-numbers-in-the-bible/

Bullinger, E. W. Number in Scripture Its Supernatural Design and Spiritual Significance. Grand Rapids, MI, Kregel Inc., 1967

Connor, Kevin J. Interpreting the Symbols and Types.  Portland, OR, Bible Temple Publications, 1980

Davis, John J.  Biblical Numerology, A Basic Study of the Use of Numbers in the Bible.  Grand Rapids, MI, Baker Book House, 1968

 

 

 

Binding Up the Brokenhearted

binding-up-the-brokenhearted-pixabay-free-imagesWE live in a brokenhearted world.
We LIVE in a brokenhearted world.
We live IN a brokenhearted world.
We live in a BROKENHEARTED world.
We live in a brokenhearted WORLD.

However you place the emphasis, broken hearts abound. So does the Lord’s love, mercy, and grace for healing. If it were not so we would become permanently fainthearted. I’m glad and grateful that is not what we’ve been called to. We are built for joy.

Many broken hearts, including mine, have turned to the beautiful and sure promises of Isaiah 61:

He does bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners;
He does make proclamation of the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God;
He does comfort all who mourn and grants to those who grieve
a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning,
and a mantle of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
(Isaiah 61:1-3, paraphrased with emphasis added)

Over seven hundred years later the One whom Isaiah had prophesied about stood up in a synagogue in Nazareth, where He grew up, and read from the scroll those same beautiful and sure promises.[1] Scripture was fulfilled in their hearing that day. To all who had ears to hear, Holy Spirit was speaking.

He still speaks. Spiritual ears still hear. He still heals the brokenhearted and binds up our wounds. [2]

Journeying into wholeheartedness (which is not an “I’ve arrived” but becomes a lifestyle), I’ve learned – and continue to in new ways – that nothing bypasses the notice or compassion of The Comforter.[3]

Not broken hearts.

Not the ones who broke those hearts.

Not the ones who believe broken is all they will ever be.

Not those who welcome the touch of His healing hands as He fits the pieces back together.

Not those no longer called ‘broken’ but ‘beloved’.

Jesus is still about His Father’s business through the work of the Holy Spirit. He’ll not rest His desire until He has gathered to Himself every brokenhearted one His Father has given Him so we may be one.[4]

For some time now, Holy Spirit has seemed to like peeling back scripture and causing me to see it in another of its formerly hidden facets. In John 17 Jesus prayed that we may all be one and that we may be perfected in unity, among several other requests and statements He voiced to His Father. To my knowledge, I have never heard the passage in John 17 preached about or shared in any vein other than a corporate word to the Body of Christ.

Until a few weeks ago when Holy Spirit, faithful Teacher that He is, began to unveil another deposit as true, legitimate and wonderful as the corporate Body will be when fully complete and mature in Christ.

“…that they may be one, just as We are one…”

Fresh revelation came upon our return home from a five-day conference my husband and I attended that focused on the Isaiah 61-based ministry to which the Lord has called and entrusted us. One morning while beginning to review the binder of conference notes, scripture came to mind: Jesus’ prayer in John 17. Turning to it I began to read Jesus’ prayer for His disciples, then all believers in the lingering light of the definition of ‘brokenhearted’ I had just read in the binder’s notes:

Any persistent separation between and within the heart, soul, mind and spirit of a person (an emotional and spiritual captivity hindering the resolution of conflicted beliefs, as well as the effects of pain and trauma), which prevents consistent joyful connection with God and others.  

I had written beneath it the added statement voiced by the presenter[5]:
We are built for joy.

The Joy of an Undivided Heart

Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before Him so that we too could return to the joy of an undivided heart.

In order for Him to approach, go through, and come out the other side in victory, Jesus was one part of a dynamic Trio that displayed honor of each other; trust in each other; and abiding Love for one another.

The Father willed. The Son listened for and agreed with the Father’s will.
The Spirit provided enabling grace and power in the Son
so that the Father’s will would be done.

Each Person of the Godhead distinct in role, yet sharing together the unity and joy of “We are one.”

Jesus prayed as much for each one of us;
that we as individual believers in Him

would be one with an undivided heart
just as He, His Father, and Holy Spirit relate and are one.

broken-heart-f-e-g-pixabay-free-image

When I saw at the conference a rendering of a similar ‘divided’ heart, so much of life’s struggle and sorrow made sense to this ishshah. At the same time it was resonating with my husband too. A picture can say a lot, with or without words. With these accompanying words this one said plenty, as we were to find out over the next five days.

We were not at all unfamiliar with the understanding; however, different identifiers and addition of more brain science teaching caused us to once again marvel at the way we are all created by our Creator. He who planned ahead for all our humanity even as we each were born into sin in this fallen world, with the result of living out of divided hearts.

It quickly became evident that these Core Parts of our heart and their roles are universal to all people:[5]

• The Function part of our heart that believes knowing certain information about one’s history is incompatible with survival and/or functioning.
• The Emotion part of our heart most closely connected to the pain and depression – joyless if you will.
• The Guardian part of our heart doing its best to ensure that Function and Emotion are kept apart because it believes that Function will be too overwhelmed to do daily life.

Ish or ishshah, hope and healing is found in the fact that the ministry of the Spirit to broken and divided hearts applies to everyone, regardless of where we fall on a ‘brokenhearted’ continuum.

Add to the above very brief description the unfolding in myriad ways and depths according to each person’s life, and we begin to catch a glimpse of the powerful request Jesus asked of His Father – and ours – in his John 17 prayer. Full God/full man praying in fullness for each one the Father has given Him, who in turn make up His corporate Body that will one day reach its fullness of the measure of Christ.

Our united in perfect Love, “We are One” Elohiym has willed and prayed for us, every believer, that we may be one (undivided) in our heart, soul, mind and spirit – regardless of gender or life experiences that comprise our story. Even more when our gender and life experiences have inflicted wounds, caused mourning and evoked despair.

Which is why we need Him so. He is the only One who heals the brokenhearted, binds up our wounded places, and restores our soul.

Part of the joy set before us is becoming vessels fit for the Master’s use – hands and feet, arms and ears, hearts and minds through which His healing flows in us and out to our brokenhearted world until He has gathered the last one to Himself.

Beloveds, it is not the Father’s will that we remain brokenhearted.

We are built for joy.

~ Nancy

[1] Luke 4:17-21
[2] Psalm 147:3
[3] John 14:26, 16:13
[4] John 17 – particularly verses 9,20,21,24
[5] Father Andrew Miller of HeartSync Ministries
Photo credit: Pixabay free images │PicMonkey enhancements

Women Jesus Honored Part Two

womanbible

You are invited to read Part One of this article here.

The Canaanite Woman (Matthew 15:21-28)

There were a few occasions where Jesus healed Gentiles (non-Jews), but  usually they occurred when He was approached by Gentiles in Jewish territory. In the story of the Canaanite woman (sometimes called the Syro-Phoenecian woman) Jesus seems to have deliberately travelled into the predominantly non-Jewish region of Tyre and Sidon for a purpose, returning to the Sea of Galilee directly afterward (Matt. 15:29). As with His encounter with the woman of Samaria it appears Jesus went out of His way specifically to be available to this woman and her need (John 4:4).

This woman was not shy or secretive about what she wanted from Jesus: her daughter’s deliverance from demonic oppression. She was loud, crying out and shouting, as people do when they are desperate and have come to the end of their resources. Jesus’ irritated disciples had no time for her. She was a woman, and an unclean Gentile woman at that. What could be worse? They wanted Jesus to do something to make her leave.

Jesus, however, was not co-operating with them. After first ignoring her, He makes statements that question her eligibility for His ministry, implying His healing miracles are only for the benefit of His Jewish brethren. He even appears to insult her, referring to her race as ‘little dogs’. The healing she desperately desired for her daughter was not going to come easily.

One wonders why Jesus is even engaging with this woman. This type of debate was not something that men, especially rabbis, undertook with women. But here was Jesus leading the conversation instead of walking away, as if He is waiting for something. Once again Jesus is departing sharply from cultural expectations.

The desperate woman persists, insisting that even ‘little dogs’¹, which were household dogs distinct from undomesticated street-dwelling dogs, were entitled to the crumbs from the master’s table. In so doing she declares that she is not asking for the ‘children’s bread’ but only what is left over and unwanted by ‘the children’ (the Israelites).

There were many in Israel who rejected Jesus, and her words indicate she was probably aware of this fact. The woman’s deep insight undoubtedly pleased Him. But what pleased Him even more was her belief in Him. She also believed His inherent goodness should extend to her regardless of her non-Jewish heritage.

Jesus response is immediate. After assuring her He has heard and her desire shall be granted, Jesus makes a remarkable statement:  ‘Woman, great is your faith!’ He declares, speaking directly and openly to her in the hearing of all who were looking on (v.28). Though Jesus commended others indirectly for their faith, it is not recorded that He ever made such a statement directly and personally to any other person in the gospel accounts.


Mary of Bethany (Luke 10:38-42); (Matt. 26-6-13; Mark 14:3-9; John 12:1-8)

Jesus honored Mary of Bethany publicly on two separate occasions. The first occasion is recorded in Luke 10 at a time when Jesus was visiting and teaching in the house of Lazarus, Martha and Mary. Martha, taken up with meeting her guests’ needs, was displeased that Mary was neglecting her traditional role by sitting at Jesus feet listening to His teaching instead of assisting her. She was obviously angry enough to take the unusual step of interrupting Jesus to ask Him to intervene.

The place at the teacher’s feet was traditionally reserved for male disciples. Women were expected to quietly serve and provide food, nothing more. They were to be invisible and submissive. All present in the room, except Jesus, would have been surprised at Mary’s breaking of the cultural taboos and would no doubt have silently approved Martha’s noticeable objection.

Jesus however, true to form, publicly praises Mary and refuses to do what is being demanded by sending her away. He commends Mary, stating that she has chosen something better than that which tradition dictates for her. He makes it clear He will not allow anyone to take from her the opportunity to learn at His feet as the men did.

Bravely, Mary had stepped into what was considered a male-only role. Not only was her action endorsed by Jesus, she was honored by Him publicly for choosing Him over tradition.

The second occasion, often confused with the story in Luke 7 of the sinner woman (see Part One), is recorded in Matthew 26, Mark 14 and John 12. It took place at the home of Simon the Leper and obviously had very poignant significance for Jesus, foreshadowing His crucifixion by just one week.

The alabaster flask poured by Mary on Jesus contained spikenard, a very costly perfume used only in tiny portions usually for anointing the head. Mary, however, emptied the entire flask upon Jesus’ head and feet, a huge amount worth three hundred denarii, equivalent to a year’s wages.

More than one person was upset at Mary’s extravagant action. Mark records that ‘some’ were indignant and ‘criticized her sharply’. John says Judas Iscariot objected the most, protesting that such a valuable item could have helped the poor, implying it had been wasted on Jesus.

It is at this point that Jesus speaks, sharply rebuking Judas, and defending Mary. Her anointing of Him, He declares, is in preparation for His coming burial.

For some time Jesus had been speaking to His disciples of His forthcoming death, yet blinded by their own desires and expectations, they could not accept what He was saying. Mary had perceived something the male disciples refused to acknowledge: that Jesus death was near. We do not know how much she understood of what was to soon unfold, but she obviously had begun to perceive Jesus’ role as Saviour long before others around Him did so. Jesus knew the exact reason she had anointed Him and received her extravagance unreservedly.

He then makes an extraordinary statement: ‘Assuredly I say to you wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her’ (Matt. 26:13; Mark 14:9). His Jewish followers were well acquainted with the seriousness with which God regarded memorials (Ex. 28:29; Josh. 4.7). Their scriptures were full of historic memorials marking important occasions between God and His people. The gravity of Jesus’ words declaring a memorial to this woman could not have been lost on them.

Not only that, but Jesus deliberately uses the term ‘this woman’ when endorsing her. He knows the woman before Him is Mary of Bethany, a close friend whose home He has visited many times and whose name He knows well. It seems He is making the point to the loudly protesting men around Him that it is a woman disciple who has honored Him that day and she also will be honored by His declaring a memorial to her.

It may be difficult for us in this day and age to appreciate the full cultural and historic impact of this incident. It was directly after this rebuke from Jesus that Judas, bitter and resentful, sought out the Jewish religious leaders and initiated the chain of events that would lead to Jesus arrest, trial and death just one week later.

Jesus was aware of the approaching events, but would not soften His defence of Mary in order to delay them. He told everyone present that what she had done would be spoken of in memory of her long after her death, and His.

Few witnessing that dramatic scene would have understood or approved of Jesus’ honoring a mere woman so fiercely. Yet, here we are today still considering this event and the woman who so extravagantly worshiped Him with such unashamed abandon, risking her reputation and safety in the process.

These five incidences in the Gospels give us a different picture of Jesus’ attitude to women than is conveyed, directly or indirectly, in many of our contemporary Christian settings.

There is so much to be learned from a closer study of the way Jesus interacted with women that is at odds with much complementarian teaching and practice. Proponents of complementary theology focus very much on what we believe here at Ishshah’s Story to be a misinterpretation of Paul’s and Peter’s teachings on the role of women in the Body of Christ. Other New Testament scripture passages need to be examined in the light of the words and actions of Jesus Himself, as recorded in the gospels, if imbalance and ultimately error are to be avoided.

Women are not less in value, less in function or less in leadership in the Body of Christ. Jesus, surrounded by deeply entrenched patriarchy and even open hostility towards women, took every opportunity to demonstrate that He valued the contribution of women as equal on every level to those of the men in His culture. I believe He is still of that opinion.

¹ The Greek word used in this passage is ‘kynarion’, a little dog, or puppy. Vines Expository Dictionary

Related Article: Women Jesus Honored Part One

Women Jesus Honored Part One

8-widows-mite-video-still-I4C3447-2400x1600

In the patriarchal society in which Jesus lived, He dealt daily with the prominent male religious leaders, Roman authorities, tax collectors, lawyers, scribes, and others who were the public face of that society.  He commended some and rebuked others.  But He was also keenly aware of the less noticeable females ever present in the background, going out of His way to acknowledge and include them in His ministry.  From the woman with the spirit of infirmity who He controversially healed on a Sabbath, to the devastated widow whose son He raised from death, He refused to dismiss the females in His society as bearing less value than the males.

In this two-part article I want to briefly explore five separate occasions when Jesus publicly commended and honored a woman, most often to the amazement and disapproval of the males who dominated the culture in which they lived.

The Woman Who Loved Much (Luke 7:36-50)

The woman described by Luke in this passage is often confused with Mary Magdalene.  However, there is absolutely no scriptural evidence to support this belief, an idea which was introduced and promoted by certain church leaders during the Middle Ages.  She has also been confused with Mary of Bethany who anointed Jesus feet on a separate occasion (see Part Two of this post).

The fact that Luke specifically describes this woman as ‘a sinner’ probably indicates she was well known among the dinner guests for a specific kind of sin, most likely prostitution.  The root word used by Luke can mean ‘pre-eminently sinful, especially wicked’.  Simon, the host, was especially offended that Jesus was allowing this woman to physically touch Him and even Jesus acknowledged that her sins were ‘many’.

It was not unusual for Jewish women to wear a flask of perfume on a cord around the neck for anointing the hair, but this woman anointed Jesus feet, weeping so profusely that His feet were saturated by her tears.   She kissed His feet fervently, again and again, or as Jesus remarked ‘without ceasing’.  She used her hair to wipe them, an action only carried out by slaves towards their masters.  Even the fact that her hair was flowing loose was culturally unacceptable and considered immodest.

The horror among the men in the room must have been palpable, yet Jesus allowed this ‘sinner’ woman to continue her ministry to Him unhindered.   His host’s disapproving attitude towards the uninvited woman, as well as Himself, is easily discerned by Jesus and He rebukes him, adding salt to the wound by publicly praising the woman and declaring her sins forgiven. Then, speaking directly to the woman He commends her faith and blesses her with the words:  ‘Go in peace.’

Jesus knew the men in the room would judge Him poorly by His open reception and approval of the woman, whose very touch would have been offensive to many of them, yet He rejected their appraisal of her, instead defending her and publicly honoring her faith. He placed emphasis not on the fact that she had ‘sinned much’, but on the fact she had ‘loved much’.

He cared nothing for society’s approval but cared deeply about the value of each individual regardless of gender, background or the opinions of others.  His willingness to both receive and bless this woman regarded by all as a notorious sinner demonstrated a radical departure from the cultural norms and biases that were accepted practice. His less than ‘macho’ attitude towards women was deeply confronting to many observing or following Him.


The Widow At The Treasury (Luke 21:1-4; Mark 12:42-44)

Widows were among the most vulnerable and least valued people group within the society of Jesus’ time.  Unless she had relatives who could afford to shelter and support her, extreme poverty was a constant danger for women left without a husband.  A woman’s worth and influence was intrinsically tied to her status as wife and, most importantly, mother.  There was no way for a woman whose husband had died to earn an income, and if she was beyond child-bearing years re-marriage was usually not an option.

One day, observing activities in the Temple, Jesus saw several wealthy people placing money into the treasury.  They would have been easily identifiable by their clothing.  A widow, also easily identifiable, approached the treasury and put in two mites.  Two mites was an extremely small amount, just one percent of a denarii, which was one day’s wage.

Who would even acknowledge such a person:  a woman, a widow of no means, placing such a small amount in the treasury as to be considered useless, when all around were wealthy, influential men making a show of their ability to donate large amounts?

Someone standing with Jesus that day might have expected Him to commend the healthy amounts of money being donated by those who could afford such offerings.  Imagine their shock, therefore when Jesus instead expressed His admiration for the poor widow.

‘This poor widow has put in more than all’ He told His disciples.  Not more than each, but more than all of the other offerings added together.  We can imagine the doubt and confusion in their minds as they considered His words.  How could it be that two tiny mites could be more valuable than the sizable amounts donated by the wealthy men of the city?

That which the widow gave to God was all she had, while the wealthy were giving only a portion of what they owned.  The rich gave a small part from their wealth; she gave all from her poverty. They gave what they could easily afford;  she gave what she could not afford.  Who then was the true worshiper?

Jesus was not impressed by large and showy religious offerings.  He was, however, impressed by faith. Jesus publicly commended this woman for her demonstrated faith in God’s ongoing provision.

No conversation is recorded between the poverty-stricken widow and Jesus. She may never have heard Jesus honoring her that day in the Temple.  She may never have known how He had drawn His disciples’ attention to her as an example of the faith that pleases God more than anything else.

Most, least of all Jesus’ disciples, would not have noticed the poor widow bringing her offering to the treasury that day.  She would have been just another nameless face in the crowd.  Within her culture, she held little value, therefore nothing she did or gave held value either.  But of all who brought their offerings that day, Jesus pointed to her alone as having the deepest faith, honoring her and ensuring His disciples understood the esteem in which He held her.

Given their subordinate status in Jewish society it’s ironic that Jesus so often deliberately pointed out women to His disciples as examples of true worshipers.

In Part Two we will consider three more instances where Jesus publicly honored a woman and discover how one such instance was instrumental in leading to His arrest and execution.

(Part Two of Women Jesus Honored will be posted next week.)

 

Day by Day

sunset silhouette dark leaves  ch rs IMG_2627

She didn’t know me anymore. To be honest, I didn’t know her anymore either. The child in this old woman’s body was like a fictional character to me. I had heard stories about her but I didn’t know how to talk to her. She was my mother, and yet she was not.

In her mind the year was 1938 and the man on the gurney wheeled past her bed in the emergency room corridor was her older brother. Her mother was dead and her father was lost in remorse and the bottle. Leo, the only one who cared for her and understood her had just been killed in a car accident.

She wailed. “Leo! Leo! Who will look after me now?”

In my reality my father, who dedicated his life to faithfully caring for Mom in her physically and mentally disabled state, had been taken to another hospital with a suspected stroke. I drove to their city as soon as I heard but I hadn’t even been to see him yet. Mom couldn’t be left alone and needed medical attention herself. So there she lay in a crowded, chaotic big city hospital emergency department – all day and all night and into the next day, waiting for a bed.

It was horrid. When she needed a catheter she acted as though she were being assaulted. She didn’t remember seeing people from so many cultures before and she thought she had been abducted to a foreign country. She was so scared.

How could I communicate with a person whose entire world was falling apart? She was frightened, disoriented and in pain. She was no longer the competent take-charge mother I had known.

“What will we do? What will we do?” she asked repeatedly.

“We will just have to take this day by day,” I said, using one of her own expressions.

Then I remembered the song we sang as a duet in church when I was a teenager. I began to sing softly:

Day by day, and with each passing moment,
Strength I find to meet my trials here;
Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,
I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.
He, whose heart is kind beyond all measure,
Gives unto each day what He deems best,
Lovingly its part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest.

She stopped crying, looked at me steadily and nodded her head in time to my beat.

She joined me singing in perfect harmony in a clear mezzo-soprano voice I didn’t know she still had. My mother, who couldn’t remember the names of common objects and who had trouble speaking a full sentence, knew all the words to all the verses.

Music had been vital in her life. She was the only person I knew who could play classical piano pieces without the ability to read music. She always sang in choirs. She sacrificed to make sure we could have the music lessons she always wanted. Music was her language. Those pathways in an otherwise deteriorating brain still functioned to bring her a message of peace.

We sang again. She calmed down, and smiled. She remembered the heavenly Father she learned to trust, the perfect Father who looked after her for all those years after Leo died.

“Jesus is wonderful,” she said, and finally closed her eyes to rest.

Mom passed into His presence a few weeks later. Dad, who recovered amazingly quickly from the stroke, was with her and said her face lit up like someone she knew walked into the room – and then she was gone.

I heard myself using her expression the other day when someone asked how I was doing. “It’s day by day,” I said. “It sometimes takes me a while to get to a place of peace but I am learning to trust my Father’s kindness. And that’s all I need.”

Every day the Lord Himself is near me,
With a special mercy for each hour;
All my cares He fain would bear and cheer me,
He whose name is Counsellor and Power.
The protection of His child and treasure
Is a charge that on Himself He laid;
“As thy days, thy strength shall be in measure,”
This the pledge to me He made.

Help me then, in every tribulation,
So to trust Thy promises, O Lord,
That I lose not faith’s sweet consolation,
Offered me within Thy holy Word.
Help me, Lord, when toil and trouble meeting,
E’er to take, as from a father’s hand,
One by one, the days, the moments fleeting,
Till with Christ the Lord I stand.

Lina Sandell, translated from Swedish by A.L. Skoog.

I am his child and His treasure. This is a charge He has laid upon Himself.

Jesus is wonderful.

The Parables of Bonnie – Part II

BONNIE FIn July of 2015 I wrote The Parable of Bonnie with the possibility that there might be more to learn from our little stray. There definitely was.

In my first post I told about the difficulty we had in getting Bonnie to be “OUR DOG” and not just “MY” dog.  My husband did everything to win her trust but it wasn’t until I left for ten days that she finally began to seek his companionship. Since that time their relationship blossomed. She would bound onto his hassock and into his lap with eyes sparkling and tail wagging. When he’d ask her to “give him a kiss” she’d jump onto his shoulder and lick his ear with great enthusiasm. What a joy!

The change came when I had been gone eight days. Eight is symbolic of new beginnings like a week or music scale, but most of all, resurrection. Jesus rose on the end of the seventh and beginning of the first or eighth day, giving a new beginning for all who believe–a much more profound joy. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we, like Bonnie, didn’t have to have additional prompting but continued to develop the relationship and continued to come to Him with enthusiasm, gratitude and joy!!

Shortly after Bonnie’s arrival at our house there was a small thunderstorm. I was amazed that she didn’t seem upset by the noise. Then came a real storm with close lightning followed by deafening thunder and she was terrified.  After that whenever it clouded up her tail would drop and she would pace. If a storm hit, she would run under the bed and stay distressed the rest of the day. The good news is that eventually she only reacted to bad storms and when they were over she was fine. I suspect the change came because “her people” didn’t seem to be upset.

For us the small storms are just part of life and nothing that threatens our self-sufficiency. Sometimes He has to use a real boomer to move us from our comfort zone. Unfortunately for most of us life has to get pretty desperate before we are willing to really seek God. We have our normal comfort level in our relationship with Him and we often give Him a passing hello or a quick thanks, but really seeking Him generally takes a crisis.

A plaque I have says, “Sometimes God calms the storm and sometimes He lets the storm rage and calms His child.” Bonnie never got that far, but we can since God is way bigger than “her people.” As our relationship deepens there is a trust that knows His love and really believes that He wants what is best for us. It’s like that dream that I wrote about a few months ago where the willow was whipping wildly in the wind but below the ground the roots which grew around and through a Bible rested in His peace.  When our roots are built on a bond with Him that is backed by His Word, we too can know that peace.

When I was working at our desktop computer, Bonnie sought attention by bringing her toys and stacking them around my feet. Finally, when really frustrated at being ignored, she would put her feet on the chair and look at me and if that didn’t work, she would whine or maybe even bark. Who could resist such a plea? It reminded me of the story Jesus told of the unjust judge who wouldn’t listen to the widow until she finally pestered him into paying attention to her needs.[1]

When we called Bonnie when she was in the back yard, she immediately left what she was doing and came running. When she got to go into the front yard, it was different. There was so much to explore and we couldn’t really mean she had to come right now, did we? Was that really us calling? You get the picture. My response to God calling is_____?  Think about it. I did, and had to admit to front yard habits.

While waiting in the vet’s office I got into a conversation with a woman who worked with stray animals. I told her a little about Bonnie and she said, “your dog is feral.”  When I got home I looked up feral[2] and, in the process, found that the critical period for puppies to socialize with people is between 3 and 13 weeks of age. Because Bonnie was abused during this early time, she avoided people and it was very hard even for us to win her trust.

Bonnie was not easy. She didn’t bite but she stayed away from being touched. Only my husband and I, our grown children, and one neighbor were ever able to hand feed or pet her. Touching her head was always off limits even to us. There are so many people with abuse issues. They too are not easy. But God allows us, His people, to be a part of where they find His love and healing if God directs and we are willing.

Bonnie had never had good vision but it continued to worsen. In January 2016 we took her to Texas A & M to visit their ophthalmology department for a diagnosis. They told us that she had progressive retinal atrophy and would eventually go blind, but that blind dogs could do quite well with their other senses and with just a little help from us, she should do fine.

By April, Bonnie was blind. She did not do as well as we had expected and seemed unable to use the rugs as a path or the scent markers we put out to keep her from running into things. However, she and I still had an evening run in the back yard. We would go out and start to play and she would run knowing that I would holler “careful” if she got too close to the fence or porch or any obstacle. The minute I said “careful” she would slam on the brakes and try another direction. We both looked forward to these times and they were GOOD.  Would that we reacted like Bonnie when that still small voice says “careful.”

By the end of June we knew something else was wrong. We tried to let her do things on her own and though she tried, she just didn’t seem able. She couldn’t find her food through smell, she had trouble getting in and out of the door, her balance was not good. It took ages to get her to her bed at night when she used to run and bounce into her crate and wait for a treat. It was so sad. Then she had a small seizure and our vet sent us back to A & M to a neurologist. There was nothing they could do.

On July 1, 2016 she left life as I held her in my arms and the vet ended the misery caused by a terrible genetic brain disease[3] that left her blind,[4] dizzy, and confused. An MRI showed that her brain had shrunk as a plaque-like substance replaced healthy tissue. We were heartbroken but we thank God for her time with us, knowing she had the best home we could give and that she knew love.

I treasure every day we had with Bonnie. These parables are just a few of the things the Lord brought to mind over our year and a half, to say nothing of the lessons in patience. I wish I had written down more. It had been twenty years since we had a dog and had Bonnie not come, we probably would never have had another. However, once a dog is part of the household it is way too quiet without one.

There is no replacing, but one can add—meet Harper, our 3-month old rescue.
harper corpped

FOOTNOTES 

[1] Luke 18:1-8

[2] Bonnie was not truly feral as a really feral dog is wild and often vicious. but she had many of their traits and it explained a lot of her behavior that had been a mystery.

[3] Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis – a very rare lysosomal storage disease which in humans is called Batten’s disease

[4] It was not progressive retinal atrophy but without the progression of the brain disease or by doing an MRI there was no way to tell the difference.

A Dream in the Night

Ishshah’s Story will celebrate its 2nd birthday in just a few weeks. Reaching back to the Archives, the following post is the first one I wrote for our fledgling blog two years ago. Given recent messages the Lord has released about spiritual abuse and the enemy’s operation through hidden darkness, this archives re-post is timely. May we be reminded again that the Lord has often used throughout history a dream in the night to warn, call attention to, deliver a message or give clear instruction for a way to safety. ~ In His care, Nancy    

Her Journey - A Dream in the Night - August 2014

There is an old saying, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”[1] I prefer though the more accurate translation from the original Chinese…

“The journey of a thousand miles begins beneath one’s feet.”

In my case, it began beneath my head while I lay dreaming in the night. A sweet dream it wasn’t.

It came in the early years of our marriage. Our three little children were stair-step ages all two years apart, and my husband and I were involved in the local church body we had started attending as newlyweds. A good mix of older folks down to the youngest baby, it was a community swirling with the activity of the singles, youth, and a generous amount of young married couples and growing families with children.

Leadership ages ranged from younger worship leaders to the middle-aged almost or completely empty-nesters on up to the pastor’s elder father. If one were peering in the windows, it would look like a big, happy family with all the generations well-represented. But appearances can be deceiving…

Six years and my nightmare dream later, my husband and I counted up no less than fourteen of those marriages that had been affected either by adultery, divorce or both. In a local church numbering no more than about 300 people, you do the math. Marriages were under attack.

It was too many to think it was simply random bad luck of couples not meant for each other. What became apparent to my husband and me was that somewhere in the church’s several decades of existence, the door had been left wide open for the enemy to exploit this particular area of body life.

Long story short, there were a few gutsy enough – my young husband included – to go to the pastor and elders about this concerning trend. Scriptural warning was raised and the alarm sounded. The response from the leadership was anything but encouraging. Met with downplay and defensiveness, the ones bringing the word of admonition were made to feel they were the problem. The elephant in the sanctuary reigned sacred.

Time passed. Then one October afternoon five years into our marriage, I was stirring a pot of soup when a grave phone call came telling me that the 31-year old wife of one of the church leaders had died unexpectedly during a routine surgical procedure – leaving her widowed husband with two young children and a toddler. Her untimely death impacted and unsettled our church. That same month I learned I was expecting our third child.

The months passed and our healthy baby girl was delivered. Then, unbidden, the dream came…

The scene was the basement fellowship hall of the dated neighborhood building the church had purchased a few years earlier. With cement grey walls and painted concrete floor, surrounded by lots of rooms for Sunday School classes and church offices, the big open room was constantly utilized. Body life took place here with everything from children’s church and youth group to annual business meetings, potlucks, wedding and baby showers.

I was standing alone in that basement fellowship hall, with the Lord next to me saying, “I want to show you what happens to the women in this church.”

As I looked across the room at the doorway that housed the staircase and landing, I saw gurney after gurney being rolled into the room and lined up in a row. The forms of dead bodies covered with white sheets sent a chill through me.

But it was when I saw who the deceased were that a warning fear gripped me. There was a family in the church, a good and solid couple with a large number of children…and there before me lay first the mother, then every one of the daughters. No female of that family had any life left in her.

By the Spirit, I understood they were representative of the spirit of death the enemy was unleashing upon the females within the church. The very ones designed to carry life to term, give birth, nurture, teach and equip the little ones, and raise up to maturity so the cycle could continue.

I woke up from that dream with a dread certainty that if we remained there, death was going to happen to me; I would not escape it. And we had two young daughters, also. I sensed not a physical death, but a dying of spirit and snuffing out of life nonetheless.

***

Celebrating thirty-eight years[2] of marriage in September, my husband and I are now thirty-plus years of life beyond that local church we had settled into just three weeks after our wedding. (And yes, we left).

The narrative of our story, indeed my story, has threads that trace all the way back to those first six years. Today, my husband and I would tell you that we can now look back and from our hearts, say:

“And you, you intended evil against me, but God meant it for good, in order to make it as it is this day, to keep a great many people alive. And now do not fear; I will nourish you and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spoke to their hearts.” (Genesis 50:20-21 LITV – Joseph to his elder brothers who sold him into slavery).

My journey of a thousand miles began long ago. Full of twists and turns, valleys and dark nights, merciful light and certain grace – it’s a story of God’s redeeming love.

It took me some time to admit that the Word of the Lord stands firm and true. And that I don’t receive ‘special exception’ status just because I bear the name Christian.

I find it to be just like the Lord though, that with all this talk of death (even His personal visitation in my dream to ensure I heard it straight from Him), to include in my journey dying anyway. Dying to self so I can walk increasingly in His resurrection life.

Today, you may be that young bride or the wife and mother with a busy household. Or, against your deepest desire, you may find yourself still single or single once again through the death of your marriage. Perhaps a grey-haired grandmother whose heart holds dreams not yet fulfilled. Maybe you’re the woman sitting upright in the pew, while inwardly the white sheet of death is creeping dangerously closer to covering your soul.

Where do you find yourself standing today? The next step is right where you are, looking at what is beneath your feet.

Praying for you Romans 16:17-19 with the benediction of wonderful verse 20:

“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.
The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.”

Journeying on ~ Nancy

[1]Attributed to Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu some 500+ years before Christ
[2]Soon to celebrate our 40th, all praise to the Lord!

Celebrating: Lilias Trotter of Algeria

lilias-trotter

“It is easy to find out whether our lives are focused and if so where the focus lies. Where do our thoughts settle when consciousness comes back in the morning? Where do they swing back when the pressure is off during the day? Dare to have it out with God, and ask Him to show you whether or not all is focused on Christ and His Glory. Turn your soul’s vision to Jesus, and look and look at Him, and a strange dimness will come over all that is apart from Him.” Lilias Trotter

Like many of us you may be familiar with the beautiful chorus ‘Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus’. You are less likely, however, to be familiar with the amazing woman whose words (quoted above) inspired the blind songwriter Helen H. Lemmel to write that well-loved song in 1918.

Lilias Trotter was born into a wealthy London family, one of nine children, on 14 July, 1853. At age twelve she suffered a devastating blow when her beloved father died. Her sorrow drove her to prayer and somewhere in those formative years Lilias placed her faith in Christ as her Saviour. The young Lilias also possessed an extraordinary talent for art which was becoming increasingly evident as she grew into adulthood.

In her early twenties Lilias was deeply influenced by the Higher Life Movement and attended meetings by the American evangelist Dwight L Moody. As a result she became actively involved in ministering to prostitutes living and working around London’s Victoria Station. Often she would venture out in the night hours alone, seeking out the women, spending many hours counselling and praying with them, and encouraging them into educational courses to enable them to enter other fields of employment. She was encouraged both in her ministry and her artwork by her mother, Isabella.

Such was Lilias’ artistic talent that she was noticed by the highly influential art critic and philanthropist, John Ruskin. So convinced was Ruskin that Lilias could be a great artist he took her on as his protégé, with the intention of directing her into a career as one of England’s pre-eminent artists. In a note to Lilias, Ruskin wrote: ‘I pause to think how –anyhow – I can convince you of the marvelous gift that is in you.’

After three years of tutelage, however, Ruskin became frustrated with Lilias’ mission work, which he saw as distracting her from developing her artistic talent. He asked her to devote her life entirely to her art, promising if she did so she would ‘be the greatest living painter in England and do things that would be immortal.’

Confronted with the realization that a momentous decision was upon her Lilias went to prayer. She was passionate about her mission work but equally passionate about her art. After several days she emerged with a decision that would determine the future course of her life, stating: ‘I see as clear as daylight now, I cannot give myself to painting in the way he [Ruskin] means and continue still to ‘seek first the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness.’ Her choice had been made.

Lilias continued her work with the London prostitutes. However at 31 years of age, always physically of slight build, she suffered an emotional and physical breakdown. The resultant surgery left her with a heart weakness that would severely impact her health for the rest of her life.

Though weak in body Lilias had the spirit of a warrior. Convicted that God was calling her to the North African mission field, in 1887, aged 34, she responded to a call for missionaries and soon after presented herself as a candidate at the North African Mission, who promptly rejected her due to her health problems.

Undeterred, and financially independent due to her father’s life-long provision for her, Lilias decided she must follow the path to which she felt called by God even if unsupported by a mission organization. Along with two other women of similar mindset she arrived in Algeria, North Africa, as an independent missionary in March 1888. Lilias recorded:

 I would not be anywhere else but in this hardest of fields with an invincible Christ. Three of us stood there, looking at our battle-field, none of us fit to pass a doctor for any society, not knowing a soul in the place, or a sentence of Arabic or a clue for beginning work on untouched ground; we only knew we had to come. Truly if God needed weakness, He had it!’

With Lilias as their leader the women moved into the French Quarter and set about studying Arabic. From the beginning they were opposed both by the French authorities and the Islamic society around them. The first few years were described by Lilias as ‘like knocking our heads against stone walls.’ The three women applied themselves to their language studies and tried various strategies in outreaching to the women and children of the local community.   The highly secluded Algerian women were difficult to access, but gradually contact was made and the gospel shared.

At least two of their early converts died as a result of slow poisoning. The missionaries believed others were being drugged by their families. Still others were beaten or banished.

Lilias took to camel back, scouting the Sahara Desert, traversing areas never before visited by a European woman, reaching out to the cloistered Arab women as well as the Sufi mystics of the desert. She produced pamphlets and booklets, discarding traditional methods of evangelism and using her artwork to depict cultural scenes from Arab life to which the local people could more easily apply the gospel.

lilias 1_Page_2-480“How the angels must watch the first day when that light reaches a new spot on this earth that God loves . . . and, oh, the joy of being allowed to go with His message that first day. How can His people hold back from that joy while one corner remains unvisited by the Dayspring!” – Lilias Trotter, March 1885

Led by Lilias the women often travelled into the desert to hand out pamphlets, followed and harassed by local French authorities who threatened fines and imprisonment for any who accepted their literature. Throughout this time Lilias continued to suffer serious health problems and travelled several times to Britain and Europe for convalescence, always returning to her beloved North Africa as soon as sufficient strength was regained.

In 1907, with the warming of English-French relations, the French authorities became less hostile and five more missionaries were added to what had now become known as The Algiers Mission Band. She set up several mission bases along the coast of North Africa and deep into the Sahara. By 1920 there were thirty full time workers and fifteen preaching stations.

Throughout her life Lilias continued to paint and also became a prolific writer, filling journals about her life in Algiers and authoring several books, often illustrated with her paintings. One such book was “The Way Of The Sevenfold Secret”, in which she taught on the seven I Am statements of Christ in the gospel of John in a way that could reach Arabic Sufi mystics. Her other more well-known books include “Parables of the Cross” and “Parables of the Christ Life”.

Lilias was confined to bed for the last years of her life where she continued to manage the affairs of the Algerian Mission Band combined with prayer, sketching and writing. She was also in touch by letter with the missionary Amy Carmichael in India (who also spent many years confined in bed due to an accident).

As she lay dying in August 1928, after forty years of mission work in North Africa, she spoke to those around her of ‘a chariot and six horses’. ‘You are seeing beautiful things’ someone remarked. ‘Yes, many, many beautiful things’ she responded, her last words spoken on earth.

Lilias Trotter was an extraordinary woman, comparable to respected male missionaries such as David Livingstone, William Carey, and Hudson Taylor. Yet, her name remains relatively unknown and her exploits, sacrifice and service, unsung. She was a pioneer in adapting new, culturally sensitive ways to evangelize that were innovative and, in 19th century Christianity, daring. She was apostolic in her commitment to her calling and passionate in her pursuit of Christ in the face of devastating health problems, persecution and hardship. She is a worthy hero of the Christian faith.

May Lilias, and other women like her, continue to inspire new generations of Christ-followers, both female and male, to turn their soul’s vision fully to Jesus.

Footnote: In 2015 ‘Many Beautiful Things” a film about the life of Lilias Trotter was released and is available on DVD. You can watch the trailer here: https://manybeautifulthings.com/

Further Reading and Resources:

The Lilias Trotter Centre:

Biographical Sketch

Lilias Trotter Blogspot

Christianity Today Article

 

Hope for the Betrayed

Caesarea Maritimes columns Meditteranean  crop ch IMG_7373

I’ve learned to pay attention when unusual co-incidences occur in my life. When the same book or the same topics pop up in random conversation and unexpected places I tend to wonder if there is a reason. The recurring topic this week was about people who have been deeply wounded by experiences in the church; the name that popped up is that of a man I haven’t thought about in years.

I was a naive sixteen-year old when I met him. He was the youth program director at church.

It was many years ago and I have long since forgiven, although forgiveness was not an easy or quick process. True forgiveness requires acknowledgment of the seriousness of the offense and I was in denial for a long time. I stumbled around until I found trustworthy people who could help.

Let’s just say he was not the person he wanted people to think he was. A chance encounter with a woman from out of town revealed more about him than he intended me to know. When he laughed nervously, shooed me away and told her I was just one of the kids I was devastated. From the vantage point of an adult who has heard this story too many times, it is clear he spent months grooming an underage girl for his own purposes. I fell for flattery and smooth talking.

I’ve known people who walked away from high speed head-on collisions and people who were permanently disabled falling out of bed. What happened to me might have been far milder or far more severe than what happened to others or perhaps to you. It’s not a contest. I’ll spare you the details save the one that really matters: it felt like utter betrayal.

My young heart was broken at the time, but eventually grateful for that unpleasant evening of truth revealed. The Lord intervened to get me out of that situation. Later the man asked if he could trust me to be discrete if we continued our “special friendship.” I said no, shut the door, and never saw him again.

Eventually I did tell a church leader. The response was to hand back my written testimony saying he didn’t want it in their records in case someone accidentally stumbled across it. The pastor assured me that my story would be kept absolutely confidential so as not to “expose my shame.”

For years I carried a burden of shame that was not mine. Then I handed it to Jesus and he set me free.

Memories of this time came up recently in the context of writing an article on David and Absalom and disappointment in leadership. I’ve let go of any expectation of repayment for that debt too, but I was curious. I wondered what this guy from my past was up to now.

When I googled his name news reports about a conviction on charges of fraud in a case involving millions of dollars appeared on my screen. Yes, it was the same guy. I felt neither anger nor glee. When I felt only pity for him and compassion for his family, I knew my heart had been healed.

The next day we met new friends over lunch. When I mentioned I used to attend a certain church the man across the table asked if I knew Mr. “X” when he was there.

“I did,” I answered.

“He was my business partner. He deceived me. Big time.” he said, with pain in his voice years after the event. He had also met Mr. X at church.

“There were a lot of things we didn’t know about him,” his wife added. “He was a smooth talker.”

“That he was,” I agreed.

I thought about this coincidence all week, wondering why I was running into his name again now, how he got away with deception for so long, and how many sitting doves he hurt. As I prayed the phrase that kept coming to mind was this: “I commend to you our sister Phoebe.” Puzzling.

“I commend to you our sister Phoebe.” I kept hearing it.

I knew Phoebe was included in the list of greetings in chapter 16 of Romans. She is first.

“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.” (verses 1, 2 NIV)

I kept reading. There it was. The connection. After the greetings to men and women Paul obviously respected, comes a contrast, a warning:

“I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I rejoice because of you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.” (Verses 17- 19)

I compared the two descriptions. Phoebe is commended to the Romans. Paul vouches for her trustworthiness. He urges the church to receive her with honour and give her whatever help she needs.

The ones Paul warns the readers of the letter about are not worthy of trust. Paul tells the church in Rome not to receive them. In fact, in this case, he says to keep away from them.

roman road 2 IMG_8518Phoebe was a deacon who travelled the Roman road from a town near Corinth to deliver Paul’s letter. She may have been familiar with the incident in Corinth in which Paul made it clear that a certain man’s behaviour was not to be tolerated in their midst. He suggested drastic action to turn this fellow around, and it worked. (1 Cor. 5)

Phoebe was also a benefactor (prostatis, feminine form of proistemi) which is a stronger term than a helpful person who volunteers to wash dishes after a potluck. She was a female superintendant, a patron, a protector with the authority of a trusted guardian. Whatever gifts or resources she possessed she used to benefit others including, Paul notes, himself.

In comparison, the ones not to be trusted were not givers; they were takers. They preyed on the vulnerabilities of others to serve their own purposes, their own appetites. They placed obstacles in the way of people getting closer to a relationship with Jesus.

I believe the Lord has been showing me the importance of commending those trustworthy followers of Jesus who have a record of loving generosity and a proven desire to work for the benefit of others. Putting others ahead of themselves is a characteristic of guardians or protectors.

The topic of how to demonstrate both mercy and justice is more complex than I have room for here. Keeping Jesus Christ central is the most important factor. His greatest compassion was for the betrayed and mistreated. He lashed out at those who used the covering of religion to serve their own purposes.

Jesus is willing to heal our wounds and surround us with love that lets us know we are perfectly safe. He restores that which has been stolen and replaces our losses with his hope – the hope that does not disappoint.

 

I asked the opinions of several people I see as mature believers before publishing. I was shocked by how many had their own stories of betrayal. For some the mere mention of the topic was painful. I removed a more detailed description of events because this is not about me alone. Their stories are important. You story is important. If this has triggered a memory for you Ishshah’s Story has a resource page (here) you might find helpful. We would also urge you to seek the help of someone in your area, a trustworthy person like Phoebe, who can guide you through the healing process.

Jesus absolutely loves you. His hope is fearless.

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A Call To Action

Lift-Light-2

The following post is written by our editorial team member Pat Joyce.  Pat is having computer problems and has asked me to upload this article for her.  May it challenge and inspire you!


These past few weeks have been filled with the horrors of terrorism and violence around the globe. It is hard to believe that human beings can deliberately do such things to each other until we face the truth of our utter depravity without God.

When I was growing up I absorbed a humanistic world view.[1] This means I believed in “a system of values and beliefs that is based on the idea that people are basically good and that problems can be solved using reason instead of religion.”[2] I can’t pinpoint where I got this view but it was certainly there.

I believed that people were basically good and, if they didn’t act like it, the fault lay with environment, life experiences, poor upbringing, lack of advantages, or some discoverable reason that could probably be fixed. I was right, they could be fixed, but oh was I wrong about how.

In 1974 my lifelong search for the reality of God was answered. He touched me; it was awesome and nothing has ever been the same. I was starved to know Him more and devoured books and teachings and then the Word itself. I discovered that He and I thought differently about a lot of things.

Humanism is a lie. People cannot solve the world’s problems. Human beings are not good, only God is good.[3]

I discovered the truth that God’s Spirit departed human beings when they first disobeyed in Genesis 3. I faced what Paul says in Romans 3, “none is righteous, no, not one”. That which is born of the flesh is flesh,[4] fallen, separated flesh. I accepted the fact that no matter how hard we try, we can’t be righteous enough for God—but JESUS. God loved us enough to send the answer. I found that I could have the righteousness of God, in Christ.[5] Born from above, I see the Kingdom; baptized into Him the Spirit lives again in me. I am a Christian.

As Christians we are called to be the light of the world, a city set on a hill, ambassadors of reconciliation, preachers of the good news of the Kingdom,[6] and on and on.

These past months as I have seen the violence increase, I have heard world leaders of formerly Christian nations proclaim what they would do about a variety of problems. What I have not heard is anything about God. Oh, they mention Him, or say pray, but nowhere have I heard them acknowledge His rule or that they are subject to Him. Nowhere have I heard that our cultures are opposed to His principles. It seems to me that leaders in “Christian”[7] nations fall into the admonition in Romans 1:21, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” Nowhere is the word repentance even mentioned. God has been declared either dead or irrelevant if not by words, by actions. And Christians around the world are either persecuted or ridiculed for their faith.

How have Christians across the globe responded? On the whole, with silence. Are we projecting light into the darkness of our cultures? God calls us to be doers of the Word and not hearers only.[8] Do we deceive ourselves by thinking there is nothing God would have us do? Do we stand politically correct rather than speaking truth or acting boldly if God directs?

Personally, I find that I have avoided action when friends on social media made comments that were absolutely devoid of God’s truth because I didn’t want to offend anyone. I nearly always kept silent when conversations agreed with the world and ignored the Word. I have wept as I heard leaders speak against the Word as they proclaimed what they were going to do, but I have done nothing. Did they speak in ignorance? Might prayer have changed their hearts? Did I ask God about where they were with Him? The answer on the whole is no! I repent of inaction, wrong priorities and pure laziness and choose to open the doors that God places before me whether they seem too big or too small to matter.

There is a time to speak and a time to keep silent, but God says He will direct our steps if we trust. [9] What a time for us to learn to listen to the Holy Spirit. If He calls us to take action on an issue, He is there to get us through repercussions from what He has led us to do.

Our greatest weapon is prayer. I love Psalm 2 where it says “the nations rage and God sits in the heaven and laughs” and Proverbs 19:21, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. We need to get tuned in to our particular part in His plan. Pray as He leads, remembering that He is the Lord, the God of all mankind and nothing is too hard or impossible for Him.[10]

As I wrote this article, the words to the old hymn Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus continued to run through my mind. What better words to call us to action?

Stand up, stand up for Jesus! ye soldiers of the cross; Lift high His royal banner, it must not suffer loss: From vict’ry unto vict’ry, His army shall He lead, Till every foe is vanquished, and Christ is Lord indeed.

Stand up, stand up for Jesus! The trumpet call obey: Forth to the mighty conflict, in this His glorious day; Ye that are men now serve Him against unnumbered foes; Let courage rise with danger, and strength to strength oppose.

Stand up, stand up for Jesus! Stand in His strength alone, The arm of flesh will fail you, ye dare not trust your own; Put on the gospel armor, and watching unto prayer, Where calls the voice of duty, be never wanting there.

Stand up, stand up for Jesus! the strife will not be long; This day the noise of battle, the next the victor’s song; To him that overcometh a crown of life shall be; He with the King of glory shall reign eternally.[11]

by George Duffield, Jr.

Footnotes

[1] A worldview is a set of beliefs and assumptions that a person uses when interpreting the world

[2] www.mirriam-webster.com/dictionary/humanism

[3] Mark 10:81 and Luke 18:19 quoting Jesus.

[4] Flesh is the natural man without God. The flesh denotes mere human nature, the earthly nature of people apart from divine influence, and therefore prone to sin and opposed to God.

[5] Righteousness 2 Corinthians 5:21, Born from above John 3:3, Kingdom John 3:5, Spirit John 3:6

[6] light & city Matt 5:14, ambassadors and reconciliation 2 Corinthians 2:5, preachers & gospel Mark 16:15

[7] Christian is in quotes because although the influence of Christianity is there, most have turned away from faith.

[8] James 1:22

[9] Proverbs 3:5-6

[10] Jeremiah 32:27 & Matthew 19:26

[11] This hymn uses the inclusive form of men and the pronoun him. We ladies are welcome aboard.

Nine

Pixabay silhouette little girl II - public domainIt’s long been said that age is just a state of mind. If that’s accurate, then I moved to a new state at the age of nine. Though I lived in the house I grew up in from nine months old to age 19 when I married, I was nine when awareness, awkwardness, and anxiousness merged at the confluence of my girlish heart.

It’s taken a long time to learn to flow freely since that relocation. But a wellspring’s  ultimately gotta do what it was designed to do. God sees to that as He watches over and keeps a tender heart of nine.

Years later as I began to look at my life and listen to what it had to tell me, a light bulb went on. Holy Spirit and I played ‘connect the dots’ with regard to several significant things that took place, all of them in my ninth year. It was a banner year of sorts – if you take into consideration both the shiny front side of the banner and the not so nice back side.

My age nine life list looked like this (on sticky notes no less):

– Plagued by epilepsy with grand mal seizures resulting from a bout of the German hard measles when I was almost five years old, I was miraculously healed at the age of … you guessed it, nine. That’s a story in itself but a list is about bullet points not autobiographies! Except to say I am now 59 and if there’s an epilepsy-free Jubilee, then this is my banner year of five decades without another seizure. Ever. That’s my Abba.

– The love of singing burrowed deep into me as I sat, too young to participate, and listened to the adult choir practices at church. Choir leader Marjie had a gift (along with the cutest tiny size 5 high heels). I soaked up the music and ministry to my nine-year-old heart and soul. Harmony moved in and never left.

– I was nine for 2/3 of my fourth-grade school year. Now we’re talking convergence. Our backyard neighbor was my teacher and she recognized the voice in me that loved to sing. More than that, she reinforced the music within by speaking one on one to me about it. A heart can glow, you know.

– While a heart might be glowing on the inside, the ugly duckling years have a way of showing up and waddling across your young girl face and form without much finesse. Unless you’re Jessica G. I didn’t have the ‘cute’ gene. Come to think of it, I didn’t get the ‘popular’ gene either. Jessica G got both.

What I got was a love for reading and weak eyes. The school day arrived when we each had to stand at the masking tape line just so, cover one eye with a palm and read the chart posted next to the chalkboard. Shuffle feet, switch palm to the other eye, and repeat. (I bet you know where this is going.) A teacher’s note to my mother, an appointment with the optometrist and a pair of glasses later, I could see! I could also see myself in the mirror and I looked stupid – in the opinion of my nine year old eyes. And, I was convinced, in the eyes of most everyone else too. Kids can be mean, you know.

– Then there was the infamous wardrobe of a child born in the late 50’s. We won’t talk about the pedal pushers and home hair perms. By the time you add cat’s eye sparkly eyeglass frames to the mix…well, just don’t. Nine was the perfect age to determine this whole ‘beauty on the inside’ thing was a crock. One’s self-image could sure use a dose of that inner beauty oozing out one’s pores where you could actually see it. Self-talk can be pretty harsh, you know.

– Somewhere during nine, serious awareness knocked on the door and anxiousness took up residence. I gained some knowledge that awakened my nine year old understanding. That’s when I internalized that a marriage in trouble wreaks havoc with a child’s emotional stability. The uncertainty of what I had been sure of before in my pre-nine year old naïvete was setting off internal reactionI became aware of that which before I had not understood; I just knew it impacted our home’s atmosphere and I was a sensitive child sponging it up. I became a voracious reader which led to loving words, becoming a great speller, a good proofreader and an escape artist. A scared young heart finds a way to escape, you know.

One question flew its banner through my mind, “What’s wrong with us that you don’t love us?” until it got grounded, folded up and pigeonholed in my heart. Hearts learn early and well how to compartmentalize, you know.

What frustrated syncopation a nine year old heart can enter into.

On one hand the infant, toddler and early elementary years were giving way to budding girlhood. It was a year of discovering more about me. Beginning to identify what I really liked such as music, reading and writing, while it only took a look in the mirror to confirm the outer wrappings of me needed some serious improvement! Like a new wardrobe, a different hairstyle and preferably good eyesight. (Some things don’t change much in fifty years…)

On the other hand I was discovering – to the beat of my anxious heart – that nine was a year older and a year wiser than eight. What I did not yet know of life, though, would come to fill volumes.

***

Five decades later I can testify that the precious receiving of the Holy Spirit at the age of nine is the place of heart to which my unfolding life journey returned me. Hearts can come home, you know.

Home is where I first knew that I knew I love Jesus and agreed so with the evangelist during a prayer line at the altar as he laid gentle hands on my head. It was at the church with the choir and the cute high heels. The place Holy Spirit came to indwell me and the infirmity of epilepsy was ushered out.

What began at nine years old continues to be developed through a process in which the God of all grace has invested Himself:

And after you have suffered a little while,
the God of all grace [Who imparts all blessing and favor],
Who has called you to His [own] eternal glory in Christ Jesus,
will Himself complete and make you what you ought to be,
establish and ground you securely, and strengthen, and settle you.
I Peter 5:19 (AMPC)

What marvelous promises for one’s heart to come home to.

Dear heart friend – Life is circuitous in nature. Though the path may seem more like wandering around than winding upward, more insignificant than important – the truth is that I Am has never forgotten the true you are.

However old you were when He began His good work in you – nine, nineteen, thirty-nine, sixty-nine, or any age – let your heart come full circle. He is ever available to complete who you are and more. Establish you. Ground you. Strengthen you. Settle you. Forever and ever, Amen.

Photo credit: Pixabay – CC0 Public Domain

She Could No Longer Hide

woman hidingOur latest guest contribution is from Wendy Bones of Coffs Harbour, Australia. Wendy brings us a fresh and beautifully personal perspective on the woman with the issue of blood in Luke 8:43-48.  Welcome Wendy, and thankyou for reminding us that in Christ there is total healing for our ‘hidden places’ and freedom from shame. 

 

A chance comment one day led to a series of events she could not have expected. People once known to her lived within a four hours drive from her current location. She could possibly “drop in” and catch up with them after so many years.

Absolute panic set in; no it’s too far, what’s the point, they probably aren’t interested, and so on went the excuses in her mind to not make that journey. Her husband didn’t mind either way; “your decision”. So for a day she sat in this turmoil, calling out to the Lord for His help whilst all along He had begun a work in her she couldn’t have even anticipated. Shame, fear, panic, were followed swiftly by tears and His unveiling of what was happening. You see, many years ago their last meeting was not great and her part in it had left her ashamed.

Daring herself to allow the Lord to heal this area, they made the trip, a detour of a day in total, to “catch up”. And so began the Lord’s revealing to her the hiding for many years, hiding in this area of her life, hiding from Him, hiding from herself and hiding from others the hurt, the shame.

There is a story of another woman in Luke 8:43 – 48, the story of a woman with a flow of blood who for 12 years had been hidden from society, ostracised from others, not able to participate in family or society events because of the religious laws of the day. A woman who was isolated, cut off, hidden and ashamed and having thrown everything she had at finding a cure. In verse 42 we read she “could not be healed by any”.

On this day she dared to break free from the constraints due to her condition and was in a place to hear Jesus speak and interact with many others. There was a multitude that day (verse 40) and she could easily hide in the multitude and see what Jesus was about. I am imagining there were many things going through her mind that day; are the stories true, is what I’ve heard really possible, can He really heal people and, dare I ask, can He heal me?

Jesus was caught up in conversation with Jairus who had come to worship Him and beg for his daughter who was dying. Jesus was moved by his cry for help and it was as he was going with Jairus towards his home that He was thronged by a multitude. He was “pressed into, jammed into and squeezed into” a situation where everyone and anyone could have been touching Him.

From behind Jesus the woman came and touched His garment and immediately her flow of blood stopped. Did you notice that she “came from behind” Jesus, still not able to face anyone, let alone Jesus; she approached Jesus from a place where she was still hidden. But Jesus knew. He says in verse 45 “who touched me?” Peter and those with Him stated the obvious when they said “Master, the multitudes throng and press You and You say, “Who touched me?”. But Jesus knew that someone in the crowd behind Him believed Him to be their hope, the One who could possibly heal them. He knew that in that desperate act of faith, that silent, hidden reaching out to Him, power went out from Him. The desperate, last ditch cry of a hidden woman met the power of the living God in that simple touch of His garment.

And immediately she was healed and immediately she was no longer hidden and she knew it. Verse 47 says “Now when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling and falling down before Him, she declared to Him in the presence of all the people the reason she had touched Him and how she was immediately healed.”

And He said to her, “daughter be of good cheer, your faith has made you well, go in peace.” No longer ashamed, living a hidden life away from everyone else but healed and whole and brought out of hiding by the power of His life and love.

I opened with the story of another woman who had lived with shame in an area of her life for many years. So what happened that day she made the decision to connect again with old friends? Well, that day I too experienced the same healing power that flows from Jesus, healing for the years of shame and all that involved. We made the journey that day and by His grace we shared a remarkable reunion. Not a great deal was said about the past, it wasn’t necessary; for them it was a forgotten memory. What did happen was a sharing of all the Lord had done in our lives over the intervening years and a departure where we were able to pray for and bless one another. And for me there was a new freedom, a desire to no longer hide, a desire to have nothing hidden from Him.

We too know and can know the same bringing out of the hidden places into His glorious light and love no matter what it is that causes us in our brokenness to hide or to feel we need to hide. The same Jesus still responds today to that step of faith to reach out to Him, to touch His garment so to speak; to dare to believe that He can bring the same healing and wholeness to all areas of our lives.

I love the JB Phillips translation of verse 47 which says “and when the woman realised that she had not escaped notice”. We never escape His notice; it doesn’t matter how many other demands there are on His time, His attention – His love for each and every one of us is so true and complete that our smallest attempt to gain his attention will never escape His notice.

He cannot be other than Himself in every interaction He has with us. He cannot but respond to our reaching out in faith, our feeble cry for help, and our desire to come out of hiding, to be set free from all that has caused us to be alienated both from God and from one another. He cannot but respond with all the power of Heaven to set captives free, to heal the broken hearted to make the blind see. He is who He is. In Him there is no need of hiding.

“O Lord where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into Heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.“ Psalm 139:7-10

 

Are Women Also Sons?

While Cheryl McGrath, our blessed sister in Christ and founder of Ishshah’s Story, is enjoying the last bit of her brief sabbatical, we are pleased to offer Cheryl’s wisdom and voice once again in this second post “from the archives”. 

Dollarphotoclub_galatians3Recently someone expressed concern when I posted a scripture reference to Galatians 3:26 on the Ishshah’s Story Facebook page. The verse says:

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.’ (NASB)

Some translations use ‘children’ rather than ‘sons’, but I deliberately chose that particular translation in an attempt to open up a discussion about ‘sonship’ and what it means in the New Testament. The concerned person felt that the word ‘sons’ in this context is simply another example of biased translation in favour of males and therefore should be rejected. And trust me there are plenty of examples of inaccurate and biased word/phrase translations in the Bibles many of us use. However, I respectfully disagree with the viewpoint that the use of the word ‘sons’ in this verse is faulty, and here’s why.

The New Testament often uses metaphors to convey a specific idea. Sonship as referred to in Galatians 3:26 is a metaphor conveying a specific spiritual concept, just as ‘bride of Christ’ and ‘body of Christ’ are also metaphors conveying aspects of life in Christ. Metaphors are not gender specific. When Jesus was in the flesh, He had a male body, but no one would suggest that Biblical references to ‘the body of Christ’ include only males.

When Jesus spoke of the woman who searched for the missing coin He wasn’t speaking specifically about females, He was conveying a lesson using contemporary cultural customs (Luke 15:8-10). In Jesus’ day it was women who lit household lamps and kept the home clean. If he had described a man sweeping His house His listeners would not have related to the parable.

Similarly, when Jesus wanted to teach about perseverance in prayer, He used the example of a widow who pestered the judge to give her legal protection (Luke 18:1-8). Everyone in that time and culture knew that a vulnerable widow, more than a man, could very well find herself needing legal protection from her oppressors and having no other recourse but the local magistrate.

The metaphor of a devoted, adoring bride is used in the New Testament in relation to covenantal relationship with Christ (Jn. 3:29; 2 Cor. 11:2; Rev: 21:2,9). Most of us accept that male believers may have difficulty embracing this bridal metaphor from a cultural and experiential viewpoint, but this does not cause us to say only females can be regarded as the bride of Christ. We also know there are many Christian men who do not consider being part of Christ’s Bride an affront to their manhood.

Some other New Testament metaphors for God’s people include ‘temple’, ‘vessel’ ‘vineyard’, ‘flock’, ‘household’, ‘city’, and ‘light’.

The problem seems to be the word ‘son’. The Greek word ‘huios’ used in this verse is commonly used for male offspring (e.g. Gal. 4:30), and sometimes also for multiple, non-gender specific children (e.g. Rom. 9:27). There is another New Testament Greek word for ‘children’, ‘teknon’, but this is not the word used in Galatians 3:26.

When the Bible speaks of God’s fathering relationship with His individual people it is clear that relationship includes both sons and daughters. For instance when Paul was imploring the Corinthians as his spiritual ‘children’ he reminded them that they belonged to God by paraphrasing Jeremiah 31:9 “‘And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me’ says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Cor. 6:13, 18). Jesus also used the word ‘daughter’ and the phrase ‘daughter of Abraham’ (Mark 5:34, Luke 13:16). There is no question that God delights in all His children, both daughters and sons, and loves and equips them equally.

But there is also a metaphor of sonship in the New Testament which relates specifically to a believer’s spiritual inheritance and authority in Christ.

Jesus used this metaphor in the Sermon on the Mount: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons (huios) of God’ (Matt. 5:9, see also Matt. 5.45). Here He used the phrase ‘sons of God’ to teach that all believers can inherit their Heavenly Father’s likeness. To the people He was teaching, inheritance was for sons. However, it would be foolish to say Jesus meant only males could be peacemakers based on this verse.

In Romans 8:14 Paul writes ‘For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons (huios) of God.’ He goes on: ‘For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons (huios) by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!”’

The comparison here is not between males and females, but between sons and slaves.

In the Roman ruled culture in which Paul was writing, everybody understood that a slave was one who was bound to a master and was not free to follow his/her own pursuits. Everyone also understood that an adopted son was a male chosen by a Roman citizen to inherit his estate and perpetuate his name.

Under Roman law an adopted son was legally entitled to all the rights of a naturally born son with no exceptions. Additionally, every debt formerly owed by the adopted son was wiped out. He would forego all rights of a natural son in his former family and gain all rights of a natural son in his new family. His former life was literally no longer existent.

The cultural metaphor of an adopted son in Roman law was used here by Paul as the clearest way to explain the finished work by which every believer has now become a joint heir with Christ. This spiritual concept of sonship is not about gender but every believer’s new position in Christ. In the setting in which Paul was writing, sonship was necessary to become an heir. If he had written in terms of an adopted daughter, His readers would not have understood the concept of full inheritance he was trying to convey.

Paul then continues by using the progressive terminology of children, heirs and joint heirs. We first become children of God when we believe in Christ, but God also makes us heirs (sons) and, even better, joint heirs alongside Christ, meaning nothing that is Christ’s is withheld from us – male or female.

The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children (teknon) of God, and if children (teknon), heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” (Rom. 8:16-17)

God the Father has adopted all believers as His children, and also made all believers His heirs (sons) in the sense that He has guaranteed us a spiritual inheritance that cannot be taken away (1 Peter 1:4). Slaves on the other hand had no inheritance.

I believe Paul was using the same metaphor when he wrote to the Galatian believers: ‘you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.

New Testament “sonship” is a spiritual position that clearly belongs to all who believe in Christ Jesus, male or female, in the same way that brideship belongs to both His female and male followers. It is not about male or female gender, it is about being joint heirs together because we are now ‘in Christ’. And that is cause for celebration!

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