Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Eccesiastes - Solomon, the author, part 1

The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem...  Ecclesiastes 1:1

Ecclesiastes was written by Solomon, the son of King David and his wife, Bathsheeba. Solomon introduces himself in Ecclesiastes as "the Teacher." David named him Solomon, which means peace and prosperity, but God actually named him Jedidiah. God sent word through Nathan, the prophet, that Solomon's name should instead be Jedidiah, which means beloved of the Lord. 2 Samuel 12 says that God named him this because He loved him. Is that amazing? We are all loved by God, but to actually be named ''beloved" by God through prophesy is overwhelming.

Solomon was not David's first born. He was actually the fourth son of David's eighth wife. This is significant because usually the firstborn son ruled in his father's place. Solomon was probably the 10th son. Solomon did not expect to rule. But rule he did, when his father David died. This just proves that God chooses our leaders (Romans 13:1).

Early in his reign, God appeared to Solomon in a dream. God said to Solomon,

... the LORD appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”     1 Kings 3:5

Solomon replied, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day. 

“Now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties.  Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number.  So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this.             1 Kings 3:6-10

God asked Solomon, "What do you want? Ask, and I will give it to you!" Pretty remarkable. Imagine that God appears to you in a dream and tells you to ask Him for anything. What would you ask for? We need to look at Solomon's response and learn from him.

Solomon starts not with his request, but with thanksgiving. He thanks God for being kind not even to him, but to his father. Then he acknowledges that God placed him on the throne as King. He follows that with honesty and humility with where he is at. He calls himself "a little child" before the Lord, and asks for discernment to rule God's people. 

 So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” Then Solomon awoke—and he realized it had been a dream.
He returned to Jerusalem, stood before the ark of the Lord’s covenant and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then he gave a feast for all his court.      1 Kings 3:11-15

In summary, here is what we need to learn from Solomon's prayer:
1. Begin your prayers with thanksgiving, thanking God for who He is
2. Acknowledge what God has done in your life and the lives of others around you. 
3. Come before the Lord with humility, realizing who you are compared to Him.
4. Make requests that will benefit others and not just yourself.
5. Enjoy the Lord's pleasure over your prayer life.
6. Expect more from God than you ask for.
7. Worship God for His answers to prayer in your life.

Now go pray like Solomon did!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Warrior Women

 "Very well,” Deborah said, “I will go with you. But because of the way you are going about this, the honor will not be yours, for the LORD will hand Sisera over to a woman.”                 Judges 4:9

"Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time" (Judges 4:4) For a season, God chose a woman to lead Israel. Judges 4 tells us that she was a prophetess and a wife, to Lappidoth, who we don't know anything about. Judges 4:5 says that "she held court under the Palm of Deborah... and the Israelites came to her to have their disputes settled." Having a place named after her where she worked meant she was established, and the fact that Israelites from all over the land came to her to settle their disputes tells us that she was well respected. There is no indication in the text that her leadership was opposed within Israel, despite the fact that she was a woman.

Yet she was opposed from the outside of Israel by Jabin, a king of Canaan (Judges 4:2), who had "cruelly oppressed the Israelites for 20 years" (4:3). This king had 900 hundred iron chariots, a symbol of military strength and power. However, God had told His people not to acquire many horses (Deut. 17:16) and not to be afraid of armies that had many horses and chariots because "the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you" (Deut. 20:1).

Deborah, as a prophetess and appointed judge over Israel, would have known the Scriptures and God's commandments to His people in Deuteronomy. Barak, the commander of her army, was not as faith-full. Deborah had a word from the Lord for Barak:

“The LORD, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor. 7 I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.’”                        Judges 4:6-7

But Barak was afraid. He wouldn't go up against Sisera's army without Deborah by his side.

Who in our lives, other than God, do we feel we need at our sides when a battle comes our way? Do we not believe that if God has called us to a task, that He will also equip us to do it?

I think of Moses and Aaron. Moses didn't believe that God would fully equip him to deliver Israel from the hand of Egypt. He wanted Aaron along. God allowed him Aaron, but was angered by Moses' unbelief (Exodus 4:14).

Deborah also did go with Barak. And God did what He said He would do. Barak, with Deborah at his side, defeated Sisera's chariots and army by the sword (4:15). Sisera himself, commander of a mighty army, was killed by Jael, a woman, who drove a tent peg through his temple in a tent while he slept (4:21).  Jabin, the King, who sent Sisera against Israel, was also defeated in time by Israel (4:24).

God used two warrior women to do His work: Deborah, who trusted God, and was not afraid even in battle, and Jael, who finished the job with what she had at hand; in this case, a tent peg.

God, give us confidence to do the tasks that you give us. Help us not to be afraid, but to believe you will equip us and provide what we need to fight our battles. Thank you that you use women in physical and spiritual warfare. May we all be prepared for battle.  Amen.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Fearful to Fearless - Esther

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

Esther had many reasons to fear:
·         She was an orphan. We don’t know for sure, but its likely that her parents died when she was a young child. As a young woman, she has an established relationship with her cousin, Mordecai, who took her in when her parents died. While I don’t personally understand the innate fear that a young child would develop by losing her main stability, her parents, at a young age, I imagine that she was always on her seat, waiting for tragedy to strike again. Perhaps she herself had a “deathly” fear of death. Perhaps she constantly feared that Mordecai would be taken, too. Perhaps she feared being alone, because of the pain of being alone when her parents were taken by death. Being an orphan creates a set of fears that were probably her constant companions. (Es. 2:7)

Fear of death. Fear of tragedy. Fear of being alone.

·         As a young woman, Esther was called to the palace by the king, who would replace his queen. I imagine this was not the fairy tale that my 7 year old might think it to be. She was taken from her one stability, a replacement stability at that, and brought, alone, to a foreign place, the palace, where she had never before been. What would happen there? Who would take care of her? Would they be kind or harsh? Beauty treatments? What did that mean to a plain, orphan Jewish girl? (Es. 2:8)

Fear of the unknown, Fear of strangers.

·         God took care of Esther in the palace. She won the favor of the main eunuch in charge of the harem, who taught her all she needed to know to win the favor of the king (whatever scandalous things that might’ve entailed…). But then her turn came to go the king. This was not a simple get-dressed-up-pretty-and-parade-around-in-front-of-the-king moment. This was not simply a beauty pageant. This was a try-out. She was taken to the king in the evening, and returned in the morning. The king would use his eyes, his hands, his body, to try out his prospective new queen. Now, I knew my husband for five years before I married him. We dated for 2 years of that time, and were engaged for 10 LONG months. There was no question in my mind that I wanted to sleep with this handsome young man. It took all the self-control I had not to. Then came our wedding day. Then the drive away from the church to our honeymoon. For two people who are RARELY short on words, we barely had anything to say to each other. “Uh, that was a really nice wedding…” The truth was, we were terrified. Finally, we had God’s blessing to consummate our marriage, and we were both silent with fear. Naturally, we overcame our fear (J), but the irony of the moment is memorable. Esther knew she was called to be intimate with a king she had probably never met. He was the ruler of the Persian world, probably quite a great deal older than her, and she was a virgin. Imagine the fear she felt walking into the king’s residence. But here’s the other piece. It was terrifying to think of the “tryout” that would occur. However, if she was not chosen, another fear was looming: If Esther was NOT chosen by Xerxes, she would not be able to go back to her simple Jewish life with Mordecai. She would be discarded back into the harem like used goods. She would never have the option to marry, and likely never have children. The dream of a family that so many women have would likely never be realized. (Es. 2:15-16)

Fear of rejection, Fear of loss, Fear of unrealized dreams, Fear of men, Fear of strangers, Fear of intimacy.

·         Esther’s defining moment comes in Esther chapter 4. An evil man named Haman has plotted to annihilate all Jews in Persia because he hated one man, Mordecai, a Jew, who would not bow down to him. Mordecai sends word to Esther – who has now been queen for about 5 years – that if she doesn’t do something, she and her people will perish. Esther once again must face that old fear of death. A royal decree states that if she enters the king’s presence uninvited, she will be sentenced to death. The exception is, if the king extends to her his royal scepter, she will be spared, and instead invited to speak her request of the king. But this isn’t just fear of death. There is “trouble in paradise.” Esther’s husband, King Xerxes, has not called for her for 30 days. Their marriage isn’t what it used to be. For a man who once entertained a new virgin every night, it’s likely that he is visiting his harem, and not his wife, to be satisfied. Esther might have wondered if she has lost the favor that she won so decisively 5 long years ago. So with the backdrop of a troubled marriage, Esther has a choice: fulfill the plan that God has for her (“And who knows but that you have come to a royal position for such a time as this?”), or risk dying a violent death along with her Jewish people. (Es. 4)

Fear of disapproval, Fear of rejection, Fear of death, Fear of inadequacy.

So what does Esther do???? I’ll give you a sneak peak into the story: She does go before the king. But how does she do it? How does she go from a woman plagued with fear from childhood to a FEARLESS queen who walks forward in her God-given destiny? Here’s how:

Esther faces her fear, head on. It says in Esther 4:16, the words of Esther, “If I perish, I perish.” Esther goes to the worst case scenario. For her, that is death. If her worst fear comes true, she will be executed, possibly on the spot, and violently. Yet, she goes forward. Why? Because she has decided to trust in God’s goodness.

Romans 8:28 says “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Though Esther never knew Paul, or ever read his letters, she believed that God was trustworthy and good, even if she lost her life trying to save her people. Here is where the skill of becoming FEARLESS is the most evident. I call it the “Esther model.” When you are afraid, figure out what you are truly afraid of. Then go to your worst case scenario, as Esther did when she said, “If I perish, I perish.” In that worst case scenario, ask yourself, “Do I trust that God is good enough even if the worst thing happens?”

For example, you are afraid of conflict. A situation arises in which you have reason to become angry with someone because they hurt you. You are afraid to confront them. Why? Perhaps you are afraid they will reject you: Fear of rejection. Or that they will withdraw their love from you: Fear of abandonment. Decide that if they do reject you or withdraw their love from you, is God still good enough to meet your needs?

But it wasn’t just enough for Esther to face her fear of the worst case scenario. She also prayed and fasted that God would work out the best case scenario. Esther asks Mordecai and the other Jews to fast and pray for her for three days (Es. 4:16). She and her maids joined them in the fast. And it was an extreme fast: they abstained from food and water for three days. In Joel 2:12-17, the prophet Joel is encouraging the people to return to their God with fasting and weeping and mourning so that God might spare his people. The Jews have already wept and mourned in sackcloth and ashes (Es. 4:3). Now they are fasting and praying, and returning to the Lord their God to cry out for their redemption.  Now it’s time not to tear their garments, but instead their hearts (Joel 2:13).

Esther was probably still afraid when she walked into the king’s residence. The first words the king says to her are, “What is it, Queen Esther?” (Es. 5:3). This language, “What is it?” is the same phrase used elsewhere in the Bible (Gen. 21:17 and Ps 114:5) and can also be translated, “What troubles you?” King Xerxes probably saw the fear all over her face. When we walk forward in faith, it doesn’t mean that will we have completely conquered fear before we move. Often we move in spite of our fear. Esther decided to step into that courtyard, even though she was shaking in her glass slippers. Don’t expect to not feel fear when you move forward in faith. Move forward trusting in God’s goodness even if your emotions haven’t caught up yet. But perhaps as you move forward again and again, the emotions and the bravery will catch up quicker, and it will be easier and easier to move forward in faith because you have seen God move and answer your prayer, and bring goodness out of fear.

Perhaps God allows us to enter into situations that cause us to fear so that we can be reminded of His goodness. It builds our faith when we step forward in faith, then see God work in amazing ways. We can see God’s goodness sometimes in dramatic ways.

Esther saw God work in dramatic ways. Her best case scenario worked out. God heard her prayers. The king did not execute her. He extended his favor, and his golden scepter, to her when she entered his presence. Queen Esther invited her king to a banquet along with Haman, as well as a second banquet, and there revealed to Xerxes Haman’s plan to murder her and her family. In the meantime God revealed to Xerxes the man of honor that Mordecai really was. Also, Haman was shamed, and eventually hung on the very same gallows that he built to hang Mordecai. Haman was executed, Mordecai was promoted, and the Jewish people were saved. God worked out all things for good for Esther who was called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

How could God use you when you step forward in faith, despite your fear?

Esther faced her fear in the worst case scenario, prayed for the best case scenario, and God worked. God proved himself GOOD and TRUSTWORTHY. He rescued His people, who returned to Him in the process. Esther went from FEARFUL to FEARLESS. She transitioned from self-preservation to brave determination.  She was an orphan girl who became a hero queen.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Jesus and Marriage - Ephesians 5

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us...    Ephesians 5:1-2

Much is made of wives submitting and husbands loving in marriage. God is clear on those commands to married people. But did you realize that Jesus did both things first: submitting and loving?

1. Let's tackle loving your wife first.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her...   Ephesians 5:25

This love in Ephesians 5:25 is "agape" love. "Agape" love is unconditional love. It is described as "love that brings forth caring regardless of circumstance." (see posting on Agape love - Dec 2010)  A husband who loves his wife with agape love cares for her even when she is moody, or unattractive, or not meeting his needs, or busy, or overwhelmed, or nagging, or ignoring him, or critical, or controlling... A husband who loves his wife with agape love sets aside all of her shortcomings and circumstances, and loves her anyway. He lays down his desires for hers. He chooses her needs before his. He serves her.  He gives himself up for her. 

Sound attractive, wives? It sure does to me. But it also sounds impossible, doesn't it. Well, Jesus did it first. 

Christ loved us and gave himself up for us...     

Jesus loved us, His church, His bride (Rev. 19:7), so much that He died for us so that we could have a direct relationship with the Father. Jesus set aside all of our shortcomings and circumstances, and while we were still sinning, Jesus died for us anyway (Romans 5:8.). This is the standard that Jesus sets for husbands! He sets the bar really high. Husbands are to strive to love their wives like this. Can you imagine if all husbands loved their wives this way? Can you imagine if they died to their own desires and needs and always put their wives first? How amazing and attractive would marriage be?

But the ladies have a steep responsibility, too...

2. Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, His body, of which He is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.                          Ephesians 5:22-24

This word submit in the Greek is hupotasso which means "to yield to ones advice" or "a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden." This word can also be used in military language meaning "to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader" for the purpose of mutual protection and victory.

I see this as, you can't have too many cooks in the kitchen. One person has to take charge, or nothing gets done. Ever been at a meeting when there isn't a clear cut leader? When several people are jockeying for control? Nothing gets done and everyone gets frustrated.  Now think of a meeting when the leader (or boss or PTO president or pastor) led the meeting, considered everyone's input, then made the best decision for the good of the group. I believe this is what God intends for marriage. A woman is not asked to be a footstool or like hired help in her home. She is asked, for the good of the team, to give her husband the final say. She is asked to "yield" to her husband, like when you let someone go ahead of you on the road. You choose to let them go first, so that you don't wreck both your cars.

Some men have misunderstood this passage and expected their wives to be doormats that they stepped on for their own selfish agenda. Some women have misunderstood this passage and rejected it because they thought that submission meant that they would lose their value or strength or "rights" or importance in a marriage. However, Jesus did not ask women to do something He didn't already do first. Jesus submitted Himself to the Father's will and to death on a cross.

 [Jesus] fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”                                                Matthew 26:39

Jesus submitted Himself to the Father. He chose the Father's will over His own. Aren't we glad He did? Because Jesus submitted to the Father and willingly yielded His life to death on the cross, we can forever be forgiven for any and all sin in our lives. We can enjoy eternal life in heaven when we believe in Jesus, and ask Him to be our Savior and King. Jesus' submission changed the world forever.

Jesus did not ask husbands and wives to do something that He didn't already do first: loving and submitting. Jesus' love and submission changed eternity, and I believe that a marriage that follows God's Word by loving and submitting "as to the Lord" is radical and can also make a huge difference in a family, in a community, and in a nation.  

One last thought: Even Jesus had to ask the Father for help. We need God's help to have a marriage that is loving and submissive. It does not come naturally, at least for me!

God, would you help us as wives to submit to our husbands and trust you for the results. Would you help our husbands to love us as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her. May our marriages be radical and wonderful, and make a positive impact on the world around us. Amen.