Instructions on the Care of Your Soul

“For He cares for you,” 1 Peter 5:7

living waters matisse

Just a couple weeks ago, I saw this print by Pierre Matisse gracing a statement wall in my friend, Julie’s living room. Knowing the story of the Woman at the Well, I was struck by Matisse’s handling of the immoral Samaritan woman. He portrayed her as dignified, secure, and saturated in provision. Matisse’s interpretation couldn’t be further from how I had previously thought about the Samaritan woman at the well. But, his interpretation couldn’t be any closer to the truth of her story.

 

Today’s Instruction on the Care of Your Soul is to cast your cares on Jesus.

The story of Jesus’ encounter with the Woman at the Well portrays better than anything why we can trust Jesus with our cares.

Typically we think of our “cares” as earthly needs for provision and protection. Perhaps you, as I, separate your “cares” from your “burdens,” with burdens having a more emotional connotation.

It makes sense that we’d parse definitions this way being that even alternate versions of the Bible translate “cares” as anxieties or worries.

The context in which 1 Peter 5:7 tells us to, “Cast your cares on Him for He cares for you,” is an exhortation to humble ourselves to God’s sovereignty– His “mighty hand.” We are to allow Him to be the one to take care of us no matter how our life circumstances look. We are to believe beyond belief that He is in control of even the most chaotic situations. In this framework, we cast our cares on Him.

Putting ourselves under the execution of God’s mighty hand is scary. It is scary when you aren’t certain that He cares for you. This shadow of uncertainty in God’s care is darkest when you are a person with a guilty conscience.

When you carry a burden of guilt the fear of punishment, feelings of shame, and knowledge of judgment makes it very difficult to trust God with anything physical and emotional, temporal or eternal. Guilt erodes our belief that God is for us and cares to sustain us through life’s trials.

The cares of this world and emotional burdens get tied together by a guilty conscience. The result is an inability to cast our cares on the only one who can take care of them.

Enter the Woman at the Well.

The Woman at the Well was drawing water in the heat of the day because no one else would be there at that time. She wore the scarlet letter. She was judged by others and had done everything they gossiped about. In the middle of the day, she was avoiding all the other women in town who’d come draw water once dusk cooled the day.

Uncomfortably for her, this woman with a terrible reputation found herself alone with a man at the very time of day she was trying to escape her reputation as a seductress.

Truth be told, I feel really sorry for the Woman at the Well. She had had five husbands. The sixth guy didn’t even marry her in an age when cohabitation was not a thing. And within two minutes of conversation with this stranger, Jesus displayed His supernatural quality to the woman by telling her that He knew these secrets and sins about her. Oddly, it was kinda her miracle. Some people understood Jesus’ identity after a healing or receiving forgiveness, the Samaritan woman’s miracle encounter with Jesus was just Him stating the elephant in the room— that her life was dominated by sexual impropriety.

As far as I know women couldn’t divorce men at that time. A women caught in adultery would be killed. So, I’m not sure what she did, but I am guessing her husbands left her, not the other way around. And the sixth took advantage of her sullied history to the extent of not having the decency to accept her as his wife.

The Woman at the Well had experienced a lot of rejection! Those rejections had greater implications than just emotional insecurity. A woman who wasn’t legally married in that day had no legal rights or inheritance. She had no security of future provision.

I have been discovering lately that guilt, rejection, and a deprivation mentality are clandestine bedmates.

When I think of rejection I think of feelings of being unlovable or overlooked or insufficient. Until this week as God has been working things out in my own heart, I never even considered how an abiding sense of guiltiness under the law could be a platform for a pattern of rejection in my life.

A sinfulness complex and a rejection complex are twin specters in our lives.

Rejection is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Particularly because we can perceive rejection where it really doesn’t exist. Our response to fictitious rejection often culminates in real rejection as people’s limited grace for our insecure oddities runs out. At the root of it, we expect to be rejected because we feel guilty and ashamed of ourselves.

Worse than any rejection we can suffer at the hands of parents or parental figures, employers and mentors, potential lovers or actual lovers, is the rejection of God. Rejection by God implies death. Where God rejects there is not just pain but utter deprivation.

The law lets us know that being rejected by God is not just a possibility it is an inevitability. Unless we receive the Holy Spirit, which is the Living Waters from Jesus, we will be cast out to where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth– a place of consuming anxiety and cosmic wanting (John 7:37-39; Matthew 22:1-14; Hebrews 10).

I am one of those people who has an unfortunately sensitive conscience. My conscience is easily piqued. The awareness I have of the righteous requirement of the law expands far beyond its natural bounds. I lay a heavy burden on myself much like the Pharisees did to the people in Jesus’ day (Matthew 23:4).

“They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden,” Matthew 23:4.

 All growing up I had an abiding sense of guilt. I felt inherently immoral. I was always waiting to get in trouble for something even though I almost never (seriously) did anything that could get me into trouble.

My guilt burden, or sinfulness complex, resulted in an expectation of rejection. I had this weird “un-fantasy” when I was young that I would do something bad and that my parents would abandon me for it and then I would become homeless. To me, homelessness was the end result of rejection for your sins. Of course as it happens, I was born genetically predisposed to bipolar disorder, a serious mental illness closely associated with homelessness. As Job said, “The thing that I feared came upon me” (Job 3:25).

I carried an inflated burden of guilt that fortified a stronghold of rejection that gave a throne in my heart to a spirit of deprivation. A spirit of deprivation manifests as: cares, worries, anxieties, want, lack, scarcity, torment, weeping and gnashing of teeth.

We must receive the forgiveness of our sins and the atonement for our guilt that Jesus offers, so that we might also receive the rich provisions of His mercy. We cannot have relationship with God without the removal of our guilt. Otherwise, our rejection stronghold will make us unable to feel the love of God; and a pervasive belief that we are chronically deprived will make us unable to receive the saturation of His grace.

The Woman at the Well was a Samaritan. When she met Jesus she had an immediate expectation of rejection because of the animosity between Jews and Samaritans. She was born the wrong kind of person– she had inherent guilt.

Jesus engages with the Samaritan woman despite her being the wrong kind of person morally and ethnically; and He engages with her in a very generous and intimate way.

In John 4, there are three references to the woman’s response to Jesus’ supernatural knowledge of her multiple sexual partners:

  1. First, she says to Jesus: “I can see you are a prophet.”
  2.  Second, she tells the towns people, “Come see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could he be the Messiah?”
  3. Third, the narrative explains that the Samaritan townspeople went to hear Jesus themselves because of the testimony that she gave: “He told me everything I ever did.” They came to believe that Jesus is the Savior of the world because of both what she said and that she encouraged them to go listen to him for themselves. 

The Woman at the Well’s response to Jesus grew from “You are a prophet” to “maybe You’re the Messiah” to “You are the Savior of the world.”

Jesus defied the woman’s expectation of rejection by requesting her hospitality

Jesus disabled her guilt by taking the veil of secrecy off of her sins.

Jesus also dispossessed the woman’s spirit of deprivation by telling her to ask him for the satisfaction he had available to her.

Her problem was sin and shame, but Jesus addressed her cares– her need for satisfaction.

First, He addresses her profound thirsts. Then He shares with her something he shared with very few people. He shares with her the mystery of God– that Jesus came to offer salvation to the Jews and to the Gentiles, to the half-breeds like her (Ephesians 3:5-6). He tells her the secret that God’s plan is to make right even the people who were born wrong. He offered her knowledge of Himself and His life’s passion. 

This is how Jesus handles our cares too: He requests entry to our hearts, removes the secrecy from around our sin, tells us to ask Him for satisfaction, and then resolves all of our ambivalence toward Him into perfect peace by revealing intimate information about Himself to us.

This is relationship with Jesus. Not only does He know us, but He assures us that our hearts are safe in His hands by entrusting to us privileged information about Himself.

It’s hard to describe what “a personal relationship with God” means in practical terms. But here’s my best guess: Relationship with Jesus is realizing that Jesus is a person who knows the secret of my sins and let’s me know the secrets of His glory.

The transformative power of casting our cares on Jesus is that He cares for us. Paternalistic relationships are one way. But Jesus displays His tender care for us by knowing us and being known by us.

The power center of my testimony is the way that Jesus cares for me.

Sharing our testimonies grows our satisfaction and our conviction that Jesus is the Savior who is able to handle all manner of cares. Again- the Samaritan woman’s conviction about Jesus’ identity grew from prophet to possible Messiah of the Jews to Savior of the whole world in the course of two days by sharing her testimony.

Her testimony— “He told me everything I ever did,” unfettered her from guilt under the law and released her into dignity. It removed her cloak of rejection and clothed her in security. It filled her up with self-replenishing, life-giving waters.

My instructions to you for taking care of your soul’s cares is to share your testimony. It’s the most tangible action step in the effort to psychologically cast your cares on Jesus.

Tell anyone and everyone about the One who knows everything you ever did and extended an offer of friendship to you anyway. And– sharing your testimony isn’t really to evangelize anyone else. That’s just a byproduct.

Sharing your testimony is about evangelizing yourself. It is about growing your capacity to cast your cares on Him because you know He cares for you. In such your capacity to receive from Him also grows. Your capacity to feel love grows.

When Jesus first asked the Woman at the Well for a drink of water, she said, “but you have nothing to draw it up with.” He replied, “If you knew who you were talking to, you would ask me for living water and you would never thirst again.”

Look at the image of the Matisse above— It can pour down rain, but unless you have a jar to draw it with, you are not living well in living waters.

Let Jesus remove the guilt that keeps you from dipping into the well of God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness.  Your sin is not a secret to Jesus. You don’t have to worry what He’ll do if He finds out.

“While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

Too Much Talking

“He made all the stars– the Bear and Orion…” Job 9:9

Astrology is the most ancient, universal, and historically persistent form of occultism.

There are two standard reasons to chart the sky— navigation and divination.

Ancient Mesopotamians were “sea-faring”— actually they fished and did trade on two rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates. They contributed sail-boats to nautical history. However by all accounts they did not use sophisticated navigation— mostly just down-the-river and up-the-river.

There is a gap in the historical record of just how much they may have developed navigation systems. The gap, to me, could of course mean that they didn’t use it at all. It is solidly believed that whether or not they had any form of navigation, they did not chart the stars for maritime purposes.

Job 9:9 names two constellations and a star cluster. We will have to rule out his familiarity with constellations as practical and equate this reference to a familiarity with divination.

So, Job, righteous Job, was familiar— and apparently not weirded out by horoscopes. Was he familiar with the occult in general?

Well, of course. He had to have been. There was no Abrahamic religion to divide for him the sacred from the profane. There was no law by which to create parameters around Yahwist worshippers to help them separate what pleases God from what doesn’t. 

The Lord had been forgotten. Yes, at one time knowledge of Him would have permeated out from Eden, but over a quick span of time He was forgotten and idolatry prevailed.

From Genesis 5 on, we see a pattern of forgetfulness and remembrance of the Lord. 

It starts with one or two or three scattered people with a spark of awareness of the Lord making their best guesses toward obedience with varying degrees of personal revelation.

You notice the early accounts of the righteous– Noah for instance–  they were alone. There was no corporate worship, common prayers, or accepted cannon. They were each lone reeds of true religion sticking up from the sea of the contemporary idolatry of their time.

Acts 17:22-31 tells us that the Athenians worshipped every known god, including a shrine to the “Unknown God.” Paul told them that YHWH was their Unknown God and that He sent Jesus because He wanted to reveal Himself again— like in Eden— to the whole world rather than to continue the old system of people just “feeling their way to Him.” 

I have been very uncomfortably exploring this concept of syncretism in Judeo-Christianity— even when obvious in biblical accounts it feels weird to acknowledge that Christianity, and Judaism before it, while being sanctified from the world has not ever really been sanitized from it.

It’s strange to navigate this idea that Christianity is constantly being fished out from paganism. 

From the Genesis account, we know that God is the First, and Revelation tells us, the Last. He is the only living and eternal God. Jesus was the Lamb slain from the foundations of the world. Before the world, there was salvation through Christ alone.

So, it is instinctual to read the Bible seeing only the primacy, preeminence, and preexistence of Christianity. We read the inherent preeminence of Christian faith as meaning: before there was any false religion there was true religion. 

But that does not appear to be so.

Really knowledge of the one true God, as well as individual and sparse worship of the one true God, predates false religion, yes. 

But post-Eden human forgetfulness caused rapid and definitive decline into idolatry that predates any communal, organized worship of YHWH. 

This is what makes Israel so special: God entrusted His law to them. He entrusted to them a systematic, cyclical, sacramental, liturgical, structure of life with every intention of scooping them out of idolatry, cleaning them off from profanity, and wedging open the steel trap of human stubbornness to a slowly dawning recollection of our Master.

And the point of gifting to the Israelites the “knowledge of God” was so that everyone that came into contact with them would have a momentary, life-altering encounter with God’s presence that would either: 1) offend them to the point of escalated idol worship or 2) would move them to rush into the arms of the God of the Israelites evidenced in how they would beg to be allowed to live in the camp of God’s people (ie, Rahab, Ruth, and “a mixed multitude” from Egypt during the Exodus.)

I think what we all struggle to assimilate is the depth of spiritual darkness that prevailed between Adam and Abraham. And we read the Bible as if the earth’s population between Abraham and Moses had the Bible!

They didn’t. They had no law, no scripture, no priests, no fellow believers. They didn’t have apostles or teachers or fishers of men. Maybe every once in awhile an oral tradition about Enoch or Noah floated through the co-mingled accounts of Gilgmesh and Endiku. They had to sift and wade through folktales and cling to scraps of memory.

They had scattered encounters with angels, occasional direct revelation from God, one or two miracles to stoke a lifetime of lone faithfulness. Not to downplay those things– but would even those few miracles be enough for you go alone unwavering in belief, obedience, righteousness, and separatism for decades of your life? Abraham bumped into a fellow-worshipper— Melchizedek— once in his lifetime! Other than that he had no fellowship and a life-time of living in an exclusively pagan world. 

Job lived before Moses, before Mt.Sinai. He had none of the benefits of the Caananites, Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, or Romans. Each of those fortunate empires came into contact— not with the Hebrews, Israelites, or the Jews— but rather the religion, revelation, and Redeemer of the Hebrews, Israelites and the Jews. 

It is completely reasonable to believe that Job was very familiar with how occultism worked and with His acknowledgement that God created the zodiac, it’s probably not unrealistic to think that divination— soothsaying, fortune-telling, witchcraft— might have even been an ignorantly incorporated part of his self-righteous practice.

After all, the entire conversation of the Book of Job is divination. 

Have you ever considered that in times of strife, when we go round and round the question, “why is this happening,” that we might be engaging in the act of trying to divine God’s heart? 

How is contemplating “why is” different from trying to soothsay “what will” God do in the future? 

Aren’t both a process of looking at God ritualistically as though He moves in discernible, patterns in response to specific, repeatable prompts? 

People practice divination to insulate themselves from things outside of their control. The stars are always the same, so we feel secure and in control when we interpret them.

It is possible that many of us in our anxious natures try to use our knowledge of God, as a way of tea-leafing our way through the angst of uncertainty. We try to navigate any possible land-mines in God’s character. 

You cannot know enough about God to predict what He “would or wouldn’t do.” He is not a constellation moving through a night sky favoring those born under certain stars.

God handedly smashes such charting of His divine nature as utter foolishness in Job chapters 38-41. In fact He uses Job’s own zodiac reference to help make His point:

Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades?

    Can you loosen Orion’s belt?

 Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons

    or lead out the Bear with its cubs?

 Do you know the laws of the heavens?

    Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth? 

Job 38:31

God’s whole rebuke of Job is basically this:

  1. Who do you think you are?
  2. What do you think you know?
  3. Do you think I need your council?
  4. Do you find fault in how I am doing my job as Master of the Universe?”

His rebuke is this: “Do you think you can deal with me the way you would with those puny idols man is so preoccupied with; is manipulating Me the end game of your religion?”

This is the process of human forgetfulness. It is being agitated by things we can’t understand to the point of inappropriate attempts at controlling our environment, our “god,” and our wellbeing through our piety. 

We set up structures and strictures so that everything and everyone is easy to understand and maneuver.

We decide that this is also how God sees and understands everything. We decide that if you abide by these constraints that God will keep all bad things— ranging from calamity to His own wrath— away from us. 

Hardship befalls a friend. Fallenness is revealed in the saved. A flood or a fire rains down. 

So we get out from the closet the old bag of feathers, sticks and tea leaves, gossip, and subpar theology and shake ‘em up, scatter them across the floor trying to figure out what these people did so wrong that God would send evil things their way. 

And immediately we are looking at God as though He operated the way those other “gods” operate. And in such, we have again forgotten the one true God. 

If you read Numbers and Leviticus, you’ll notice that every holiday on the sabbatical calendar was initiated by God with the admonition “do this to remember me.” And Jesus, likewise initiated the practice of communion, “in remembrance” of Him. 

Being fished out of a sea of idolatries requires remembrance. If we fail to remind ourselves of God’s incomprehensible heart that sees every man’s heart, we will flounder around in synchronistic Christianity that never fully gives up that witchy itch for control of our fate.

Without remembrance we won’t release ourselves into full-fledged dependence on God’s mercy. 

We will continue to have a preoccupation with the theoretical dynamics of sin rather than a practical abandonment to God’s assurance of salvation. 

“I know that my Redeemer lives!”

Bookstore Book Reviews

Book Review: The Discipleship Gospel

There seems to me to be a creeping, flesh-eating disease killing its way through American Christianity. Every year books about church growth, church culture, empowered preaching, systematic theology, community service, and pastoral counseling come out in numbers, yet somehow none of them is the panacea.

With as much knowledge, insight, data, and as many resources as the American Evangelical Industrial Complex has, why can’t we put our finger on this mystery contagion that is causing church death one by one in small community chapels and setting entire mainline denominations on the brink of extinction?

You might have a few ideas on hand for what it is that ills the church: fractured families, secularism, the entertainment industry, public schools, the sexual revolution and the new age?

Well, those are all old news. Bill Hull and Ben Sobels would probably say that the premature aging of American churches has much less to do with outside pressure and cultural corruption, and more to do with compromise and apostasy from within.

In The Discipleship Gospel: What Jesus Preached We Must Follow, Hull and Sobels put down a hard word for pastors and lay leaders, which in essence is: you are preaching a false gospel, and it is making false disciples who are unable to share any gospel or make any disciples.

Churches are bound to age out if they are not raising up “younger” generations of believers. The apparent goal of The Discipleship Gospel is to teach pastors and lay leaders how to preach a true, complete, and biblical gospel and to teach individuals this gospel until it permeates, transforms, and radiates from them, so that those individuals can preach and teach to others who are themselves enabled to preach and teach, ad infinitum.

Such a gospel is: the discipleship gospel. It is a gospel that is active and kingdom minded, set about the work of the Father, by replicating the work of the Son. The work of the Son being namely, discipling.

Hull and Sobels deliver a cogent and relentless argument for the discipleship gospel being the only true gospel. Their logic is airtight, supported with scripture, and most importantly systematic. They give a frame-by-frame explanation of each element of the gospel and argue outward in concentric circles fitting each component into the whole.

The book takes on a lot of purposes in one tome. It refutes falsehoods, creates definitions, constructs logic models, all within a driving exhortation, and caps that exhortation with a sweeping coaching session and strategic pointers. It manages not to become unwieldy in its structure by anchoring itself to two gospel signposts. The book’s argument plays back and forth between these two gospel signposts, in my mind, as a way of surfing between the various functions that the book is servicing.

The first gospel signpost is more a “symptom.” It is open and unrepentant sin in church-going, bible-believing, Christians. This symptom is critical to diagnosing a hyper-grace, forgiveness-only gospel that fails to proclaim that following Jesus is as important as believing in Him.

The second signpost follows the logic of the first in that if you follow Jesus, you obey His commands, including to multiply the number of disciples by discipling others.

These two– following and multiplying– orbit the sun of the discipleship gospel, that is, the kingdom of God. Where the people are following Jesus’ commands and multiplying themselves, you know that there is a belief in, and urgency about, the realness of the kingdom of God and the realness of Jesus as its king– This is truly believing that Jesus is who He says He is.

That is how you know a person has heard and accepted the true gospel of Jesus; because their fruit reveals the state of their roots.

I am in very serious agreement with the authors in what they call the “need to thoroughly evangelize our church members.”

That sentence situated in the core of the book sums up the problem statement of The Discipleship Gospel. We can’t just leave each other alone in faith, or up to our own devices. We can’t assume that people are running the race to the finish, or running the race at all; maybe they are still at the starting line deciding whether to put their bib on.

A time or two in the midst of the arguments about false gospels particularly, there was reference made to Bill Hull’s previous publication, Conversion and Discipleship. It seems to me that in order to have a very clear contrast between false gospels and the true gospel, it would help to read Conversion and Discipleship as an in-depth “problem statement” introduction to The Discipleship Gospel.

The place I hit some snags in following the argument was simply because of the words “kingdom of God” and “multiplication.” For myself, I need to find more specificity on what those two phrases mean and don’t mean. Though I fully recognize the importance of both concepts covenantally, in terms of my nitty-gritty biblical understanding, I am lacking. I have seen both these terms used in a subpar manner, so they are a couple of my red flag words theologically. But, I can tell you, that those red flags didn’t go anywhere in The Discipleship Gospel, all was sound!

So now, I am just left to do some follow up reading on the kingdom and on multiplication! Actually, maybe that’d be a good place to start in a discipleship group.

If you’d like to purchase The Discipleship Gospel you can find an easy purchasing button in my Bookstore. Click Here.

Fall Feasts

“I made their ancestors live in shelters.” Leviticus 23:43

The Feast of Tabernacles is instituted in Leviticus 23 as the fever pitch of the Fall Feasts.

”For seven days you must live outside in little shelters. All native born Israelites must live in shelters. This will remind each new generation of Israelites that I made their ancestors live in shelters when I rescued them from the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 23:42-43.

It is striking to me that God gives the Israelites the decree to celebrate and commemorate the time that He “made them live in shelters” while they were still living in those shelters!

The Lord commanded them to remember His faithfulness to them in the wilderness even before the wilderness was behind them.

This is not the first time we see this happening. In Exodus 12, God not only commands the Israelites concerning what they have to do to be saved from the angel of death on the first Passover, He simultaneously scripts out the ordinances for celebrating the Passover as “a day to remember” forever.

The Lord calls us to remember His faithfulness to us now, even while we a still in the midst of our trial.

The Feast of Tabernacles in modernity is called Sukkot or Succoth.

In Exodus 12:37, when the Israelites had just experienced the first Passover, Pharaoh begs for them to leave Egypt, and they head for a place called “Succoth.”

Succoth is a borderland. Exodus 13:20 says, “the Israelites left Succoth and camped at Etham on the edge of the wilderness.”

Interestly, even though Sukkot/Feast of Tabernacles was established in the wilderness at Mt. Sinai, it is again given attention in Numbers when the Israelites are on the border of the promise land. Numbers 27 sees Joshua taking over leadership and Numbers 28 finds God commanding Moses to reiterate how the feasts and festivals are to be celebrated.

There on the edge of the wilderness, again, God commands “remember me” before He commands “go forth.”

To celebrate being housed while you are still homeless is an act of faith.

Have them celebrate to remember when— but Lord we’re still here in these tents!

The Feast of Tabernacles/Sukkot calls to remembrance God’s faithfulness in the trial.

The establishment of Sukkot at the “borderland,” reminds us that God wants our praise in the midst of the prayer, not just after it’s answered.

He is just as faithful in the wilderness as He is in the borderlands as He is in the promised land. 

Regardless of the changes in your circumstances, He is still the same.

We worship Him for His ability  to act, just as much as we praise Him for acting on our behalf.

 

 

“I go to prepare a place for you.”  – Jesus

 

 

The Proverbs 31 Family

“It was the woman you gave me…” Genesis 3:12

This woman you gave me. Adam may as well have said, “God, you aren’t good. You give bad gifts. God, you tempted me by binding me to this temptress. God, you rigged the deck against me.”

This kind of attitude undergirds the war of the sexes– man and woman look at each other with contempt, suspicion, and a rebellious need to control one another because we fail to believe that the spouses that God has given us are good gifts.

We think little of God’s sovereignty and grace until one of His gifts to us seems to short circuit. We think much of our own influence and goodness until we misstep. When we fail devastatingly, suddenly we’re Calvinists and God is some controlling overlord that should have stopped us, or should have put a hurdle in our way. The rest of the year we are good Arminians gleefully paving the way to our own spiritual mountaintops.

When we hate a member of the opposite sex, when we revile our spouse, we discredit God’s good gift to us in the form of a partner, and we sin against His command to be fruitful and abundant together (Genesis 1:28.)

When we are at odds with the opposite sex, a person who we are supposed to be in productive relationship with, we are not victim to a raw deal, we are continuing on with the willful, deceptive, rebellious attributes of the Curse.

I mean in this to say, enmity from a sister to a brother or a brother to a sister in Christ, is a sinful action against God’s gift to us.

We do this in all areas of life! We take something God gave us in grace, abuse the expanse of freedom given us, and then blame God for our inability to work out our salvation, to build our family, to exercise our gifting, to submit to one another, to be least, to be last, to be a faithful servant.

Look at what our compass chapter through this series, Proverbs 31, says: “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, to guzzle wine. Rulers should not crave alcohol. For if they drink they may forget the law and not give justice to the oppressed. Alcohol is for the dying, and wine for those in bitter distress. Let them drink to forget their poverty and remember their troubles no more,” (vs. 4-7.)

Kings and queens and priests– what God calls us through our sonship because of Christ, do not live in active self-pity.

And the first area of active self-pity to eradicate in the Christian life is a mistrust of God over the mistakes that a dear one made and in so doing led you into that mistake with them.

The Proverbs 31 Queen Mother advises her son to find a wife who is actively trusting in God as evidenced by her strength, dignity, and boldness (Proverbs 31:25.)

“This is how the holy women of old made themselves beautiful. They trusted God and accepted the authority of their husbands,” 1 Peter 3:5.

The challenge of this verse is marginally about submission, and majorly about trusting God. If your litmus for submission is built on trust in each other, your house will fall. We can only be successful together when our constant endeavor is to trust God and to have our productivity as a unit to stem from there.

The command for men to love their wives as Christ loves the Church is equally as much founded on trust in God as woman’s trust in her husband must be founded on trust in God. Love is not contingent upon your trust in your wife. What does Christ’s love for the Church look like?

It looks like a man who found a treasure hidden (the Kingdom of God) in a field and in His joy over it sells all He has (the Cross) to buy the field (the world), in which He has reburied the treasure. (Matthew 13:44)

Jesus did not purchase those who are His out of the world, but rather entrusted His kingdom to us while in the world until His return. That is immense trust!

That is the kind of trust that King Lemuel has in his wife, to whom he entrusts all that he has, his entire household, and the investment of his riches, and the dignity of his reputation while he rules and reigns at the city gate. (Proverbs 31:10-31.)

Our marriages, our partnerships and relationships in business and church and community dealings between men and women, the success of them, the failure of them,  reflect nothing less than our trust in God and the tides of our going in or our coming out of life under the Curse.

There is life under the law of sin and death, and their is life under the law of grace– the law of grace being full satisfaction in the goodness of God. We see the reflection of our freedom in how we behave when standing face to face with each other.

The Proverbs 31 Family

“The Lord will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman.” Judges 4:9

I have to begin by pointing out that the most read translations of Judges 4:9 read, “The Lord’s victory over Sisera will be at the hands of a woman” or “The Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.” That’s the NLT and NIV respectively. But the most common phrase across translations of the Bible used to explain Jael’s victory over Sisera is that he was “sold” to her. “The Lord will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman.”

Why was God selling him? Sell? Not give, sell. Well, here is my postulation: The victory over Sisera belonged to a man named Barak. God had set this certain victory aside for Barak. God did not just give the victory away when Barak asked the judge, Deborah to go with him into battle; Barak had declined God’s gift of victory so God allowed Jael, a non-Israelite woman, to buy that victory from Barak through the currency of her cunning and opportunism.

It was given to Barak, it was bought through labor by Jael.*

God always gives gifts designed for us with only minimal effort required for us to enjoy them. The Garden of Eden? It was given to man to rule over as a marvelous gift. It hardly required more than naming animals. It blossomed and flourished and was renewed by rivers that God placed there. All Adam had to do was accept the gift and reap the benefits of it.

It was the same for Barak. He didn’t approach Deborah to ask for an adventure or conquest that God might have for him. Deborah called him to come to her so she could tell him that God was giving him a gift– a victory over the general Sisera that would free his people from the oppression of King Jabon the Caananite, meaning that God heard their prayers even after all the evil paths they had followed, which is why God had allowed King Jabon to overcome them in the first place.

Sweet gift! This is like a gift of victory, freedom, fame, legacy, and probably an opportunity of high position among the Israelites in re-forming a functioning government once the fog of battle cleared.

But Barak, gives a condition for accepting this gift– that Deborah come too. This reveals a  weakness, a lack of readiness, deficient moxie, no gumption.

The victory was sure; God promised it. It was for the taking– but not really, because only one person had it been given to, Barak, only he could take it. Deborah rallies the warriors saying, “This is the day the Lord will give you [Israel] victory over Sisera, for the Lord is marching ahead of you,” Judges 4:14.

The freedom was for Israel, the credit was for Barak. He passed. So Deborah says, welp, your gift that you didn’t want will be sold to a foreigner, a woman.

I firmly disbelieve that Deborah told Barak that a woman would have his victory as a misogynistic punishment. It wasn’t like, “you are such a coward that even a woman could do what I ask.” Ummmm, no.

I think Deborah was prophesying. After all, she called Barak to give him a prophesy; the whole conversation was prophetic.

I believe that there is a system of giving and receiving that is revealed in this passage. This story does not, however, describe a system of command and punishment.

Judges 4 and 5 teach vital principles about the governing properties of God’s promises. 

God creates a gift for you. You either accept or deny it. Meaning it can, not necessarily will but can be sold to someone else. Like a spouse. A house. A business. It is yours until you let it go, at which time someone else can purchase it.

That’s why Jesus had to buy back the world. God made it as a gift for us, and the serpent tricked us into giving it to him, into letting it go, into saying, “Eh, I’ll pass, thanks.”

That’s why Jesus had to come as a man and not just God who is spirit. The world was made for man and only a man could buy it back. We sold it to Satan for an apple.

The good news is, after Barak and Deborah went into battle– after Jael tricked Sisera into taking a nap in her tent and drove a stake through his skull while he slept– everyone shared in the joy.

The people sang jubilantly and heralded the exploits of Deborah. And they blessed Jael. And they acknowledged Barak too. No one was left out from the victory dance.

That is the great hope of salvation. Many of us are gunna pass on various gifts, callings, triumphs, blessings that God designed for us. But either way, whether we live a fulfilling and victorious Christian life, or a defeated and embattled Christian life, when Jesus comes back we will all partake in His glory, His victory, and His jubilant, joyful song. 

 

 

*The idea that “work” and “money” are equivalents originates no later than famous philosopher, John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government. Also, biblically, we see Jacob having to buy Rachel with 14 years of labor, among other tales portraying labors of love that we find throughout the only worthwhile Romance in the universe known as Holy Scripture.

The Proverbs 31 Family

“She accepted the advice of Hegai,” Esther 2:15

Esther has to be my most favorite book of the Bible. It is dramatic, full of intrigue, betrayal, conniving, and bravery. This book houses some of the most interesting relationships in biblical narrative.

If you read Esther today, you might find that Esther is not really the heroic figure in the story. She does not do all that much. She is a pretty passive character. I have thought in the past that perhaps the book should be called the book of Mordecai.

Mordecai is the actor in the story. He recognizes that Esther becoming queen is advantageous for their people. He is determined to pivot her position in favor of the Jews.

He finds his opportunity in Haman. Haman is a vain man, so Mordecai picks a fight with him by refusing to bow to him, which homage was warranted by Haman’s new assignment as the king’s right hand complete with the power of the king’s signet ring.

To say that Mordecai had religious reasons not to bow is to add to the text. It doesn’t say that. Nor does it mention persecution of the Jews for failing to bow to Xerxes or his dignitaries being a problem at the time.

So Mordecai creates a problem by aggravating Haman. Then the persecution starts and Haman uses his authority and influence on Xerxes to set a date for genocide.

Mordecai is the ultimate gambler! He starts this trouble, creates a public display of mourning that catches Queen Esther’s attention, and then advises Esther to use her influence to save her people. This better work!

Esther does not have power. But she has influence as Xerxes wife. She does not have an agenda. But she trusts the agenda that Mordecai has.

Esther is only heroic in how she conducts her relationships. She is noted for listening to Hegai on what to wear when she first met the king…that worked out for her as we know. And she also listened to the advice of Mordecai.

Mordecai did not have position or influence, but he had a trusting, cooperative relationship with someone who did have position and influence– Esther.

And the plan worked, thank God.

Mordecai eventually takes the position that Haman had as right hand to Xerxes. This means that he ended up using Esther to attain even more power and influence than she had. The Bible doesn’t say anything about her feeling jilted by that– and why would she be, under Mordecai’s advisement the Jews became rich and powerful in the Persian empire.

Mordecai’s “for such a time as this,” was a statement about opportunity. It was like saying “this is our chance!”

As we journey together as Christians, our end game is the earth being filled with Christ’s glory. This means that every opportunity should be seized upon to advance the cause of Christ– regardless of “whose who.” We have to be willing at times, or all the time, to be like Esther. This is to have a heart that doesn’t cling to position, power, recognition, or “whose doing it.” It is a heart that is willing to yield.

A heart that is willing to yield takes advice. It shares it’s position and influence. It accepts the possibility of losing it’s position taking action on a plan it doesn’t totally understand.

A heart that yields is always ready for the right opportunity surrounded by the right relationships.