Word of the Day

Grace for Women

John 4: 17 – 18

The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly.”

I was listening to Christian music the other day when a song played that recounted this episode. The song lyric said, “Jesus told her of all her sin.” Honestly, it was a pretty song and well sung, but this lyric grieved my heart. I thought of other Bible references about women. Women often portrayed in an unfavorable light. Even Mary Magdalene, a devout follower of Jesus, is referred to as a prostitute, but was she? The worst thing of all, at least to me, is that we carry these ideas forward and continue to judge these women harshly. One understands that in biblical times, women were not treated equally or even fairly. The culture of those times sanctified treating women as property for that is what they were. Further, there were few ways for women to support themselves. Primarily there were two: marriage or prostitution, which, in truth, offers little difference between the two. Either way, women traded sex for their sustenance.

We harshly judge the woman in this story, but we must understand that women had very little power over their persons or their lives. The only way this woman could support herself was prostitution or to be the companion, married or not, to a man. How many opportunities did this woman have to buy food and provide shelter for herself? Could she force this man to marry her? Maybe she pestered him daily to marry her, but he refused. What was she to do?

Now, for generations people have judged and criticized her but little do we understand her predicament. Little compassion is offered women of the Bible and even less comprehension. There are feminine heroes in the Bible. Consider Ester and Ruth but in large part, the appearance of women in often accompanied by judgment. Jesus is the great exception. If you read of his life, you will notice he had women companions and treated women fairly. Even more astounding is that time after time, he refused to judge them. This is one of the ways we need to follow in his footsteps.

The message I wish to convey in today’s Word of the Day is two-fold. First, we have an opportunity to greet the women of the Bible without judgment or criticism. Secondly, for all the women who read these passages and are troubled by them, Jesus has redeemed you and purchased your freedom with his own life. The Bible says, “But many who are first will be last; and the last, first,” (Matthew 19: 30). In Jesus’ eyes women are not second-class citizens. Some of his closest supporters were women. In fact, women were the first ones to preach the gospel. They were the ones who found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. So understand, you are not second class with Jesus. He very much honors and respects women.

Also, God loves you like He loves Jesus. You are precious in His sight. We may have thousands of years of damaged, sin-infested Christians and Jews who left a legacy of enslaving and marginalizing women, but God has not had even one day or one thought of women being anything less than competent and lovely in His eyes.

When you read your Bible, remember the environment women in Biblical times existed in and cut them some slack. Jesus did not judge them, and neither should we. What I find objectionable is that we characterize Bible women as sinners and overlook the sin of men of the Bible. Let’s stop majoring on women as sinners for all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3: 23). Instead, we can honor their contributions. We don’t have to be in denial about where people are falling short, but we really should stop relegating women. It is almost as if we look for their crimes and overlook their accomplishments while overlooking the sins of the men to focus on their accomplishments. Read the whole story of this woman in John. She evangelized her town. She took the good news to the men of the town. But for her, none in the town of Sychar have heard the good news about Messiah, none would have gotten saved. To make it an even more amazing story, Sychar was a Samarian town and Jews of that time had nothing to do with Samaritans. Jesus, however, stayed two days in that town. Though disparaged for generations, this Samaritan woman evangelized a whole town. How many disciples can that be said of?

Busy is a Four-Letter Word

Luke 5: 16

But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.

Jesus set a priority on spending time to pray and fellowship with his father. I wonder, though, how he had time to slip away to the mountains or the wilderness for fellowship time. Most pastors I know are busy, very busy. Jesus saw all of the demand. He saw the plethora of hurting people. And he, of all people knew he had the means to help everyone of them. People were clamoring after him for his words, his prayers and his healing touch. I just don’t understand how, among all the people pulling on him and all the needs of the people, the people for whom he came to earth, I don’t see how he was able to sneak away for private time.

I called my mom the other day, just to catch up. During the conversation I asked if she had received the document she requested of me. She replied, no, she hadn’t. I was surprised she had not called me and asked if I had sent it. She said she figured with all that I have going on that I was just too busy to get to it. My response, “How sad!” This is the state our culture has come to. This has become the norm. And I think it is pathetic. I had sent the document, and I told her that I am never too busy to do something for her. Yeah, I’ve got stuff going on. We all do, but I also know something about priorities and profanities, and I am here to say that “busy” has become, to me, a profane vulgarity.

I saw a friend of mine from the YMCA recently and remarked that I had not seen her teaching any classes recently. She told me that she had scaled back on her schedule and that teaching Y classes was something she had to cut out. This woman works a full-time job and has a family. She began to feel that she had too many balls in the air, too many things on her plate, and was not able to give the priority items in her life the time and attention they deserve. I admire her for this. I believe in doing all things well. Some of us, many of us in fact, have taken on so much that we do nothing with excellence. I admire this woman for figuring out what is important, like Jesus did, and doing those things.

Jesus corrected Martha when she let herself be overwhelmed with the many “to do’s”. He pointed out that Mary was doing what was important, that she had her priorities right. Rather than running around trying to do everything, Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet fellowshipping and learning from him. Most of us are too busy to give Jesus time. We are Marthas and the worst part of it is that we are proud of it.

I hear people practically every day talking about how busy they are. Some people boast about it wearing their busyness as a badge of honor. Well, all I see is a scarlet B in the place of the scarlet A. I see an inability to prioritize and properly invest one’s time. And I have a reason to know about this. I was the worst of us all. I worked all of the time and do you know what I accomplished? My health declined significantly. I gained weight. My joints hurt all the time. All of my relationships suffered including the one with he whom I declare that I love most of all. Pshaw! If you love me, show me! People have a right to judge our fruit instead of our words. That is what Jesus told them to do. If you say you love someone, that they are important to you, then show them by spending time with them.

Busy can be a blessing. I am thankful I have things to do. I really am. I like being busy. It is exhilarating and makes me feel fully alive. However, it is also a curse. Societally it has become acceptable to be “busy.” Busy can be sin though, and every one of us needs to hear this. If you can’t manage your tasks and still have time for the priorities, then you really should consider adjusting your schedule. Do like my friend did and cut something out of your schedule. I hope what you cut out isn’t God, though, and honestly, just between you and me, He is usually the first one to suffer. “Oh, I have time for God,” we might say, but the truth is that your prayer time is in the shower and on the drive to work. Maybe you are going slack on your obligations at church. Maybe your social life is growing, and that is a blessing, but your most important priorities are suffering.

Only you and Father can do the kind of heart work needed to ascertain if you have lost your balance. If so, you can always have a do over. I always tell people, “Tomorrow is January 1st.” We can have a virtual January 1 anytime we need it. Today is a great day to readjust but if you don’t feel you’ve gotten it right today, then you have tomorrow and the next day. I don’t want you to be like I was and frankly, I don’t want to be like I was either. I learned a rather painful lesson. Now, if I should I let the tasks of my busy schedule overwhelm the priorities of my life, I very much hope, and expect, my Father to correct me. I remember my pastor’s brother, who is also and ordained minister, commenting that I must like how busy and overwhelmed I was. Well, he had a point. If there wasn’t something in it that gratified me, I wouldn’t have maintained that insane schedule.

Our busyness takes many forms but if you cannot be a person of your word then you might be too busy. If you frequently have to call off or reschedule plans with friends, then you might be too busy. If you hear the words, “I’m just so busy,” coming out of your mouth, then you might be too busy. I encourage you to look at the substance of your life. Are your friends and family suffering because you are “so busy”? Are you becoming unreliable or often unavailable? Take an inventory and ask yourself if you are doing yourself justice. Does your life need some calibration? Where are your priorities and are you doing them justice? Are you serving busyness instead of faithfulness?

These are all questions you can take to the Father. Ask him if you are responding to a brokenness inside you. He can heal those broken parts. Satan would love you to be so busy that you have no time for the Lord or His work. Satan wants you to damage your health and your relationships. Look very honestly at your life and be sure that you are staying within the refuge of your Father. Be honest with Father about where you are in your life and ask Him to help you readjust your schedule if need be. Don’t let busyness overwhelm your life but rather let the love and anointing of God care for you and for all the pieces of your life. Go to the wilderness and pray. Let Father speak into your life about all the demands on you.

First aid kit

Proverb 4: 20 – 22

My son, give attention to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them depart from your sight; keep them in the midst of your heart. For they are life to those who find them and health to all their body.

Colossians 4: 2

Devote yourselves to prayer.

Every adventurer knows to carry a First Aid Kit on excursions. We are encouraged to have an emergency first aid kit in our cars and our homes. I have one for my kayak and another in my hiking gear and yet another in my bike bag. One thing you learn about making your own kit is that you can’t pack everything you would like to have. It is a kit of essentials. You only pack those items which will get you through the tough situations.

We all need a spiritual first aid kit too packed with the essential elements. What are those? There are many good spiritual tools and we do not need to deny ourselves any of them. For example, music can be a very powerful tool. Meditation is another important spiritual skill. And praise – oh my goodness, what a powerful tool and even weapon. There are others as well, and they are all to be utilized but when the pressure is on and you only have time and room for the bare bones necessities, it boils down to two things. No matter what, load prayer and your Bible in your pack.

Now the thing about your Bible is that you need to extract its vital nutrients from it. Mindlessly reading the Bible can be a dull and near meaningless activity. In order for the Bible to help us, we must engage with it. Studying the Bible can be as empty if our only approach is to acquire intellectual information rather than applicable knowledge. The value of the Bible is its life blood. It can be like getting a transfusion but only when we try to pull wisdom from it. So, simple Bible reading or even Bible study can leave us dangerously void of the First Aid medicine we desperately need. Extracting life from the Bible, that is the key.

Prayer comes in many forms as well. Really, meditation can become prayerful. Obviously, intercession isn’t the kind of prayer we need to pack in our emergency kit. Telling the Father about all our problems really isn’t very helpful either though in an emergency that is often our response. Our Father knows our situation. He is omniscient after all. No, the kind of prayer you want in your backpack is the one on one conversation with you and your Lord. This prayerful, meditative conversation is as much about listening to what the Lord has to say as it is about what you want to say.

Allow me to be clear, I am not saying that each of us should not constantly involve ourselves in all forms of prayer and Bible engagement, nor should we deprive ourselves of any of the spiritual tools. I am merely saying that the essentials are like oxygen and water. Without these two we become depleted very quickly. Second, in the time of crisis, you cannot always have all of the niceties. At those times you must reach for your First Aid Kit and treat the immediate trauma. At those times do not neglect these two very important elements of your Christian life. There are days when praise can pull you out of a blue funk. There are days when journaling is just the ticket but alone time with God, quiet, pensive alone time is crucial when challenged. If you will treat yourself with the Bible and with prayer, then the Lord will direct your path. He may tell you to go put on some music. He may tell you to take a walk in the woods where you can be very meditative. He may tell you to go to a yoga class. Whatever you need, He is there and will guide you. Go to your prayer closet with your Bible. Slow down your physiology and psychology and let the Lord speak to you. Be still and let Him show you that He is God. Be calm and let Him be your God.

Tender Mercy

1 Samuel 16: 7             (NCV)

God does not see the same way people see. People look at the outside of a person, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

I just watched the movie Saving Mr. Banks. It is about Walt Disney’s trials and efforts in acquiring the rights to make the movie Mary Poppins. By all indications, the author of the Mary Poppins books was difficult and even unreasonable. Disney was committed to turning the Mary Poppins book into a movie. It took him 20 years of cajoling, negotiating, and pleasing Mrs. P.L. Travers in order for him to finally do so.

I said Travers was unreasonable. For example, she told Disney she was “off” the color red, so she didn’t want to see any red in the movie. Disney was pretty astounded explaining that the movie is set in London where phone boxes and mailboxes, are all red. He figured out that she was testing him but when confronted she, nonetheless, stuck to her position. It was a test. She was looking for an excuse to deny him the movie rights. Disney, who was very influential by this time, agreed to bar the color red from the movie. He did not berate her, did not point out that she was being unreasonable.

The real climax of the movie is when Walt Disney flew to England to have a cup of tea and a conversation with Travers. He spoke to her heart without judging her and without criticism. He shared part of his own story showing Travers compassion rather than condemnation. He asked for her trust but more than that, he earned it by being trustworthy, insightful and kind.

This movie moved me for a number or reasons but predominantly because I so admire the way Disney interacted with Travers. I know me well enough to realize that I would have failed her tests, and the Lord’s, tragically. Travers wanted someone to believe in. She wanted Disney to be who he made himself out to be, but her heart didn’t believe anyone could be who she needed him to be. In fact, she set Disney up to fail. Though she wanted to believe, she set stumbling blocks in front of him for 20 years trying to get him to reveal his true colors. It turned out, though, that the fruit on his tree was consistent with the words of his mouth. He was true to the pledge he gave her.

It would have been the easiest thing in the world, normal even, to have been very critical of Travers. It would have been tempting to try to bully her into a more cooperative attitude. You might even think Disney justified in taking issue with her and calling her on her unreasonable demands. Instead, he looked beyond the outer symptoms pondering what it was within her that made the process so challenging for her. He looked from her perspective rather than becoming judgmental. In the end, not only was the movie Mary Poppins made as Disney imagined it, but it turned out to be a source of emotional healing for Travers who went on to write five more Mary Poppins stories. It is hard to imagine a more difficult person than Travers. In the end, though, she and Disney made a movie which has brought joy to generations of movie goers and blessed their own hearts to boot.

The moral of the story is pretty clear. People have a tendency to judge others based on actions and words and that seems fair. We are to be fruit inspectors. There is a line between judging someone’s fruit and judging them. If you are asked to invest financially in someone’s project, wisdom dictates that you inspect the fruit on their tree. That is not to say that we should succumb to the temptation to judge them. We can decline their project without rejecting them. Only God truly knows what is in a person’s heart. All too often we assume we know and then we judge people as unworthy. If we follow Walt Disney’s example, we can tenderly engage others without getting embroiled in the chaos and dysfunction. We can choose to believe that there is a good person beneath the outlandish demands and negative outbursts. This is hard to do, no doubt, but I think if you watch this movie you will find that you are drawn to the way Walt Disney worked with Travers. Ultimately, he helped her and though the movie Mary Poppins is, and was, a towering success, what he did for Travers was an even greater accomplishment.

Ebullient Praise

Psalm 45: 1         God’s Word

My heart is overflowing with good news. I will direct my song to the king. My tongue is a pen for a skillful writer.

This psalm is written about Jesus and his bride, which is the church. The psalmist saw into the spiritual realm and was overwhelmed by the gloriousness of Jesus. Jesus’ grandeur and beauty caused his heart to overflow with the good news which bubbled up from within his own spirit.

When Jesus walked the earth in human form, he was not the most handsome of men. When, however, you see who he is, see his spirit and his grace, then he is the most beautiful of all people. His form is elegance and grace is in his every move. His words are nectar and his eyes hold all the world’s seas. He is lovely in all ways.

The root of praise is easily seen in reading this psalm in its entirety. The psalmist overflows with affection and admiration for the king, our king. As his heart overflows with the good news, he gives vent to it in a song for the king. He is so enamored with this vision of Jesus that he describes the flow of words coming from him as lyrics fit for a skilled writer. He may have even been amazed by his own eloquence. That’s the way it happens when your spirit and the Holy Spirit get intertwined. You become more than you were, see more than you could see, and are given expression beyond your normal ability.

The good news bubbles up everywhere in your life. The psalmist saw it evidenced in his songs. You might see it bubbling up at work, in workouts and in relationships. Who Jesus is and who he is in you begins to show up everywhere. Perhaps all of a sudden you are kinder than you were. Maybe at work you’ve begun to get really great ideas. When you tap into this and realize that it is the anointing of the anointed one within you, then praise is a natural outcome. And, who knows, maybe you will overflow with a song that makes children dance and saints weep. Maybe you will see gifts flowing out of you which you have never seen before, and, why not? After all, the greater one is in you!

Fruit Tree

Matthew 13: 23

And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.

We often talk about the thirty, sixty, and hundredfold return. One most commonly hears it in relationship to sowing seed into the Kingdom of God and in anticipation of the kind of harvest one can expect. God is in the multiplication business so everything we do with Him or for Him does get multiplied. Therefore, I have no problem with the use of this multiplier effect in relationship to seed money.

It is important, though, to realize that the context in which Jesus introduced this concept is in measuring the quantity of fruit you and I would produce. He has sown into our lives. What have we done with that seed? Is it producing a crop? How large a return is he reaping?

All week we have looked at the verses which lead up to this one. Jesus has shown us a variety of reactions people have to his Word seed. Finally, the seed has found good soil and produces a crop. There are two parts of today’s verse I would like to discuss; the good soil and the understanding. Let’s begin with good soil.

Most of us are generations from an agrarian past and therefore don’t know very much about farming and crops, but good soil doesn’t just happen. The Bible even taught about crop rotation and letting the ground lie fallow so that it could be restored. The nutrients in the soil are expended in growing crops. Therefore, it must be nurtured and restored. The same holds true of the soil of our heart. Living in this toxic environment uses up the nutrients in our heart so they must be replenished. How do you prepare your heart to receive Jesus’s Word seed? There are a number of things you can do. The two keys ones are Bible time and prayer. Those are essential nutrients. Let me add some others you might want to till into your soil. Meditation – I actually think of this as going with both Bible time and prayer. Meditatively read your Bible, pray in a meditative state but also take time to think about what you have read in your Bible. Roll around in your mind thoughts about what heaven is like or what Jesus’ life on earth looked like. Simply engage your wondering curiosity in imagining and considering ideas about the Bible, your Father, big-brother and the Holy Spirit.

Another way to prepare your soil is musing, pondering, day-dreaming. This is closely allied with meditation but go even further down the spectrum to just looking out the window and day-dreaming. Just let your mind relax and be at peace. God can use that time, and He does. Consider, also, the effect music has on your heart and play some uplifting, Christian tunes. Even recreation that involves Father can help restore balance to your heart. For example, I love to go bike riding but even more, I like to ride with my Father and Jesus. I talk with them, sing and just generally enjoy their presence. No matter how tired my body is afterwards, my spirit and heart are re-energized.

The second topic is understanding. Jesus said that the person with the good soil understands and therefore, produces a crop. It does not say, however, that he magically understands. In other words, sometimes understanding comes at a cost. Sometimes it involves effort. It is wonderful when revelation lights upon our mind and even a complex matter becomes plain and obvious. This, however, is not always the case. Mostly, this is not the case. The person who is producing thirty, sixty and hundred fold fruit is the one who is working that seed down deep into the soil. The precious seed is not being allowed to lie on the surface where birds and squirrels can pick it off. Then they water the seed. How do you do that? With prayer, study and meditation. Those who understand and thus bear fruit are those who spend time with what they have heard. Perhaps they took notes at church or at a conference and then look up all the scriptures when they get home. Maybe they buy the recording and listen to it again, and again. They might put those scriptures on index cards or maybe they look at the footnotes and look up all the other scriptures related to these. So, of course these people have gained understanding. Of course they bear fruit. They have worked for their revelation and it produces fruit in their lives and for the glory of God.

We’ve been told since we were children that everything of value requires work. Why do we think that now that we’ve met the maker that everything is simply going to rain out of the sky? It doesn’t work that way but . . . He is here to help us with everything and there is nothing He likes better than revealing Himself and His Word to us. So, if you are not daily finding some time to hang out with Him, do it. Don’t worry about it only being a short time, just make time. Take your Bible to class with you. What I mean by that is spend some time with the book. Put it on your phone and you can even read it while waiting for your doctor’s appointment or haircut.

Speaking of “cuts” there is no shortcut in becoming a fruit yielding Christian. You have to put in some time, but hanging out with the creator of heaven and earth isn’t such a bad way to work. And, His Word gives you revelation for a successful life. Prepare the soil of your heart so that you are ready to receive what God has to offer you and then water and nourish that precious seed. Then you will be that fruit tree which is firmly planted by fresh streams which produces thirty, sixty or hundred-fold.

Choked

Matthew 13: 22

And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.

Today we learn about another response people have to the Word which is sown in them. Some are deceived by what the world has to offer and full of fear and worry. These people choke on the Word because it stands in opposition to the lure of the world’s pleasures and troubles.

We confronted, earlier in the week, the need to consider Christians as we read these passages; not only Christians generally, but specifically ourselves. Today the question might be, “Is the Word getting choked off in my life?”

In my own mind, I read this even a bit broader than we read here. The reason is that there is another part of our culture which chokes the word. That is the “wisdom” of the world. So, there is the deceitfulness of riches, the worry of the world, and the information we are fed through worldly outlets. This latter is a large category. We are bombarded with information. Much of that information contradicts the Word of God. So, as we assimilate all this data directed at us, it pushes out the Word. We believe the doctor’s report, are terror filled by the evening news, are co-opted by television shows, besieged by advertisements and all of that doesn’t even consider the internet and our friends and family. We see that there is a constant cavalcade of input which denies the Word of God. It doesn’t take long before we believe what we hear day and night from the world instead of believing the Word. The Word gets choked so that it withers.

To compound the problem, most of us don’t get enough of God’s Word to begin with. For example, how long do you expect to live? What does the Word say? You see, it speaks to that. Are you healed or are you sick? Is prosperity your destiny or merely a distraction and a deception?

I will tell you another source of misinformation. Our churches. I say this because some well-meaning congregation member may quote you this scripture concluding that having financial wealth is a sin or against the Word. That is not true, and their conclusion is not supported by scripture. It’s what you think about riches, or wealth, that is problematic. The deceitfulness occurs when we conceive money as our means of support. When we consider it the answer to our financial problems, we have just run afoul of the Word. God is our source. Period. We may trade in dollars, Yen or Euros but our beloved Father is the one who provides.

The point Jesus intends us to glean from today’s passage is that we can be separated from the Word and secondly, when we do, we become unfruitful. I am sure no one wants to be called unfruitful by Jesus. Therefore, we must guard our hearts because, as we learned on Tuesday, the soil of which Jesus speaks, is our own heart. We must filter this endless salvo of information through the filter of God’s Word. That means we must read it. There is no getting around it though we try. We need to know what the Word says so that we can stake our tent on that ground and then everything which contradicts it, we can reject. In this way, we protect ourselves from being deceived.

We are meant to produce fruit but there is no fruit apart from the Word. Our Lord sows the Word in us. What we do with it determines how fruitful we shall be.