Sister to Sister: Digging Deep–Two Persecuted Prophets

23474Let’s dig a little today into the lives of two prophets separated by about 900 years, who both were subjects of persecution because they boldly spoke the Truth of the Lord. They are Elijah and John the Baptist. Matthew 11:14 says that John was the “Elias which was to come”. If you’re ever called upon to give a devotional or teach a class that will encourage women to be brave for Him, here’s a great outline. For those of you who are Digging Deep, here’s a jump start to some of the podcast material. Some of the passages below are generic and, though they apply to one or both of these men, they can also apply to us. You bless me daily with your questions, news from your groups and your comments. Some of you may have a more thorough outline  about these two men than I do. I always find that I learn much more from you than I am able to give back! He is so good through this fellowship and study tool.

Elijah and John the Baptist:

1. Two men who rebuked a king: I Kings 21:1-24; Luke 3:15-20; Matthew 14:1-12.

2. Two mighty men of prayer: James 5:16-18; I Kings 17, 18 (more than one mighty prayer  here); Luke 11:1.

3. Two disheartened mortals: I Kings 19:1-8; Matthew 11:1-6.

4. Two mortal men who made mistakes: I Kings 19:1-18; Romans 11:1-4; Matthew 11:11; Luke 7:28; Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:7; Luke 3:16; Acts 13:25.

5. Two men honored by God: II Kings 2:11; Luke 1:14-17; Luke 1:76-79; Mark 1:2,9; Malachi 4:5,6; Isaiah 40:3; Matthew 3:3,13.

6. The glorious victory of two men: Matthew 5:10-12; Matthew 17:1-9; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36; Revelation 6:9-11; Revelation 2:10.

Podcast is on Tuesday, January 26th. I hope you’ll bring your nuggets!

Sister to Sister: What?! Your Sister Yelled at You at the Family Christmas?!

Unknown-3As I try to put together some lessons we can pack away from the December Digging Deep study, I’m taking a long look at I Samuel 17, particularly the part where David took so much “mouth” off of his older brother, Eliab. There was young David, doing nothing more than the wishes of their aged father. He was actually there in the Valley of Elah, in the first place, to take provisions to the brothers he loved. They were the ones who were off at the army camp with all the men of war while David had been left behind to do the ordinary…the same old thing he’d been doing all of his life…just tending the sheep. It must have been at least a monotony break for David as he traveled to the battle lines to take bread, cheese and corn to his brothers and their commander. He must have been excited as he neared the camp. Leaving the carriage with its keeper, he ran on foot into the army that was already advancing and greeted his brothers.   I’m sure he wanted to see his brothers and he genuinely had concern, along with their father, for their welfare as he saluted them bearing the gifts that, perhaps, he’d even helped prepare for them.

But, as the army prepared to do battle, he heard the shout of the giant Goliath, taunting the Israelites, defying their God and striking fear in the hearts of their men of war. David began to inquire of the men around him. “Who is this man…this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”

But Eliab, David’s brother, who was not even a part of the conversation, overheard his inquiry and injected his own brand of angry taunting into the conversation:

And Eliab’s anger was kindled against David, and he said, Why have you come down? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your pride and the evil of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle (vs. 28).

I don’t know what fueled this outburst from Eliab against the younger brother who had gone the distance to bring him comfort and provisions. Perhaps he was tired. Maybe he was jealous.  After all, young David had already been anointed, in front of his brothers, as the next king of Israel. Whatever it was, we see some pretty hurtful attitudes in Eliab.

We see, first, that he was mad. It hurts, you know, when someone you’ve loved all of your life lashes out in anger at you. Sometimes it’s someone who does it over and over again. Eliab was full of wrath.

Second, we see a condescending spirit. “With whom did you leave those few sheep?” In 2015, the words might be “Don’t you have something better to do?” or “Who do you think you are?” or “Who asked you?”

Thirdly, we see some pretty stout (and false) accusations. Pride and evil have done a lot of damage in many a relationship, but they were not on the radar at this point in the life of David. He was simply doing what his father had asked and, in the process, he came upon a situation in which he was conscience-driven to defend the living God. It was the kind of righteousness that irked Eliab and so he came unglued and unleashed unfair criticism in anger at David, his brother and God’s anointed.

It occurs to me that there’s probably someone reading who has encountered the wrath of some family member during the recent holiday season. In fact, this kind of family problem comes to my inbox more often than I’d prefer, and it seems it comes most frequently while I’m taking down my Christmas tree. That’s because lots of families have come together during a busy (and sometimes stressful) time of year.  But it’s simply very hurtful when a family member exhibits a short fuse, particularly with no just cause.   It takes courage and valor to continue doing the right thing when it’s a family member who is dishing out the criticism of righteousness. But it happens all too frequently.

What’s more important than assessing the criticism of Eliab is noticing the response of David. This man after God’s own heart gives us a sterling portrait of the reaction of the godly in the face of family persecution. Here it is:

  1. He recognized his own innocence (verse 29).
  2. He remembered to look at the big picture. There was a cause (verse 29) that was bigger than the present controversy.
  3. He persisted in his pursuit to defeat evil (verse 30).
  4. He did not shrink back from gently defending his position of faith (verse 33).
  5. He had confidence in his choice to do the will of God (verses 34-37).
  6. He trusted in God above all else (verse 37).
  7. He took on the enemy of God without fear (verses 38-49).
  8. He took action in the name of the Lord (verse 45).
  9. He gave the glory for victory to God (verse 46).
  10. He was set on the spread of the news of the power of Jehovah (verses 46, 47).

In short, David just went right on doing the right thing in spite of the harsh and unjust criticism. He proved that God’s way prevails, in the end, every time.

Now, have you had a problem with a family member berating you or lashing out in anger at you without just cause? I know some of you have because you’ve shared the sorrow with me.  May I suggest that you determine to be like David?  Examine your purpose and be sure your actions are aligned with the Will of God.  Then remember the cause for which we live and be sure your reaction is to confidently and humbly carry out the will of the Father. There may be a bit of hurt in your world between the criticism of a family member and the fall of the Goliaths in your spiritual battle. But God will claim the victory in the end.

Sister to Sister: You Don’t Have to Know Why.

df939c9928d5eb676a2802dbce31d63fThe study of Job has been, even though I’ve done multiple read-throughs in the past, once again, riveting. I’ve never before studied by marking his questions and I’ve never been so convinced that the most powerful thing with which we walk away is that he never knew the answers to most of them. Job suffered as we likely never will—in intensity and duration; yet he never knew that he was the pawn in an attempt by Satan to trump God. But, in the end, he had to just put his hand over His own mouth and stop talking. He had waded into waters that were too deep for Him. He knew that he had to hush–and let God be God.

Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?I lay my hand on my mouth….Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.

Here are the categorizations of verses that we discussed this week on the podcast. I hope they will be one small tool in helping us all realize that we don’t always need to know all the answers. We just need to know the One who does.

  1. The Question of great faith: Job 2:10.
  2. Questions of hopelessness:  Job 3:11-12,16,20-23 and 10:18.
  3. Questions defending his own “right” to complain: Job 6: 5-6,11-13 and 21:4.
  4. Questions for relationship clarification (“You are not my spiritual advisors.”): Job 6:22-23,25-26.
  5. Questions from intense suffering: Job 7:1,4,12.
  6. Questions asserting his own insignificance (Who am I to be the focus of these trials?”):Job 7:17-21 and 10:20.
  7. Questions asserting his inability to “win” in any match with God: Job 9:2,12,14,19,24,29.
  8. Logical questions; reasoning with God: Job 10: 3-10.
  9. Questions rebuking his friends: Job 12:3,9,11; 13:7-11,14,19,23-25; 16:3,6; 19:2,3,22 and 26:1-4.
  10. Questions about the brevity of life: Job 14:3,4,10.
  11. Questions regarding loneliness: Job 17:3,15,16.
  12. Questions about the prosperity of the wicked: Job 21:7,15-18,21-22,28-31,34; 24:1,25; and 27:8-12.
  13. Questions about God’s nature: Job 23:6,13 and 26:14.
  14. Questions about the source of wisdom: Job 28:12,20.
  15. Questions about mockers: Job 30:2,24-25.
  16. Questions about his own innocence: Job 31:1-4,14-15.
  17. Final questions that settle matters: 40:4 and 42:3.

Sister to Sister: She Suffered the Little Ones to Come

Roberta-EdwardsFor years I’ve heard about the selfless actions of Roberta Edwards in behalf of souls in Haiti. I’ve always wanted to meet and know her. I guess now I will have to wait till I get to know her in heaven…a short wait, when viewed through the eyes of the great Father we share as sisters. She inspired and encouraged me, especially as I followed the story of the 2010 Haiti earthquake and her response to those for whom she had sacrificed so very much. For those who are studying persecution in our Digging Deep 2015-2016 study, she stands as a modern-day example of one who constantly rejoiced through trials and even through persecution. Her death was due to an act of violence and we may well find, upon hearing results of investigations, that it was indeed “persecution for righteousness’ sake.” Will you join me in prayer for the children she left behind, for her family members who are grieving in indescribable ways and for the work for which she paid the ultimate price? Many have clamored for various women in the Catholic church to be canonized as “saints”. My sister, Roberta IS a saint (as are you if the blood price has been applied to your soul). She is a saint who is rejoicing in glory on this autumn night. But children in Haiti are weeping. I am praying that their joy, too, will come in the morning (Psalm 30:5). If it does, it will be largely because of the work of Roberta Edwards.

Here is the report about the shooting from the good church at Estes in Henderson, TN, one of her chief supporting congregations:

Our hearts are saddened to report the death of our missionary Roberta Edwards. On Saturday evening of Oct. 10, witnesses report that Roberta’s car was stopped by another vehicle which intentionally blocked her path. Armed gunmen emerged from the vehicle and fired into Roberta’s car, causing her death. Haitian authorities are investigating, and the identity of the perpetrators and the motive are not known at this time. She is survived by her parents, Robert and Laura Edwards.

Roberta was the administrator and “Mom” at SonLight Children’s Home in Port au Prince, Haiti, where dozens of children have received foster care over the years. Roberta also directed a nutrition center that feeds 160 children two meals a day, five days a week, in addition to providing funds for these children to attend school. At the time of her death, she was providing care for 20 children at her home. Her work has been overseen by the Estes Church of Christ since 2002. The facility where the children’s home operates is provided by Manna Global Ministries, and supporters of Roberta’s work in Haiti include individuals and congregations across the U.S. and beyond.

Roberta was a light to those in the community and dedicated to bringing hope to the hopeless. She knew that she worked in a dangerous setting, but had committed herself to care for children in Haiti despite these risks. Roberta has received her reward for her dedication to serving the Lord in Haiti. She will be missed in Haiti by her children, the community and friends. She will be missed here in the States as an encouragement and inspiration to us all. It is our intention to honor her memory by continuing the battle against Satan in Haiti and pressing on in the work of God’s kingdom.

Memorial services and funeral arrangements are pending, and we will provide updates as those become available. If you would like to honor Roberta with a memorial gift for the work in Haiti, those may be sent to the Estes Church of Christ, P.O. Box 191, Henderson, TN, 38340, and her family will be notified of your tribute. Please be praying for her parents, her children at SonLight Children’s home and the many Haitian brothers and sisters who are deeply grieved by this loss.

Sister to Sister: Leaping for Joy

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Leaping For Joy

“But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. ‘And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled’” (1 Pet.3:14). “But rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy” (1 Pet. 4:13).

First Peter is the epistle on suffering. It is replete with exhortations and encouragement for those first century Christians who were being persecuted for their faith. We thank God in our assemblies today for the privilege of gathering to worship without fear of persecution. That line was not in their prayers. We ask God to help us be faithful unto death. This was not mere rhetoric in their prayers. The tyrannical powers of the Roman Empire were thirsty for the blood of Christians. The methods of torture inflicted on believers were unthinkably inhumane. Real life issues for them were not about whether or not it was socially acceptable or politically correct to confess the Savior. The issue for them was whether to confess and die or deny and live. While 1 Peter was written against this backdrop of incredible persecution it could just as aptly be called the epistle of joy, for joy and hope fairly oozed from the parchment as the words of this great apostle were read in the quiet and hidden rooms of worship.   These were Christians who, earlier in the same day, had likely been placed in real and perilous situations because of their alliances with Christ. The Holy Spirit was, through this letter of Peter, giving people who desperately needed comfort, security and hope, a reason to leave those secret assemblies with determination to endure for Christ, whatever the cost.

We sit on padded pews in buildings that have large signs in the yard proclaiming that what we are doing inside is worshiping. In our assembly each week, there are police officers and elected officials, who not only endorse what we are doing in the service of Christ, but participate heartily. So when 1 Peter is read in our meeting places, we may not receive the same blessing they did in the first century. Some may even think the comfort offered in 1 Peter seems like overkill in our comfortable society.  After all, a spiritual survival kit like I Peter is hardly necessary when we have it so easy…or is it?

Consider the words of Paul in II Timothy 3:12:

“Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”

I’m convinced that if we are His…really living godly lives in Him, we will suffer some form of persecution. I’m convinced that if my life is void of sacrifice and any discomfort resulting from my faith, then my faith is not what it should be. I think of our teenage girls today in the Lord’s body. I look at the styles of clothing that are the norm in our society. I cannot imagine a teen girl today who exhibits modesty at all times not being excluded from certain activities or facing taunting because of her “different” look. I think of the entertainment crazed culture around us and am sure that those who refuse to be entertained by movies laced with profanity and sexuality must be excluded from certain groups or activities and face the ridicule of their peers. I reflect on the materialism that drives parents, even in our churches, to allow others, even non-Christians, to be the primary caregivers for their children.  When I think about this societal norm, I come to the conclusion that those who choose to sacrifice income for Christian child-rearing are doing just that…sacrificing for the cause of Christ. So how does joy factor into this picture of sacrifice?

I confess that, at times, it’s difficult to recognize the joy in sacrifice. But I believe joy results from sacrifice, first, because if 1 Peter teaches anything at all, it teaches this.  Secondly, I believe joy results from sacrifice because I understand that the biggest part of Christian joy happens when I’m finished living here on earth. (1 Peter says that, too. Check out chapter 1, verses 6-9.) Thirdly, I believe that sacrifice comes from joy, because the fact is recognizable in my life and in the lives of those around me. My daughter was baptized on a night when she was sacrificing a play rehearsal in order to attend a gospel meeting. That was a time of joy. I know of many teens who’ve sacrificed parties, proms, movies and more because they were Christians. I don’t know a single one who regrets having made the sacrifice for Christ. I know of many who wish they had.  I know a host of mothers who’ve given up careers to fulfill godly roles in the home and 100% of those I know who have done it have experienced joy because of this decision.

Finally, I know there is joy in reproach because of the words of Christ in Luke 6:22, 23:

Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you,
and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of
Man’s sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your
reward is great in heaven, for in like manner their fathers did to the
prophets.

This is a promise of Christ. The reaction that I should have to this promise is specified. When I am blessed, yes blessed, with an opportunity to sacrifice something that’s important to me, to be excluded from a group of my peers, or to be ridiculed because of my spirituality I should rejoice and leap for joy!  I can do this but it takes a retrospective look at the prophets who have already suffered for their faith (verse 23), and an anticipatory look, by faith, into heaven (verse 23). What this means, in practical terms, is that I can do this IF I stay in the Book. When I am buoyed by the victories of those great heroes of faith listed in Hebrews 11 and by the precious promises of my God, I can rejoice when I am called to suffer reproach in this life.  Will you be remembered for being joyful in reproach?

(Above article first published in “How Shall I Be Remembered?”; a production of the Freed Hardeman University Associates, available at the Freed Hardeman University Bookstore).

Sister to Sister: ToleRANT?

images-15I guess you have to get old to start putting it together about who gets to express opinions in this tolerant society. I’m starting to get it. If you think anything is black and white—if you think there any activities that are sinful all the time—if you think there are indeed choices that can be characterized as wrong choices—you must either keep your “intolerant” secrets or you call down the “rant world” around you. Even if it’s your personal blog (you know, that cyberspace where everybody gets to say her unique personal opinions about stuff, express her own passions and air her inner grievances)…even that space is not rant-protected for people who delineate between truth and error, right and wrong. The moment you begin to speak about the wrong candidate, the wrong apparel, the wrong priorities, the wrong speech, the wrong media choices, the wrong parenting ideas, or the wrong sexual behavior, you invite the rage of the “tolerants”.

The “tolerants” get to rant. They get to rant about how the “intolerants” are hateful and judgmental (no matter that the “intolerants” may be speaking logically and from hearts of conviction. It doesn’t matter. It only matters that someone has dared to use the “w” word: wrong.)  Intolerance anymore just means “believing some things are wrong and yes, that some things are even “sinful”—that word that we used to hear from pulpits and commentaries before it pretty much dropped from our vernacular. The “tolerants” are the only ones who get to be intolerant, but they do have the privilege. The “tolerants” get to be intolerant of intolerance.  So just get ready if you believe in black and white, truth and error, right and wrong. You will be placed in the “intolerant” category and you will fall victim to the rant; and, unless you surrender all convictions about right and wrong, you will likely continue to be subject to the rant.

Someone wisely said “When tolerance is the primary virtue, it soon becomes the only virtue.” I would go further than that. When tolerance becomes the primary virtue, it is no longer virtue at all. It is the enemy of courage. It is the enemy of strength. It is the enemy of self-discipline. It is the enemy of accountability.  It is the enemy of righteousness. It is the arch-enemy of truth, because truth implies error. And there is no room for error in the camp of the “tolerants.”

But that’s just it. Tolerance was never meant to be primary. It was never meant to rule the virtues. Love is primary. “The greatest of these is love” (I Cor. 13:13). Love, the queen virtue, is a demanding ruler. According to this chapter, love suffers long and is kind, but it cannot rejoice in iniquity. INIQUITY? How long has it been since you’ve heard anyone describe any behavior as “iniquity”? But perhaps the translation in the ESV is even more apropos. That version says love does not rejoice in “wrongdoing”.  Even the great inspired description of love forces our admission that certain behaviors…certain “doings” are wrong. They are “wrongdoings” and we cannot be happy about them.

Love doesn’t envy and it is not boastful. But it does rejoice in the truth. There we go again. The greatest virtue demands an acknowledgement of truth, and thus, by implication, error. Fleshing it out, love has to be kind and gentle, meek and humble, but love has to be unhappy about sin and sad about error. I can express sorrow over sin in the society around me and still be loving. I can call out error and still be ruled by the greatest virtue. It is possible and it is even important for God’s people to be vocal about sin…iniquity…wrongdoings in the world around us.

Sometimes, a mere restatement of a clear passage calls down the rant of the “tolerants”. If I say, for instance, that a woman, according to I Timothy 2:9,10, Matthew 5:28, Mark 9:42 and  I Timothy 5:22 can be a partaker in the sin of lust when she dresses immodestly, I sometimes call down the rant. If I say that a woman must be a homemaker (Titus 2:3-5), I call down the rant. If I say that homosexuality is vile affection (Romans 1:26), I call down the rant.

And should we ever begin to try and make application of general commandments to the culture in which we find ourselves, we almost always call down the rant. If I classify any specific popular activities of  teenagers (or adults, for that matter) in current America as lasciviousness (Galatians 5:19-21), and thus works of the flesh, even by an examination of the behavior in light of the Greek meaning of the word, I call down the rant. If I try to talk about forsaking the assembly as a “wrongdoing” from Hebrews 10:26 and Matthew 6:33, I may call down the rant.

In the blogosphere, it’s generally not okay to say any of the things that people do nowadays are wrong or sinful. But let me tell you, once someone does call behavior “wrong”, then suddenly it becomes okay to call that someone hateful, judgmental, “holier-than-thou” (whatever that means) and self-righteous. Could it just be possible that, sometimes, people who attempt to identify sin around them really are trying to meekly follow the Savior to heaven and take other people with them? Could it ever be that they really are trying to diligently apply the Word to the world in which we live? Could it just be that they are convicted in conscience and thus are following the dictates of a convicted mind to speak truth in love?

As I think about this, I have to remember Jesus’ words in Luke 6:22,23:

Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!

Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.

If there is no black and white, no right and wrong, no truth and error, no absolute standard for my choices and behavior; if it is true that “everyone must make the choice that works better for  her life and/or family and no one has the right to judge the choices of other people,” then why would anyone ever be excluded, spurned or reviled on account of the Son of Man? If there ever was such an exclusion, it certainly would not be because of Jesus!

It takes making a stand to receive persecution. It takes deferring to a standard to be reviled. It takes vocalizing a conviction to ridiculed for that conviction. It takes all of these things to have the great reward in heaven. Perhaps calling down the rant,  though a minor form of persecution, is sometimes a sign that one is doing something right. “All who live godly lives in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” II Timothy 3:12. We shouldn’t go  searching for the rant. But, when and if it comes as a result of conviction by the Word…as a result of humbly submitting to that Word ourselves and calling others to do the same, we should be okay with it. In fact, if the rant should be coming your way “on account of the Son of Man,” go ahead and start practicing your leap…for joy.