A Royal Extension of Time

I am intrigued with tales of kings, queens, and royal intrigue.  In particular, the royal family of England.  They don’t bore me whatsoever.  I follow news of them than other monarchs since their country is named after my family.  HA!

I have spent considerable Bible study time in the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles in the Bible.  These books cover multiple reigns that have the ingredients of drama, adventure, and romance.

One of them who had a longer list than most kings of accomplishments that met God’s approval was Hezekiah.  He purified and repaired the Temple, purged its idols, and reformed the priesthood.  He destroyed the high places which became objects of idolatrous worship.  With that list of accomplishments, no wonder it states in the scripture that Hezekiah was a great and good king.

In chapter 20 of II Kings, Hezekiah was so ill he was near death.  It was a boil to be exact that had caused the King such misery.  I’ve never had a boil myself but it sounds terribly painful.  Isaiah, the prophet, came to see the King and had the worst news.  The boil was terminal.  The prophet advised Hezekiah to get his house in order because his time on earth was about up.  

Hezekiah was not ready to leave Earth.  I can understand that.  I am eager to go to Heaven, myself, but I can’t say I’m eager to go right this minute.  There’s that instinct to wanna hang on a while longer.  

Hezekiah took the Prophet’s grim news so hard.  The grown-up king cried his heart out.  To his credit, he prayed to God.  He asked for an extension of time.  He presented his case to the Lord as if he was his own attorney pleading his case. Hezekiah brought up that list of accomplishments.  He asked the Lord to remember how he had walked before Him faithfully and with his full devotion from his heart.  As he prayed, he continued to weep bitterly.   

Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the Lord gave the prophet a message for Hezekiah.  This time the news was much better.  The King would have fifteen more birthdays.  The Lord had heard his prayer and seen his tears.  I take comfort in this part of the story.   This is an example of God hearing a prayer coming from a desperate man with a heavy heart.  God didn’t dismiss the King’s pleas and tears.  I believe He doesn’t mine either.

Hezekiah wanted a sign that his life extension was for real.  He could have taken the prophet’s words for it but that’s not as easy as it may sound.  I only have to look at my own track record.  So many times the Lord has come to my rescue and saw me through a storm.  But whenever a storm pops up in my life, it is so tempting for me to worry my way through it than weather through it on faith.

It should be noted that God honored Hezekiah’s request for a sign.  Isaiah, being the go-between, told the King the Lord’s sign would be one of two, the King’s choice: to have the shadow go forward ten steps, or back ten steps?  Hezekiah using common sense said it was a simple matter for the shadow to go forward ten steps.  He requested the shadow go back ten steps.  Isaiah called on the Lord and the Lord responded with making the shadow go back ten steps it had gone down on the stairway.  I assume the sign satisfied Hezekiah that he had a 15-year life extension.

I wish I could say he spent those remaining 15 years wisely but his ego got the best of him.  A Babylonian envoy delegation paid a visit to Jerusalem and Hezekiah welcomed them with open arms.  They may have brought him a get-well gift for they had heard about his illness.  Hezekiah was keen to show off and he sure did at that!  He showed off his storehouses, his armory, and everything found among his treasures.  In fact, he went full hog and there was nothing in the King’s palace or in all his kingdom the King did not show off.  The problem was he was showing off to wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing.

When Isaiah heard about the delegation, he asked the King what the men said and where did they come from.  Hezekiah said Babylon and that alarmed Isaiah.  He asked what did the Babylonian gang see in the palace?  At least, Hezekiah was honest when he said EVERYTHING.

I can picture Isaiah nodding and scratch his head.  I wouldn’t have blamed him if he thought he had been on the job too long.  How could Hezekiah fall for those wolves?

Isaiah had bad news for the King again.  There would come a time when everything in the palace would be carted off to Babylon, much at the fault of Hezekiah.  If that wasn’t bad enough news, some of Hezekiah’s descendants would be taken away and become eunuchs in the palace of the Babylonian king.

At the end of 15 more years, Hezekiah rested with his fathers.  A takeaway of this story is having a talk with the Lord come rain or shine.  To tell him all about whatever is on my plate whether it be a blessing or a concern.  If needed, have a good cry too.  I would never tell someone who has a terminal illness or a loved one who has that if they pray and ask for an extension, it’s a guarantee they’ll get it.   There are folks walking around whose doctor have no explanation as to why that is; however, there are those who didn’t get an extension and went home to be with the Lord.

I try to always remember when praying for whatever that I say, “Not my will, but thy will be done.”  God always knows best, including the granting of extensions of time.

 

The Time the Moon Held Back

Once upon a time long ago, the Moon delayed its arrival.  The Sun worked overtime for a full day.  It was a day like no other before it and hasn’t been one since.  God brought this about and only He could since He was the creator of both heavenly bodies.

The remarkable one-of-a-kind story is told in the Bible (the 10th chapter of the book of Joshua).  The story begins after victories the Israelites led by Joshua had scored.  One of them was the well-known Bible story of the fall of the city of Jericho when its walls came tumbling down.  There was rejoicing among the Israelite camp but not among its unfriendly neighbors, the Amorites, who resided in the mountains.  They feared the Israelites were gaining too much territory and didn’t want Joshua to show up at their door next.

The inhabitants of a large city by the name of Gibeon conceded it was best to get on the good side of Joshua and made peace with Israel. This got the attention of the King of Jerusalem and it was the last straw.  The King took action on what he saw as a “Joshua” problem and sought the help of four kings who were his allies.

It says in Joshua 10:4-5:  “Come up unto me, and help me, that we may smite Gibeon: for it hath made peace with Joshua and with the children of Israel.  Therefore the five kings of the Amorites, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, the king of Eglon, gathered themselves together, and went up, they and all their hosts, and encamped before Gibeon, and made war against it.” 

The Gibeonites sent an SOS to Joshua for HELP!  Since he had made a treaty with the Gibeonites, he was obliged to help them out.  Most importantly, the Lord told Joshua: Fear them not: for I have delivered them into thine hand; there shall not a man of them stand before thee.”  

The battle began well for the Israelites.  The Lord sent down great hailstones from heaven and there were more who died with hailstones than the children of Israel slew with their swords.

Then Joshua did something unusual.  In the midst of these battles with these five kings of the Amorites, he asked the Lord one thing.  He did so in front of the children of Israel so they would hear his petition to God.  Joshua asked the Sun to stand still upon Gibeon and the Moon hold down until his people had victory over their enemies.

This was a bold move on Joshua’s part.  He was taking a big risk for if the Sun had set at its regular time, it would have damaged Joshua’s standing with the Israelites.  It would have discouraged his soldiers which no leader would want to happen in the midst of battle.  My thought is Joshua didn’t come up with this idea all by himself.  I believe the Lord laid it on his heart to pray for such and to do so within earshot of the Israelites.

The Sun, like an obedient child,  stayed up another full day over the battlefield of Gibeon and the Moon held back from taking its place in the sky.  No one had ever seen such before.  It was a sign of affirmation to all those who heard Joshua’s prayer that indeed the Lord was with them and no matter how many were left of the enemy, their days were surely numbered.

Chapter 10 ends with:  And all these kings and their land did Joshua take at one time because the Lord God of Israel fought for Israel.”

It was not a simple thing for Joshua to go forward to battle even though he had the Lord’s assurance of victory.  He was, after all, human and susceptible to temptation.  On his way to Gibeon, he may have been tempted to make a U-turn.  It might have popped up in his mind to send word to the Gibeonites:  Sorry.  You guys are on your own.  Five kings are too many.  My people and I would like to live a while longer.

It is a constant battle for me to overcome the tendency to go by what I see rather than what I don’t.  I know there’s not a storm the Lord hasn’t seen me through; however, when some storm pops up, I sometimes give in to fear and doubt.  Whenever I have managed to leave something entirely in the Lord’s hands by faith, I am so much more at peace even in a raging storm.

When I think of what faith looks like, I sometimes think of the one man who prayed for the moon to hold back and it did.

 

The Late Night Griller

I don’t like asking questions and I don’t like answering them. I have plenty of them running through my mind though, more than I want.  It’s one of my challenges of living on the Autism Spectrum.  When asked a question, even one that I should know the answer, my brain doesn’t pop up the answer in lightning speed.  My anxiety can get the best of me and give a dumb answer that I will kick myself later for.  As far as asking questions, I really have to work up my nerve to ask because of my fear of a negative or puzzled response.  Those times when I have gotten up the nerve to ask, then it was a question I probably asked out of sheer desperation.

When Jesus walked upon this Earth, He sometimes asked questions such as asking His disciples who people say He was and then who did they think He was.  He was asked questions, too, from His disciples and followers.  He also got questions from His enemies but they were seeking to discredit Him in front of the crowds.  On one occasion, he was grilled into the night by a Pharisee named Nicodemus.  An unlikely person to interview Jesus because he was a member of a group of Jews, the Pharisees, who did not care for Jesus’s teaching.  He was also a high-level official being a member of the ruling body of the Jews known as the Sanhedrin.

Nicodemus’s grilling of Jesus is told in the third chapter of John.  John reports that Nicodemus came to speak with Jesus at night.  Many speculate Nicodemus chose to meet Jesus at night because he didn’t want to be seen with Jesus in the light of day.  Perhaps he didn’t want his peers on the Sanhedrin to know he was conversing with their perceived enemy.  This may indeed be true but the Scripture only tells us it was a night visit.  It doesn’t say why.

At the start of their conversation, Jesus confronts Nicodemus with the truth that he “must be born again”.  (John 3:3). When Nicodemus seems skeptical, Jesus remarks that since he is a leader of the Jews, he should already know this (John 3:10).

It is in Nicodemus’s grilling that Jesus stated one of the most well-known and beloved verses in the Bible.  It was the verse recited to me by my pastor before I asked Jesus to save my soul decades ago.  The words in John 3:16 mean more to me than words can say:  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son.  That whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”   It sums up in a nutshell what the Gospel is all about.  I understand what a church leader of long ago, Martin Luther, meant when he referred to this verse as the “heart of the Bible, the Gospel in miniature.”

It doesn’t say in the scripture if Nicodemus went home that night a believer of Jesus or not.  My thought is Nicodemus either came around that night to believe in Jesus or he eventually did because of other times Nicodemus is mentioned by John which put Nicodemus in a good light.

The next time he is mentioned was when he was on the job on the Sanhedrin as they were considering what to do about the “Jesus” problem.  Nicodemus comes to the defense of Jesus by stating Jesus should not be dismissed or condemned until they have heard from Him personally.  (John 7:51). However, the rest of the Council didn’t take kindly to Nicodemus’s statement and rudely dismissed it.

The final mention of Nicodemus in the Bible is after Jesus’ crucifixion. Nicodemus assisted Joseph of Arimathea in Jesus’s burial.  This is another sign that Nicodemus did take to heart Jesus’s words that night.  Nicodemus brought expensive spices for use in preparing the body for burial and then assisted Joseph in wrapping the body and placing it in the tomb.

John’s Gospel leaves many questions about the one who grilled Jesus late into the night.  Was he born again? What did he do after the resurrection? The Bible is silent on these questions. Perhaps Nicodemus’s final recorded act was his declaration of faith.

Since I have trouble asking questions even from those people I know, I give Nicodemus credit for asking questions from someone his peers was opposed to.  He’s a good example to follow for all believers can and should ask Jesus questions that are in their hearts.

After all, Jesus is still open to questions, even late into the night.

The Sign Seeker

Before there were kings of Israel, there were judges.  Their stories can be found in the book of Judges in the Old Testament.  One of them was Gideon who received three chapters worth of Bible coverage (Judges 6-8).  My impression of Gideon from the scriptures was a man who wasn’t a born leader.  He wasn’t bold and energetic like King David or outspoken like Apostle Peter.  This is one of those stories where God picked the weakest instead of the strongest to do His work.  It’s a comfort to know that the Lord can use all of his children who have different personalities, strengths, and weaknesses.

Gideon lived at a dark time in Israel’s history.  The first verse of Judges states the bad state of affairs.  The children of Israel had strayed from God as they sometimes did.  As a result, He delivered them into the hand of Midian.  The Israelites had a change of heart and cried out to the Lord for mercy.  Once again, the Lord heard their cry and chose someone to lead them out of the Midianites’ hand.  This is the part in the story where Gideon comes in.

An angel of the Lord came and sat under an oak tree near where Gideon was threshing wheat by the winepress to hide it from the Midianites.  The angel spoke and told him the Lord was with him.  Gideon responded by basically asking, “Where has the Lord been?” Gideon felt forsaken.  He had been living through seven years of slavery under the Midianites and longed to be out from under their brutal hand.

The Lord’s answer was He had heard Israel’s cry and chosen a leader to deliver them out of bondage.  There was a “but” for Gideon:  he was the chosen one.  That had to come as a shock “Who ME?”

Gideon told the Lord that his family was poor as if the Lord didn’t know that.  He added that he was the least in his father’s house.  I don’t know what Gideon meant by least, but he obviously saw himself as such.  His confidence was slim, but his ego wasn’t fat.  I can relate to that since I don’t welcome new challenges with open arms.

Gideon asked for a sign of assurance he was indeed speaking with the Lord.  Maybe he thought he was daydreaming or was hearing things.  He probably never would have seen himself as a military leader in a million years.  Now one might say Gideon should have just taken the Lord’s word for it and not asked for a visible sign.  Well, maybe so, but I being opposed to immediate and drastic changes in my daily life, I give Gideon credit for not running for the hills.

A sign must have been okay with the Lord because He gave one.  Gideon was instructed to prepare a young goat and unleavened cakes of flour; to put the flesh of the goat in a basket and put the broth in a pot and place it under the oak tree.  The angel told Gideon to take the flesh and cakes and lay them all on a rock and to pour out the broth.  Then the angel put forth the end of the staff that was in his hand, touched the flesh and cakes; fire rose up from the rock consuming the goat and cakes.  Then the angel disappeared out of Gideon’s sight.

The roasting convinced  Gideon he was talking to the Lord all right.  What was wrong then?  He was frightened.  He believed that if one saw an angel face to face, it meant that one’s time on Earth was about up.  The Lord patiently assured him he wasn’t going to die; not then anyway.

This was the beginning of Gideon’s journey.  It wouldn’t be the only time Gideon would ask for a sign along the way.  The Lord was patient with him and granted Gideon a sign each time he asked for one.

For his part, Gideon followed the Lord’s instructions such as reducing the number of his soldiers.  Maybe Gideon’s weakness was in an odd way his strength.  Gideon followed God’s instructions because he sure didn’t know what to do on his own.  He relied on the Lord because he knew he couldn’t rely on his weak self.  He was well aware he could not go up against any army relying on his smarts alone. With the Lord at his side, Gideon did conquer the enemy with only three hundred men with no weapons; just a trumpet in every man’s hand, with empty pitchers, and lamps within the pitchers.

In thinking about this story, I have to admit I seek signs too.  I need, receive, and am thankful for signs that God does work in my life.  An answered prayer isn’t only about the answer, but a sign that my prayers go beyond the ceiling to the One whom I’m praying to.  That’s beyond awesome!

The 11th chapter of Hebrew is devoted to the word “faith”.  I’ve heard more than one person describe this chapter as the “Hall of Faith” because the chapter has a list of names like any hall of fame.  Each person listed in this chapter has a story of faith.  Gideon, the sign-seeker, made it on this list (Hebrews 11:32).  By faith, he believed the signs came from God.  He fulfilled his part in being part of something far bigger than himself — the conquering of the enemy and deliverance of God’s chosen people.

God calls His extroverted and introverted children.  The pessimists and the optimists.  The popular ones and the nerds.  The strongest and the weakest.  And the sign seekers.

 

 

 

A Mother and her Promise

First off, I want to start off with farming.  Those who know me fairly well know I won’t have much to say about it since I know just a little more about farming than I do nuclear science.

One thing I know is farmers need water.  Not too much since floods are bad and not too little since droughts are bad too.  If I were a farmer, I’d surely pray for rain.  There is a catch.  If a farmer doesn’t tend to his farm chores, it won’t matter if it rains or not.  Crops don’t plant themselves.  That’s a lesson I take from farming.  I do my part while trusting the Lord to do His.

There was a woman in the Bible by the name of Hannah who had a heavy burden on her heart.  She was one of two wives to a man named Elknah   She had no children while the other wife did.  She lived in a society that frowned on women who did not give birth.  Her husband, who loved her dearly, could not understand Hannah’s sadness.  He said, to her, Hannah, why weepest thou? and why eatest thou not? and why is thy heart grieved? am not I better to thee than ten sons?”  Not that I would know being an unmarried, but my married friends have often said to me, “My spouse just doesn’t understand….”  I guess that’s as old a problem as marriage itself.  

Perhaps Hannah was in what we call a depressed state.  The Bible describes her as being “in bitterness of soul”.  Instead of sinking further into depression, she turned to the Lord in prayer at the temple.  She sorely wept while telling the Lord her petition from her aching heart.  She asked for a child and she wanted a boy.  She went a step further by making a promise that if the Lord blessed her with a son, she would give her son back into the Lord all the days of his life.  

Hannah was mumbling this prayer to herself.  I relate to that because I often pray mumbling to myself.  I often do this while I take a walk in the park.  Once I got the attention of someone who asked me if I was okay.  I reckon it would look strange if I saw myself on video but it doesn’t matter.  I doubt that it did to Hannah because she was entirely focused on her prayer and not on who might be watching.

The priest Eli saw Hannah’s lips move without her voice and wondered if she was drunk.  He asked her as much and she told him the truth.  Eli was convinced and told her, Go in peace: and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou hast asked of him.”

Immediately Hannah felt much better and was longer sad.  Her faith had been restored and wasn’t surprised when she soon learned she was pregnant.  She wasn’t surprised either giving birth to a boy instead of a girl.  She named him Samuel, the name meaning he was asked for from the Lord.

Hannan did not forget her promise to return him to the Lord after the child was weaned.  She had waited so long for a child and now that she had one, she had to give him up.  Although I would imagine she got to visit, it wouldn’t be the same as having him under her roof.  But she had made a promise and did her part in fulfilling it.

Hannah had a part in something far bigger than herself.  She couldn’t have known that the child she asked for would grow up to one of the most well known prophets of the Bible.  She couldn’t have known that her story would be recorded in the scripture and her story told down through time.  Hannah wasn’t supposed to figure the big picture out.  She kept her promise and God did His.

 

 

The Right Answer

When I learned I was on the Spectrum, I had my explanation for why I’m not quick on my feet. It also explained why I am physically awkward on my feet.  If there’s something to stumble over, bump into, or trip over, one of my limbs will find it.  Anyway, my brain doesn’t operate at the speed of a dime. But in its defense, with sufficient processing time, it can come up with a good answer that sometimes even surprises me.

Quickness on one’s feet is a nice attribute to possess. It’s a good quality to have for those whose jobs constantly put them in emergency situations where they do what needs to be done with little or no time to think.  I can only wonder what it is like to be able to give a quick and accurate response to a question at the drop of a hat. Or be able to mouth off a “gotcha” answer silencing the asker.

Most folks can identify with being asked directions by a passer-by. I was recently put on the spot when a family driving by asked for directions. The location they were seeking was a place I knew like the back of my head. But they wouldn’t have known it by my hem-hawing. They patiently waited until my brain came up with the right answer. If I had given them an answer off the top of my head, odds would have been good they’d have to ask another stranger.

One of the many things I admire about my Lord and Savior is how He interacted with people when He walked upon this earth. Since social interaction is difficult at best living on the Spectrum, I appreciate how Jesus was a master of it.  He interacted with His disciples who sought His teaching, the multitudes who sought Him for miracles, the outcasts who sought His attention, and His enemies who sought to silence Him.

Jesus got lots of questions.  Some genuinely wanted His answer such as Nicodemus who grilled him into the night.  Then, there were those who were deceptive.  They were aiming to use the Lord’s own words against Him.

Such as in Luke 20:1-8 where we find Jesus teaching in the temple when a gang of chief priests, scribes, and elders came to Him posing a question: “Tell us, by what authority doest thou these things? or who is he that gave thee this authority?”

Jesus could have responded with a long answer.  He could have gotten into a debate with the group.  But instead, he answered with a question: “I will also ask you one thing, and answer me: The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men?”

The scribes, priests, and elders weren’t expecting to be put on a spot by a question themselves.  They got together and reasoned it among themselves before answering. I picture them in a huddle like they do on a football field. They thought if they said John’s authority to baptize come from heaven, Jesus’s comeback answer might be, “Why then believed ye him not?” If they said John’s authority came from men, the people would stone them for the crowd believed that John was truly a prophet of God.

So they came up with an answer that is still popular to this day.  I often use this answer myself.  It is a good one to use when it is a truthful answer.  It was basically:  “I don’t know”.  That answer fell right into Jesus’s hands.  In other words, the group walked right into that one.  The Lord, quick on his feet, just stated:  “Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.”

I never cease to be amazed by Jesus’s answer in this story. In this round, Jesus had the last word. He gave them an answer they couldn’t use against Him. This was just one of a number of times when Jesus put his enemies to shame by His words alone.

It is tempting when confronted about one’s religious beliefs to respond in anger. But doing so may just give the confronter exactly what they want. It is better to give no response than to get in the mud with someone. One doesn’t walk away from a mud fight without getting muddied up him or herself.

Jesus’s answer was short and to the point. Sometimes a few words are best. How does one know what to say on any given day? Pray daily for the words from the Master of right answers.

 

 

Three Against a King

There were three of them who lived about 600 years before Jesus was born.  They lived at the time King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon overtook Jerusalem and took captive many Israelites.  Among those who were forced to leave their home were the three young men and their friend and leader of the pack, Daniel, whose story is told in the Old Testament book of Daniel.  Their names were Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.  After they were taken into Babylon, their names were changed to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

Daniel and his three co-captives excelled above their peers in wisdom and knowledge.  So much so that they got the attention and favor of King Nebuchadnezzar. The King engaged them to be his counselors. God blessed Daniel with the talent of interpreting dreams.  That talent won him a promotion when he was the only man in the kingdom capable of interpreting one of Nebuchadnezzar’s nightmares.  Daniel was in charge of Babylon and at Daniel’s request, the king appointed the three as administrators under Daniel.

The King had built a huge golden image and commanded all the people to fall down and worship it.  The routine was that whenever his musical Herald was played, the people were to bow down and worship the image.  There was no such thing as freedom of worship in the King’s realm.  The stiff penalty for anyone who refused to bow and worship the image was a blazing furnace.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were faced with a choice that was not of their own making.  They did not ask to be exiled to Babylon.  They probably would have traded all they had in Babylon, including their positions in the King’s administration, to be back at home in Jerusalem.  But it was what it was and they had to decide to follow the King’s command and avoid the furnace or worship the one true God only.  By faith, they stood up to the King and bowed to God’s wishes.  They left it in God’s hands as to the outcome of whether they lived or died.

According to Daniel 3:16-18:

16. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter.

17. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.

18. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.

Their statements did not melt the King’s heart any.  Nebuchadnezzar got along well with those who did what he expected of them but had no tolerance for those who didn’t.  It didn’t matter to the King what the three’s reason was for not bowing to his order.  The King whose ego had been bruised was so angry that he commanded the furnace to be heated seven times hotter than normal. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were bound and cast into the flames. The furnace was so hot that it even killed the soldiers who had escorted them.

But as King Nebuchadnezzar gave in to his curiosity and peeked into the furnace, he got an unexpected surprise.  The three he had put in the furnace were there, but their bodies were not charred.  They were walking around in the midst of the fire as pretty as they pleased.

If that wasn’t startling enough, there were four instead of three.  Who was the extra person?  The King noted the extra one looked different than the three.  The fourth had the appearance of the Son of God.  Upon seeing the seemingly impossible, the King called the three to come out of the furnace.  The three emerged without a single burn on them, with not even a strand of their hair singed or the smell of smoke on their person.

It was too incredible of a miracle for even King Nebuchadnezzar to deny.  He had a change of heart about the three and their God.  He admitted that God had sent His angel and delivered the three who had put their faith in God by worshipping only Him.   The three and the rest of the Israelite captives were granted freedom to worship and protection from harm by the king’s decree.  The actions of these three resulted in obtaining religious freedom for their fellow captives, but at the moment when they had to make a choice, it was their choice alone to make.

Who can relate to the story of the three?  I think most of us can.  Life affords us opportunities to sometimes make difficult choices.  I have never walked into a fiery furnace, physically speaking; but I have felt at times like I have, emotionally speaking.  A fiery furnace can be a literal one, or it can be the day-to-day grieving over the loss of a loved one.  It can be living with a debilitating illness or that of a loved one.  It can be the loss of a job and the ongoing, up-and-down roller coaster ride of finding another.  It can be living up to the conviction of one’s heart, such as heeding a call to go into the ministry or some other calling and receiving less than enthusiastic support from one’s inner or outer circle.

On the autism spectrum, a meltdown can feel like walking into a fiery furnace.  For most of my life, I didn’t know what they were.  I just knew they came like a storm cloud over me and then left.  I knew the cloud would visit again and again.  I’m thankful to the Lord for the diagnosis so I am no longer in the dark about this storm cloud.  I can’t keep it from coming, but I can pray my way through it instead of bowing down to it.

I don’t know how much control we have on a fiery furnace coming into our lives.  If it were up to me, there’d be no fires to put out but I know that’s not realistic.  I do have a lot of say of how I cope with them though.  I can lean on the Lord or myself.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego looked to the Lord as they faced the furnace and came away from it untouched.  It gained them the freedom to worship God and freedom not to bow down to any man-made image.  Oh, and by the way, they got a job promotion too.

A Wise Wish

Once upon a time, there was a king who was given one wish.  He could ask for whatever in the world he wanted and had the assurance from God he would receive it.  His name was Solomon who had just become king after his father, King David’s, death.  Solomon was given a wish from the Lord who appeared to him in a dream in a place called Gibeon.  “God said, Ask what I shall give thee.”  (I Kings 3:5)

I don’t know what I would ask for if given one wish.  It seems that no matter what I would ask for, there would be both positive and negative issues with it.  Such as money, for instance.  Money does pay the bills and buys things I need and extras, but there are headaches.  Not that I would know.  I’ve just heard too many stories of unhappy and suicidal billionaires.  

Solomon didn’t pick such popular items as wealth, a peaceful reign, or a long life.  Solomon instead said, Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people?” (I Kings 3:9)

God was pleased with Solomon’s answer of wisdom.  Although he was new on the job, he realized he needed oodles of wisdom to recognize good from evil, to make sound judgments, and be the leader God’s chosen people of Israel needed.  God granted Solomon a wise and understanding heart so that there was none like him before him nor after him.

Even though he was the wisest king who ever lived, his reign did not run as smooth as silk.  His strength was wisdom but he had a problem with lust.  According to the Bible, Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines.  A bit much if you ask me!  It wasn’t just that he had so many but the wives were described as foreign princesses.  Despite his better judgment, Solomon allowed his foreign wives to bring in their national deities, building temples to their gods Ashtoreth and Milcom.

Solomon does have me puzzled when it comes to women.  In the Biblical book of Proverbs, whose author was Solomon, Chapter 21:9 states,   It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman in a wide house.”  This is coming from a man who had a household of 1000 of them.   I don’t get it but I’m one who has never been married.  Maybe Solomon would have much better off single like me or married to one woman who loved him, supported him, and believed, too, in the One who granted him his wish.

I have kept in the back of my mind a simple definition of wisdom:  the ability to use the knowledge one has.  One can have an extensive knowledge of the Bible, quote scriptures galore, but if one doesn’t put into practice the verses that fall easily of their tongue, one lacks wisdom.  On the other hand, one who couldn’t recite that much scripture but takes to heart and puts into practice “love thy neighbor as thyself”, he or she is not lacking in wisdom.

Solomon wasn’t a total flop as a King.  That moment he asked for wisdom above all else was a defining moment.  His failures don’t erase his successes.  Solomon had his achievements, but he could have done better with his wise wish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fruits of her Labor

There is a story of a woman in the Bible that begins with the woman’s death and ends with her being presented alive.  This isn’t usually how someone’s story begins and ends.  But this is a story from the Bible where miracles were told and hers is one of them.

The woman was described in Act 9:36 as being a disciple from a town called Joppa.  Her name was Tabitha, which by interpretation was called Dorcas.  She was described as being full of good works.  That isn’t a compliment easily earned.  The following verse states that Dorcas became ill and had died.  Her body was properly washed and laid in an upper room.  This is the beginning scene in Dorcas’s story.

Disciples who were grieving over the loss of Dorcas heard that Peter was in nearby Lydda.  They sent two men to ask Peter to come to Joppa.  I don’t know if it was for consolation or they thought Peter might perform a miracle similar to Jesus bringing back someone from the dead.  Whatever the reason, Peter was sent for and returned with the men.  The disciples brought Peter into the upper chamber.  He found widows weeping for Dorcas.  They showered Peter with words of praise for their friend and showed him garments Dorcas had made for others.

She had to have been an exceptional woman with all the praise heaped upon her and the evidence of her good works in the garments she had sewn.  Peter had the people leave the room.  He prayed.  Then he turned to the body and commanded: “Tabitha, arise.” (Acts 9:40)

She opened her eyes and when she saw Peter, she sat up.  Peter gave her his hand and lifted her out of bed.  He called the disciples and widows and presented her alive.  I can’t imagine the joy of seeing their dear friend again, alive and well.  I can’t imagine what was going through Dorcas’s mind either.   She was one of the few we know about in the Bible who returned from the dead.  What she had to say about her experience of death and returning to live among her loved ones is not known.  

Her story went beyond her and those who witnessed her return to life.  Word spread throughout Joppa, probably like wildfire.  It resulted in many believing in the Lord.   This wasn’t just a story that affected Dorcas or even the widows grieving for her in the chamber.  There were those in Joppa who might not have ever believed in the Lord if Dorcas’s miraculous return had not happened.   If Dorcas’s life had not been full of good works, the story would have probably had a different ending.  There may not have even been a Dorcas in the Bible.

There’s an old saying that actions speak louder than words.  That certainly applies to the story of Dorcas.  Her actions were evidence of what a good follower of Jesus she was.  Words fall easy-like off our tongues, but good deeds do not come easy.  It’s far easier to do the opposite because of our sinful nature.  Our sins may bring us pleasure but it is temporary; whereas, good deeds never die.

An even older and similar saying was what Jesus said in Matthew 7:16, “Ye shall know them by their fruits”.

An Old Testament Contest

One of the constants in our unpredictable world is contests.  In small towns and big cities, throughout the world, there are ordinary scenes of kids playing hopscotch on the sidewalk, teens playing games on the school fields, and senior citizens playing dominoes in community centers.  Contests are something most all of us can relate to.  My own personal favorite is a contest with my tennis ball and racket against a tennis practice wall.  The wall always wins though.

In the Bible, there was a big contest that took place in I Kings, chapter 18.  It was one of the most remarkable Bible stories where there was an actual contest between God and Baal.  Talk about a showdown!  The winner of this contest was determined by which of the two proved to be the true God.

In 1 Kings 18:19 the prophet Elijah asked King Ahab to gather all of Israel to meet him at Mount Carmel.  The King was a Baal fan and didn’t much care for Elijah’s God or for that matter, Elijah.  The Israelites would be the spectators in this contest.  Elijah also asked the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah to make an appearance as well.

Elijah issued the contest rules.  He and the pagan prophets would each have a slain bull as a burnt offering.  The objective of the contest was for Elijah to call out to God and the pagan prophets call out to Bael to sent fire down to burn up the sacrifice.  The contest winner would be which of the two, God or Baal, who would respond with fire consuming the burnt offering.

The pagan priests did their level best to get Baal’s attention.  They did their chanting and dancing around their bull from morning until noon but to no avail.  They might as well had been dancing to a fence post.  Elijah couldn’t resist making fun of their efforts to get Baal’s attention.  He suggested that maybe Baal was deep in thought, or maybe was away on a trip, or perhaps taking a nap. (1 King 18:27)

Then it was Elijah’s turn up to bat, so to speak.  He requested that they first fill four jars with water and pour it on his burnt offering and on the wood.  Elijah was raising the stakes because water-logged wood is harder to burn. He even said to do it again a second time and then a third.  Thus, water was running around the altar and the trench was also filled with water. (1 King 18:34-35)  Elijah wanted the spectators to know he was not playing any dirty tricks on them.

After Elijah prayed, fire consumed the slain bull, the wood, stones, and dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench.  (1 King 18:38).  I try to imagine the looks on the faces of the 450 Baal prophets.  Surely there wasn’t a smiling face among them.  They might have wished they had been on Elijah’s side.

This contest was not Elijah’s idea.  I believe it was God who orchestrated this showdown with Baal in front of His chosen people.  Elijah played an important part, but it was God who directed it.  God still works through His children today.  His Spirit nudges at our hearts and it is up to us to listen and follow as Elijah did so long ago.

The pagan prophets were acting on faith too, but their faith was in one that only existed in their minds.  Something that couldn’t have moved a stone or a stick of wood, much less burned anything up.

The spectators witnessed proof that God both heard Elijah’s prayer and responded.  They were so inspired by what they saw that they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God.”  Elijah’s act of obedience had an impact on others besides himself.  He helped to bring about a people’s return to their one and only true God.

Elijah’s prayer proved that sincere prayers from the heart make it to the Creator of all mankind.