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.

 

My Eye on the Ball

One of the common autism traits I both possess and enjoy immensely is “unsociable” hobbies.  It’s not that I don’t like people; I just don’t like to be around them much.  I can’t recall ever liking to play games unless I could compete with one person – myself.

My favorite one is going on a date with my tennis ball and racket at a nearby college campus. The campus has the tennis cages where there is a practice wall.  I confess it is a big treat if all the cages are empty or at least all the ones on one side of the wall.  I’ll usually play less time if there are others around, especially if accompanied by blasting I-pods.  This may sound like a boring way to play since the wall always wins every match, but I’m not out there to win.  Just play that’s all.

I don’t remember all the tips my tennis coach gave me in high school but I imagine “keeping my eye on the ball” was one of them  I know if my eye is on the ball, I improve the odds of the matches against the wall being longer.  In other words, I’ll spend more time hitting the ball and less time fetching it.

It occurred to me this is true in my daily walk with my Lord and Savior.  Just as I need to keep my eye on the ball, I need to keep my eye on Jesus.  This is easier said than done because there is the constant temptation to take my eyes off of Him and look at whatever is on my plate.  Sometimes what is on my plate has the visual appearance of a dark night without a star in the sky.

If my focus is on the darkness, I will drown in that darkness.  The depths of despair will overwhelm me.  Such as when I’m having a meltdown.  A meltdown is common to those of us on the Autism Spectrum.  There is no more such thing as a “good” meltdown as there is a good tornado.  When one comes, if my focus is on the overwhelming tension rising in my body, it just aggravates it.

A meltdown is tough but I don’t have the words to say how much it helps to feel the Lord’s presence.  I can’t explain it better than that.  His Spirit is comforting me as if He is literally holding my hand.  He directs me during the meltdown such as where I could go or what I could do to help until the storm passes.  The reassuring voice tells me to hold on; it will pass.  If I keep my eye, or focus, on Him, I will not drown in the pit of self-pity and despair.

If I keep my eye on the tennis ball, I have longer matches and more fun playing against a wall.  If I keep my eye on Jesus, life is far more enjoyable and calmer than it would otherwise be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Thorn

A thorn sticking into one’s flesh is a might uncomfortable.  I just imagine in my childhood exploring days on my Grandparent’s farm that I encountered enough thorns that I learned to be wary of thornbushes.  There are thorns on bushes and then there are thorns we encounter in our lives.  Apostle Paul knew a lot about thorns.  He had one according to 2 Corinthians 12:7-10:

And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul didn’t say what the thorn was and so no one knows for sure the name of it.  The important thing isn’t what it was but how Paul chose to cope with it.  First off, he prayed about it.  Then, he continued praying about that thorn until an answer came.  The answer wasn’t what he had hoped himself.  The Lord did not remove it.  Paul accepted the answer without throwing a tantrum or cutting back on his mission trips to spread the Gospel.

Instead of removing whatever the thorn was, the Lord granted Paul the grace and strength to live with it.  Paul has a positive attitude by seeing this thorn in a different light.  Instead of seeing it as a roadblock; he saw it as something that humbled him and helped to make him a better Apostle than he might otherwise be.  In other words, it helped him from getting a swelled head over the talents the Lord did bless him with.

This thought of a thorn being a humbler makes me think of one of my country’s presidents. He wasn’t one of those born in a log cabin.  Quite the contrary!  He was born into wealth and privilege.  Even early in his career, he had his eyes on the presidency.  But on his road to the White House, he encountered a thorn in his flesh that would remain with him for the remainder of his life.  Its name was polio.

An unforgettable day for Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) was when he couldn’t get out of bed on his own two feet. From then on, his legs would be useless to him.  I don’t think FDR would have been the president he was if he hadn’t been humbled by this thorn in his flesh.  I think his battle with polio inspired him to say one of his most familiar and quoted lines:  There is nothing to fear but fear itself.  FDR knew about fear; he knew about thorns.

He led a country through a depression and a world war.  He served in the Oval Office longer than his president before or after him.  But although the leader of the free world, he still had to have someone to put him to bed every night and help him up the next morning.

We all have thorns to deal with on any given day.  I discovered near the end of 2016, at the age of 58, the name of the thorn I had unknowingly lived with all my life: Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  Some call it Autism, others call it mild Autism, or highly functional Autism, or Asperger’s Syndrome.   My trying to figure out which of the names suits me best is as useful as trying to figure out what Paul’s thorn was.

I perceive the negatives of ASD are the actual thorns.  I say that because there are positives to my constant companion.  I source my passion for writing as an ASD trait.  I appreciate the compliments I received from my God-given talent of writing.  But I know that if I ever were to leave the Lord out of my writing, my words would fall on deaf ears.  I often think of myself as merely taking dictation.  The Lord gives me the words.

I don’t pray for the Lord to remove my thorn.  I’m thankful that at the right time, place, and way I received the knowledge of what this thorn was called.  I cope with it better now that I am no longer in the dark about it.  My thorn gives me empathy on my job as a substitute teacher’s assistant working with children who have similar thorns.

If it wasn’t for my thorns, I reckon I’d need many servings of humble pie.

 

I Want To See

The four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John gives us a narrative of the life of Jesus when He walked on this Earth among mankind.  One of the things that gives me comfort and encouragement are the stories where Jesus showed compassion on people who in the eyes of society did not deserve such.

Jesus didn’t limit his precious time on this Earth only to those who were in step with society.  Such as He visited the home of an unpopular chief tax collector named Zaccheus.  He had a conversation at a water well with a Samaritan woman who had a sordid past.  He allowed a woman described as one who lived a sinful life to pour perfume on his feet.

In Luke 18:35-43, there’s a story of Jesus showing compassion on someone who was among society’s forgotten.  Jesus was near the city of Jericho where among the people was a blind beggar sitting on the way side.  The blind man heard the commotion of the multitude and asked what was going on.  He was told that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by.  He recognized the name.  Even though he was disabled and an outcast, he had heard about Jesus, His teachings, and miraculous healing power. 

The blind man cried out, “Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me”.  He was hoping that Jesus might be willing to heal him too.  It didn’t hurt to ask!  Those around him were not encouraging him.  Instead, they were doing their level best to shut him up.  I guess they thought Jesus had no time for blind beggars any more than they did.  They probably would have preferred the blind man had left so he could be out of sight and out of mind.  Maybe he made them uncomfortable because of his disability.  Those with disabilities in today’s world could identify all too well with the blind beggar in this story.

The blind man ignored the pleas for him to keep his mouth shut.  In fact, he just got louder with his plea of “Thou son of David, have mercy on me”.

Jesus heard the pleas.  He could have looked the other way and continued on his journey to Jericho.  Instead, he stopped and beheld the man who couldn’t see him.  Jesus commanded him to be brought forward and when he came near, Jesus asked him what did the beggar want.  It had to have been obvious he was a blind man.  But Jesus wanted the man to tell him in his own words what he wanted.  Just as Jesus wants us to come to him in prayer with our troubles even though He already knows all about them.  The man’s response was short and to the point:  Lord, that I may receive my sight”.  He simply wanted to see.

It touches my heart that Jesus didn’t tell the man, “Your blindness isn’t my problem.  It’s your problem.”  Jesus didn’t just utter words about loving thy neighbor; He lived those words.  He taught us our neighbor isn’t only those who looks, acts, and talks like us, but those who don’t as well.  It isn’t just loving those who are physically and mentally healthy, but those who aren’t.

Jesus granted his request telling him, “Receive thy sight: thy faith hath saved thee”.  The man’s sight was instantly restored.  He glorified God and so did the people who witnessed another one of Jesus’s miracles.

The man’s faith did make all the difference.  If he had listened to the crowd who urged him to shut up, he would have gone away still a blind man.  He took it on faith that what He had heard about Jesus being God’s son was the truth.  He believed Jesus had the power to heal him and stubbornly refused to let anyone stop him from calling out to Jesus for mercy.  

On my job as a substitute teacher’s aide, I have the privilege of helping students who are outside of the student body mainstream.  Some of them have Down Syndrome, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), or are blind, deaf, or depend on a wheelchair to get around.  I also have the fortune of working with kids who are living on the same Autism spectrum as myself.  I can’t cure them of their disability any more than I can tell my constant companion of autism to go away.

But I can help them with their classwork, clap at their accomplishments, hug them when they want one, and encourage them to play on the playground.  I can see them and let them know I do.  Just like Jesus saw the blind beggar instead of looking the other way.

 

A Damsel’s Answered Prayer

The name “Rhoda” may not be the first female name you’d think of if someone asked you to name a female character in the Bible.  She didn’t receive much Bible coverage since she is only mentioned once in the 12th chapter of Acts.  This chapter is primarily about Apostle Peter and his miraculous escape from prison.  Rhoda had a supporting role in the story.  She just answered a knock at the gate and reported what she saw.  That was the easy part.  The hard part was handling the doubt and skepticism from those around her.

Peter had been put in prison by King Herod who had James the brother of John killed with the sword (12:2). Not wanting to leave anything to chance, Herod had 16 of his soldiers to guard one man, Peter.  Church members prayed for God to rescue Peter from the hands of Herod.  An angel appeared to Peter and broke the chains off his hands.  Peter walked out of prison passing all the guards without any interference from them.  Peter went to the house of Mary the mother of John, surname Mark.

This is where the damsel, Rhoda, comes into the story.  She was one of those inside Mary’s house who were praying for Peter.  She perhaps was probably fairly young since a damsel was a young unmarried woman.  Peter knocked at the outside gate’s door.  Rhoda heard the knock and went outside.  Peter must have spoken because it says in verse 14: And when she knew Peter’s voice, she opened not the gate for gladness, but ran in, and told how Peter stood before the gate.  

Bless her heart, Rhoda was so excited that she forgot all about letting Peter in and runs into the house to tell them their prayers had been answered.  According to verse 15 of this chapter, what she got in return for her good news was being told she was mad.  Perhaps because of her age, they didn’t take her seriously – a child seen but not heard.  Or, too, although they were praying for Peter’s deliverance, their faith was weak.  Maybe feeling a sense of hopelessness since they had only recently lost James who died by the sword.

I do relate to their doubts.  Sometimes I pray about something but without the faith that I should.  That the outcome is already written on the wall, so to speak, and there isn’t much of anything that can be done to change the expected dire outcome.  The church members were perhaps expecting the worst news that Peter would meet a similar fate as James.

Rhoda stood up to this skepticism by insisting that Peter was outside.  She refused to back down even though they didn’t believe her.  When she wouldn’t back down, they still shrugged it off with saying she had seen an angel.

Have you ever tried to convince someone of something you took on faith to be the truth and was met with disbelief?

I’ve told a number of people about how I learned I was living on the Autism Spectrum and how I believe the Lord brought it all about.  I don’t believe the who, where, when, and how was a matter of coincidence.  When it came down to it, the Lord gave me my diagnosis when He saw fit to give it to me in the way that He did.  Some folks take me at my word and are supportive but I have met some skeptics.  It can be discouraging to receive a less than supportive response when it is about something you are so enthused about as Rhoda was about Peter.

Rhoda did not have to wait long for vindication.  Peter continued knocking outside and when they opened the door, they found out Rhoda wasn’t mad after all and that Peter wasn’t an angel.  It doesn’t say whether Rhoda said something like, “I told you so”, or not.  She sure had a right to since they had accused her of being crazy.

This young woman set the example of praying with faith.  She wasn’t praying for Peter just for the ritual of doing so.  She believed her prayer for Peter went beyond the house ceiling.  She was thrilled to see Peter but I don’t think she was as shocked of Peter’s return as the other people who didn’t take Rhoda’s word for it.  They didn’t believe until they saw Peter with their own eyes.  Although they prayed for Peter’s survival, they had some serious doubt that they would ever see Peter again.

When telling others about the Lord working in our lives, sometimes we’ll be met with skepticism.  Perhaps even from people in our inner circle.  Rhoda, after all, wasn’t in the midst of enemies but with fellow believers.  We must stand firm in what we believe to be an answered prayer or a conviction on our hearts to do whatever even when others tell us we are crazy.

Such as some might have thought Noah was crazy when he was building an ark, Daniel facing a lion’s den for defying King’s orders by praying to God, and Abraham going on a journey to a promised land even though he did not know where he was going.  We know the outcome of these Bible stories.  The ark withstood the flood, the lions didn’t touch Daniel, and if you look on a globe or world map, you’ll find a country named Israel.

 

Trust

 Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.

Proverbs 3:5

This verse was not a hard one for me to memorize.  It is short and to the point.  A wise saying to keep in one’s heart.  I admit, though, this proverb is much easier for me to recite than it is to live it.  But if I don’t live it, it doesn’t do me much good to recite it.

My day job is a substitute teacher’s aide.  Sometimes my assignment takes me to gym classes.  Besides tying shoes, I am often asked by a student to hold something for them until they are finished playing a game or until after class.  The student puts it in my hands with complete trust.  They may sweat through gym class because the coach is giving them a workout, but not because they fear I will lose what they have entrusted me with.  They don’t fear I will claim ownership and not give it back to them.  That’s how it should be between me and the Lord with items on my plate.  I should hand whatever it may be over to Jesus just like a student hands over a valuable.

I can’t keep storms from popping up in my life no more than I can control the weather.  If it were up to me, our daily forecast would be sunny, clear skies, 70 temps, and a nice breeze.  It doesn’t work that way with the weather and it sure doesn’t in life.  There’s always a life storm, big or small, brewing up somewhere.

I do have a choice about how I respond to stormy weather.  The option of taking matters into my own hands, wading through it myself, is as effective as my singing the rhyme, “Rain, rain, go away…” and the rain obliges.  The other option is Proverbs 3:5.

A good start to any lemon tossed at me is a talk with Jesus.  That’s not all there is to it though.  It is waiting and acting on the Lord’s guidance or instruction as I make my way through the storm day by day.  He knows where I need to be on any given day, who I may need to meet, and what words I need to say.  It may be a short rain shower or it may be stormy weather for a long spell.

One of the opportunities to live this proverb was late in 2016 when I realized that Autism wasn’t something that children had or someone else’s kid had or an adult had who acted a little strange at times.  I learned the word applied to me too and it was the “it” behind why I have long felt I was the lone cow in the pasture.  Knowing there is an “it behind it and what “it” is, is of tremendous help, but it doesn’t cure or change it.  It doesn’t stop a meltdown volcano from erupting.  It doesn’t make it easier to socially interact without the exhaustion afterward.  It doesn’t make things easier that are a snap for others.  The only thing to do to is to heed the proverb.  That in good times and bad times of living with my companion, I trust in Him and not try to figure out my Autism.

The sun will come out.  I haven’t been in a storm that it didn’t.  It didn’t always end as I had wished for in my dreams.  It just ended for the best.  How do I know I got the best outcome?  That’s where trusting the Lord knows better than my own understanding comes into play.

Jesus and the Rule-Abiding Ruler

As a substitute teacher’s aide in my hometown school district, I know the word “rules” is an unpopular word with probably a majority of the student body.  How many times have I seen a kid’s eyes roll up when reminded of a rule they were not adhering to?  More than I could possibly count.  I wonder sometimes if you told the kids to run down the hallway as fast as they could and shout as loud as they could instead of the typical line of “walk in straight line with a bubble (aka mouth closed)”, what would they do?  I reckon most of them would go ahead and run and shout anyway; that is, after they got over the shock of being told to go against the long established hallway rules.

I don’t shun rules.  Quite the contrary!  I need them!  I crave them!  A common trait on the autism spectrum is “strict adherence to the rules”.  If I am in an environment where there are no rules or it is assumed I should know them without being told, my anxiety level goes up.  I have a hard time understanding those who act as if the rules don’t apply to them.  Such as someone ahead of me in an express line of 15 items or less who has a cart full.

I know that some rules can be harsh and unfair, but without rules, chaos would reign and that would be bad.  Rules have their place in our lives, but even I, a rule abider, realizes there are times when rules come second.  Love and compassion should lead the way.

Rules vs. compassion remind me of a story about Jesus and a synagogue ruler.  On a Sabbath, Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for 18 years. She was bent all over and could not get up. When Jesus saw her, he had compassion on her.  He called her forward and said to her that she was now free from her infirmity. Then he put his hands on her and she immediately straightened up and praised God

You would think all those who saw this miraculous healing would have been cheering this woman who was no longer crippled.  Some were but not the synagogue ruler.  It wasn’t in the rulebook that one could be healed on the Sabbath.  That was the sticking point.  It was against the rules to do anything on the Sabbath, including healing, according to the synagogue ruler.  The ruler said to the people that there were six days of work.  If you want to the healed, come on those days, not the Sabbath.

The Lord did not keep silent and let the ruler have the last word.  He declared those crying foul were hypocrites.  He reminded them that they untie their oxen or donkey from the stall and lead it to water.  If that was okay, then why not the woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for 18 long years be set free on the Sabbath day?  The synagogue ruler did not have a comeback answer.

When Jesus said all this, his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things Jesus was doing.  You could say that between Jesus and the synagogue ruler, Jesus won the round that time.

The Sabbath day is a day of rest and worship.  Jesus demonstrated it isn’t a day of rest from us being about our Heavenly Father’s business of loving Him and our neighbors and showing that love with acts of kindness and compassion.  There’s not a bad day for loving your fellow man.

David and Abigail

There are a number of adjectives that come to mind for Israel’s King David, but boring isn’t one of them.  David’s life received considerable coverage in the Old Testament giving us an account of his triumphs and tragedies.  He was a complicated character such as being both a psalmist and a warrior.  He showed tremendous faith at times but he had his character flaws as we all do.

His life story has a full cast of interesting characters.  To name a few:  the king who preceded him, Saul, who sought to kill him; his best friend Jonathan who was Saul’s son; one of his own sons, Absalom, who sought to take his throne away from him; and there were some wives and concubines.

He wasn’t your typical king because shepherd boys don’t grow up to become kings.  As a general rule, they are born into a royal family and their title is Prince before King.  Some princes become kings in their early years; whereas, there is one like Prince Charles, a senior citizen still waiting for his turn.  David had a long wait himself.  At a young age, David was anointed king by the prophet Samuel.  The anointing was just the beginning of his long journey from tending sheep to reigning over Israel.

In this journey to the throne, there was a number of critical moments where if David had made a different decision, his journey could have ended without a crown.  In one of those critical moments, David was assisted by a woman who played a pivotal role in David taking the high road instead of giving in to his anger.

Her name was Abigail, the wife of a wealthy man by the name of Nabal.  When Abigail and David encountered one another in 1 Samuel 25, David was a fugitive living on the run from King Saul.  Saul figured out that David was the one whom God had chosen to take the throne after him and foolishly sought to keep that from happening.

Abigail’s marriage gave her considerable social standing, judging by the fact that she had maidservants.  However, she had a big problem.  One that money and social standing must have given her little comfort.  Her husband is described in scripture as “a hard man and an evildoer”.

According to 1 Samuel 25:4-12, David, in need of supplies, sends some of his men to seek provisions from Nabal. He tells the messengers to remind Nabal that David’s men had protected Nabal’s shepherds in the wilderness.   Nabal doesn’t agree he is under any obligation to help David no way and no how.  He essentially tells David to take a hike.

David is incensed at Nabal’s response.  He ordered his men to arm themselves and take provisions from Nabal by force.  Meanwhile, a servant of Nabal brought word of David’s request for provisions and Nabal’s utter rejection of David’s request to Abigail.  It is worthy to note that Nabal’s servant approached Abigail for help.  Evidently, the servant didn’t see Abigail as a weak character and thought that Abigail was at least someone who could possibly avert a showdown.  Truth was, she was the only hope to change David’s mind.

Fearing that David and his army would take what they wanted by force, Abigail was prompted to act.  It was no small thing for this wife to work against her husband by gathering supplies to give to David in defiance of Nabal’s wishes.  She rides out to meet David.  Her motives?  Was she just trying to save herself?  Did she fear to lose the status of wealth?  Or, was she concerned not only for herself but not wanting there to be any loss of life and property?  We don’t have a window into her thoughts.  It just tells us in the scripture the actions she took.

As she came on a donkey near to where David was, Abigail heard David cursing Nabal for his unkindness and swearing revenge against Nabal and those related to him. Abigail prostrated herself before David and pleaded with him to take his anger at Nabal out on her instead.  She apologized for her husband’s behavior, acknowledging her husband was wrong in his treatment towards David and his men.

Abigail demonstrated what a shrewd diplomat she was by assuring David that no harm would come to him because he was God’s choice to be the next King.  What she said was pleasing and reassuring to David’s ears.  Abigail succeeded in calming David down enough that he reconsidered punishing Nabal.  He was persuaded to leave Nabal in God’s hands.  Abigail not only saved herself and her family, she also saved David from committing murders that would not have set well with God.  David could have met the same fate as his predecessor, King Saul, who got in trouble with God for forgetting just who hired him to be king in the first place.

Abigail returned home to find her husband wining and dining.  He went to bed drunk as a skunk.  She waited until the morning when he sobered up before telling him about her conversation with David.  His reaction to learning of his wife’s intervention which saved his neck, the scripture says that “his courage failed him, and he became like a stone. About ten days later, the Lord struck Nabal and he died” (1 Samuel 25: 37-38). Abigail then inherited Nabal’s fortune.

When David got word that Nabal had died, he praised God and wasted no time in proposing to Nabal’s wise, beautiful, and rich widow.  Another question:  why did David marry Abigail?  Was he smitten with her at first sight?  Was is love at first sight for Abigail?  Was it her wealth that attracted David to Abigail?  Perhaps he thought that the status and wealth Abigail possessed would help him build support among the people.  Was Abigail drawn to David because he was the future King of Israel?  One can only speculate.

What I do take from the story is that Abigail went where she needed to go that day, met whom she needed to meet, and said what she needed to say.  The story of David might have taken a different turn if she hadn’t followed the conviction on her heart.  We shouldn’t ignore a tug on our heart.  Even a simple act of kindness has been known to change a life, or even save it.

Jesus and a Man on a Mat

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 

Hebrews 11:1

A short definition of a word that isn’t hard to find in the Bible.  I haven’t looked up how many verses in the Bible has this five letter word, but I have no doubt whatsoever that if I went to work looking them all up, it would keep me busy for a while.

In the Gospels that give us an account of Jesus’s life on this earth, there are many stories where you’ll find the word faith.  One of them is in Luke, chapter 5, verses 17-26.  It’s about Jesus, a man on a mat, and some of the man’s friends.

One day as Jesus was teaching, there was a huge turnout that included Pharisees and teachers of the law who had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem.  From what the scriptures tell us, they didn’t gather to hear Jesus because they were His believers.  They had their own interpretation of the law and it wasn’t quite in sync with Jesus’s teachings.  Some may have sought to use Jesus’s own words against Him.  Others in the crowd were perhaps curious from what they had heard about Jesus’s healing powers and were more interested in miracles than Jesus’s teaching.  And, maybe there were some actual believers in the crowd too.

Among the crowd was a man who was paralyzed and was being carried on a mat, or couch, by some of his friends.  They weren’t there to simply get a glimpse of Jesus to satisfy their curiosity.  They weren’t skeptics for if they had been, I don’t think they would have gone to all the effort they did to get Jesus’s attention.  They must have heard about Jesus’s power to heal and sought Jesus for the healing of the man whose legs were useless to him.

The crowd was so huge they couldn’t make their way through to get Jesus’s attention.  Some other friends might have told their paralyzed friend they had done all they could and might as well head back home.  Perhaps better luck the next time Jesus was in town.  But not these friends.  They put their minds together and came up with another way of reaching Jesus.  A rather unusual effort under the circumstances.  They climbed up on the roof carrying their friend and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the mìddle of the crowd right in front of Jesus.

When Jesus saw their faith in action, He said unto the man on the mat “Man, thy sins are forgiven thee”.  The man who could not walk was a sinner.  The friends who lowered him down from the roof were sinners.  The Pharisees and teachers of the law were sinners.  Everyone in the crowd were sinners.  The only one who didn’t need forgiveness was the One who could forgive sins and cause the lame to walk.  

The Pharisees and the teachers were buzzing like bees reasoning among each other, “Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?”

Jesus knew what the buzz was all about.  He replied to their reasoning by saying, “What reason ye in your hearts?  Whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Rise up and walk?  But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power upon earth to forgive sins, I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy couch, and go into thine house.”

The man immediately stood before them, walked out on his own two feet, and went back to his house praising God all the way home.  His faith and that of his friends had paid off.  If they had not taken him or had given up due to the huge crowd, the story would have had a different ending.  It should be noted the man was rich in more ways than one.  He had friends who cared enough to carry him to Jesus.  

The healed man and his friends were not the only ones who were amazed.  The crowd was amazed and glorified God.  Some hearts were changed from skeptics to believers.  They had seen strange things that day that would stay with them for the rest of their days.

Miracles didn’t stop when Jesus returned to the Father.  I’ve heard doctors speak of patients’ recovery they had no medical explanation for.  I’ve heard of people outliving their death sentences handed down by their doctors.  It’s a comfort to know that events happen every day that defies logic.  If only what we could see and explain with human reasoning is all that ever happened in this world, what would be the point of faith and hope?

If you ever had a prayer answered, as I have many times, you have witnessed a “strange” thing as that crowd did so long ago.

 

Joshua, Israel, and a Wall

“By faith, the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days.”

“They” were the Children of Israel, God’s chosen people.  Their leader at the time was Joshua who took over the reins after Moses’s death.  Jericho was a city surround by a wall.  God told Joshua the city was theirs for the taking, BUT…  There was a but.  God didn’t hand it over to them on a silver platter.  Instead, God gave Joshua a battle plan to deliver to His people.

God delivered Joshua an unusual strategic battle plan.  He was to have his armed men march around the city once each day, for six days, in total silence.  No use of weapons, no jumping over the wall, and to keep their mouths shut.  There were seven priests, too, bearing seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark.  On the seventh day, they were to march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets.  On the 7th time around, when the priests blew a loud blast with the ram’s horn, and the people heard the sound of the trumpet, they were all to shout with a great shout; then the wall of the city would fall down flat.

This wasn’t the typical way to conquer a city.  I doubt Joshua in his wildest dreams could have come up with the plan all by himself.  We don’t know if he had any internal doubts about it or not.  He was human after all and it would have been understandable if he had.  However, maybe he was okay with it from the start with the attitude of whatever you say, Lord, I’ll do it.

He relayed God’s instructions to the Israelites.  There may have been those, if not all of them, who were first taken aback by the plan.  A week is a long time to march around the wall of a city inhabited by their enemy.  What was to stop their enemy from attacking them as they marched on any of those seven days?  My point is this wasn’t a simple task because their lives were on the line.

Joshua and the children of Israel followed the plan.  If they had any doubts, they conquered them.  On the seventh day, the Israelites marched around the walls of Jericho seven times.  At the seventh time around the wall, the men gave a great shout, and the walls of Jericho fell down flat just as God said they would.

In any of life’s battles, big or small, there are options.  One can ignore it, give up, or attempt to handle it on their own.  Another option is by faith, praying to our Father for instruction and following whatever that instruction may be that He lays upon our heart.  This is the option the children of Israel took as they marched around a wall for a week.  And they found it to be the option that gave them victory.