Thursday, April 24, 2008

Reading Elizabeth

Hey Everyone - Sorry to be a bit missing in action this week. I finally finished the big writing project I had on my plate. I taught my last class of the semester this week (though I still have to calculate grades). I completed the two training conference calls I had to lead yesterday and today. And I dealt with a couple fires in getting our daily devotions out the last two days that I think we've got solved. I'm even caught up on laundry. Oh happy day.

Tomorrow I get to have coffee with TonyaT and we'll be wishing you all were there. Wait a minute, we couldn't all fit in a Starbucks at the same time!

Next week I'll be getting caught up on my emails, so if you've written to me I will (eventually) answer.

Are you ready for the next reading? We are entering the New Testament and the first woman to appear there is Elizabeth. Her story is found in Luke 1:5-80 and it intertwines a bit with Mary's. But we'll start with Elizabeth.

"Your word I have treasured in my heart,
That I may not sin against You."
Psalm 119:11

Pray first, and then post your "I did it" when you're done.
I can't wait to get back to talking about the women of the Bible with you.

Gen NeXt Marraige

Author Tricia Goyer recently sent me her latest book on marriage called Generation NeXt Marriage. Its written for those in my generation - Gen X (1964 - 1981). Since we've been talking a lot about marriage with these women of the Bible we've read, I thought I'd seek Tricia's advice for us Gen Xers in our marriages.

I wanted to know if Tricia thought there were unique challenges facing my generation in marriage and if so, how could we meet them. She offered up five challenges and her advice for addressing them:

1. Gen Xers saw more divorces than successful marriages. The divorce rate doubled between 1965-1977 and 40% of us spent time in a single-family home before age 16. We grew up in families with step-moms and half-siblings and living every other weekend with a different parent. As married adults, Gen Xers can meet their spouse’s need by speaking encouraging words, which are like gold stars to a Gen Xer’s heart … and by never using the D-word. As author Madeleine L’Engle once said, “There are a lot of marriages today that break up just at the point where they could mature and deepen.”

2. Without role models, many GenXers turned to music, movies and television for examples of healthy relationships. Now, we often we model our relationships after television sitcoms. We are good at quick comebacks and sassy remarks, without taking time to consider the other person’s heart. We also want our problems wrapped up in thirty minutes or less! Instead, Gen Xers need to understand that unrealistic expectations can hurt our relationships. We also need to treat out spouses with honor and respect, even when we don’t feel like they deserve it.

3. Our teen relationships were intense and often included sexuality, leading to intense breakups and the resulting baggage. By the time many GenXers walked down the aisle, they’d experienced several “pretend-marriages.” Spouses can break free from these bonds when we realize the truth about love, the truth about emotions, and the truth about intimacy. It’s knowing that what we had in the past wasn’t love … and emotions don’t rule. True intimacy is choosing to share our hearts and our struggles with the one we’re committed to for life.

4. Gen Xers were starved for quality time, so they appreciate balance. Doing too much stresses us out. The first thing Gen Xers need to do is realize the impact of our fast-pace lives, and then make plans for peace. It’s cutting out things that won’t matter ten years from now and focusing on the things that will.

5. Gen Xers were labeled the “slackers” and the “grunge” generation. The generations before didn’t think we’d amount to much. Because of this, Gen Xers strive hard to prove themselves. We aren’t content just “living life,” we want to reach our full potential. Spouses can encourage each other to follow their heart and fulfill their dreams. This starts with asking your spouse about his dreams, then offering encouragement and support!

Contributed by Tricia Goyer, author of Generation NeXt Marriage

Hum ... number four on her list really speaks to me. And number five motivates me to ask my husband this weekend if there are any dreams in his heart that he's not felt my blessing to pursue. Hope Tricia's insights were able to help some of you too.

Monday, April 21, 2008

About the P31 Woman

Working with a ministry called "Proverbs 31 Ministries," I am very aware that women's reactions to this passage of scripture are mixed. For some women, it represents everything they enjoy doing and striving to be. Reading it makes them feel affirmed and motivated. For others it represents an admirable standard, but one they can never seem to live up to. Reading it makes them feel frustrated or like a failure. And for others still, it represents a repressive standard they lack even the desire to aspire to. Reading it makes them feel confused or alienated as a Christian woman.

I've had seasons in my life that it motivated me to seek and create domestic bliss, and other seasons in my life that it motivated me to crawl in bed, pull the covers over my head, and mutter, "I give up."

You see, though my home is sanitary and mostly neat, I'm not the world's best housekeeper. About twice a month I feel motivated to do housework, and actually derive pleasure doing it. The thing is, housework needs to be done more than twice a month! The rest of the time I'm forcing myself to get it done. The only exception to this is the floors - I love to sweep, mop and vacuum. Laundry, however, feels like a thorn in my flesh I can't ever seem to remove. Let me clarify that ... I like sorting it and putting it into the washer. I don't even mind transferring it to the dryer. However, at that point I want to be done with the task and would rather do 100 sit-ups than fold and put it away.

Also, though my family eats 3 square meals a day and I'm quite conscious of good nutrition, I'm not the world's best cook. I enjoy cooking about once a week. I'd love to spend all afternoon in the kitchen once a week cooking up something grand. Problem is cooking is a daily task, not a weekly task and my schedule rarely allots me all afternoon to make one meal. Another problem is I always seem to be cutting myself or burning myself in the kitchen. Just a few weeks ago I burned myself making toast in a pop-up toaster. Who does that?! And for some reason, when I follow recipes, I manage to skip an ingredient half the time.

At age 23 I tried to take up sewing. I made some curtains, a throw pillow, and a duvet cover that were pretty good for a beginner. I later made the curtains that hang in my daughter's room today. They turned out even better. But none of these projects would win honorable mention, much less first prize, at the fair. Still this was a huge step up from my mother who would throw my Dad's shirts away when they lost a button. I can sew a button on. But first it will probably have to sit for a month in the "needs to be mended" pile before I force myself to do it.

So what kind of Proverbs 31 woman am I if I don't enjoy cleaning bathrooms, I don't sew well, some days my kids wear Crocs because they can't find clean socks, and I'd rather order take-out than cook? It would seem I don't measure up to the Proverbs 31 Woman.

For a long time I looked at this passage as if I were peering at the page of an ideal woman's Daytimer ... as if I were viewing her daily schedule and to-do list. And when my day didn't look like hers, I would assume I was not measuring up. However, there are many differences between her world and mine. She didn't have Chinese take-out ... she did have maids to help her with the household duties ... and bless her heart, she didn't have Target to buy clothes at.

The next important realization for me was that she is not an actual, physical woman. She is a teaching device. As a university instructor, I know the value of having a story or using an example to illustrate what you are trying to convey. People remember examples better than they remember points. The verses we read are the words of a mother teaching her son what qualities to look for in a wife. Verse one of Proverbs 31 spells this out - go and read it for yourself. It will tell you that these are the words King Lemuel learned from his mother.

Bible scholars also say the verses in this passage follow the letters of the Hebrew alphabet - another teaching device. It would be similar to when someone uses an acrostic to teach and remember something like "F.E.A.R. = False Evidence Appearing Real". The teaching device helps you remember it, but also limits you a bit in describing it. King Lemuel's mother would have taught it to him when he was young, so following the alphabet would surely have helped him remember it.

So I came to realize my days will not look exactly like the days of a woman living several thousand years ago - and that the Proverbs 31 Woman is a composite picture of a godly woman in action. I finally understood it was less about the specific actions of getting up before dawn and sewing clothes, and more about the character qualities of not being lazy and providing for the needs of your family.

Proverbs 31 Ministries has taken this passage of scripture and distilled it into 7 principals or priorities that this woman illustrates.

The Proverbs 31 Woman...

  • Pursues an ongoing, personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

  • Loves, honors, and greatly enriches the life of her husband, encouraging and supporting his leadership within his family and his church.

  • Nurtures the next generation, shaping and molding the children who will one day define who we are as a community and as a nation.

  • Creates a warm and loving environment for family and friends.

  • Is a faithful steward of the time and money God has entrusted to her.

  • Speaks with wisdom and faithful instruction as she encourages others and develops godly friendships.

  • Shares the love of Christ by extending her hands to help the poor and opening her arms to the needy.

Those are the principals that guide my life. That is my definition of a Proverbs 31 Woman. Most of them would apply to single women as well.

I now know I don't have to bake bread from scratch to qualify as a P31 woman. And I can create a "warm and loving environment" in my home even if there are clothes in the dryer waiting to be folded. I believe my kids are more likely to remember the nights I snuggle up to read the Narnia Chronicles with them than the occasional mornings they have to hunt for clean socks. And my husband assures me he will praise me if I serve him Chinese take-out tonight and then put into action what I spent last week reading about from the Shulammite woman. :)

I know that some of you feel that your kids are grown now or your husband is gone now and that its too late for you to become a P31 woman. No so. Its never too late to start putting into practice what God shows You in His Word. And its always too soon to give up. So I hope that those who felt bad about yourself when reading the Proverbs 31 passage will say aloud that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, and will ask Him to help you see this passage anew, and empower you to move forward in faith.

So let's hear your thoughts on the Proverbs 31 Woman!

PS - Forgot to update you on my weekend. The retreat went well. It was at a beautiful location in the woods and the retreat committee put together a terrific theme and program. They set the stage to look like a small town beauty shop. And before each of my sessions they did a skit about godly beauty using the main characters from the movie Steal Magnolias. I think my favorite part of the weekend was the lovely prayer room they set up - I wanted to live in there! I enjoyed the women and they seemed to enjoy my four sessions, so to God be any glory and thank you for your prayers. Oh and I was nearly chased home by a tornado - so really appreciated those prayers for my travel!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Reading the Proverbs 31 Woman

Hey Girls. I'm getting ready to leave town for my retreat this weekend - thank you so much for praying for me and the other women who will attend this event with expectant hearts.

While I'm gone, you can read about the infamous Proverbs 31 Woman, who is located in Proverbs 31:10-31 which is linked here.

Don't forget to pray for God to speak to you as you read!

Post your "I did it"
and I'll be back on Sunday night or Monday to talk about her.

Have a great weekend, sweet friends!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

About the Shulammite Woman

Hey Girls … reading the Bible is anything but boring, huh? I’m so strapped for posting time this week and there is so much I’d like to get into with this reading.

Let’s just start here with the question many of you asked (perhaps while blushing): Why is this in the Bible?! Well, let’s see. The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to His people, as well as instruction for how to live as His people in such a way as to bear His image and please Him. So we can trust that this book of the Bible is meant to do one, or more, of those things.

Many people through out the ages have been uncomfortable with the inclusion of this book in the Bible. It describes flesh and anatomy. It conveys strong sexual passion, on the part of both genders. It paints sex between a husband and wife as pleasurable, and for intimacy as much as for pro-creation. To some these were dangerous ideas best left ignored. To others they were fine ideas but they just seemed out of place in the Bible.

Consider theses questions a moment: Who created anatomy – the body parts, hormones, and the resulting pleasurable sensations the body feels? Did God deem anything He created in the book of Genesis “not good?” If you look, you’ll see the only the thing God deemed not good was that that man did not have a suitable partner, and then God made Adam one called woman.

Do people often struggle with sex … with understanding its intended purpose, or with handling its power, or with being able to enjoy it? Does the church ever have a hard time knowing how to address this very powerful but very personal aspect of people’s lives?

Considering all these questions, I do not think the inclusion of the Song of Solomon in the Bible was illogical or unnecessary. But I recognize it can make people uncomfortable. I have to admit my own hesitancy to put the subject of passionate sex up for discussion on my blog! But I trust you gals will keep the discussion respectable.

Many Jews and Christians have suggested that the Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon) is a metaphor or allegory for God’s love for Israel, or for Christ and His bride, the Church. I certainly think that is possible. But I don’t think we can ignore that the most obvious, most primary interpretation of this book is that its about romantic love between a husband and his wife. And I think we could also venture to say that sexual love between a husband and his wife is not just necessary, but important and beautiful to God.

This book - another one that does not mention God by name - is a series of 15 “love songs” by Solomon’s queen as she remembers the events leading up to her marriage, the events of her wedding night, and their life together. The story is told with recurring flashbacks that can make it hard to track chronologically with the story at times.

Another often confusing aspect of this book is that it employs literary devices such as the “chorus” of friends or women sometimes called ‘the daughters of Jerusalem” that interrupt the story or the flashbacks. Their comments serve to make a point or transition between scenes.

The background is that its the 5th century B.C. and Solomon is King. He owns many vineyards around the region. One is in the north by the foothills of the Lebanon mountains. While visiting this vineyard, he meets the Shulammite woman. She is a simple, country girl. She is also beautiful in his eyes and virtuous. She captures Solomon’s heart. He visits her often there and finally asks her to marry him and come to the palace.

As wonderful as a wedding proposal from the king sounds, she has to give it some thought. She was of a lower station in society than him or than the women that would be appropriate for a king – as evidenced by her having to work in the fields. We see her a bit self-conscious about her darkened skin from working in the sun, and her lack of primping. She would also have to leave her family and her rural homeland for the hustle and bustle of the city. And once there, Solomon would often be busy with the affairs of the kingdom as its leader. Plus, she would have duties and a lot of attention on her as his wife. So she has a lot to consider and wisely does so before committing her life to him. Her heart wins out and she accepts his proposal.

The book opens with her getting ready for the wedding procession that will arrive to escort her to the wedding banquet on her wedding night. She is filled with excited anticipation. She is not afraid of consummating this marriage. Any self-consciousness she feels about her tanned skin or her new position as queen, he is able to melt. Passionate details of that night are described and then the first half of the book comes to a close.

The second half of the book shows the joys and struggles of married life. The honeymoon is over, as they say, and sex is not always as anticipated by her as it once was. She refuses his sexual advances one evening and he get up and leaves. She regrets this as she reflects on how much she cares for him and how grand he is, and goes out looking for him. She must search and eventually finds him and they passionately reunite.

She is living at the palace in the city and she misses the country and the mountains of Lebanon. She longs for the beauty of the countryside and for the carefree days they spent there as two young people romantically attracted to one another – not as the royal couple of Israel with the current burdens of their daily life. She asks him to take her there once again. He obliges and they return there on vacation. At the same vineyard where her heart and sexuality were first awakened by him, they share passionate love again.

Their story outlines the path that many couples' sexual relationship follows - all consuming passion at first, followed by a certain comfortable (if no longer ground-shaking) familiarity, followed by the erosion the demands of life can have. What I love about their story is that they seek after and recapture that earlier passion.

In summary, we see her choose wisely and then make a commitment to this man. We see her leave her self-consciousness behind when she is with him. We see her think about, and talk about, what attracts her to him, and what he does that she enjoys. She nurtures her feelings of fondness for him. We see them forgiving and "kissing and making up." We see them getting away together on vacation to fan former flames. We see them meeting each others needs. Basically, we see them being proactive about sustaining their relationship. We don't see them without challenges and bumps in the road, but we do see them overcoming them - together.

There is so much more I could say but I’ll open up for discussion and see what’s on your mind after reading this story.

Oh, and shout out to the "back row" - glad you gals are with us!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Reading The Shulammite Woman

Hi Girls! As I counted my blessings this weekend, I counted this group as a big one. I so appreciate how loving and supportive you each are. I dealt with some people last week that were not that way - it was draining! But then I would come here and read your comments - which are getting increasingly insightful! - and see you praying for and loving on one another and I'd praise God.

So everybody enjoyed reading Esther's story. It does read like a fascinating novel, doesn't it? No one seemed to mind that it was nine chapters long. That's good because our next reading is pretty long as well.

We are reading about the unnamed Shulammite Woman in the Song of Songs chapters 1-8 which are linked here. This reading will be quite different from any we've done so far. It will read less like a novel and more like a script for a Shakespearean play ... only it was mostly likely written by King Solomon. Its quite interesting reading!

Post your 'I did it" here when you are done reading.
As well as any prayer requests or updates you have.

My prayer request is for a retreat I'll be speaking at this weekend. I'll be out of town Friday through Sunday and will be teaching four sessions. Please pray for my preparation time this week, for the women attending, for safe travel, and for my family who will be juggling a busy schedule here at home in my absence. Thanks, friends!

Friday, April 11, 2008

About Esther

Sweet Pea asked what the month of Adar, month of Nisan, and month of Sivan meant in the text. These are the names of months in the Hebrew calendar. IC posted the list of them. Adar is the 12th month, considered the last month in the Hebrew year, and it is the month in which the festival of Purim is celebrated based on the Jews deliverance from Haman’s plot. The month of Adar (February/March) is also considered the happiest month of the Jewish year because of Purim. The motto of that month is, “When Adar comes, joy is increased.” Nisan is the first month of the Hebrew year and is considered the month of “Ziv”, which means “beauty.” It begins about when our spring begins in March/April. Our calendar, by the way, comes from the Greeks and Romans' calendar.

Esther (Hebrew name Hadassah) lived in the 5th century before Christ, after the massive exile of 75 percent of the Jews from the Holy Land, following the fall of the city of Jerusalem. Esther was in Persia, which is modern day Iran/Iraq. Anti-Semitism ran strong in the countries into which they fled – as it still does. Many Jews concealed their heritage and religious beliefs during this period, and Esther’s uncle advised her to do so as well. She might have been disqualified to rise to the status of Queen of Persia otherwise.

Once she enters the king’s harem, from which the next queen would be chosen, we see Esther’s wisdom (combined with God’s favor). She looked to the king’s eunuch (a castrated male) in charge of the harem for guidance. This man knows the king. He has taken many a gal to appear before the king and he would know what “worked” and what didn’t in the king’s eyes. After a year of various beauty treatments and a special diet, her turn came, though she was not over eager like the other girls. She had a sense of value and dignity that came from another source. Sure enough, that shines through along with her great beauty, and she wins the king over and becomes queen.

Meanwhile, another of the king’s men, Haman, is much more powerful in status than the lowly eunuch. In fact, Haman requires that people bow before him when they see him. When Haman encounters Esther’s uncle Mordecai, the man refused to bow explaining that his Jewish beliefs didn’t permit him to bow to anyone but God. Haman is outraged and seeks death for not only Mordecai but also all the Jews. (I once read that Esther was a descendant of King Saul, while Haman was a descendant of King Agag who’s empire Saul nearly wiped out, but not completely, which set them keen on revenge.)

Haman casts lots – which would be something akin to throwing dice – to decide the best date to carry out his lethal plot. He believed his gods would determine the outcome of the lot casting. Therefore, the day of death is set for 11 months in the future. Then Haman had the king send out a decree that the killing will take place on March 7 and anyone who killed a Jew on that day could take all that Jew's possessions.

Can you imagine being a Jew after this decree goes out? Can you imagine living knowing that people have permission to kill you in 11 months? Can you image the Persians eyeing you and your possessions each day while plotting your death? The Jews considered Haman purely evil.

Mordecai challenges Esther to use her position to do something about this. She hesitates a bit, knowing she could die trying to contact the king to discuss this, and not even pull it off. Then she would die and so would the Jews a few months later. What would you be thinking? What would you plan to do?

Mordecai seeks to convince her to move into action. He tells her she may hold this position (by God’s doing) for such as time as this. She was a Jewish orphan who had become the queen of a non-Jewish empire! In fact, he tells her not to assume that she can escape death herself by keeping quiet about her heritage because he assures her, “If you keep quiet about this, deliverance for the Jews will arise from some other place." (In other words he seems to be saying if you do not step up to fulfill God's purpose for you in His grand plan for His people to be spared, God will carry out His grand plan some other way and you will miss out.) Sobering thought, huh?

So Esther wisely calls for a 3 day fast, we can assume to beseech the LORD. She realizes she has two playing cards in her hand: 1) She has favor with the king … the only problem is she can’t speak with him unless he summons her, to do so is risking death, and 2) she is a Jew herself, though the king doesn’t know it. If she could just get an audience with the king, she could play these two cards together and see if its enough to win the hand against Haman. She decides to risk her death to play her hand.

The king wholeheartedly receives her when she shows up unannounced in his inner court – so far, so good, she evaded death. What’s more, he offers to meet her request, whatever it is. Instead of telling him the deal, she invites him – and Haman! – to dinner. At dinner, she still doesn’t tell him the deal, though he keeps asking her what she wants and telling her he will grant it. She invites them both back for another dinner, promising to explain her request then.

Why did she keep delaying? Was she working up the nerve? Was she trying to butter up the king first? It seems the king was already in the palm of her hand. Was she keeping Haman away from Moredcai as best she could? Or perhaps Esther was simply following God’s leading each step of the way … perhaps He was whispering to her heart, “not just yet, there is something else I want to do first”?

Next, we see an interesting twist happen. Haman leaves the dinner with the king and queen feeling very important and proud. He sees Mordecai again, feels "dissed" and decides Mordecai needs to die immediately. Haman builds a gallows that night after his feast with Esther and plans to hang Mordecai on it the next day. Only at the same time, the king cannot sleep and reads the history book only to find Mordecai had once saved his royal life and had never been thanked for it. So the king decides to honor Mordecai. The next morning, before Haman could ask for Mordecai's death, the king asks Haman how best to honor someone. Haman spouts off his own dream list of ways he wants to be honored. Then the king sends Haman to honor Mordecai in that way, on that day!

“Pride goes before destruction and haughtiness before a fall.” ~ Proverbs 16:18

“God sets Himself against the proud, but he shows favor to the humble.” ~ James 4:6

After that humiliating experience for Haman, he and the king go once again to have dinner with Esther as planned. This time when the king asks what she wants, Esther tells him the whole deal. Haman is exposed and winds up hanged that very night on the very gallows He built for Mordecai the Jew.

God wasn’t finished reversing things ... the decree to kill the Jews was also reversed by another decree that would not only give them protection from others seeking their harm but it gave them the right to seize the possessions of anyone who might try to harm them on March 7. So, God’s people were saved and Esther was their queen-heroine.

The name Esther is often said to mean “star” in the Persian language. However, a great many Jews translate it, such as in the Hebrew Midrash, to mean “hidden.” In fact, in the Jewish mindset, the book of Esther is all about hidden things that become known. Esther’s Jewish identity was hidden, but became known. Haman’s evil nature was hidden, but came to light. And, God, who seems to be “hidden” in this book of the Old Testament, comes to light … shining through between the lines of the plot for those who have spiritual eyes to see Him there.

Esther’s book is a fascinating story and an interesting book to me because it seems to reflect the way most of our lives are lived as Christians today. We pray, we fast, we seek wise counsel from scripture and from friends, and we try to do what we think God wants us to do. Then we have to trust Him that it will turn out OK. For the most part, there are no angels stopping by to tell us that we will have a baby in a year, like Sarah had. There are no audible voices and burning bushes like Abraham experienced. We, like Esther in this story, simply have to try to discern God’s leading in our hearts, His purpose for our lives, and then take the risk to follow that.

You tell us, what came to light for you in the story of Esther?

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Reading Esther

My heart and prayers have gone out to each of you that posted about dealing with a “Nabal.” Feel free to keep posting there on the Abigail thread! I wish that I could do more to lighten your load. I wish I better knew how to counsel you. My heart breaks over the things that break God’s heart – like verbal and physical abuse, and addiction – but I do not know His plans or answers for each of your situations. So I will pray, knowing that He is able to move mountains, that He is the God of All Comfort, and that He is mighty to save. If you feel that you need a counselor’s advice, please call Focus on the Family counseling department toll free at 1-800-232-6459 Monday - Friday between the hours of 8:00 and 4:30 Mountain Time.

Thanks for being patient with my somewhat erratic posting schedule. Next, we are reading another favorite biblical woman of mine - Esther. Are you ready to read an entire book of the Bible at once? Esther's story is linked here. Don’t worry, it’s not too long ... about nine chapters, and it’s a great story. Esther has a whole book named after her; she shares that distinction with Ruth. Another interesting thing about Esther’s book is that God’s name is not mentioned even once. So there won’t be any statements like, “God remembered Esther and did for Esther…” like we saw with Sarah and Rachel and Leigh. We’ll have to look between the lines to see God’s hand at work.

IC and others asked how I get insights when I read the Bible. Well, I don’t always, but I do now more than I used to. I’m not certain how best to answer this question, but I’ll try. Sometimes when I read, insights and connections jump out at me, and other times … well, not so much. We can hear but not really listen and in the same way we can read and understand the words, but not really digest the story. So its important to ponder and think about what you’ve read. Pray about it. Chew on it and digest it for a while. That is why I normally don’t have us discuss it right after completing the reading. I want you to go through your day thinking about this woman and her story, wondering what her life was like. Maybe try to tell her story in your own words and see what questions arise in your mind. Go back to the text and see if there are any answers there to those questions. Think about why some details are given and others are not – what are the important details? Ask yourself how this can apply to your own life.

With that said, the story of Esther is going to be longer than any we’ve read so far and with no clear statements about what God is saying or doing. So this is one will be a lot to bite off and chew. Feel free to just focus in on one aspect of the story that interests you if you want to with your comments. And you are always welcome to post your questions; the women here are good about trying to answer them for you. I generally try to answer any that don’t get answered, though I don’t always have time.

Make sure you have the time to read all nine chapters before you begin. Also, pray for understanding first. Then post your “I’ve finished reading” here when you are done.

I look forward to our discussion - sweet blessings to you today!

Monday, April 7, 2008

About Abigail

Marriages were often arranged in Abigail’s era, and I wonder if this was true of hers. On paper Nabal seemed like a “catch” … he was wealthy, a good provider, and he liked to have fun and throw parties. But behind the scenes his character was seriously lacking and those closest to him suffered for it.

Here is what we know about Abigail’s husband, Nabal:

*His parents gave him a name that means “fool.” (vs. 25) Things that make you go hum ...
*He is wealthy – that’s partly due to David’s protection of his flocks. (vs. 2,8)
*He is crude and mean in all his dealings. (vs. 3)
*He sneers at his guests who come in peace, and then he questions their character. (vs. 10-11)
*He screams insults. (vs .14)
*He is so tempermental that everyone avoids or dreads talking to him. (vs. 17)
*He is not attuned enough with his wife to notice she has left home. (vs. 19)
*He is stingy and does not return favors or repay kindnesses showed him. (vs. 16, 21)
*He arrogantly thinks more highly of himself than he ought. (vs. 36)
*He drinks too much. (vs. 36-37)

Basically, Nabal was a self-centered, ill-mannered guy who didn’t recognize God’s plans, provision or blessings in his life. He was foolish enough to insult the most powerful man around (David) and to provoke him to want to kill him. More importantly, he was foolish enough to insult the one, true God who let him face the consequences of his sin (vs. 38-39).

Stop and imagine yourself paired up in marriage to such a foolish, arrogant, verbally abusive man as this. (I hope that you have to imagine and have not lived this.)

How would you react towards him? What do you think living with him might do to your personality, or your character? Would you grow depressed? Would you become withdrawn or timid? Would you nag him to do better? Would you grow bitter and become argumentative back? Would you just “let yourself go” and decide not to care about anything?

Now let’s look at what we know about Abigail, wife of Nabel:

*She is smart and sensible. (vs. 3)
*She is beautiful. (vs. 3)
*People look to her for wisdom and leadership in times of trouble. (vs. 14, 17)
*She is decisive and wastes no time worrying, pitying her situation, or fussing at those who cause her trouble – instead she takes action to improve the situation. (vs. 18, 23)
*She is a generous giver. (vs. 18, 27)
*She puts her own life on the line to save others. (vs. 22, 24)
*She is humble. (vs. 24, 41)
*She is quick to ask forgiveness. (vs. 28)
*She speaks eloquently and tactfully, with a knowledge of God, as she gives one of the longest speeches by a woman recorded in the Bible. (vs. 24-31)
*She looks out for others … she cares for both Nabal’s reputation (vs. 25) and David’s (vs. 31) more than her own.
*She knows when to wait patiently for the right timing .(vs. 36-38)
*She won the appreciation, admiration and love of the future king, David.

Abigail has always been one of my favorites. She has it all – wisdom, character, courage, faith, eloquence, graciousness. She possesses both inner and outer beauty. But her life with this man Nabal was no picnic, and that’s why I really admire her.

How many times did Nabal get drunk and say or do demeaning things to her? Yet she did not let her spirit die. How many times did she wish for revenge, though not seek it? How many times did he berate her with insults… yet she was not paralyzed by it. How many times did his foolishness cost her greatly, or those she cared about? Yet she didn’t count the costs to herself when she put her life on the line to spare his and the other men’s. Abigail’s praiseworthy character ran deep and through and through, which tells me so did her reverence of God.

After Nabal’s death, she married David and they had a son. David will have seven other wives in his lifetime, but only Abigail earns his complete respect and is a positive influence on him.

Abigail challenges me to be humble, wise and courageous. Her example lets me know that I can’t allow my situation to dictate my character. In fact, her life shows me that being humble and wise makes room for God to be glorified and to improve my situation.

Finally, Abigail's (and Nabal's) life shows me the truth found in these proverbs:

Haughtiness goes before destruction; humility precedes honor. (Proverbs 18:22)

She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. (Proverbs 31:26)

Fear of the Lord teaches wisdom; humility precedes honor. (Proverbs 15:33)

Tell us what you gleaned from reading about Abigail.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Dear TonyaT

* Everyone: don't miss the reading on Abigail posted below. *

One of the commenters this week - TonyaT - said she had found this blog-study because my husband was her husband's professor. Well then, Tonya, that means you live near me and we could meet for coffee sometime! If you'd like to, email me at

To everyone else, please know that if I could meet you for coffee, I absolutely would! As I see all the places that you are from, I start dreaming of a massive summer road trip across America, Canada, England, Africa, Asia, Australia, etc. to meet all my Bible study friends. If only I owned an RV, and a jet ... and gas wasn't over $3 a gallon. But you might want to get a bag of Starbucks coffee and stash it in your freezer, just in case I knock on your door one of these days ... :)

Keep reading the Word with me girls, as I know its feeding our spirit and will pay dividends in our future!

Reading Abigail

So many people shy away from reading the Old Testament because it can be more difficult to track with or understand through our modern eyes. Yet it can give us important insights into God’s character, and man’s tendencies. I think Hadassah’s comments hit the nail on the head yesterday … we tend to look at the OT through the lens of God’s grace and kindness and we’re surprised to see His unwavering judgment and even His wrath.

I’m reminded of the verse in Proverbs 1:7 that says, “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom.” Until we truly understand what we all deserve from a holy God is condemnation, and that unless we are covered by Christ’s blood that is exactly what we will wind up receiving, God’s ways will not make sense to us. It is not God’s desire that anyone perish, but that all come to eternal life through Christ (2 Peter 3:9 and 1 Tim 2:3-4). However, God also knows that not everyone will willingly bend his or her knee to Him in this lifetime. They will receive the fair payment for their sin, which is death (Romans 6:23). Those willing to bow to Christ as their Redeemer, however, will receive the unearned gift of eternal life with God. I pray we will never lose our view of God’s amazing grace and love, but I pray we don’t allow it to blind us to His holy righteousness either. It is wise and good to have some fear of what God is entitled to and capable of doing.

Now, on to the next reading. We’re going to read about Abigail and her story is linked here in 1 Samuel 25:1-24. Pray for God to speak to your heart as you read.

Since we are behind schedule this week, go ahead and post your comments about Abigail. Then we’ll do our next reading on Sunday. Just don't read anyone else's comments before you've done your reading. Have a great weekend, friends!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Discussing Deborah (and Jael)

This passage was a little harder to follow along with than the others have been so far because it contains lots of foreign names, places and tribes. I’m really proud of you for pressing through it anyway, and in some cases even re-reading it until you were clear on the story. Sometimes the exercsie of trying to write the story out in your own words will help you get all the pieces.

Deborah’s story picks up roughly 200 years after Rahab and her family were spared when the Israelites took the city of Jericho. If you are like me, you’ve been a little disturbed when reading in the Old Testament about the times God’s people took a city by force and killed all the people in it. Somehow it doesn’t seem right to us that the Israelis would kill a bunch of people – even the townspeople and not just the city leaders. Has that bothered you before?

When I continue reading through the Old Testament, I begin to notice why all that killing was necessary. It was to eradicate oppressive pagan believers and their beliefs from the land. God did not want His people to become oppressed or led astray. Yet, if He had to choose between the two, He would rather allow them to be oppressed – which would drive them to Him for deliverance – than to be led astray into worshipping false gods.

The Israelites had taken Canaan by storm in Rahab’s lifetime, but not all of the Canaanites had been killed. Fast forward a few generations and the Canaanites were once again ruling the land – and oppressing the Israelites. In Deborah’s era, the Canaanite king was Jabin and his chief warrior was Sisera. Sisera commanded a large Canaanite army that had 900 iron chariots – a sure sign of force. Meanwhile, the tribes of Israel were spread out around the land and not as well armed.

Interestingly, the leader for the nation of Israel at this time was a married woman – Deborah. The text says she was a prophetess (someone who God used to speak to and guide his people). With her wisdom, faith and leadership skills, she had risen to the position of supreme judge of the nation. While women leaders were not unheard of, nor were they forbidden in Israeli society (example, Moses’ sister Miriam), this is the first and only time we see a woman solely at the helm of the whole nation of Israel. I believe Israel as a nation was in a deep leadership vacuum of faith, courage and morals. Deborah boldly stepped up to the plate and God kept His hand upon her.

God planned to deliver His people from the Canaanites’ rule, and Deborah knew it. She called upon General Barak, a Hebrew from the North, and told him that God was commanding him to lead an Israeli army to the area of Mount Tabor, where God himself would lure Sisera’s army and deliver them into Israel’s hands (Judges 4:6-7). Did you catch that? God was commanding him to do this. And God was telling him that He would do the work necessary to ensure victory. Does Barak jump up and down and praise God? No. Barak is still scared, and still doesn’t trust. He says he will only do it if Deborah comes with him. Notice Barak is placing stipulations on his willingness to obey God.

Barak knows that God’s hand is on Deborah and that she hears His voice, so he wants her along as a security blanket. Barak has the command and promise of the LORD and yet he won’t feel safe unless Deborah is with him. Do you have crutches you lean on instead of God?

Deborah replies that she will go with him, but because of his lack of courage and faith, the LORD will actually deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman rather than into Barak’s hands (which would have made him a total hero in the land).

As the story unfolds, Barak gathers a coalition of the willing (not all of the tribes of Israel agreed to join the fight according to the song in chapter 5 which again shows the decline of the nation and their men’s faith) and they head atop Mount Tabor. Sure enough, Sisera and his chariot-riding army head there too. It begins to rain and the heavy iron chariots become stuck in the mud in the valley below the mountain, eliminating that advantage for the Canaanites. The Israelis advance downward and overtake them in sword combat. Sisera, however, manages to escape on foot.

Sisera runs until he comes to the tent of a nomadic couple. The nomadic Kenites had a peaceful agreement with the Canaanites. Nomads weren’t really a military threat to anyone – they just stayed out of the way and did their thing. However, the nomads likely knew that the Israeli army and the Canaanite army were clashing nearby. Sisera stumbles – tired, dirty, bloody and exhausted – to Jael’s tent and she welcomes him in. What a shock this must have been … the ruler of the king’s army is alone, on the run, and looking to hide out in your tent! Jael would've figured the Canaanite army has likely been defeated if Sisera is on the run and hiding.

Jael shows Sisera hospitality, further putting him at ease. And then he instructs her to stand by the door and lie to anyone who might come by looking for him as he lays down to sleep and regain his strength. The Bible is silent on her thoughts at this point – oh how I long for details of what motivated her actions. What she trembling with fear? Was she angry at the Cannanite rulers? Had she heard from the one, true God to do this? Once Sisera was asleep, Jael picks up a tent peg and hammer and – just as she had done so many times before as a nomad – she drives that tent peg with all her might … only this time into a man’s head rather than the ground.

When Barak, who was on Sisera’s trail, arrives on the scene, Jael ushers him inside to see the dead body. Surely at this point Barak realized that God’s word can be trusted. A simple woman, all alone, had killed the mighty warrior Sisera – just as Deborah prophesied.

In commemoration, Deborah and Barak sing a victory song in chapter five. This victory song was composed to give God the glory for the victory and to help the Israelis remember this portion of their history - both leading up to and through this battle. It's not clear who wrote the song, but within it Deborah is called a mother of Israel – kind of like our term “a founding father” – and Jael is praised for her actions and highest blessings are wished upon her. Not bad for a couple of ancient married gals, don’t you think?!

It is sad to see the men in the nation at this period showing little faith in their God or His power. But its great to see Deborah maintaining the faith and being used by God to bring the nation back to Him.

Some thoughts to ponder ...
Which characteristic of Deborah's would you most like to posses - and what would you do if you had that characteristic?

What do you think God wants you to take away from the stories of Deborah, Barak, Sisera and Jael?

Post and share your reactions with us.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Reading Deborah

Hi Everyone. My today was full of unexpected events - like an unexpected trip I suddenly had to take this morning ... then unexpectedly taking a wrong turn while en route... and unexpectedly finding myself lost! Isn't life like that sometimes? Thankfully I found my way home in time for class at the university, but not in time to post the next reading before now.

The next lady we are reading about is Deborah and it won't take you long. You can find her in Judges chapters 4 and 5 which are linked here.

Post your "I did it" and be ready to talk about her
on Wednesday afternoon.

Thanks for praying

If you're looking for the discussion about Rahab, it is below this so just scroll down to find it.

Some of you asked how this weekend went and I just had to thank you for praying. I could so feel your prayers over me and everything about the event. This was the 4th annual Women's Forum and they've already outgrown their meeting space. There were a couple hundred women there from something like 15 area churches in two states. They even had extra folding chairs set up in the aisles to fit everyone in. And these were the sweetest women you'd ever want to meet! Seriously, they were just terrific. I love Southern women anyway but really enjoyed each one that came over to talk with me or to hug my neck afterward.

All went smoothly with my travel - thank you again for praying. I usually forget to pack something, and this time was no different. Only this time I forgot to pack an entire outfit! Not my speaking outfit, thankfully, but something to change into after the event for my travel home. I couldn't wear the day before's outfit because of a 25 degree drop in the high temperature between the two days. I'd freeze in the day before's Capri's and short sleeved shirt. Turns out my hotel was right next to a small shopping mall. So I went shopping in Belk's and even met up with some of the Women's Forum ladies there. They spotted me and said, "Isn't that our speaker? Hey, she likes to shop too!" We all went gaga over the cute red shoes there. One of us should've bought some.

If you've read my bio page on this blog, you know that I do like to shop. You also know I like Starbucks. And guess what else was right beside my hotel? A Starbucks! I had the best frappachino of my life there. You might think I'm exaggerating, but I'm not. It was perfection and I was bummed I'd only ordered a small.

Beside my forgetting travel clothes, the only other glitch was getting the audio visuals fully working. My PowerPoint was good to go, but the two video clips I had in it weren't. We tried several different work arounds before we got it. But then we had no sound for them. All of this was in the 30 minutes before the event officially began. The ladies were filling in and we were at the sound board trying to get everything set up right. I was fine with just not using the clips but their staff (shout out of thanks to Mistie here) was determined to make it work and they eventually did.

So I finally went and took my seat up front and was gathering my Bible and notes for the start of the program when a women came up and introduced herself and said, "I was asked to let you know that the light bulb on the projector keeps going out so the visuals may not work." As she left to check for a back-up bulb, I prayed that it would work and hold out through all of the day's sessions - and it did perfectly.

God is good and prayers usher the way for His goodness to reign. I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend and I know that your prayers helped make that such a great experience for me and for the participants who came. Even my eye is feeling better and healing. So, will you pretty please go right now to my "Where I'll be" page and pray over my April, June and September events listed there?!

And welcome to any of the ladies now joining us here from the Women's Forum. Tomorrow I'll post the next reading in our Women of the Bible project.