Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Reading the Sinful Woman

Hi Everyone. Been praying for your requests, and hoping to hear some updates. If you want to talk more about Mary, hop over to the Mary’s Conception post and start some discussion – I’ll be glad to jump in on the talk. Meanwhile, I want to do something a little different since we’re starting to talk more about the nuts and bolts of Bible study. So, I’m taking us now to another woman with a shorter story to work with than Mary’s.

This week we're reading about a woman who isn't named but, bless her heart, is simply described as a “sinful woman.” Now I’m certain we could all qualify for that title, but I’m not sure any of us would want it.

Her story is located in Luke 7:36-50 and, as always, it's linked here. Pray, and then read it in its entirety.

After you’ve read it, grab pencil and paper and go back through it answering these questions:

Where does the action of this passage take place?

Who are the various characters in this passage?

What is the main action(s) taking place in the passage?

What is the main theme, idea, or point of the passage?

Why do I need to know this?

What does this passage teach me about God?

Can I see myself in any of these characters?
Do I know, or could I guess, what motivated their actions?

What, if any, unanswered questions do I have after reading this passage?

What would my daily life look like if I implemented the “lesson” or teaching of this passage?

Record your answers, and consider posting them – but don’t read anyone else’s answers before answering! OK, girls, dig in!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Memorizing Scriptures

We interrupt this Bible study to discuss … well, Bible studying!

Several of you have been asking questions about how to study the Bible. So I want to take the time to address a few of these questions publicly in the next couple of posts.

Claire in Kenya recently wrote: “I’m having trouble where memorising verses is concerned. My pastor advised a bible with a concordance. A friend suggested a commentary. Kindly advice which of these I should start with and version u can use.”

Hers is really several questions in one but we’ll start with her first issue – memorizing verses. You do not need a concordance, or commentary, or special Bible memory cards or anything else of the sort to memorize verses. You simply need to exert some effort. Memorizing takes concentration and time, and nothing more.

Now if you want to use a concordance to look up a bunch of verses on a single subject so you can memorize lots of verses on that topic, then great. If you want to buy pre-made cards with Bible verses on them to sit on your counter in a cute little holder, that’s fine too. Go for it. But just don’t make the mistake of thinking that if you just possess this item, memorizing verses will be so much easier. It won’t. It always takes the effort of concentration and repetition over time – and no product can supply your concentration and time.

When I come across a verse I want to memorize, I look it up in my Bible or I write it down on something. Then I read it over and over out loud. I do this a few times each day for several days until I can recite all of it without looking at the verse. That’s it. That’s all you have to do.

The memorization will take place faster and easier if you practice reading/saying that verse frequently. For example, if you only read it once each morning you will eventually learn it, but it will take longer than if you read it several times in a row each morning. And if you also read it a couple of times again later in the day, it will go even faster. A little tip is research shows we memorize best if we review the material right before we go to sleep. So try reciting it before you get in bed at night. Maybe review it as you brush your teeth.

When I’m reading out loud to memorize a verse, I like to emphasize each subsequent word in the verse with each reading. Or sometimes instead of individual words, I’ll group some together as phrases - but its best to keep the phrases short if you do this. Let me give you an example using Psalm 139:14 from the New Living Translation. Read this out loud, slowly verbally emphasizing each bolded phrase as you do.

Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – and how well I know it.

Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – and how well I know it.

Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – and how well I know it.

Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – and how well I know it.

Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – and how well I know it.

Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – and how well I know it.

Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – and how well I know it.

Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – and how well I know it.

Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – and how well I know it.

After going through it all several times, I simply end by praying the truth of that verse. Emphasizing different words each time you say it out loud will help to draw some of the meaning out of the verse while impressing it into your memory. Now you try it! Pick a verse from our reading of Mary (or elsewhere in this study) that was meaningful to you and give this a try.

Post if you want and tell us which verse you want to memorize, and you can come back later and announce your achievement!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Mary's Conception

For generations the Jews had been talking about and waiting for the promised Messiah who would be a descendant of King David. What an honor it would be, I’m sure many a woman thought, to be the family chosen to produce the Messiah! I wonder if that thought had ever entered the mind of the young, engaged-but-not-married, Mary or her fiance Joseph.

One day an angel, Gabriel, appeared to Mary and said: “Don’t be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she’s now in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.” Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.

What the angel said would happen, happened. Then Mary journeyed to visit her cousin Elizabeth. When she arrives, Elizabeth proclaims to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed … You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.” Mary responds to Elizabeth (sounding a lot like one of the Old Testament writers or prophets):

“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed. For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me. He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him. His mighty arm has done tremendous things! He has scattered the proud and haughty ones. He has brought down princes from their thrones and exalted the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands. He has helped his servant Israel and remembered to be merciful. For he made this promise to our ancestors, to Abraham and his children forever.”

It is clear from their words to each other that these two women are filled with the Holy Spirit! Dear friends, do our words make it clear to others that we are filled with the Holy Spirit?

Mary stays with Elizabeth until John’s birth and then makes the several day journey back home. She is now 3 months pregnant and her belly is probably starting to “show.”

Mary and Joseph are engaged. In their day that was a commitment almost as binding as marriage itself. Breaking off an engagement, except in certain circumstances, was punishable by stoning. So was adultery. To break off an engagement (such as if your fiancé slept with someone else during the engagement) required a bill of divorcement.

The couple would be bound in engagement typically for a period of a year before the wedding. During this period they could even be referred to as a husband and wife couple, but they were not to live together or sleep together during this time.

So you can imagine what people would think when the engaged Mary turns up pregnant. She could be publicly disgraced, or worse. Joseph was an upstanding man, this could seriously ding his reputation as well.

Have you ever willingly put your reputation on the line to follow God? Can you think of a time in your life that you have risked or sacrificed what another person would think of you in order to show God what you think of Him?

Joseph is considering quietly giving Mary a bill of divorcement. But during the night Joseph has a dream and an angel tells him, “Joseph, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

I wonder if Joseph woke up from that dream in a cold sweat? I wonder what questions ran through his mind as he lay there in bed in the early morning light ... Was Mary pregnant with the Messiah?! How can I possibly raise God’s son? Its going to be my job to raise the man who will forgive all the nation’s sins? What if I “mess up” as His parent? Will Mary and I be able to have other children in the future? If so, how will they feel having Jesus, Son of God, as a sibling? We don’t know what Joseph thought but we know what he did - Joseph obeyed the Lord’s angel.

Thus far we have read about several women for whom God opened their womb – such as Sarah and Elizabeth. They each had been sleeping with their husbands for years, not getting pregnant. When told by God or an angel that they would have a child, some of them doubted. We just read about Zechariah’s doubt – and he was a priest! These women had tried and failed many times, and concluded it was impossible.

Mary had never slept with anyone and, according to God’s law, she wasn’t suppose to until she married Joseph. So when she questions the angel saying “how can this happen,” she is not assuming what Gabriel says is impossible – she’s just unclear on how this is going to play out since she is a virgin and is suppose to remain one for many more months. Hers was not a question of doubt, but of logistics. She would not have known it was even possible to become pregnant without sleeping with a man.

I believe Mary considered it an honor to be used of God, however He saw fit to use her. We learn from our reading that she was a "ponderer" so its no wonder she couldn't help but wonder how when she hears of God's plan. God doesn’t seem to mind her questions or her curiosity as she is grounded with great faith in Him. I pray that each of us would have the wisdom, fortitude, grace and faith to respond to God and His plans for our lives as Mary did.

May we each say to God today: “I am Your servant. May it be to me as you have said.”

Friday, May 9, 2008

Mary's background

In the text, not a lot is clearly stated about Mary’s background. Not even an age is offered for her. Tradition would have her getting engaged while in her teens – while Joseph could likely be quite a bit older than that.

Answering the questions about the linage of Mary is not as easy as we might like for it to be. Genealogies, particularly at this time, were typically traced through the father’s line. Rarely would the wives/mothers make the lists. Though we do see some women listed in Christ’s lineage here, including some we read last month like Rahab.

Genealogies are offered in Matthew and in Luke, but they differ. Luke’s goes all the way back to Adam, and Matthew’s only goes back to Abraham but that is not problematic. Both run concurrent from Abraham to King David. Then they start to vary ... a lot.

After David, Matthew traces Jesus’ line through David’s kingly son Solomon, while Luke traces it through Solomon’s brother Nathan, another son of David. Also, Matthew’s list after David is much shorter than Luke’s. Many names are listed by Luke that are not listed in Matthew’s account. In fact, they only have a few names in common from King David on, and it is possible those could be different individuals with the same names.

Notice the name “Levi” mentioned twice in Luke’s account after David, but not at all in Matthew’s. Recall from last week that Elizabeth descended from the priestly line of Aaron, which was a division of the Levi clan? And recall that Mary and Elizabeth were related? That gives us a clue about Mary’s lineage.

In fact, many Bible scholars suggest that the genealogy in Luke is actually the genealogy of Mary, while the genealogy in Matthew shows the lineage of Joseph. If this is the case, then both Mary and Joseph are descendants of King David, enabling Jesus to be eligible as Messiah from either side and fulfill that prophecy (Psalm 89:3-4, 2 Samuel 7:14-16).

Joseph’s lineage would give Jesus the legal right, while Mary’s would preserve his right biologically since Joseph did not physically father this child. All the while Jesus would actually be fathered by God’s Holy Spirit, giving Jesus the spiritual right to be Messiah. (Belivers are also re-born by God's Holy Spirit!) So Jesus was fully the Son of Man, and the Son of God. Moreover, Mary’s virgin womb was the vessel God used to accomplish this miracle.

Isn't it terrific to see through this study of women of the Bible so far, just how valued women are in God’s eyes and God’s plans?

Let me be clear that just based on reading the text in the Bible, I cannot say for absolute certain that Luke’s genealogy is actually describing Mary but I think there is a good chance this is the case.

Tomorrow I will post more and we’ll continue the discussion of Mary.
I’m praying for everyone!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Reading Mary

Welcome if you are joining us today from the Proverbs 31 "Encouragement for Today" devotion. This Spring a few thousand women from around the world and I began reading through the women of the Bible together – here from this blog. We’ve just wrapped up the Old Testament women and are now starting into the New Testament. If you’d like to jump in and join us, we’d love to have you!

Here is how it works. I post the character we will be reading, and the location of her verses in the Bible. I hyperlink those verses too in case you want to read it online. When we have completed the reading we post an “I did it.” So if you could use a little accountability in reading your Bible regularly, here it is. Then we take a day or so to think about that woman, mull over her story, and see what God whispers to our hearts.

I create a second post about her at that point with my thoughts on her life and then others jump in posting their thoughts. Some good discussions get going and we learn a lot from each other. If you are a researcher type, feel free to post stuff you may have read in a commentary or a book about the character we are reading in addition to your impressions. If you are the quiet type, feel free to lurk along with us, but I do hope you’ll post every now and then, especially if you have a prayer request.

I’ve been so encouraged over the past couple months to hear how doing this study together has been changing the participants’ lives. It has certainly blessed me as well. This is a super supportive group! So subscribe to my blog and/or bookmark this page if you want to jump in and follow along with us.

Next we’re reading Mary, mother of Jesus. She is arguably the most famous woman of the Bible. We will look at Mary’s story in three of the gospels, and it may take us a few days to discuss her fully. Here is our assigned reading:

Mary in the book of Matthew 1:18-25 and chapter 2

Mary in the book of Luke 1:26-56 and 2:1-52

Mary in the book of John 19:25-27

Pray for God to guide your mind and heart as you read and help you understand more of Him and His ways.

Post your “I did it” here once done, and we'll discuss her soon.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Hearing God

Hey gals - Elizabeth's story is below if you've not yet read or posted about her. I want you each to know that I have prayed over the requests that have been posted here, in Jesus' powerful name.

A question was asked that is a common one, and an important one: How do I know that I'm hearing from God? Its not an audible voice that I hear, but more of a impression I get in my heart. Not a fleeting thought that pops in my head once, but an impression that settles upon me.

My good friend Lysa TerKerust provides some great guidance on this subject in her book What Happens When Women Say Yes to God. She has 5 questions she asks herself when trying to discern if something is from God:

  1. Does what I'm hearing line up with scripture?
  2. Is it consistent with God's character?
  3. Is it being confirmed through messages I'm hearing at church or during my Bible study time?
  4. Is it beyond me? As we're seeing in this study, God likes to do things through us that we couldn't do ourselves.
  5. Would it please God?
For me, sometimes a sensation I can feel accompanies it, but not always. As many of you spoke of, there is a certain peace that often comes once I decide to obey. I might still have some nerves or jitters about proceeding - especially if I think it is beyond me - but I receive a certain peace alongside those jitters.

Also, as I hope you are discovering through this study, the more plugged in I am to God - meaning the more I read the Bible and obey it, and the more I pray and think about spiritual things through out my day - the easier it becomes for me to recognize God's voice and to notice Him at work in my circumstances. And naturally, the more I am into the Bible, the better I can answer Lysa's 5 filter questions listed above.

Hope this helps someone. Be back later ~ Rachel

PS_Three of the P31 gals have had their blogs locked up this week by blogger and they can't get on to post at all. I don't know what that is about exactly, but pray it doesn't happen to mine.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Elizabeth's Story

Ha – I loved the comment about me being awhile since I went to Starbucks! I did meet TonyaT for coffee, and if you could meet her in person, I know exactly what you’d say about her: “She is so sweet!” That was my impression after our coffee. Then a couple days later I saw a woman we both happen to know and she said, “I heard you had coffee with Tonya – isn’t she so sweet?!” Yep. I wished I could’ve talked longer with Tonya but my daughter got sick that day and I had to go put on my nursing hat for a few days.

Meanwhile, some good conversations have been going in the comments while I was out getting caffeinated and being a nurse. Someone wondered if I minded that – not at all! I say, “Pour yourself a glass of tea, pull up a chair, and join in the conversation anytime.” I love to see women making friends, sharing their thoughts, bearing their hearts, discussing the Bible, and trading helpful advice. That is precisely why I want to continue going through the women of the Bible together. I smiled when I read Connie’s comment: “This study is helping me to "talk" more and I'm finding it easier to share outside of our study.” That’s terrific. Ready to talk about Elizabeth?

The stage has been silent and the curtains drawn since the book of Malachi ended with these words:

"Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the LORD arrives. His preaching will turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the hearts of children to their parents. Otherwise I will come and strike the land with a curse." (Malachi 4:5-6)

Roughly 400 years later, Luke opens the curtains on the New Testament with Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah standing center stage. Elizabeth is a daughter of a priest, and the wife of a priest. Her whole life has been dedicated to observing the Lord’s commandments, and the gospel writer calls her “upright in the sight of God.” She had found favor in God’s eyes.

She is virtuous woman, from a religious family, married to a pious man and she pleases God. There was one perplexing problem here – she was barren. The ability to have children was seen as a blessing from God. And on the flip side, the inability to have children was seen as a disgrace. Elizabeth and Zechariah’s “baby situation” was probably fodder for endless conversation and speculation among her family, neighbors, and friends.

Her husband was one of several thousand priests. He would serve for two weeks out of the year at the temple performing the daily sacrifices as required by the law. This particular time he was chosen to be the priest to enter into the sanctuary of the temple and offer the incense to God –considered a “once in a lifetime opportunity.”

So at the appointed time the other priests and worshippers waited outside praying while Zechariah enters alone to pour the incense (a special combination of ground spices and salt) onto the fire. Much to his surprise, Zechariah discovers he is not alone in there! An angel appears by the alter of incense and says:

"Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.” (Luke 1:13-17)

The angel is essentially telling Zechariah that his years of prayers for a son are being answered (and telling us this child is the prophet God said 400 years ago would come!). But Zechariah could not see how this could be – he was a little bit old for siring children, meanwhile Elizabeth was well past menopause age. Zechariah tells the angel as much.

The angel responds to the man’s doubt saying, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God.” Only the highest officials in a royal court could stand in the presence of the king - everyone else was required to bow low, so Gabriel was letting Zechariah know this was as good as from God Himself. He tells the man that due to his doubt, he will be unable to speak until the child is born. When Zechariah finally emerged from the Temple, unable to speak, it was clear to all that something momentous had happened.

Imagine you are Elizabeth. Your husband goes away for a week on business and comes home unable to speak – at all. He scribbles on a notepad about meeting this angel. And he wants you to come to bed with him and try to conceive a child. What is your reaction? Elizabeth lies with her husband and conceives!

When she realized she was pregnant, Elizabeth went into seclusion – meaning she stays at home and does not receive any visitors. The Bible doesn’t explain why. Was she nesting? Was she plagued by morning sickness? Was her aged body having a hard time adjusting? Was she waiting until she was “showing” so that no one could doubt her when she said she was expecting?

I don’t know what the reason was with Elizabeth, but I do know that this part of her story reminds me of a period in my own life. Before God brought me into public ministry with P31, he called me into a seclusion of sorts. He had me step out of all other leadership and ministry roles I was in, and simply focus on Him ... until further notice.

Unlike Elizabeth, I didn’t know why. I didn’t know what was coming. I just knew I needed to obey what I believed He was telling me to do and leave the rest to Him. But that decision was not without some agony. I would have to leave a ministry I was head of at the time without a leader – a ministry I dearly loved. I would have to say “no” when other opportunities to get involved with things came my way.

The people-pleaser in me didn’t like letting people down or saying “no” but thankfully, the God-pleaser in me won out. I stepped down from my ministry “post” in January and experienced an immediate sense of personal revival. Five months later, I met Lysa TerKeurst of P31.

After Elizabeth’ seclusion, her young cousin Mary comes to visit her. She too was pregnant – with the Christ child. When the two women come face-to-face to greet each other, John leaps within Elizabeth’s womb. He effectively announces the arrival of Christ, from the womb! The Holy Spirit rests on both women and their babies, and Elizabeth understands the deal. In fact, she is the first to declare Jesus is Lord! The two women spend the remaining months of Elizabeth’s pregnancy together. That’s a good thing because she probably needed someone to talk to who could actually talk back!

Then the baby boy was born and oh what a joyous occasion that must have been! But a week goes by and Zechariah doesn't get his voice back. He claims the angel struck him mute and that the angel said he would get his voice back once the child was born. I wonder if there was also some anxiety following the birth over Zechariah's continuing state of muteness.

On day eight it is custom to have the baby circumcised and named. Elizabeth is getting pressure to follow tradition and give the child a family name. Elizabeth knows this is not what Gabriel said the baby’s name would be. She knows her child is to be set apart, including by name. Thankfully, she chooses to be a God-pleaser rather than a family-pleaser and insists on naming him “John.” The family then turns to Zechariah, expecting him to give the child a family name. Since he could not speak, he asks for a writing tablet - a small wooden plaque with a wax surface. With a stylus, he scratches a single sentence, “His name is John.”

Immediately, to the amazement of the onlookers, Zechariah regains the use of his speech. A skeptic no more, his first words are in praise of God. I bet the sound of his voice silenced that room in amazement. However, probably not for long! Once again, Zechariah and Elizabeth’s “baby situation” would be the fodder of people's conversation and speculation as they wondered what kind of great man John was destined to become.

We don’t hear about Elizabeth after this. Given her age, it’s likely she didn’t live to see her son reach manhood. Some Bible scholars suspect a sect of monks may have taken John in after his parents’ death. We don’t know. We do see John as a person who is wholly set apart … even strangely so with his seemingly unkempt appearance and fondness for eating insects. He showed little regard for anything but fulfilling his purpose spoken by Gabriel. I like to think that in her years with him, Elizabeth taught John what it says about him in the last chapter of Malachi. I also like to think she instructed him to give this job of preparing the way for the Lord first place in his life. She was a great example for John ... and for you and me.

Tell us what you learned in reading about Elizabeth!