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I have been co-teaching The Gospel Project on Sunday mornings during the Sunday school hour, and the subject for the past few months has been the exiles and return of the exiles. The whole time I had been preparing to help teach, I wanted to include the genealogy of Jesus recorded in Matthew 1. I never really got a chance to mention that particular genealogy, and as it turns out, it was for a good reason! We got a chance to camp out on the genealogy for a whole Sunday school class time.

It is so crazy how much this genealogy in Matthew one means to me. I am so moved by the simple inclusion of the deportation of the Israelites as they were taken captive by the Babylonians. When the exiles returned home, they were one people again. The exile is the only event recorded in the genealogy! Jeremiah predicted that the exile to Babylon would exceed/ out do/ be more significant than the deliverance of Egypt (Jeremiah 16:14; 23:7). It is a new spiritual marker.

I will never forget the moment I saw with my spiritual eyes this inclusion in Matthew. I was in the throes of writing Back From Captivity and somehow I came across it. It was one of those moments that time stopped for me. It was a moment between God and me where Scripture jumped off the page and catapulted supernaturally into the heavenlies to pierce my heart with a message of good news. I remember I stopped reading when I came to the phrase “After the exile to Babylon” (Matt. 1: 12) and looked around me as if Someone had written it just for me. It felt as if Someone was pointing at those Scriptures, highlighting them, then penetrating them in my heart and mind to reveal in my spirit that God, my Heavenly Father, knows where I have been and what I have been through. That it is all a part of my identity, but that none of it is in vain. It has served a purpose. The event – the exile – or whatever one may be experiencing – even the terribleness of it – has a divine place with divine plans and divine purposes. I suppose it validated for me that what Satan meant for harm, God meant for good (Genesis 50:20).

If you feel as if your future is wasted or lost or too messed up because of your track-record; that now your life is a mistake, a complete disaster because of what you have done, take in the words of the famous hymn Amazing Grace which so profoundly testifies, “I was lost but now I am found!” Child of God, you have a new beginning! Do you see that in the genealogy of Jesus Christ in Matthew 1? You have a new beginning!! You are found not to live in shame and embarrassment or humiliation, but to live nearer to the Father’s heart, to be close to Him, to look even more like Him, to be covered by His blood shed for you, to be redeemed, bought back, to be found in Him. It isn’t your story, but His story over your life. It isn’t about your mistakes. It is about you being found by God.

This is the message of the cross. This is the message from Genesis to Revelation. This is the message of salvation. This is the message of forgiveness. Jesus did not die only for the sins you committed before your time of salvation – the time before you accepted Jesus to be Lord over your life – He continues to offer His forgiveness for our sins committed overtly and covertly after salvation. This is an ongoing relationship. The Scripture, “Forgive us our sins” as recorded in the Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11:4 is not to be a one-time prayer but a daily prayer. The books I, II, & III John were written for the early Christians, those belonging to the family of God. Jesus admonished the believers when He wrote, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:8-9).

If you are not familiar with the account of the Babylonian exiles of when God allowed King Nebuchadnezzar to take captive Israelites, who were living in the Promised Land, because of their continual rebellion against God and their idolatry, but after 70 years of captivity in Babylon, God allowed King Cyrus to declare a decree issuing those captives to return home to Jerusalem to live again as one nation and people serving God together. Know that having to leave the Promised Land and being taken captive was the worst of the worst. For the Israelites it was corporately and individually the lowest time of their lives. Their identities were stripped. All that they knew of who they were as a people of God was ripped away – exposed for anyone and everyone to see their shame. It was a dark time of being isolated due to their own sins of ignoring of the prophets and believing lies. Their lives collapsed right before them as they hit rock bottom. God through Moses warned of what would happen to the Israelites if they were disobedient. This is the description of being sin-sick, of being in captivity:

“Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the LORD will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. You will live in constant dread both night and day, never sure of your life. In the morning you will say, “If only it were morning!” – because of the terror that will fill your hearts and the sights that your eyes will see.” Deuteronomy 28: 65-67

Michael Card in The Bible Speaks Today uses the word “nadir” to represent this point of Israel’s history. It was the all-time low.

Here in Matthew 1, the very first book of the New Testament, we find this genealogy, this list of men and women in the lineage of the only perfect person to ever walk this Earth – to find individuals who were far from perfect, but who also did not continue to live in sin, but at their low times, looked up to their Redeemer, Deliverer, Savior. Within this genealogy of the generations leading up to the Messiah, Jesus Christ, beginning with Abraham, tucked away among many names is the nadir of Israel’s history. It was the Lord’s will not to omit it, skip over it, ignore it, act as if it didn’t happen, choose that it didn’t happen, or replace it with a grand event. Including this event in the genealogy of Jesus Christ means something to you and me. This is quite significant. I believe we can apply this significance personally and/or corporately. Whatever it may be that is a part of your track-record that you consider to be your lowest point in life, the thing that has humbled you, and yet has also caused many grievances to the point of you coming to the end of yourself – may be or has been the very thing God uses as a testimony in your life of His goodness, grace, love, and faithfulness. Your past, your journey, even with the dark times marked with guilt, can be redeemed and used to manifest the glory of our God and Savior. Whatever you or your family has gone through or is going through – when you feel so alone and unusable – God is revealing to you that in Him there is hope. What the Israelites came through and overcame, so you too can live and survive through this time to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living (Psalm 27:13). Whatever your blot may be – divorce, bankruptcy, loss of job, prodigal child, infidelity, alcoholism, imprisonment – God is not finished with you; He has beautiful plans for you. Your calling is not null and void. God is great and awesome and will uphold you. Rest in Him and find your way in Him.

“You, O LORD, keep my lamp burning, my God turns my darkness into light. With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall.” Psalm 18: 28-29

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Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.
Proverbs 13:12(NIV)

When you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. When the day seems as dark as the night. When you haven’t heard the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit in far too many days. When hope seems lost. When the answers don’t come. When the waters around you seem to engulf you.

“But God remembered Noah…” (Genesis 8:1).

Is the reader to infer that Noah had been forgotten by God? Maybe Noah and his family felt forgotten. Do you feel forgotten? Does your “new normal” seem unbearable? Are you sick and tired of suffering? Is there no relief? Is the same ‘ole same ‘ole depressing? Do you wander how much longer you are capable of continuing?

The real live story of Noah and his family, as told in Genesis 6-9, encourages me. Can you even imagine how ready Noah and his family were to get out of the ark? Talk about cabin fever! This ark by theologians has been described as being tomb-like, as well as like a prison. It was a dark place with no sunlight to warm their souls. We recall that it rained for 40 days and 40 nights, but did you realize they were in the ark for more than a year? After it poured from the sky for more than a month, they were not able to leave the ark until the waters receded and the ground dried up. Noah had been warned by God that it would rain for 40 days and 40 nights. But, did he expect to be in the ark for more than a year? Did he know to forewarn his family of the length of their stay in the boat? Did they trust Noah like God trusted Noah?

I wonder if Noah’s wife whispered ridicule in her husband’s ear, or if she yelled in front of the whole family her doubts about Noah’s faith? Did she criticize her husband and say God has left them to die? That God doesn’t really care. Did the wives of Noah’s sons question their father-in-law mocking the ark as being one of the largest coffins ever made? They all must have been so ready to get back to a normal life – to wash and bathe in private, to eat from the ground, to cook without holding on to everything. Ready to get a good nights rest on a bed that didn’t sway. Ready to feel the sunlight on their faces. How restless they all must have felt as they cautiously established a new normal on the ark. As days went on and on and so much rain – so much tossing and turning – and so many questions unanswered. When will they be released? Has God forgotten? How and where will they live after the flood? Will there be food? Would the sun shine again?

We, too, may feel forgotten by God. Noah knew about the timeframe of the rain; we don’t normally get the exact about of days a trial or tribulation may last. Our tribulation may have been forewarned by a doctor’s prognosis. It may also though have come completely out of the blue catching us in the most unexpected moment of our lives. We count the days. It’s been 3 days, then a week, then a month, then before we know it, its been hammering us for almost a year. Why doesn’t He do something for me? Where is He? Why can’t He just answer this one prayer of mine? How much longer do I have to wait? Does He even hear me? Maybe I should just take matters into my own hands.

“Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God” (Gen. 6:9). Amid all the corruption on the earth, Noah had intimacy with God. Even though everywhere he turned wickedness prevailed, Noah walked with God. He sought the Lord, he heard from the Lord, he had a relationship with his Creator. Noah fellowshipped with His heavenly Father. He didn’t have a church family, accountability group, Christian radio, or Bible studies. He didn’t have access to Christian conferences, podcasts, retreats, devotionals, magazines, or books. And yet, “Noah did everything just as God commanded him” (Gen. 6:22). Don’t you love and admire that about Noah? God distinctly gave Noah instructions and he followed them unwaveringly. It took Noah 100 years to build the ark. I have no words to express a man like that’s patience, perseverance, faith, hope, and stability. Astounds me!

I think Noah lived like he wasn’t forgotten!

Oh, I am sure he wanted to escape the ark just as anyone would! He must have been craving for fresh air and open skies. He may have even felt sorry for the animals as they had no place to run free. But, he knew God had told him to build the ark. Then, God did just as He had said He would; God brought the rain and preserved he and his family from death. God had been faithful and would continue to be faithful. This is what it means to have hope.

Paul encourages Christians in their tribulations: “And we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom he has given us” (Romans 5:2b-5, NIV). The word “perseverance” is translated as “patience” in the KJV. The word in the Greek means to be “cheerful or hopeful.” It also means to endure and to wait. So, this word perseverance/patience basically means to not give up, to have hope, to keep on keeping on. In our suffering we stay hopeful because it builds our character, and then what is most interesting, is that the end result is where we find hope fulfilled. We begin in our sufferings with the mindset of having hope, knowing at one point, our hope will be experienced; what we expected will happen. We have confidence that God will come through for us!

I can’t help but think of a different mindset. During trials, tribulations, sufferings, we want to do the opposite. We want to give up. We begin to believe our situation is hopeless. We begin to listen to the critics who mock our faith. We doubt God. Some may even completely walk away from God and say He didn’t come through. That they gave this Christianity, this “God” a chance, but was abandoned by the One who said He would never leave us. Now being mad at God is all the relationship has come to. We live with a sick heart.

Did you know that one reason we as Christians have the Bible stories written down for us was to help us to keep the faith? “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

Noah is one of so many in the Bible who teaches us to hope. I also recall Joseph who was sold into slavery, Jonah and the whale, Abraham and Sarah, and the list could go on and on. They teach us that just because we don’t feel like God is working or it seems we can’t see Him, doesn’t mean He isn’t doing anything. “He who watches over you will not slumber; indeed he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD watches over you and the LORD is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, or the moon by night” (Psalm 121:4-5).

“But God remembered Noah and al the wild animals and all the livestock that were with him in the ark…(Gen. 8:1). No, we are not to infer that God forgot Noah. The Hebrew word for “remembered” means “to mark (so as to be recognized), to mention.” It simply means at this point God is choosing to act on behalf of Noah and his family and the animals. I love the part of the definition “to mark.” Makes me think of marking time, kind of like we do with calendars. We mark our calendars for upcoming events, or we mark our calendars for something that happened that may not have been planned so that we will always remember the exact day.

One of my new favorite things about this account of Noah is that Noah patiently waited for God to tell him they could leave the ark. “Then God said to Noah, ‘Come out of the ark…'” (Gen. 8:15). Noah had sent a raven out of the window, then a dove 3 separate times in 3 weeks time. Noah was anxious to get off the ark! He knew it couldn’t be forced. Same for us. No use trying to force anything. Let’s use our time to enjoy God, to enjoy the life He has given and has planned. Trust that He sees us. He remembers you. Don’t be in a hurry to move toward the next thing. Be patient. God is working and has a plan. Even when frustration sets in and the thought of continuing is overwhelming, rest in God’s love and care and providence for you. Call upon Him to give you the strength and courage needed. Continue to wait with expectation.

“So Noah came out…then Noah built an altar to the LORD…” (Gen. 8: 18, 20).

Hope fulfilled! The rains stopped. The wind died down. The ark rested. The waters receded. The dove brought back an olive branch. The dove found a resting place. The Lord called he and his family out. They are saved. They are alive. They are free.

It wasn’t just a kissing the ground kind of moment and moving on with the rest of his life. This was the type of moment where it seems the heavens opened up, the type when you know God has outdone Himself. The kind of moment that out of sheer compulsion you are brought to your knees in awe of your Savior and Deliverer. Not to kiss the ground but to look up and give glory to the One who is faithful! You clap your hands when there is no music. You shout “hallelujah” at the top of your voice not caring who hears. You raise your arms in total surrender acknowledging you are not God and never will be. The moment you know in your heart you will never be the same.

“Then God blessed Noah…” (Gen. 9:1).

A blessing is coming. Believe it! Don’t forfeit what God has in store for you because of a lack of trust in God (Jonah 2:8).

I leave you with a prayer from Paul to the church in Rome.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

HOPE

In my last post I described things God has been teaching me concerning the verse “Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). I mentioned ways in which man today looks at the outward appearance of man and then basically makes a character judgment call. I then recalled a quote from John Ortberg regarding the church producing so many stone throwers. It’s fascinating to me to realize how quick we are to throw a stone based on outward appearances. In other words, believers seem to bestow disgrace to others who aren’t who we think they should be or do or not do what we think is acceptable.

What about grace?

As a church do we not sing about it, praise God for it, study it, believe in it, receive it for ourselves, name our children after it, hang pictures on our walls with the word on it, and expect others to give it to us?

Why is our first response like the Pharisees in John 8 toward a woman caught in sin to want to throw stones? Why is it that the ones who proclaimed the Scriptures were the ones who also proclaimed condemnation? Or, why are the rules more important than the person?

Philip Yancey in What’s So Amazing About Grace writes: “Readers of the Gospels marvel at Jesus’ ability to move with ease among the sinners and outcasts. Having spent time around ‘sinners’ and also around purported ‘saints,’ I have a hunch why Jesus spent so much time with the former group: I think he preferred their company. Because the sinners were honest about themselves and had no pretense, Jesus could deal with them. In contrast, the saints put on airs, judged him, and sought to catch him in a moral trap. In the end it was the saints, not the sinners, who arrested Jesus” (Yancey 274).

The Apostle Paul who regarded himself as the worst of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15) was the same man who testified, lived out, gave out, and humbly received the grace freely given him. “Even though I was a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 1:13-14).

This same grace that was poured out on Paul is ours. Paul wrote to the church at Rome, church of Ephesus, and Timothy:

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ.” Romans 3:23-24

“But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!” Romans 5:15

“For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:17

“…to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” Ephesians 1:6

“And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:6-7

“…who has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time…” 2 Timothy 1:9

The Greek word for grace is charis which means: “the divine influence upon the heart, and it’s reflection in the life” (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance).

As one who has been freely given grace and as one who knows and believes I am saved not of myself, but because of the grace of God, I ask myself and those who also testify as one who has received the abundant grace of God: If God has been so gracious and kind and good to me (us) even when like Paul it is undeserved, why is it so difficult to give it to someone? If, like the definition of the word, grace has divinely influenced our hearts and has changed us for the better when we least deserved it, why is it not more readily reflected in our everyday lives toward those we live with, work with, our acquaintances, or even to those who aggravate us like on the roads we drive on or in the stores we shop at?

What keeps us from giving what has obviously been sufficiently given to us? This priceless treasure we carry within ourselves – how could we not want to give it away? What stops us from giving back to those so hungry for worthiness?

Maybe –

1. Fear – we are scared of what it would look like and it could make us feel uncomfortable

2. Pride – what would others say? How would this make me look?

3. Unbelief – it may cost me more than I have (emotionally)

4. Vulnerability – it may expose my heart which could leave me hurt, rejected and wounded

5. Laziness – I don’t want to do what is required of me

*This is where I am right now in my pursuit of understanding the grace of God and how it can be reflected in my everyday life. The next book I will begin reading (besides the Bible) is The Case for Grace by Lee Strobel.

I leave you today with Philippians 4:23 “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”

Daniel praised “the God of the heaven” and spoke “He reveals deep and hidden things” (Daniel 2:22 NIV). I wanna know “deep and hidden things” too! I may not want to be in the same predicament as Daniel and his friends were – execution – if the deep and hidden things were not revealed, but I do surely desire to understand and have supernatural insight into the things of God and His Word. I am convinced that the best way to have a revelation is to read God’s Word and simply talk to Him about it. There is a passage of Scripture that has captivated me and prompted a desire for a deeper understanding. The passage is found in 2 Timothy 2. This is a letter to Timothy from his mentor, the apostle Paul, who is writing while being imprisoned for the sake of proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. In verse 6 Paul reminds Timothy to “fan into flame the gift of God”. Meaning – DO WHAT GOD HAS EQUIPED YOU TO DO. Then, Paul issues a call not just for Timothy but for the whole province of Asia (2 Timothy 1:15). Before he issues the call, he exposes a possible excuse to not answer the call. “So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner” (2 Timothy 1:8a). Paul is saying that before you decide to say “No”, please don’t let your own insecurities keep you from fulfilling God’s call on your life. The call – “join with me in suffering for the gospel…”(verse 8). At this point, Paul was in unbearable conditions; he was in prison. His environment was not one to be envied. He was hungry, dirty, stinky, cold, hurt, and in need of basic human dignity. How dare he issue such a call! What was he thinking? He wants someone to join him and he even uses the name of Jesus as a lure? Wouldn’t this just scare people away from wanting anything to do with Jesus who put him in such conditions?? Shouldn’t this be the appropriate time for him to keep his mouth shut for fear of giving the name of Jesus a bad rep? Paul’s response: “Yet I am not ashamed because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day” (2 Tim. 1:12).

Oh, we American’s sign-up for things! In fact, just this morning, via email, I signed up to win several prizes for home improvement. I also had an opportunity, again via email, to sign up to win a $1000 gift card if I just answer a few questions. We are the first to sign up for whatever requires the least amount of work. We sign up for giveaways whether we want the products or not. We sign up to be the first to go on vacation on the assumption we are most deserving. We sign up whenever we get something bigger and better in return. We sign up to be a part of a program that offers “get rich quick” even at the expense of family. We don’t want to sign up for something that is obscure. If we can’t post it on social media, then it is a waste. I am totally not pointing fingers by any means! I am the first to admit, I tend to not sign up for things that requires me to sacrifice my time. I have so much on my own “to do” list, that I know I have missed out on serving Christ because of my own selfish reasoning.

What do we do with the call to “join with me in suffering for the gospel”? What specifically does God call me to? What specifically does God call you to?

Paul issued the call to the province of Asia. Do you know how many responded? One. One brave, one devoted, one unselfish, one servant-hearted man. His name was Onesiphorus whose name means “profit-bearer”. Paul described him as “he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains” (2 Tim. 1:16). Paul goes on to say that Onesiphorus “searched hard for me until he found me” (verse 17). Sometimes the very thing that God calls us to does not get thrown into our lap. We may have to do some research, get counsel, make phone calls, visit several people and places, and search our hearts. Onesiphorus was not ashamed of Paul’s chains. He was not overly embarrassed to be near Paul in his filthy confinement.

My question I have for you and myself is: What symbolizes “chains” for you and for me? What are we afraid of? What do we not go near for the sake of being grossed out, uncomfortable, or feeling inadequate? Or maybe it is because of our pride. What if someone saw us with someone in chains? What if we get dirty and stinky too? Or maybe we lie to ourselves and say that we are not called to that type of suffering; someone else is more qualified.

Paul mentioned two men who I am assuming he thought would be there for him in his time of need but were not. The two men were Phygelus and Hermogenes. Phygelus’ name just happens to mean “fugitive”. This tells me that when approached with a similar sign up list, we have 2 choices: 1. Embrace 2. Run away. We are either going to open our arms to the “chains” or we will simply ignore the “chains”.

Paul used the word “refreshed” when referring to what Onesiphorus did for him. The word literally means “comforting, reviving, bracing me like fresh air!” Can you imagine anyone needing real fresh air more than Paul? Who knows how long he had gone without being outside or near an open window! Someone needs us to be like a breath of fresh air to him/her. Someone needs a hug. Someone needs to know he/she is thought of and cared for. Someone needs to be heard. Someone needs to be validated. Someone needs love. Someone needs you. “…by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:8b-10).
We may feel inadequate, embarrassed, unworthy, uncalled, ashamed, afraid, and insecure. No doubt – the chains are intimidating. No more excuses! No more lies! No more fear! Search for what God has called for you to do and know that “God’s word is not chained” (2 Timothy 2:9b)! Hallelujah!

A nameless woman in the New Testament has always pulled on my heart. Ever since I was in middle school, the story of the hemorrhaging woman has captivated me. What is remarkable about her story in the gospels is how it is a small snapshot type of miracle caught in one of the busiest days of Jesus’ earthly ministry. One thing I can know from this nameless, brave, heroic woman is that nothing, absolutely nothing is random-woman-in-the-middle-east . No such thing as a “random act of kindness” for Jesus! Her story is told in Mark 5:25-34.

I sat down with the Lord one afternoon to have a talk about this nameless, hemorrhaging woman. As I did, I wrote down my thoughts as to how I picture this not so random woman coming to Jesus. Here are my thoughts:

I see her in slow motion like it is shown in the movies where everything around this woman is a blur. The camera is entirely focused on the woman. The faces and noises surrounding her are blurred. People are saying something, but we can’t make out  their exact words. Colors of clothing all run together. Total oblivion to anyone and anything except for her mesmerizes our view. She is searching, longing, desperate to find something, someone…to make the bleeding stop.

Her heart is racing a million miles an hour. She knows in her head she is restricted from being in public because of her condition. But, she is compelled – more like forced from an outside being – like a mother who is searching frantically for a lost child. She is helpless yet not without hope. She doesn’t even have time to wrestle with her thoughts. Can’t even bring herself to accept the idea that this too may not work. Just as a searching mother of a lost child believes she will soon wrap her clinging arms around her child, so this nameless woman believes by faith she will be healed. She can’t figure out how, she just has a deep conviction that, He, Jesus, will stop the bleeding.

There’s a bridge she must find that takes her from this side of pain and suffering  she’s known for the past 12 years, across the valley of the shadow of death to the other side of complete wholeness. She’s never been more ready to receive this free gift of love. She’s literally broke from the price she’s paid for man to unsuccessfully heal her. Doesn’t matter anymore what others think or even say about her. She can’t go another day inside the prison of herself. She is convinced the stories she has heard about Jesus are to be the truth – no bother trying to sway her otherwise. He will be there for her. Before she ever lays eyes on Him, she knows Him to be her Healer, her Deliverer, her Rescuer, her Help in trouble. Jehovah Rapha, the Lord who heals.

As she approaches the crowd, she loses her breath and her footing at the same time. She falls to the ground and injures her foot. The pain in her heart is much more  intense than the pain in her ankle. Her faith drives her to keep going, not to give up now. She crawls on her hands and feet disturbing and contaminating those along her path. The bridge is nearing…it looks confining, but nothing will stop her now. Someone is trying to pull her back. Shame is yelling at her that she doesn’t deserve this kind of love. Loneliness whispers in her ear that “He” isn’t safe. Mockery laughs in her face at her pitiful site. Hate is pounding on the door of her heart. Death presides over her pronouncing: “You will bleed to death”. The evil voices encompassing her do not define her anymore. “Enough!” She proclaims aloud. “Enough! My Jesus saves and He will save me”! Her authoritative words come out clearly for the heavenlies to know.

The ache in her heart lessens its grip. The darkness in her soul is disappearing allowing the light to seep through. Her breath returns to her. The blurriness in her eyes is clearer. How much further until she reaches Him? She doesn’t want to wait another second. Her faith is at its strongest point. She’s convinced herself all she has to do is touch the hem of His garment and it will be enough to forever heal her sick, bleeding, embarrassing body. Just one touch will make the bleeding forever stop.

“And a woman was there…” (Mark 5:25)

Not long ago I heard that the Oklahoma Legislature passed a bill allowing the Bible to be taught as Literature and can be offered as an elective in the public school. Currently, Broken Arrow Public Schools does not offer this class. But, as I talk to more people at the Superintendent’s office, this may about to change! I am pursuing this agenda not just so that our students in Broken Arrow will get an opportunity to study the Bible in high school before they go off to college, but also because I want to teach the class. In April of 2011 I took and passed the English Certification Test certifying me to teach Language Arts grades 6th-12th which qualifies me to teach “Bible as Literature”.

For students to be able to study the Bible in the public school would provide a balance to their learning corresponding to all other subjects especially History, Science, and English. Instead of just a mention of the Bible in other classes, it would give students actual learning time from the TRUTH. “Isolated doctrines taken out of their biblical context do not ever make sense to modern people, because they no longer have the background to supply the context on their own.” (Nancy Pearcy, Total Truth, pg 89).

The Bible is known on public school campuses as a real book, but unfortunately really only a handful of students have actually read it for themselves. Students seem intimidated by the Bible because few have been shown how to read the Bible. When students begin to know the history behind the 66 books, the authors, the reasons it was written, and the importance of the Bible – their understanding and appreciation of it will override their intimidation. To just all of a sudden pick up the Bible and begin to read it, can lead to confusion and eventually squelch the desire to want to read it again. Students need to be taught the principles this country was founded upon which will expose the real success of this nation.

We all know that the Bible is the most widely known book ever written.  And even more interestingly, it is the best-selling book of all time as well as the best selling book year after year. Bibles are placed in all hotel rooms (thanks to the Gideon’s). Presidents and other federal officials take their oath of office with their hand on the Bible. Most students have heard about the 10 Commandments, but do they know where to find them in the Bible or even list all 10? What about the Golden Rule. Most don’t even know it is biblical. Why isn’t the Bible at the top of the list for English Teachers to require students to read and learn from… even Shakespeare refers to the Bible 1,300 times.

The article, “The Case for Teaching the Bible” in Time Magazine, David Van Biema writes, “If Literature doesn’t interest you, you also need the Bible to make sense of the ideas and rhetoric that have helped drive U.S. history. “The shining city on the hill”? That’s Puritan leader John Winthrop quoting Matthew to describe his settlement’s covenantal standing with God. In his Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln noted sadly that both sides in the Civil War “read the same Bible” to bolster their opposing claims. When Martin Luther King Jr. talked of “Justice rolling down like waters” in his “I Have a Dream” speech, he was consciously enlisting the Old Testament prophet Amos, who first spoke those works. The Bible provided the argot–and theological underpinnings –of women’s suffrage and prison -reform movements.” Van Biema ends the article by writing, “And, oh yes, there should be one faith test. Faith in our country. Sure, there will be bumps along the way. But in the end, what is required in teaching about the Bible in our public schools is patriotism: a belief that we live in a nation that understands the wisdom of its Constitution clearly enough to allow the most important book in its history to remain vibrantly accessible for everyone.”

Personally, I am enjoying learning more about the benefits of today generation learning the Bible in public schools from an educator perspective, from a U.S. citizen perspective, but most importantly from being the daughter of the King perspective. I have lots more to learn. If any of you have an opinion or have actually studied the Bible as Literature in school please share your experience.

God has used Deuteronomy 6:4-9 in many different times in my life, but today it jumps off the page in a fresh, prayerful way. “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”

To God be the glory!

Every once in a while my spiritual eyes will reveal something to me I wasn’t necessarily looking for. Other times, I am deliberate about asking God to show me something in particular with my spiritual eyes concerning a person or circumstance so that I can get a glimpse of what is going on in the heavenly realm and not just the natural or what is obvious to the natural man’s eyes. Seeing with my spiritual eyes is tapping into the supernatural…it is seeing with God’s spirit within me.

So…as I was subbing in a 5th grade class the last week of school, the teacher left a movie for us to watch. It was one I hadn’t seen before or even heard of. The movie was Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium. (You can watch a trailer for it by clicking on the the hyperlink if you haven’t seen it.) Basically the movie is about a magical toy store where the toys/books come to life. Natalie Portman is the main character who inherits the store and through the character played by Jason Bateman saves the store from financial ruin. I’m not into magic, so I didn’t really like the movie although it is clean and entertaining. It is not one I would own. Personally, I believe anything magical is a counterfeit of Satan. You may say that is a little extreme and what’s so wrong with a  little childish make believe. Magical is more than a child’s imagination. To me, it involves mystery and wonder and powers. If something is magical and cannot be explained especially to a child to understand, I am not for that. I would rather spend my time pointing a child to the mystery, wonder, and powers of God Almighty as opposed to some unseen force! Never would I ever associate magical with God or even faith in God. God is supernatural as well as our faith in Him; it is of His Holy Spirit who is a person of the trinity.

Anyway…as I was watching the movie, my spiritual eyes saw something. I will try to explain. In a scene, a customer in the toy store is looking for a fire truck for her grandson, and she asks the store manager (Natalie Portman) where she can find the fire truck. The store manager then gets out an enormous book and begins to think out loud whether she wants to look in the big book under “E” for engine or “F” for fire truck. She runs her fingers along the side of the book and asks the book for a fire truck. When she opens the book smoke comes out, and on top of the pages out pops the fire truck her grandson wanted. Customer asks, “How did you do that?” Store manager replies, “I didn’t do anything. The book is magic.”  After I watched the scene unfold, my spirit within me was awakened and I saw on screen exactly the way I feel about the Bible. Actually, it isn’t just the way I “feel”…it is what the Bible is…alive, real, and relevant for today. “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

I want to be like the store manager in the movie. Through the teaching of God’s Word, I want to reveal the wonders, the mysteries, and the power of God and His holy Word to others. Just like she replied that it wasn’t her…so I too know it isn’t me, but the power of God Himself speaking truth into one’s soul and spirit. I am just the vessel. The stories in the Old Testament are so far from boring and are not so familiar that they lose its power or mystery. Can’t you just see the stories come to life as you turn the pages of the Bible. You could see Noah’s ark surviving the rain and preserving those in it, Moses turning the river into blood, God writing on the tablets of stone, Jericho walls falling, David playing the harp, Naomi meeting Boaz for the first time, Nehemiah with calvary on his way to help the Jews in Jerusalem, Jonah being ejected from a big fish, and the list could go on and on!

God has so graciously given us the Holy Spirit who reveals the mysteries of God. As you and I spend time alone with God reading His Word, may it come alive and minister to you and me! Pray as David did, “Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.”

Hey! I just want to update you on what is happening currently in my life. Not that a lot is going on, I just thought instead of writing a devotional of sorts, I would let you in on where I am on this journey of life. In fact, as I think about it, I’m not sure that I have ever written something about me. Yes, I’ve written my thoughts and a few achievements, but I don’t think much else. Maybe I should write more than what is happening as of Feb.’11.  Nah…I think I will stick to the current.

The Lord has opened the door for me to be a substitute teacher for Broken Arrow Public Schools as well as Summit Christian Academy. I began the school year subbing and have subbed everyday since. I never really saw myself back in the classroom or gym (as I have my P.E. certification), but amazingly I like it. I had envisioned the classroom full of students completely draining me and me not having the skills to maintain an orderly classroom. As both of those are still true, what I hadn’t imagined was the energy and confidence I have gained from the students. They inspire me, make me laugh, make me appreciate my own children, teach me, and give me hope. Since I have enjoyed the classroom so much more than I anticipated, I am currently studying to pass the English certification test coming up in April. This will give me the opportunity to be qualified for more than just a P.E. position in the public or private schools.

Randall House Publishers will be releasing my second Bible study, Back From Captivity, early next month. This study is for men & women college age and older. It is about rebuilding your identity in Christ. I look forward to its release and believe the Lord has ordained it for prodigals who have recently made the journey back to their Heavenly Father. My hopes is that it will be a tool for counselors to use in their counseling sessions.

I would love to write a third book as the Lord leads. My subject I would love to write on is beauty. But, for whatever reason, I am not moved to sit and write the book just yet. Actually, I haven’t moved on from my research from Back From Captivity which concentrated on the book of Jeremiah. I am going back through Jeremiah and reading/studying it in its chronological order and not in the order it is as we see it in the Bible.  The history of the book is truly fascinating. Then, the fact that it relates to God’s people even now, is even more fascinating. Just this morning, I read Jer.6:15, “Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush.” I always hate it when speakers/preachers tell us statistics and realities of the church as it relates to how the church looks like the world. I pray I be one to shine God’s light amidst the darkness and not conform to it.

My girls are doing fabulous. Growing so pretty everyday. We are about to begin a new soccer season where I will be spending my evenings as their chauffeur and juggling to get a nutritious meal on the table. As I write this, it is hard to imagine anyone playing soccer in Broken Arrow. Two days ago we got a record breaking 15 inches of snow! And it is all still on the ground as the high for the past 2 days has been 18 degrees. We have had a lot of family time since the snow and don’t really see an end to it as of yet. 

I do, however, see an end to this post! I will leave you with the truth of God’s Word as it has come alive to me as I gaze out my window onto the massive amounts of snow everywhere. “‘Come now, let us reason together’, says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.'” Isaiah 1:18.

I just have to say that I totally miss my life as a stay-at-home mom…when I could actually do some blogging…as well as many other things I don’t get to do anymore like go to the grocery store at 10 in the morning when no one else is there as opposed to 5 in the evening when all the other hurried working moms are grabbing something decent to cook for their families. But, in the same breath, I do like my job as a substitute teacher for Broken Arrow Public Schools!

Speaking of substituting…I was a Sunday School substitute for 9th grade girls this morning! It is such a blessing and privilege and honor to actually get to teach God’s Word. Being in the public schools now everyday, I cherish teaching the Bible via Sunday School in a new and fresh way.  So, today during our small group time, we were led to one of my very favorite Scriptures- 2 Corinthians 11:3. It says, ” But I am afraid, just as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds have somehow been led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.” I love revisiting the Garden of Eden along with the relationships between Adam and Eve and their Creator, Elohim. I told the girls today a theory I have about when Eve took of the fruit of the tree of  the knowledge of good and evil that the serpent had deceived her into taking and sharing with Adam. I believe that that was probably not the first time Eve had gone to the tree to admire it and that coincidently the serpent was already there. Eve probably had been admiring the tree with all its luscious, gorgeous, and irresistible fruit along with the beauty it beheld for weeks or months or even longer. I can imagine her claiming a time everyday to visit the tree just to dream about what it would be like to indulge her cravings. It called her name. She desired to obey God’s command, but it was all she could do to not think about the tree. Just as Proverbs 23:31 tells us the deception of wine, “When it sparkles in the cup, When it goes down smoothly.” The fruit on the tree must have sparkled immensely to Eve.  All the meanwhile, Satan had been patiently waiting for just the opportune time when he knew he could catch her in her most vulnerable time and place to ultimately destroy her relationship with the One he himself wanted to be like. His timely strategy worked. “At the last it bites like a serpent and stings like a viper.” (Proverbs 23:32).  But, even before time began, God had a plan of redemption already put in motion. We get to celebrate this plan on December 25th! 

I pray that the young men and women of this generation will not “somehow” be led astray from their pure and simple devotion to Jesus Christ. May we as the older men and women keep ourselves from being deceived and pass on the legacy of living a life of freedom in our Lord Jesus Christ. “As is Thy name, O God, So is Thy praise to the ends of the earth.” (Psalms 48:10).

One of the books I’m reading this summer is a Lineage of Grace by Francine Rivers (thanks to my friend, Dana, who recommended it!).  The book contains five stories each about a woman in the lineage of Jesus; it is a historical novel. The first story is about Tamar, a Canaanite, who married one of Jacob’s (Israel) grandsons, Er, son of Judah.  In the course of events, Er dies suddenly due to his own wickedness.  After the time of mourning, Judah gave his second born son, Onan,  to Tamar in hopes of bearing a son for Er.  Onan too dies suddenly leaving the young Tamar a widow for the second time. Judah knows the law that he is required to give his third son to Tamar, but fear of his death stops him from obedience. Tamar is then sent back to her father’s household where she waits in vain to be married to Shelah, the third son of Judah. Years go by before she realizes Judah would never send for her. To uphold the law, she devises a plan that is successful in bearing not just one son for the family of Israel, but two. Tamar’s wisdom and obedience is not in vain. Tamar is a faithful, brave woman in the lineage of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

I am tired of waiting. I am tired of waiting for answered prayer! Sometimes, I want to scream, “Can anyone hear me?”! How much longer do I have to wait? Do I have days, months, years before I get an answer? The biblical story of Tamar encourages me to keep praying and to keep waiting on the Lord. I’m not the only one who has had to wait. As I wait, I am sustained by the daily blessings God so graciously gives.

The next story in a Lineage of Grace is about Rahab. But for now, I can’t stop thinking about the life of Tamar…

Who inspires you to keep waiting on the Lord?

Jennifer Johnson

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"To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen." -Revelations 1:5b-6

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