Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Herod, King of Judea -- Luke 1:5

As you begin to read Luke’s gospel, you can easily fail to notice the words that innocently begin the fifth verse: “In the days of Herod, king of Judea . . .” How many times have I heard the familiar Christmas story? The wise men are told by King Herod to report back to him so he can have this new Baby King killed. But somehow, over the years I never realized just who or what Herod was the king of! Here is another instance where crawling through the Bible, bit by bit, has its advantages.

Judea . . .? “Land of the Jews” – most of the exiles returning from Babylon captivity were from the tribe of Judah, therefore, their homeland became known as Judea. The area included both Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Herod . . .? Some references I have say Herod was a descendant of Esau, Jacob’s older twin brother. Since it is Jacob’s 12 sons who become the Nation of Israel, this means Herod is a non-Jew. And thus, an outsider is ruling over the Jews. Other sources say he is a “half-Jew”. Either way, his actions while ruler speak loudly that he gave little regard to God’s Law. He had 10 wives, he was directly involved in or ordered the murder of several individuals, and he demanded a loyalty oath from his subjects. His own political career was Herod’s primary concern. Even while rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem; he was really seeking political favors and power by placing an eagle over the entrance – the symbol of the Roman Empire.

Note -- there are at least 8 different Herod’s in the New Testament. This one, in Luke’s first chapter, is called “Herod the Great” and is the same one in Matthew 2:1-17 who had the baby boys in Bethlehem killed. Different Herod’s had John the Baptist be-headed, put Jesus and then Paul on trial, killed James, and imprisoned Peter. Maybe that’s not important here, but I didn’t realize they weren’t the same person. Anyway, the Herod who ordered the killing of the baby boys was gravely ill at the time and actually died just a short time later. This was his way of ensuring the throne would pass to one of his heirs and not the baby Jesus.

So why the history lesson, why does any of this matter today? Well, I think we should realize that this man was not king of some distant land that the wise men happened to be traveling through, but he was king of the Nation of Israel. Herod was not following the ways of Israel’s faith and he blatantly ruled over God’s people without any thoughts of God! Herod’s many murderous rampages were all political power plays. He would do anything to keep his throne and he refused to quietly step aside so some Jewish baby could take his throne.

Why didn’t the Jewish people object? According to Baker’s Bible Encyclopedia, some did object, particularly when it came to the loyalty oath. But for the most part, Herod’s rule was peaceful because he passed laws cutting taxes. Were the Jews really pacified by tax cuts? Could Herod disregard God’s Law because of tax cuts? I’ve always wondered why they let their baby boys be killed. Why wasn’t this the start of some massive political upheaval or an all out bloody war? I mean really, they were OK with this murderer being their king because of tax cuts . . . ?

In America today, there is a host of political and corporate office holders who have no regard for God or His Law. Most of the people running this nation, both politically and economically, are the very people warned about in Psalm 1. The wicked, the sinners, and the scoffers we are meant to avoid are, in fact, our overseers. We are a nation unequally yoked! As a result we are bound up with them and making sinful compromises on a daily basis. Many of our heads of state are in open rebellion against our God and His ways. And just like Herod, their singular objective is to stay in control, at all costs. But it seems, most of the time, we do little or nothing to interrupt their sinful plans.

However, we have more to fear than just political or corporate leaders. Today there is a dark ruler of this world who will also hold nothing back if it means staying in control. And just like Herod, Satan refuses to quietly step aside when Christians threaten his authority. Anyone walking strong in their faith, following the Lord Jesus, has a target on their forehead. We are ridiculed and maligned, called misinformed and hate-mongers. And our children are being taught to despise the “intolerance” of our Christian faith that boldly claims to be the ONLY way, the ONLY truth, and the ONLY path to eternal life. The people in Judea handed over their baby boys to Herod’s men, and in many ways we are doing the same with our young people today. We allow Satan to take control of their lives when we refuse to take a stand for biblical truths and our Christian values.

Yes, we have sunk low; we are living in dark, perilous times. But all is not lost, keep the faith. Pray for our nation, our leaders, and our youth. Pray that the Church's apathy will be turned into boldness. Jesus will soon return and the current “Herods” of this world will be forever unseated and eternally judged by the Righteous King. In the meantime, this darkness is necessary so we will learn to CRAVE the Light more.

John 15:19If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.

Journal Suggestions:

What compromises have you made with your faith as a result of yoking yourself to an unbelieving friend or employer?

Recall a time when taking a stand brought you ridicule or worse.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Bus Stop

Last week my son graduated college and I met his girlfriend for the first time. As a parent, I was both excited and overjoyed. Strangely, I think I feel almost guilty for not being anxious and worried. But years ago I found a source of peace regarding my children’s future. The Lord has kept me safely under His wing and now I’m trusting that same Wing to guard over my children. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some Super Saint that never worries, but this week I’ve had a calm over me that I can only attribute to the Lord’s peace. Here is an old essay of mine, written about 10 years ago, telling how I've learned to be so trusting. . . .

Sometimes the passage of many years are required to show us how God has been faithfully guiding our steps and keeping us under His wing. My children are both in their teens now and parenting is difficult. The possibility arises daily that one of my children will make a bad choice. And while I want them to learn from their mistakes, I also want to help them prevent costly mistakes. But then I am reminded of my own marriage and how difficult it can be to discern mistakes from blessings.

I met my husband while waiting at a bus stop in a city about 2,000 miles from my parents. He tried making small talk, but I didn’t want anything to do with him, I had other things on my mind. So, four hours later, God put us together again on another bus. At the time, I thought this was only a coincidence. Today, the miracle of that second encounter completely overwhelms my heart. I gave this stranger my telephone number and that evening we went out on our first date. As a parent now, I can’t help but think how foolish this all was. Nonetheless, God had me under His wing.

A year passed and he asked me to marry him. Just 10 days later, in a small ceremony, we tied the knot. The day after our wedding we boarded a Greyhound bus. Five more days and we were at the opposite end of the country. He was in the Navy and this is where his orders took us. We were totally alone; both our families were thousands of miles away. But God had me under His wing.

I think back on that “foolish” act and I know my parents would have loved to make it different. They surely didn’t want me talking to strangers at bus stops and giving them my phone number. And they definitely wouldn’t want me married after just a 10-day engagement or living so far away from home. This is the stuff that gives parents nightmares.

At the time of our marriage, neither of us knew the Lord. But just three years later, my husband would introduce me to a group of friends who then led me to the church where I found Christ. These were people who had been praying for and witnessing to my husband for years before I even met him. Having just celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary, I can see countless ways the Lord has used my husband to mold me into a godlier woman.

In spite of spending the past 17 years unequally yoked, I see my marriage as God’s will for my life. We have been through some really tough times. Together we have suffered through the deaths of his brother and my mother, a failed business, and financial ruin after years of unemployment. We’ve teetered on the edge of divorce and yet the Lord was able to soften our hearts and bring us safely back together. God was faithful through it all to keep me under His wing.

I look back now and I see how these shared experiences only serve to unite our hearts more completely. This man has earned the honored place of “best friend” in my life. And I know with all my heart that God worked a mighty miracle on my behalf when He placed me at the bus stop of His choosing, not once, but twice! And I believe there is a similar miracle to be cherished and remembered in the life of any person who has walked at length with God.

Yet here I am, a parent of teenagers, worrying about so many things. Who will they marry, what kind of adults will they become, what careers will they have . . . . But why do I worry? I have been faithful for years now to pray for my children that God would be Lord in their lives and that He would be preparing even now the persons they will marry. I seem to doubt these prayers will be answered. Where is my faith?

Like the Israelites, I am commanded to remember the Lord’s miracles, the Passover, the parting of the Red Sea, etc. And each time I remember my own bus stop miracle, some earthly worry fades, anxious thoughts disappear, and I find myself resting in the assurance that He will be faithful to answer this mother’s prayers.

Matthew 7:11 "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!"

Journal Suggestions:

What worries are you failing to completely trust God with?

Recount a time when God’s hand reached down from heaven and changed the course of your life.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

One is Enough, Luke 1:1-4

A couple weeks ago I had a visit from a dear friend I haven’t seen in over 15 years. The time passed way too quickly and I was sad to see her go. One of the many things we talked about while she was here was her church back home. Her pastor has gone through the Bible, teaching bit by bit, from Genesis to Revelation. It took 13 years to complete. I think I would have greatly enjoyed being a part of that. . . .

The wisdom of knowing the entire Bible isn’t a new idea for me, I’ve used tools like “Daily Walk” many times to help me get from Genesis to Revelation in one year. But some people have nicknamed this method the Daily Dash because of the quick pace. And I can understand their criticism. So my friend got me thinking about trying a slower pace – just to delight over each chapter, pondering over each teaching and becoming more Christ-like as I move along.

As a result of her visit, I started a personal study of the Bible with Luke’s Gospel. I hope to do Acts next. After that, I’ll just have to wait and see where the Lord leads.

I know I’ve read Luke’s Gospel several times as part of my Daily Walk’s; and yet I can’t really say I ever noticed any of the things I’m learning this time around. My methodical studying, rather than a dashing read, is really a blessing!

It is no coincidence that this study through Luke is also the beginning of my blog. I’ve been wrestling with this blog idea for so long now and Luke has helped encourage me to finally start down the path. As I read the opening verses of his gospel, I found that he wrote this as a personal letter to a friend named Theophilus (meaning “lover of God”).

But it wasn’t just some random compilation of memories. Tradition has it that Luke researched his topic for two years before writing the gospel letter we have today (Life Application Bible). Luke carefully wrote and organized his thoughts, being faithful to an audience of just one. Nearly two-thousand years later, his efforts are still being used by God to bless others. He had no idea, I’m sure, that we would be preaching and teaching from his letter all these generations later.

John Calvin has criticized those who thought Theophilus was a general greeting to all the “lovers of God” in the region at the time. It seems some scholars felt God wouldn’t send such an important message to just one person. Calvin points out that Paul’s letters to Timothy are to “just” one person and no one seems to have a problem there. Anyway, his argument got me to thinking about the parables of the Lost Coin and the Lost Sheep and that when it comes to God, there isn’t any distance too far to travel that one soul might be saved. So I find myself agreeing with Calvin, I think this gospel was indeed sent to just one person. And, praise the Lord, Luke’s “private letter” has forever changed the world.

This week as I checked on my blog space for comments or followers, I was tempted to be discouraged. But Luke’s Gospel stands as an example of “the power of one”. The size and scope of my readership is not what is important. My sprawling notes will become neatly typed, edited, and ordered. And in doing this work, I will remember these lessons all the more – they will become more a part of my soul – not just a passing thought with little or no influence on my daily living.

Like Luke, I have no idea who will ever read what I write. Maybe no one, but if the thought of that imagined reader keeps me faithful to study, learn, and write, then it is already being useful and a blessing to me – also a Theophilus – lover of God. And just like Luke, one is enough to make it all worthwhile.

I Peter 2:2a Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word.

Journal Suggestions:

Recall a time when “crawling” over a passage of Scripture has brought you new blessings.

Who or what has God used in your life to illustrate how important just one coin, one sheep, one soul is to Him?

Describe an unexpected change in your life as a result of an unassuming comment.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Breaking the Silence

I have been a writer nearly all my life. Yet that's news to most people, even those closest to me. I generally write just for me -- anyone with a journal-habit knows how therapeutic this is. But over 17 years ago I saw a reason and a need to share what I write with others. I painfully admit, since then, only a handful of my essays have been read by anyone. Today that changes, I'm breaking the silence. I've been considering publishing my essays on a blog for over 6 months now. Today is that "someday" I've been talking about. . . . Here is the essay I wrote back in 1993, when I first realized my writing had to be made public:

Relatives from around the country are gathered here in Iowa for my mother's funeral. Many of these people I haven't seen in several years. I was able to meet my uncle's "new" wife today. They've been married for more than 20 years. His first wife died very young from breast cancer. I didn't know her very well, but I remember she was the organist at our church. I like his new wife, she talks about her Lord and what He's been doing in her life. I wish we had more than a few hours together. Tomorrow we'll be scattered again -- me to California and they to Arkansas.

This meeting is painfully similar to another about ten years ago. It was then that I first met my grandfather's "new" wife. They too had been married for several years. His first wife had died from complications with diabetes. I didn't know her very well either, but I remember she was in church as often as her health would allow. And I liked his new wife too, she talked about her Lord and what He was doing in her life. And just like today, I wished then we had more than a few hours together.

Both of these men, my grandfather and my uncle, are strangers to me. The fact is, I only know their faces. Their lives are a mystery -- shrouded in years of silence. Their new wives are wonderfully open and joyful about their faith. I'd like to hope that within these men that same joy lives. But the truth is, I can't know for sure, they've never let me see that side of them. Silence runs deep in my family.

I suppose my uncle and my mother's dad are both Christian men. Why else would their new wives, such godly women, be drawn to marry them? But I just don't know. If church-going and being married to a godly woman will get you into heaven, then these men will be there. But surely there must be more. I pray their lives away from me are vibrantly faithful and filled with worship and service for our Lord. But I fear their silence.

I look over all the "things" my mother has left behind and I'm sick. What I ache for is a diary or anything that will let me know her heart. I don't really want these earthly baubles. Yet I know I will cling to them because this is all I have now. But what I desperately need is to know her heart, and this she didn't leave me.

The pastor of my mother's church is being very kind and saying how much he appreciated my mother's faithful attendance at his mid-week Bible study. But in the 15 years since my leaving home, she never mentioned to me that she did this. She never told me. Among her things we find a certificate awarded to her by the community. It says that after work she spent time helping underprivileged children learn to read. But again, I never knew, she never told me. One of her co-workers is handing me a crocheted book-marker in the form of a cross. She tells me Mom was her prayer partner and had made that for her. She thinks I would like to have it. But I never knew of her prayer life, she never told me. My heart breaks. . . .

Months have now passed since my mother's funeral. The silence is still deafening. And yet all I can do is think of my own children. Do they know me? Is my life an open book for them to read? Or have I failed to even write the pages for them? When my life is over, will they be left aching to have known my heart?

These generations of silence must be broken by me. I want them to know my heart and find me rejoicing in all my Lord Jesus has done for me. This will be the inheritance I leave for my family and friends.

Mark 5:19 "Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you."

Journal Suggestions:

Are there silences that need breaking in any of your relationships?

Describe the spiritual inheritance you have from your family.

Please use this link if you haven’t yet read my story, “Shattered Silence” which was added to this blog in 2013.