Rachel: A Remarkable Life

Encouraging words for Mother’s Day.

How do we judge a person’s life? By their successes. Their failures? Their legacy?

Rachel’s story is guaranteed a place in history. She was one of the early matriarchs of the Israelites—the chosen wife of Jacob, who would later become Israel.

Her story started on a high note when she caught the eye of Jacob, the next patriarch of God’s chosen people. Her hopes were crushed when her devious father gave her older sister, Leah, in marriage to her beloved.

As his second wife, she almost failed at the most important role for a woman of her time period: Motherhood. Like several other women in her family, she was barren. When she pleaded with her husband to give her children, he became angry with her.

In desperation, she turned to pagan superstitions and negotiated for the mandrakes her nephew, Reuben, had found for his mother. The plants were believed to possess the power of fertility.

It wasn’t the first time Rachel had turned to pagan beliefs. When Jacob left Paddan Aram with his family, Rachel stole her father’s household gods. This act came close to resulting in her death.

Eventually, she turned to her husband’s God and He listened to her pleas and blessed her with her firstborn son. She was then able to focus her efforts on raising her son. Joseph continued as her legacy long after her death.

The Bible narrative tells us nothing of the interaction between mother and son, but we can draw some conclusions based on the kind of man he turned out to be. From the boastful teen we first meet, he develops into a young man with integrity, wisdom, and an unwavering belief in God.

Sadly, Rachel’s life ended while she was still a young woman. Although she gave Jacob another son, she was never able to watch Benjamin grow to adulthood. Even so, she never lost the love of her husband. He grieved when she died in childbirth on the way to Canaan, erecting a pillar to mark her burial place near Ephrath, the town of Bethlehem. The site designated as her tomb has been visited for centuries.

Jacob still grieved years later in Egypt when he bestowed his blessing on the grandsons she had never met. His words during the blessing indicated the sorrow he still felt at her loss.

The outcome of Rachel’s story should give us determination. A determination to remain faithful in carrying out the tasks that are set before us, even though the results may not appear for many years—or even after our lifetime.

Rachel’s complete story is found in Genesis 28-35 and Jacob’s blessing is in Gen. 48:1-14.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Is it Time to Discard the Armor of God?

Before you delete this post as heresy, read the next sentence.

I’m not suggesting that we do away with this familiar passage in Ephesians 6; I just think it would be good to move beyond the symbolism and dig deeper into the practical application.

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The Apostle Paul used an illustration that would have been readily understood by his First Century audience: the attire of the Roman soldier. This example has been eagerly adopted by modern day story tellers in settings that vary from the pulpit to backyard Bible study groups. The metaphor creates a vivid image as a visual aid on a flannel board or a re-enactment for a pint-sized soldier with an aluminum foil helmet and a cardboard sword.

But what message did Paul want his readers to come away with? Certainly not to become better acquainted with the battle gear of their sworn enemy. What then should we, as Twenty-first Century Christians, expect to learn from the illustration?

For us, the concept is more abstract. Centuries-old warriors’ garb surely has no relevance for us today.

So why do we continue to share this message? Simple. Because the underlying truths are absolutely vital to our survival as believers in an increasingly hostile world.

Have we gotten so caught up in the image of a well-equipped soldier that we overlook the more important truth—a vital application to our own lives? One that needs to be applied on a daily basis? Why is it important that we reexamine this message?

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Let’s forget about breastplates, shields, and sandals for the time being. After all, the boy David discarded Saul’s armor when it was time to face Goliath. God had a much more effective (and unlikely) means of victory in mind: a slingshot and some stones. And David was comfortable with this weapon and experienced in its use.

What did David understand that we need to learn? What, specifically, is Paul urging us to do throughout this passage?

His goal is introduced in Ephesians 6:10 with these words: “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (emphasis added).

Why was he urging his readers to be strong? Because they were facing severe persecution at the hands of their enemies.  This could take the form of stoning, beheading, crucifixion, exile, torture, or even death. Paul wanted to remind believers that the real enemy was not the Roman government or religious leaders but God’s own enemy, Satan himself.

And Satan has a supporting cast to help carry out his evil schemes. Counted among them in the spiritual realm are “rulers,” “authorities,” “powers of darkness,” and the “spiritual forces of evil” (v. 12).

Arming ourselves against these threats is not a group activity—if you’ll allow me to return to the metaphor for a moment. Soldiers might train together, march together, perform drills together, and enter the battlefield together, but “putting on the armor” is an individual task. Each soldier is responsible for putting on their own clothing and protective gear and keeping their armaments replenished and their weapons sharpened and close at hand.

It’s also important to note that the attacks predicted in this passage are ultimately directed at individuals, not to an army. It is your body that feels the arrow, your head is pierced by the sword.

Does the opposition we face seem insurmountable? It would be if victory depended on our own feeble power. If we attempted on our own to stand up for the Truth. We need to turn in a very real sense to God’s power in our time of need. Stripping away the metaphor of armor, we find ourselves urged to enhance our spiritual defenses. Those resources are developed in specific ways, which Paul outlines for us: through Truth. Righteousness. Readiness. Faith. Salvation. The Word of God. And, especially, Prayer.

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This is the message behind the metaphor. We are urged to know the truth, to be consistently righteous, to have an unshakeable faith, to always be in readiness, and be confident in our faith and in our security as a believer. We need an intimate knowledge of the Word of God.

How do we accomplish this?

Developing these defenses is a lot more labor intensive than simply putting on a warrior’s clothing. Being truly prepared requires an active commitment on our part. It takes time and diligent study habits to develop an understanding of God’s Word. It takes persistence to remain righteous. It takes testing and trials to strengthen our faith.

The key may lie in the final exhortation: Finally, we must pray (v. 18). All the time. Without ceasing. With faith, believing we will receive an answer.  It is only through prayer and reliance on the help and direction of the Holy Spirit that we can hope to achieve the readiness required of us for the very real assaults surrounding us.

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Prayer: Waves or Ripples?

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I remember some time ago listening to (or maybe reading) a sermon about prayer. Although my prayer life isn’t always as robust as I feel it should be, I’ve always been a strong believer in its power. So any advice I could get on how to improve my prayer life would be welcome.

The sermon described the typical prayer as resembling the result of dropping a rock into a lake. It begins in the center and then ripples out farther and farther in increasingly larger concentric rings. This is what happens when we pray for ourselves first, then move out to those close to us—friends and family—then on to our local church and community, our state and country, and finally on to the world at large. He pointed out the selfish nature of these types of prayers.

He had my attention at that point. My philosophy of prayer had been to pray for myself first. (I need it most and I’m acutely aware of the areas in my life needing prayer.) I had never thought of it as selfish.

I went on for several months attempting to utilize my new prayer model and trying to overcome the guilt I felt for years of doing it the “wrong” way.

Then it occurred to me to compare his prayer model with the ultimate model of prayer—the one given to us by Jesus himself: The Lord’s Prayer. The one we have all memorized, maybe in more than one language, and have heard it sung and recited countless number of times.

But I hadn’t really sat down to analyze its structure. I’m an English major. I’m in the habit of analyzing what I read. But sometimes the things that are the most familiar to us we just gloss over, saying the words but missing the meaning.

Here’s what I learned. It’s in Matthew 6:9-13 if you want to follow along.

Our Father . . . – the beginning addresses God, to whom we’re praying

your kingdom come . . . – here we’re asking for the success of His kingdom. I see this as acknowledging his lordship and his supremacy over the world.

Introduction out of the way, we begin the supplication portion.

“Give us this day our daily bread.”  Wait a minute. I thought we were supposed to be praying for others first. We don’t get to our relationship with others until the forgiving our debtors part.

Now confused, I decided to turn to the last recorded prayer of Jesus. He had given his final message of comfort to the apostles and was now in the Garden of Gethsemane praying for strength for the ultimate sacrifice he faced the following day. Found in John 17:1-26 (the entire chapter).

He begins, predictably, by addressing his father (v. 1).Then he says something surprising. “Glorify your Son.” He spends the next five verses summarizing his own mission and the role “glory” and “authority” played in that mission.

Only in verse six does he begin to pray for his disciples. Through verse 19 he pleads for their safety and sanctification. Finally, in verse 20, he extends his concern to the entire world.

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So there it is. Two perfect patterns for prayer:

Concentric circles. Ripples. Definitely ripples.

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Diplomats, Warriors, and Queen Mothers: Old Testament Women Lead the Way

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Some of the most influential women in history can be found in the pages of the Bible. You’re probably familiar with the stories of Esther and Ruth–after all, they have entire Old Testament books written about them. But they aren’t the only women who impacted their world. Some were in positions of great power. Others are not even mentioned by name, but these women made a life-altering contribution to the world around them.

Learn the stories of these women and be inspired to be the best you can be within your own circle of influence. Whether you’re in a position of leadership or toiling quietly behind the scenes, take courage from these women who saw a need and filled it.

Examine these women’s stories from a woman’s viewpoint. The Bible may have been written by men, taught by men, and preached by men, but the women have always been there, shaping the stories that have become a part of our heritage.

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Where would Moses have been without his mother and sister? Without the midwives? Without the Egyptian princess?

Study these stories and more. Available soon for the first time as  an online Bible study. Comment below if you’d be interested in joining us.

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Wall Building 101

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The Jerusalem that Nehemiah remembered

Nehemiah has always been one of my favorite books of the Old Testament. It demonstrates the power we have at our disposal if we will listen to God’s plans, pray to become a part of them, and wait on His power to achieve the seemingly impossible. In Nehemiah’s case, that meant rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.

I’m in the process of some serious wall building myself—the kinds of walls you build with domains and SEO. Images and PowerPoint presentations. Autoresponders and voice overs. None of these are areas in which I have any degree of skill.

Continue reading

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A Study of Bible Women

I have long been intrigued by the stories of women in the Bible. Many times I have been confused by the discrepancies between what the Bible says and what I have heard from the pulpit. I finally figured it out: Preachers are usually male. They can’t be expected to relate the stories from a woman’s point of view. 

Inspired by that insight, I began an in-depth study of my own. In reading through my Bible, I began to highlight all verses related to women in yellow. (When I was able to read La Biblia in Spanish, I uncovered many more passages that weren’t evident in many of the gender-neutral English words.)

I continued this study over a number of years. It became a series of lessons on Old Testament women. I taught it in a draft to the ladies group in my church in Arizona. Eventually, I hope it becomes a book. In the meantime, I’m taking it through another revision on this blog. I’ll be putting out new lessons about every two weeks.

Anyone is welcome to take part. There is no charge, but I would like to encourage comments and interaction to include in my next revision. All I ask is that you contact me so I know you are a real person, and I will give you a password. 

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The World, the Flesh, and . . . eBay?

I was putting together my lesson notes for a women’s Bible study group some time ago. In order to illustrate my point, I was looking for the Scriptural reference to the phrase “the world, the flesh, and the devil.” I wasn’t sure if it came directly from the Bible, or whether it was a doctrinal tenet that church fathers had decided on centuries (or decades) ago.

Turning to my faithful search engine, I typed in the phrase–in quotation marks so I could get a more accurate hit. As I scrolled down the list of results, I did a double take when I read one entry:

The World, the Flesh, and the Devil. Available now on eBay!

I’m not sure whether that’s more of a commentary on the power of the internet—or on the state of our society today.

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