Women of the Bible: Jochebed

She lay awake in the dark, listening with one ear for soldiers’ footsteps outside her window. Her other ear strained for the slightest whimper of her new baby boy. He cried out only once before she could reach him, offering her heavy breast to calm him. She held her breath to listen, but her own heartbeat echoing in her ears blocked any other sounds. While he nursed, Jochebed resumed her silent prayer to Yahweh, the God of her ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

 By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. -Hebrews 11:23

Her tears anointed the child in her arms, a physical manifestation of her pleas for a savior. She begged God to redeem them from this slavery, from the bonds that tightened so stealthily around their necks. Her people hadn’t come to Egypt as slaves. They were God’s Chosen Ones—the Hebrews—and only entered Egypt to escape famine. But now they were tied to this place. Now even their newborn babies belonged not to them but to Pharaoh. She had cried with too many mothers as they mourned the loss of their sons, born healthy but thrown to the currents and crocodiles of that cruel river.

Somehow, he was the answer
to her prayers for a savior.

As she prayed, she felt the same confidence of the night before…and the night before that. She was doing the right thing. This child was special, not just “mama-loves-you” special but specially chosen by God. He was no ordinary child. Somehow, he was the answer to her prayers for a savior.

But how long could she keep this up? How long could she hide him in the house? His lungs were getting stronger. The neighbors were looking askance at her. And what of her older children? What if the overseers questioned Aaron and Miriam?

 

I love this story because Jochebed was a thoughtful, faithful rebel! Read more about her courage, confidence, and creativity in my guest post at My Life. His Story..

Moses’ mother was a rebel, full of courage, confidence and creativity. This is faith.(click to tweet)

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Don’t Get Too Close to Jesus or You May Lose Your Lunch

Jesus and his disciples climbed up the side of a steep hill. A little out of breath, they sat down on some rocks. A huge crowd of people had followed them to this remote place; some of the people were looking for healing, some for entertainment, and a few just wanted to see what Jesus would say next.

John 6:1-13 in which Jesus feeds 5,000 people, but there’s so much more…

Can you see it? Can you put yourself there among the disciples? I like to think that Jesus scans the crowd, gets a sneaky grin on His face, then maybe He catches John’s eye and winks. Turning to Phillip, he says, “Hey, Phillip! You’re from around here, where can we get food for all these people?” Phillip looks out over the crowd and sighs. He furrows his brow; his words are clipped, impatient: “It would take six months’ pay to give all these people even one bite each!” While Phillip looks around for Judas, the money keeper, for confirmation, Jesus glances back at John with an I-told-you-so glint in His eye.

These are about to become the
most famous leftovers in history!

But that whole exchange had one purpose: to set up what comes next. Andrew has also taken Jesus’ question seriously and thinks he’s found something. There’s a boy, probably ten or eleven years old, whose mama packed him some lunch. It’s just some leftovers, something to tide him over until dinnertime, but they are about to become the most famous leftovers in history!

Let’s give this boy some backstory. (I’m making this up.) No school that day. The morning chores are done. Some prophet named Jesus is in town. If he hangs out near Jesus, maybe he’ll see a miracle or an arrest or something else interesting to talk about at school tomorrow. Mom says he can go; she even throws some food in a bag in case he gets hungry. He slings a “Thanks!” over his shoulder before the door slams behind him.

Being shorter than most of the adults in the crowd near Jesus, he inches his way to the front and finds a spot off to the side, where he has a good view of the hill and the crowd. While he’s waiting for something to happen—anything, really—one of Jesus’ permanent followers spots him and steps back down the hill. I like to think that Andrew was kind to the boy and that he invited him up onto the hill instead of forcing him. Andrew isn’t sure such a meager offering will help, but at least it’s something. (Or maybe Andrew knows Jesus can make something out of virtually nothing. After all, he still remembers the fantastic wine at that wedding the year before.)

Jesus takes away this child’s food.
It seems wrong.

Andrew throws out a vague question, “How far will such a small amount of food go when so many need to eat?” (I’m paraphrasing.) Jesus doesn’t answer. Instead, he tells the disciples to instruct everyone in the crowd to sit down. The boy remains standing there beside Jesus. While the disciples are busy getting situated (and probably fielding questions such as, “Why?”), Jesus looks at the boy and does something strange. If we didn’t know the story, we might even think Him cruel. He takes away this child’s food.

I have a ten-year-old boy. He doesn’t share his food willingly. It makes me think that maybe this little guy hesitated as well. If he lets go of his bag, he will (based on previous experience) go hungry that day, and his mama may scold at him. He doesn’t want to go hungry, and he doesn’t want to get in trouble. But there’s something about Jesus that’s different from every other adult he’s ever met. For some reason, the boy knows he can trust Jesus, so he lets go. He lets Jesus take the whole bag. He doesn’t reach in, grab just one roll, and stuff it in his pocket just in case. Sure, it’s basically five crackers and two sardines—not much by anyone’s standards, but the boy gives it all. As he looks up at Jesus’ face in that moment, I think he sees the delight in Jesus’ eyes and the smile of anticipation playing at the corners of Jesus’ lips.

The little boy bounds back down the hill and finds a place to sit with some other kids his age. When they start passing around the fish and bread, he feasts until he can eat no more. The leftovers he carried that morning would have staved off hunger, but they never would have filled him like this!

What was barely sufficient for one
becomes sustenance for many. Even
my #leftovers are #NotAboutMe,
via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

Do you see it? The boy had to let go of the meager portion he’d been given in order to receive the greater portion Jesus offered to all. What was barely sufficient for him became sustenance for many.

Oh friends! We try to hold onto the individual rations meted out to every person when He wants us to let go so He can convert them into plenty. But we have to give them to Jesus first. This is not logical; it’s uncommon sense. There has to be a moment when we have nothing, when we’re not only empty-handed but bare…maybe even desperate. For a few minutes there, the boy had no food at all. Then Jesus begins to bless what we’ve released, and we receive back far more than we surrendered—not only us, but everyone around us receives from what we thought was barely enough for us alone.

Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.Matthew 16:25

Has God asked you for something very difficult to release, then returned it to you multiplied and blessing many? Have you questioned God’s economy? I’d love to know what’s on your mind after reading this. Leave me a note in the comments!

For further consideration: In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25), those who saw a return on their investment first had to let go of their money. It was out of their hands for some amount of time.

Read another Biblical story of a humble person who gave everything: Muffled but Magnified.

Across the Street

Edna gathered her purse and shopping bags, took a deep breath, and opened the car door. Nine paces to the front door. Eight if she took big strides. Head bowed, her fingers fumbled with her keys at the doorknob as usual. Every window on the quiet street seemed to frame a curious neighbor peeking from behind blinds or curtains. She dared not look.

The door latched behind her, but she leaned back against it anyway and dropped her bags. Reaching across her body to set the deadbolt, she glanced at the calendar: three weeks to the day since she moved. Boxes still lined the hall. Bubble wrap still overflowed the recycling bin. She had yet to find her full set of coffee mugs.

Coffee. Maybe that would help. While the coffee brewed, she unwrapped a few more dishes. “Don’t know why I bother. I’m the only one eating.” One cup, one fork, one bowl, one plate; that’s all she needed. Would she ever get used to it? To this…“loneliness.” She said the word aloud, like a declaration, and stood up straight.

“Buck up, kiddo!” the words came to her lips unexpectedly, but her body’s response didn’t surprise her. She crumpled into the nearest chair, tears brimming over her lower eyelids. “That’s what he would have said. That’s what he always told me when I got discouraged. He would already know all the neighbors by name, too. We would have baked a Bundt cake and delivered a few slices to each door. He would have rung the doorbells while I held the cake. He would have made the introductions so I could just stand there and smile.” The usually comforting smell of coffee turned acrid in her nostrils as she rose with a sigh.

At the exact moment that she pressed the button to turn off the coffee pot, the doorbell rang. It took her a full twenty seconds to realize that the coffee pot didn’t make that kind of noise.

“Must be selling something,” she muttered as she stretched across the grocery bags to access the peephole. A young woman stood outside shifting her weight from foot to foot. In one hand, she held a plastic wrap-covered plate. The other hand stretched down, grasping another, tiny hand tightly. While she watched, the young mother looked down anxiously and stage-whispered something to the child.

Edna’s hands shook as she shifted the shopping bags away from the door and fumbled with the deadbolt. Why had she locked her door at four in the afternoon? The door stuck so that, when she finally wrenched it open, she had to catch her breath. “May I help you?” Her words sounded too formal even to herself.

“We, umm, we live right there,” the woman nodded to a townhouse across the street, “ and we noticed that you just moved in, and umm, we thought maybe you…umm…that is, we wanted to say ‘hi.’” She thrust the plate toward Edna with a nervous half-smile. The plate shook in her hand. Edna reached out to take it, but the girl (She really seemed more like a girl than a woman.) didn’t let go. They stood awkwardly, each grasping a side of the plate. “Usually, my husband is the one to go out and meet people, but he’s, umm, he’s…away right now. In the military. We’ve been married for three years, and he knows how shy I am, and he always helps me meet new people, and I don’t even know why I came over here today except we had this whole Bundt cake, and we couldn’t eat it all by ourselves. Jake here,” she gestured toward the child, “has already eaten about half of it. I’m afraid he’s going to throw up, so when he woke up early from his nap, I thought maybe I’d just come over and give you some, but I think we’ve disturbed you because you look kind of upset, like you’ve been crying or something, so maybe we should just go now, and I’m really sorry we bothered you. Come on, Jake.” Her cheeks blossomed with uneasiness.

She let go and turned before Edna could balance the plate of cake. She was helping Jake down the steps before Edna could speak. “Wait!” Edna’s voice croaked, emotion and lack of use thickening her throat. “I just made a pot of coffee…” Now her voice trailed off, as if she were indecisive. While the girl turned around, Edna took a deep breath. “Please! Don’t go.”

The girl smiled gratefully and exhaled as if she, too, had been holding her breath.

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. -James 1:27

The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” -Matthew 25:40

 

Author’s note: This is a departure from my usual post, but I took up Lori Roeleveld’s challenge to write a piece of “flashover fiction.” You can read about what that means and find other flashover fiction stories at Lori’s blog. Let me know what you think about my story by leaving a comment below. I’d love to hear from you!

Treading Water or Treading On Water

Oh, the difference a preposition makes.

I learned to tread water in swim lessons when I was a little girl (pool water cold so early in the morning, parents watching from outside the chain-link fence). They said it was easy, but I never thought so. Treading water means constantly kicking your feet and constantly sweeping your arms back and forth in order to keep your head above the water. Floating, on the other hand…floating was the way to go. But you don’t get anywhere floating, at least not anywhere you want to go. Treading water isn’t very mobile either, but at least you can see what’s around you.

Of course I’ve never walked on water. Apart from the fact that it takes a miracle, seems like it would be easy: no rocks on which to stub your toe, no holes in which to turn your ankle. Yes, treading on water would be way easier than treading water. That’s the difference a preposition makes.

Peter found that out the hard way.

Matthew 14:25-33. It was windy, and the rolling waves made the boat rock roughly back and forth. No big deal for Peter, though. He was a fisherman, and he’d surely seen worse than this. The waves and wind weren’t what frightened Peter and the other disciples. It was the “ghost” coming toward them on top of the water. Still too far away to recognize, Jesus knew their fear, and his voice carried across the wind (or maybe it was a miracle), “Don’t be afraid” (Matthew 14:27).

Walking on water was
Peter’s idea, not Jesus’.

Rather than “Rock” (for which Petros is the Greek), Jesus should have named Simon Peter whatever the Greek word is for “Impulsive!” Peter decided to go meet Jesus out there on the water. He was not afraid to jump out of the boat and into the water (see also John 21:7). But walking on water was Peter’s idea, not Jesus’.

Treading on Water

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to be like Jesus. I wish I were as kind and patient as Jesus. I wish I had the authority with which He spoke to crowds. I wish I could do a miracle or two, just to get people’s attention. All these, however, are external aspects of Jesus’ identity, and I think this is where Peter found his motivation. Peter wanted so much to be close to Jesus, to be like Jesus, that he longed to do what Jesus did. In this case, to tread on water. These external things, however, are not the essence of Jesus’ character. The central characteristic of Jesus was (and still is) His relationship with the Father. That relationship constitutes the source of everything tangible that Peter tried to emulate. Jesus’ actions were just the by-product of His essence.

Actions are the
by-product of essence.

Copying the actions without the essence is like putting on a mask. It doesn’t change who you are. Yes, “emulation is the highest form of flattery,” but Jesus wasn’t looking for flatterers. He wanted followers.  He wanted people who knew Him intimately and obeyed Him unceasingly.

So why didn’t Jesus tell Peter “No”? Instead, Jesus tells him, “Come” (14:29). Knowing he would falter, why did Jesus let him do it? I don’t really know, but perhaps…

  • Peter needed to learn the limits of his budding faith (14:31).
  • The other disciples needed a passive (i.e. safe) push to their own faith (14:33).
  • Jesus knew how important this story would be down through the centuries, and so He permitted Peter’s embarrassment for our benefit. (How many sermons, lessons, even songs have you heard from this passage? I loose count. Thanks, Peter!)

Treading Water

When Peter “came to his senses,” we might say, fear set in. He was like me, during that same set of swimming lessons, when I strolled onto the high dive like it wasn’t a big deal only to freeze in terror there at the end, with the diving board bouncing and the chill bumps spreading over my body. Maybe his legs locked up, or maybe Peter kept striding forward, thinking, “I can do this. I can do this.” Even as the water covered his ankles, his calves, his knees….

You see, because Peter’s desire was his own, not Jesus’, Peter operated in the strength of his own faith. That was no shabby faith. Doubtless, he walked further than most of us would walk today. But when Peter reached the limits of his faith, when he began to compare his strength to that of the waves and wind, he sank. Then he just hung there, treading water where he had been treading on water.

Faith and Power

Our faith is not the fuel for
obedience. His power is.

As Christ-followers, we cannot live according to what we think is a good idea or what we think Jesus wants. We cannot depend on our faith to fulfill His will. Don’t misunderstand me here. We need faith, and our faith increases as we grow in Him, but our faith is not the fuel for obedience. It’s His power that gives us everything we need for a godly life (2 Peter 1:3). It’s His power, which raised Jesus from the dead, that works in us (Ephesians 1:19). It’s His power that makes us witnesses (Acts 1:8). It’s His power that will finish what He has started in us (Philippians 1:6).

We can’t dig into Peter’s mind that windy evening when he so rashly jumped out of the boat. It’s safe to say, however, that “his mouth was writing checks his faith couldn’t cash.” It’s quite possible that he was operating in his own strength, depending on his own faith. (Compare Acts 3:12.) Be careful not to put too much faith in your faith. It’s limited and its power is derivative.

Do you know whose faith is limitless and whose power is unmatched? Jesus’.

Be careful not to put to much faith in your faith. Our faith is only effective when Jesus is its source and goal. My #faith is #NotAboutMe via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

Can you tread water easily? I’m still no good at it. I’m trying to get a little better at keeping my faith properly centered, though. What about you? How does Peter’s sinking scene influence your faith? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

 

Things Not Said: Philip, part 1

After Pentecost and the establishment of the first church (Acts 2), it didn’t take long for conflict to arise in the church (not a big surprise for anyone who has ever been part of a church!).  To resolve the conflict, the disciples choose seven Greek-speaking believers “known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom” (Acts 6:3).  It was a humble position, just manning the food bank…nothing special. Among the seven, we find Philip, and his story is my favorite in the New Testament.  Take a look with me… Continue reading

Our Mountain Guide

A couple of days ago, I sat down at the kitchen table early in the morning and lifted a hot cup of coffee to my lips.  As I waited for the steam to evaporate off my glasses (an almost daily occurrence), I prayed, “Lord, give me something fresh today . . . something from You, but new to me.”  We’ve been strolling through Mark, taking a few verses at a time (see *this post* for more on having a quiet time), so this particular morning, I picked up at Mark 8:34.

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said:  “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

How many times have you read that verse?  How many times have you heard it preached?  How could I possibly see anything new here?

I could have kept going, but the Holy Spirit drew me toward the verbs. 

Becoming an authentic Christ-follower (a.k.a. disciple) means:

Deny – We refuse the right to act on our own opinions or seek our own comfort.  We do not pursue our own advancement.  We release all rights to His purpose and glory.

Pick up – We “own” the gifts and burdens that glorify Him.  This entails responsibilities as well as spiritual gifts, but it also relates to our identification with Him.  Yes, this is who I am: a Christ-follower.

Follow – We submit to His will and go where He goes, but this is also an active pursuit because we want to engage Him, enjoy Him, and learn to emulate Him.  (Ooohhh—that’ll preach!)

I thought on the images these verbs create, and He gave me an analogy.

The Christ-life is a treacherous mountain trail, but we have the perfect guide.  If you undertake a major, multi-day hike in unfamiliar terrain, you are wise to hire a guide.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
  1. You don’t and can’t know the right path to take or how many miles you need to cover today before you make camp. You must trust your guide.  That means denying yourself—your opinions, your comfort, your rights.  You can’t trust yourself even when you think you know best because you have no real understanding of the situation.
  2. You need to bring/carry exactly what He tells you to. Nothing more; nothing less.  Obedience in this area will literally save your life.  He says you don’t need it?  Then you don’t pack it.  He says to wear two pairs of socks, you pull on more socks.  That’s taking up your cross.
  3. You must stay behind the guide. Go where He goes; step where He steps; eat what He eats.  When He speaks, you listen because He has the keys of the kingdom (Matthew 16:19).  The more you get to know Him, the more you will want to be like him.  You try to stay close to Him not just so you’ll be safe, but so you can hear his stories and learn from his experience.  That’s following Him.

So sorry, all you fans of Disney’s Cars

The closing song in that very-fun movie says, “Life is a highway,” but it’s not.  It’s a narrow, treacherous, sometimes indiscernible trail across a wide range of mountains.  There are peaks and valleys, rests beside streams of cool water and arduous treks across arid plateaus, gorgeous sunsets and torrential downpours, but in every environment and every weather condition, we have the perfect Guide.

Life is a narrow, treacherous, sometimes indiscernible trail across a wide range of mountains, but we have the perfect guide in Jesus. He said #FollowMe. Whether life is easy or hard, it’s #NotAboutMe via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

Do you have a great analogy for the ChristLife? Does something in this post resonate with you today? Either way, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

Faith is in the Gap*

You rush to the end of the line for the biggest roller coaster at the amusement park, elbowing your way in front of another pair of riders because getting behind those two additional people might possibly cause you to wait an extra ninety seconds when you finally reach the other end of the line. You look up: “Two-hour wait from this point.” One hundred and twenty minutes is a long time to compel your mind to focus on something—anything—other than this death-defying machine that will hurl you through space with your bare feet dangling below…then above…then beside you. You make friendly conversation with the people behind you and try to pretend that you didn’t accost them just so you could cut those seconds off your wait time.

That fluttering in your stomach
is not from lack of food…

After the interminable two hours leaves you with tired feet, back pain (if you’re over forty, like me), and a growling stomach, you finally arrive at the front gates. Brief images of Churchill Downs flash through your mind…or is it the cattle chutes at a slaughterhouse? You realize the fluttering in your stomach is not from lack of food. You irrationally forget that at least four million people were in front of you in that line and not one of them is now dead. Your hands grip the cow-herding bars. Your tongue stutters and you try to laugh it off. You put on your brave face because everyone around you already remembered to do that, and you don’t want to be the odd-man-out.

07-27 roller coaster (2)
(c) Carole Sparks Six Flags over Georgia

Even as you kick off your flip-flops, you know there is still time to back out. How can you be sure the mechanism will support you? Why should you trust the engineers and mechanics who built this contraption? What if your safety harness unlatches mid-barrel roll?  There’s the exit gate; you see it at the end of the platform. Shoes in one hand, cell phone in the other, you hesitate as you reach toward the cubbyhole. All the friendly encouragement in the world could not boost your confidence at this moment.

That is doubt—pure doubt in which you question the sanity not only of yourself but of those around you and those in authority over you. You mentally test the waters of justification and consider the ramifications of walking away even while you empty your hands and turn toward certain death . . . at least it feels like it.

Taking a deep breath, you step across that gap, an empty space between solid ground and steel girders. The seat grabs you, and before you realize what has happened, the safety harness is locked, the minimum-wage college-age ride attendant has “inspected” your latch (yeah, right), and you are moving.

You had to leave your justifications
and ramifications in that cubbyhole
with your spare change.

Now doubt has a new face. You are committed and your doubts, while still relevant, cannot affect your actions. Well, you could scream, but nothing would really change. You had to leave your justifications and ramifications in that cubbyhole with your spare change. The click-click-click of the up-hill climb sounds like a time bomb, and in the momentary hesitation at the top, you feel certain that you are facing death. You sit very still because any sudden movement will surely knock the entire chain of seats off the rail. Stopping the engines and returning to the platform is not an option.

Ninety seconds later, smile plastered to your face (along with a couple of small bugs), you coast back into the platform and tell the next row of risk-takers, “You’re gonna love it!”

Risk-taking always
involves doubt.

Risk-taking always involves doubt. That’s what makes it risky. The real choice was a simple one: Do you step across that open-air gap into the seat or do you walk away and never know, tattooing the doubts onto your soul forever? The act of faith transpired in that gap.

That sounds a little intense for an amusement park, I know.

Risk and doubt are just as much a part of the Christ-life as they are a day at the park…except the stakes are much greater. We’re talking about eternity here. Just like with the roller coaster, there is only one way to remove the doubts: experience. And the only way to get the experience is to commit despite the doubts. When you choose to follow Christ, you step across a gap into a new world of risk and adventure. Your doubts don’t simply vanish, but as you gain experience, they become calculable risks. And just like with the roller coaster, you are actually safe whether you recognize it or not.

Risk and doubt are as much a part of the Christ-life as they are a day at the park…except the stakes are greater. (click to tweet)

Do you like roller coasters? I love them and hate them, yet I continue to get in line. How does this imagery help you face the inevitable risks of the Christ-life? Please share with all of us in the comments below!

*not The Gap®, the clothing store