A Mother in Israel

Deborah_blog

Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. Judges 4:4 NIV

Deborah had her own palm tree (seriously); the “Palm of Deborah” the Bible calls it.

Like Gideon and Samson, she was one of the Judges of Israel in that kind of nasty period between Joshua and King David (1200 B.C.-ish). Judges were Israel’s leaders, both legally and militarily—powerful, but still a few clicks down from royalty.

However, what I find most interesting—and appropriate for this week—was that Deborah was also a self-identified mother. In her own words:

I, Deborah, arose … a mother in Israel. Judges 5:7 NIV

What she arose to do was a lot of hand-holding of her military guy, Barak. (Jabin, king of Canaan, had been putting the whoop on the Israelites for 20 years and it was time to put the kibosh on that) But Barak, the big ol’ sissy, wouldn’t go to war without her, so she climbed out from under her palm, tucked her tunic, donned her combat boots, and got that snowflake to stop trembling and start trampling.

What a woman—during the day she held court under her palm tree, making the rowdy Israelites behave and leading their rag-tag army in battle, and at night she wiped snotty noses and picked up after the kids. She was the first Biblical mother who worked outside the home.

And if you read Judges 4-5, you’ll see that her work was definitely never done—just like most moms. ‘Cause while Dunkin’ is great to get Americans up and at it, I think what the country actually runs on is working moms.

And verily I say to thee—I don’t know many moms who don’t work. Maybe that work doesn’t include a cubicle and a retirement plan, but whether it’s in the boardroom or the bathroom, the bottom line is still given a tremendous boost.

Come to think of it, I know a bunch of near-moms—aunts and besties and sitters and the like—who are as much moms to the kids in their charge as the bio ones. If you’re part of that village helping raise a kid, you’re a mom in my book.

So thank you to each of you for making the world a kinder, gentler, and much nicer smelling place. I wouldn’t want to live here without you. As Solomon says…

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Proverbs 31:30 NIV

Exactly. Happy Mother’s Day to you all.

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So what happened to Deborah? After defeating the enemy army…

…the hand of the Israelites pressed harder and harder against Jabin king of Canaan until they destroyed him (ouch). Judges 4:24 NIV

Then the land had peace forty years. Judges 5:31 NIV

IOW…Mama kicked Canaanite keister and took names. (You go, girl.)

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Once More, With Peeling

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV)

I’m having a horticultural “best of times/worst of times” moment in reference to an event unfolding in my hindmost landscaping bed (i.e. that patch of dirt out behind the carport). I’m watching one of my banana plants actually sprout bananas – one of the coolest and rarest things ever (at least in my particular plant hardiness zone). Out of the blue recently, a large, deep-red banana heart appeared at the top of my tallest plant. As each layer of the banana heart peels back like a petal, it reveals tier upon tier of tiny, finger-sized bananas.

Once the final petal has opened and the baby bananas have had time to ripen, I’ll have my own little bunch of Chiquitas. And they’re sweet – much more so than their store-bought banana brethren and sistren.

Makes me feel kind of like a parent (of really tall, green, and quiet children – who sprout bananas).

That’s the good news. The bad news is that a banana plant only has one bunch of bananas in it; after that, it dies. So no sooner are the tiny potassium- and vitamin C-laced babies ready to adorn a bowl of corn flakes than the plant I’ve fed and watered and nurtured from a pup suddenly takes an unceremonious, leaning-tower-of-Pisa-like nose-dive into the mulch.

Not a happy sight. But that’s the way God made bananas – bear fruit and then exit, stage left.

With just a cursory read of the Bible, you’ll discover that “bearing fruit” is also the perfect analogy for being a productive Christian. Many of the Biblical writers have a lot to say about bearing fruit, as did Jesus. (Of course, He’s generally not talking about bananas – at least I don’t think so. I can’t imagine one of the apostles slipping on a banana peel. That would give a whole new meaning to the phrase “the fall of man.”)

Paul had some pretty insightful things to say about bearing fruit, as well. In chapter 5 of his letter to the church at Galatia (in what today would be Turkey), he found himself in the unpleasant position of having to give the Galatians an “F” in “conduct” on their spiritual report card. He didn’t pull any punches when contrasting their fruits of the “flesh” – referring to their proclivity to sin – to fruits of the “spirit.”

Although Paul reminds the Galatians that they were called to be free, he warns them to not let that freedom take then down the wrong side street.

He writes:

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19-21, NIV

That’s an embarrassingly l-o-o-o-ng list of possible sinful pursuits. He pretty much takes those Galatians to the woodshed – if you’re going to act like this, he says, you can jolly well kiss any chance of eternity with God in heaven “αντίο”.

But the God of all creation (including bananas) is also the God of new creations. In verses 22 and 23, Paul goes on to offer an encouraging “but” to those who belong to Christ Jesus.

“But,” he says…

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23, NIV

How d’you like them bananas? (or, you know, the fruit of your choice) Now that’s a list I can get into.

Sadly, though, it’s kind of hard to find many of the fruits on that list percolating through the world today. Just think about your latest drive home from work – did you see any joy or kindness or self-control out on the interstate? Me neither.

Earlier in his letter to the Galatians, Paul says:

The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:14, NIV

In other words, don’t tailgate or speed up just to cut your neighbor off and keep him from merging into your lane.

Love him…

  • Love that left-lane hogging driver with his turn signal on for the last 20 miles riding his brake and flicking cigarette ashes out the window while texting.
  • Love that person in front of you at the grocery checkout who waits until the cashier has rung up all her groceries and given her the total before she starts hunting for her credit card which is somewhere in her wallet which is somewhere in her voluminous purse – while texting.
  • Love that know-it-all in your meeting who, because he or she can’t get enough of hearing him- or herself talk, forces a follow-up meeting to be scheduled, since they ate up so much time nattering on (while texting). And if there’s two of them competing for air time? Ay-yi-yi… Pray for peace. And strength. And grace. And a stomach bug the day of that follow-up meeting…

So just like “fruits of the flesh” vs. “fruits of the spirit,” this whole “fruits of the banana” vs. “fruits of the Christian” essay is an exercise in contrasts. My banana plant only gets one shot at it. Once it’s borne its fruit, that’s it – it passes on, it’s no more, it ceases to be, it’s a stiff, bereft of life, an ex-banana.

For the Christian though, Jesus used a beautiful fruit-bearing analogy when He said:

“I am the vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit.” John 15:5, NIV

Not once, like my soon-to-be-finished banana, but over and over – as long as we continue to share His Gospel. In fact, if the fruit we bear leads others to a saving knowledge of God’s grace and results in eternal life for someone else, we can conceivably “bear fruit” forever.

I find that very a-peeling…

Happy re-birthday to me

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If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9

Three years ago today around 10:00 a.m. EST I was reborn…became a new creation…became a Christian…got saved. No matter how you say it, my life changed in a way that I never would have imagined possible. Much of that change is discussed throughout this blog, with posts about experiencing God in a personal way, growing in faith, and truly understanding the meaning of God’s grace. If you’ve read more than a few words of “clay,” you know the changes in my life were significant.

Prior to June 17, 2010 I was mired in a life of sin. Having rejected God’s offer of salvation over and over during my 52 years—an offer I was well-versed in, as I grew up hearing the gospel preached time and again—I was without hope and bound to spend eternity that way. And, as I believe in a literal hell as described in the Bible, that’s where my rejection would have landed me.

Ponder that for a moment—I definitely have, especially today.

But there was hope—I didn’t have to continue in the life I was in; I didn’t have to spend eternity separated from God, from everything good. Because of that hope, I can spend eternity in God’s presence. If you’re not a Christian, I know it may be hard to imagine just how incredible that will be, but do this: think of the greatest thing that could ever happen to you—winning the world’s biggest lottery; being handed the keys to the house of your dreams in the location of your dreams with the car of your dreams in the garage; being able to travel the world for the rest of your life; having anything or anyone you want – and multiply it by the largest number you can think of.

Even then it will still pale in comparison to what awaits you as a follower of Jesus.

So maybe you’re thinking, “That’s fine—if you believe all that.” That’s fair and something that, on my pondering occasions, I’ve mulled over.

I would be dishonest if I said there hasn’t been a moment when I’ve thought: What if there isn’t really anything after this life? What if we die and that’s it—no heaven, no eternity? What if that’s just a dangled carrot to get us to love each other, to be good and kind, and to get us to dangle that carrot in front of everyone else?

I can say with certainty that this life isn’t all there is, but what if it were?

So what? It wouldn’t make a bit of difference.

There’s no way I would go back to the life I lived three-plus years ago. Those changes in my life I mentioned earlier have been the stuff I could only dream of before. Today, those dreams are reality. Today…

I have peace:

“The Lord blesses his people with peace.” Psalm 29:11

I have purpose:

“My only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” Acts 20:24

I have love and support, both from an army of mortal spiritual family to a host of the immortal:

“For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.” Psalm 91:11

I am blessed – abundantly:

“Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33

I have a personal relationship with Jesus:

“If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” Revelation 3:20

I have nothing to be afraid of:

“If God is for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31

If you’re not a Christian, maybe you just think it’s all about the “thou shalt nots”; that you would have to give up all the stuff you like to do. Again, that’s fair. That’s what the liar who whispers in your ear wants you to think. It’s easy to buy that lie. Sin can be pretty attractive.

Granted, I quit doing some things that I knew were not pleasing to God, but they were things I haven’t missed one bit. They were all unhealthy physically and emotionally anyway, so no big loss.

So even if all I ever experience as a follower of Jesus are the things I’ve experienced so far, that would be enough to convince me to give up everything I’ve ever had, ever known, or ever been—or ever will have, know, or be.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5:17

That’s me—a new creation. And today is my re-birthday.

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Today can be your re-birthday, too. Maybe you’ve thought about it before and procrastinated, or thought you were OK, since you’re kind to animals and people and give to the Red Cross.

Or maybe not…

Do you feel a tug at your heart? An unsettled feeling in the pit of your stomach that all isn’t right? A desire for more than the father of all lies is offering? A gnawing that, if something were to happen to you, you’re not sure if you would be with God forever?

It doesn’t have to be that way. All that can change right now with a simple, sincere prayer. That prayer can sound something like this:

“Heavenly father, I admit that I’m a sinner and that I’m sorry for the life I’ve lived. I believe that Jesus is your son, and that He came here to earth to live as one of us—but a perfect one of us, one of us without sin. I believe that He freely gave His perfect, sinless life to pay the sin debt I owe, a debt I could never pay on my own. I also believe that You raised Him from the dead. I ask You now for Your forgiveness of my sins. I want Jesus to be in control of my life.

“Thank you for sending Jesus to die for me and for giving me eternal life. Amen”

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