A Short Essay

I had an opportunity to share in front of church the other night a little about the story that God is writing in my own life. I thought it would be fun to share it here as well.

One of the things that Isaiah says in the book of Isaiah when he’s talking about the things that Jesus will do when he comes is he says that he will come to set captives free.

And that, I believe sums up the story of what God IS doing in my life, what he HAS been doing, and what he will continue to do.

I grew up in the church and in a Christian family and I desperately wish that because of that I could stand up here tonight and tell you that there was no sin that I had done, or that had been done against me that I needed to be set free from. But it would be a lie.

I have always believed that there are rules. Rules of behavior, rules of what I can and can not do, and about who I should and should not be. I have always believed somewhere deep down that my ability to follow the rules determined my value in life.

The problem is that I can’t always follow the rules. Sometimes I’m unable to, sometimes I’m unaware that there ARE rules, and sometimes I just think they’re dumb! But when I can’t or don’t follow them, I fall into the trap of feeling like I have to justify to myself and others why I didn’t follow them, or pay for my lack of measuring up.

This is ultimately called self-righteousness, and it is the captivity that God is working towards setting me free from. The truth is that my self-righteousness hurts the people around me, but even more importantly it hurts the One who suffered and died in order to set me free from this exhausting cycle of myself. To become aware of my self-righteousness and to choose to lessen my grip on it is scary because it’s familiar. It’s the only tool I’ve ever really had in dealing with pain.

My youngest daughter is three years old and is terrified of elevators. On her own, she would never set foot anywhere near one. However, when I am standing in the elevator and invite her in and hold on to her as the doors close and the elevator changes floors, she will get in. Because her trust in me is bigger than her fear of elevators.

God is big enough, loving enough and trustworthy enough for me to let go of my fear and choose to step on the elevator. I know that I am safe in his arms.

And the great news is that where I am safest, I am also the most free.

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Deborah; Redeemer and Prophet Part 3

Click here for Part 1 of Deborah’s story and here for Part 2.

The story of Deborah continues with recounting the battle between Israel and Sisera. Israel wins the battle by God sending a rainstorm down- in the middle of the dry season- which throws off Sisera’s army and throws them into chaos and confusion. Israel annihilated the enemy and killed them all. All but one. Sisera- who left the battle on foot (presumably because his chariot of iron got stuck in the mud and was useless) and ended up slain by Jael in her tent. I believe that Jael deserves her own story, so I won’t give a lot of the details of that part here- but through the actions of both these women and Barak, victory is won to Israel and peace is restored in the land for 20 years.

In Deborah’s song in chapter 5, she describes herself as “a mother in Israel”. I just want to take a look at that for a moment because I believe that there is much there in the word ‘mother’.

We don’t know if Deborah was a mother or not. The bible does not talk about any children of hers. It’s easy to assume though that she was, but when the word mother is used here, it is not speaking of her being a mother of children. It is talking about her being a mother of Israel. The commentaries say that the title was given to her as one of honor, respect and prominence.

If I just ended with that, I think that gives some insight to the honor, respect and prominence that God has for the role of motherhood. I think that is a beautiful reminder that the work that we do as mothers is seen by the God of the universe and is valuable to Him. In the midst of the busy-ness of our unglamorous lives between diapers and cheerios and battles about bedtime and bathtime and mealtime, etc, etc it is so easy to forget that what we do, MATTERS. It matters to the Most High God.

I think there’s also something to think about though in this story in regards to the idea of a woman who was leading Israel and her calling herself a mother. What can we learn from this story about how women lead and how God feels about women in leadership?

Well, first- we find this story in the Bible with nothing in or around it written that suggests that God has a problem with a woman leading. In fact, she was the judge who was written about in the most positive light. This says to me (along with other examples elsewhere in the Bible) that God does not have a problem with women leaders. Some of you may be reading this and thinking that that is a super obvious conclusion. But others of you may be surprised by that. I am not personally surprised by it, but I feel as though this is an important thing for me to learn and understand at the season of life that I am currently in.

Second- there are a lot of words that come to mind when we hear the word ‘mother’. What do you think of? Well, to name a few; protector, hospitable, tender, kind, caring for needs, caring for the weak and oppressed, putting the needs of others before our own,  seeking the good of others before our own, sacrificial, servant…

This is how Deborah describes her leadership of Israel. Men and women are both called to be leaders, but I believe that our leadership looks different. I believe the differences are good and the differences were created intentionally by God.  So many of the stories in the Bible that highlight influential women, seem to begin with that woman simply serving those around her. Maybe through food or hospitality or wisdom. And as she rises to leadership, she does so because she has gained the trust and love of the people around her and she continues to be loved and trustworthy because she doesn’t forget the people she is serving. She speaks for those who cannot speak for themselves. She protects those who are defenseless. Just like a mother.

What would happen I wonder, if us women caught the heart of God for the weak, the poor, the defenseless and became mothers for our world? That is, I believe, what we were created to do. We are world changers.

Deborah was a great leader. We would all do great to learn from her and follow her lead and immulate her faith. No doubt in my mind about that. The way that she sacrificially loved and served her people on behalf of her God points towards the way that thousands of years later, the Ultimate Judge would come. He came because He loved. He came to serve and sacrifice himself in order to save the people who would continue to sin and make poor life choices because without Him, it’s impossible for us to make good ones.  And that is ultimately what the story of Deborah is about. It’s about the true Hero who has come to save us all, and how when He comes, our lives change. And when our lives change He can work through even the smallest people to make the biggest changes.

Deborah; Redeemer and Prophet Part 2

If you have not yet caught Part 1 of Deborah’s story, go HERE to read that first. This is a continuation of her story.

The name Deborah means, “bee”. Which could mean that she has sweetness of character to her friends and a sharp sting to her enemies. It’s sort of makes me think of that scene from, “You’ve Got Mail” where Meg Ryan’s character is trying to psych herself up for her news interview and boxing in the corner saying, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee!” It’s a funny scene in the movie because Meg Ryan’s character is anything but a stinging bee.. but that description rings true for Deborah.

The text describes Deborah as a prophetess. This is significant because she is one of few women named in the Bible as a prophet and the ONLY judge to be named both judge and prophet. To be a prophet meant that God’s spirit had come upon her and that God spoke through her to his people. This indicates to me that Deborah may have carried a different weight/type of authority than some of the other judges and/or that people around her may have viewed or responded to her differently than some of the other judges.

It is interesting to note as well that Deborah was the only judge of Israel to be in power BEFORE a militant victory. Winning a war was the beginning of the rule for all the other judges. But not so with Deborah. She was already established as a judge and leader over Israel before conflict arose. People around her already valued her wisdom and intelligence and came to her to have their disputes settled before any military action took place. She was influencing Israel long before she fighting wars.

And then God speaks, and we really get into the story. Deborah calls to Barak, the military leader and tells him that God is going to deliver them and it is time to fight their enemies (Judges 4:6-7).

This makes me ask a few questions; At this point, Israel had been being oppressed for 20 years what changed? Was God waiting on Israel to finally cry out to Him? If Deborah was leading Israel at the time, why did it take so long to do something about their enemy? What was Barak’s part in this? What was he doing for that 20 years?

My best guess is that they were just waiting for God to come and deliver them. If Deborah was a prophet, that indicates to me that she was faithful and obedient. I know that I have had situations where I have seen or felt an injustice and cried out to God only to have Him say wait. So I wait, painfully, as I watch the injustices continue to happen and nothing changes. Until one day, God says move, and then things change suddenly. Maybe it was like that.

At any rate, Deborah calls to Barak. He comes, which signifies her power and influence at the time. She tells him that God has said that it is time to go to war and it’s time to rally the troops. He responds by saying, “If you go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go.”

These words are curious. Especially in the cultural context. The fact that a man is seemingly dependant on a woman is very unusual and it’s a very debated subject. Some people say that it was the response of a weak or passive man who was unable to summon the courage to fight the battle on his own. Some say that it was the response of a faithful man who wanted the assuring presence of the nations prophet to be with him.  We will never know for certain, but I think that it was a combination of both.

Barak knew of course that Deborah held the power. He also would have known of her great wisdom and influence throughout the tribes of Israel. He knew how people responded to her. But most of all, he knew that she spoke for God. I believe that there is an element of faith and wisdom in him asking her to come along. Maybe he knew that with her power and influence she would have a better chance of rallying the troops than himself. He could have also been asking for the continued hand of God to be with them in his response for her to come. Both options seem to me like wisdom and faith.

On the other hand, it’s possible that he could have been scared senseless and needed her confidence to go with them in the fight- that may have also been true.

Deborah agrees swiftly and confidently to go along with Barak to the battlefield. This is a beautiful picture of leadership to me. Not only was she willing to go into battle, but she was willing to go first. It’s also such a beautiful picture of a woman who was so filled with faith in the God whom she loved that she was willing to go to the hard places, do hard things with full assurance that God would be by her side, doing what He said he would do. She didn’t know the plan. She had no idea how they were going to fight and win this battle against this mighty enemy. God didn’t tell her that. But she knew God. She knew his voice. She knew His promises. And she knew His love for His people. So she went.

After she agrees to go along with him, Deborah says to Barak, “… nevertheless there will be no glory for you in the journey you are taking for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman.”

We assume from her statement, since she is the leader of Israel at the time, that she means that she herself will get the glory for the victory. Maybe she did. We find out at the end of the chapter though that it was another woman named Jael who actually is the one to kill Sisera.

I wonder if she knew that Jael would be the one to kill Sisera. Or if she thought that she would be the one to get the glory since she was the one commanding the army. Did God reveal to her what was going to happen specifically, or just that it was time for them to go to war and that they would win?

There’s really no way to know. But if you read in Chapter 5 of Judges where Deborah and Barak write a song of praise to God and a replay of the story, they give a whole section in there of praise to Jael for her actions. Jael was heralded as a hero. Despite what Deborah knew or didn’t know in the beginning, she responds to Jael’s part in the story with praise and celebration. I see no evidence of anger or bitterness in her towards Jael for stealing part of her glory.

Again, what a testament to her faith and relationship with God. She was comfortable resting in the fact that ultimately GOD got the best glory. There were people who rose to the occasion in faith and followed God and they were praised for their faith. But she ultimately knew that it was God’s story and God’s victory and He was the one to which the praise should go. I find that so beautiful, and such a great reminder of the way that it is supposed to be among women. In our society today we have such fierce competition between women and it is exhausting. How much better would it be if we all could just rest in the fact that no matter what I do that is good or bad and no matter what you do that is good or bad, ultimately it’s all God’s story anyway…

Stay tuned for Part 3 of Deborah’s story coming soon!

Deborah; Redeemer and Prophet Part 1

Deborah. Have you heard of her? When I first started reading and studying about the different women of the Bible, I had actually never heard of Deborah. But immediately upon hearing about her, I was intrigued and needed to know more. The more I study and the more I read about her and her situation, the more I become fascinated by her. Both as a person and in general about why her story was included in the Bible and what we are to learn from her. There’s so much we don’t know. And so many opinions and conjectures about her and how and why she came to be in power. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning and set the stage, shall we? Continue reading