Forgiveness

forgiveness

Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.””

~Matthew 18:21-22

Jesus then dives into a parable about the unmerciful servant:

“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.  At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’  But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

~ Matthew 18:23-35

Is forgiveness always easy? Certainly not from an emotional standpoint. Especially when families are torn apart, children are harmed, or hearts are scarred… Yet it is clear when studying what the Bible says about forgiveness that the Lord expects us to forgive one another. Jesus said that God will not forgive us if we are not able to extend forgiveness to our fellow man (Matthew 6:14-15). He even takes this concept a step further and says in Mark 11:25, “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” The Lord grants this kind of forgiveness and mercy to all who believe in Him and are baptized in His name, after we turn away from the things (sin) that separate us from Him.

Psychologists profess the necessity of releasing anger and bitterness, and giving the gift of forgiveness to the offending party whether or not they “deserve” forgiveness, or ask for it, for that matter. Psychology Today has an article titled “The Psychology of Forgiveness,” that said, “Physiologically, higher reported levels of forgiveness were associated with lower white blood cell count and hematocrit levels. White blood cells are an integral part of fighting off diseases and infections. Together, these results highlight the importance of forgiveness – not for the other person, but for you. Don’t allow your mind and your body to go through another day feeling vengeful and angry.” It isn’t surprising that even from a physiological standpoint, following Jesus’ teaching benefits us.

Paul, speaking of a brother who had fallen away and then repented said, “Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. Another reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.” (2 Cor. 2:5-11)

I don’t know about you, my sisters, but when I am in the position of truly asking and needing forgiveness, an enormous weight is lifted after being granted mercy. God, in His infinite love and understanding of our human nature, allowed His precious Son to walk among us, suffer, and die for us… so that we might have forgiveness and eternal life. If we ever doubt our value in the Lord’s eyes, meditating on this heavenly gift will bring the comforting security of His steadfast love.

For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

~ Hebrews 2:17-18

Paul writes in Colossians 1:9-14: “For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

We’ve covered the importance of training our hearts to be willing and ready to forgive one another, and how blessed we are that our Father in heaven grants us mercy when we ask. But how about forgiving ourselves? Don’t we sometimes wish we could turn back time and undo past sin and mistakes?

When we struggle with letting the shame of past mistakes go even after the Lord has forgiven us, let’s meditate on this and praise Him, thanking Him for loving us so fervently, and extend gentle mercy to others with humility and understanding:

Psalm 103

Praise the Lord, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
The Lord works righteousness
and justice for all the oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
his deeds to the people of Israel:
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.
The life of mortals is like grass,
they flourish like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.
But from everlasting to everlasting
the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children’s children—
with those who keep his covenant
and remember to obey his precepts.
The Lord has established his throne in heaven,
and his kingdom rules over all.
Praise the Lord, you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his bidding,
who obey his word.
Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts,
you his servants who do his will.
Praise the Lord, all his works
everywhere in his dominion.
Praise the Lord, my soul.

Godly Women of the Bible: Sarah

 

Guest author Jesse Flowers continues his “Godly Women of the Bible” series:

It seems to me that a godly woman that is often forgotten because of the enormity of the shadow cast by her husband is Sarah. Abraham is mentioned in the Bible 280 times while Sarah is mentioned just shy of 50 times. When we think of faith we don’t think of Sarah (though she had faith), we think of Abraham. He was not only the father of the Jewish nation, but is the spiritual father of all who walk in his steps of faith (Rom. 4:12).

When we mention the patriarchs of old we typically list off the big three: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But what about the wives of these mighty men: Sarah, Rebekah, Leah and Rachel? Whenever we think of Isaac’s great story we generally think of him in connection with his father Abraham, but seldom with his mother Sarah. Why is that? Most assuredly, there would be no son of promise if it wasn’t for the very key role of this godly wife and mother in the plan of God!

Indeed there is much that we can all learn from this remarkable woman of God named Sarah.

 1. She endured various hardships in life. Although she was righteous and married to a very righteous and wealthy man, this did not mean that her life was problem free. In fact, the first time we are introduced to her in Scripture we read: “But Sarai was barren; she had no child” (Gen. 11:30). While we do read of other godly women in the Bible who were barren (Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah, Elizabeth, etc.), none of them remained barren as long as Sarah. She was 90 years old when Isaac was born.

On two separate occasions her husband placed her in very awkward and dangerous situations, by presenting her to Pharaoh and to Abimelech as his sister instead as his wife (Gen. 12:10-20; 20:1-18). Also there were difficult hardships that arose regarding her handmaid Hagar and her son Ishmael (Gen. 16:1-6; 21:8-12). Like Sarah, godly women today will encounter various hardships in life (Jam. 1:2; 2 Tim. 3:12) that they too must endure holding fast to the Lord their God (Josh. 23:8).

2. Her faith was lacking and needed to grow. There were certainly occasions when Sarah’s faith was not as strong and trusting in God as it should have been. For example, when ten years had passed since God’s promise to Abraham of not only a son but a great nation, and she was still barren, she grew impatient with God’s timetable. So she suggested to her husband an alternate plan. “See now, the LORD has restrained me from bearing children. Please, go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her” (Gen. 16:2). But we must also point out that instead of reassuring her of God’s promise he “heeded the voice of Sarai.”

Another example is found in Gen. 18:9-15. God sent divine messengers to Abraham to tell him that “Sarah your wife shall have a son” (v. 10). Sarah overheard the conversation and she laughed within herself and said, “After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” The LORD was not pleased with her response and asked Abraham, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” But would it not also seem a bit far-fetched to you at age 89? Even the text says, “Now Abraham and Sarah were old, well advanced in age; and Sarah had passed the age of childbearing” (v. 11; cf. Rom. 4:19). In fact, we read of a very similar example of Abraham reacting the same way earlier (cf. Gen. 17:15-18).

But let’s be completely fair and honest. Have there not been times in our lives when our faith and trust in God was lacking and needed to grow more? At times like Jesus’ own disciples we need to be lovingly rebuked, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matt. 14:31)

3. She obeyed her husband. By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the apostle Peter holds up Sarah as an example to be emulated by all Christian wives. “For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror” (1 Peter 3:5-6). Out of all the godly wives that Peter could have chosen, he chose Sarah. She stands as a shining example for all time of a wife that had “chaste conduct accompanied by fear” (v. 2), “the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” (v. 4), a “holy” woman “who trusted in God” and was “submissive” to her husband (v. 5).

These qualities and characteristics in a woman are ridiculed and looked down upon by many in the world today, but they are “very precious in the sight of God” (v. 4). To obey your husband is to obey your Lord (Eph. 5:22-24). The Lord calls upon Christian wives to be “daughters” of Sarah. Will you arise and answer that noble and high calling? And is it any wonder then that when Abraham lost such a godly wife and mother that he “came to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her” (Gen. 23:2)? The void in his life for the next 38 years until his own death must have been tremendous without his best friend and companion in life by his side. No doubt she was greatly loved and would be greatly missed by Abraham.

4. She had a faith that pleased God. The Bible tells us that “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). Sarah possessed such a faith. Five verses later we read: “By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised” (v. 11). “By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed…” And where does faith come from? Faith comes from hearing the words of God (Rom. 10:17). The inspired text tells us that she bore a child when she was past the age, “because she judged Him faithful who had promised.” Do we have a faith like Sarah? Do we also judge God faithful who has made “exceedingly great and precious promises” to us (2 Peter 1:4)? She wasn’t perfect in her walk with God. Neither are we. Her faith faltered at times. So does ours. But let us be determined that over the course of our lives that we too will possess a faith that pleases God.

Can you not relate on some level to Sarah? Surely each of us can not only relate to her, but also learn some invaluable spiritual lessons. In fact, she is so significant to the story of the Bible that the apostle Paul says that Christians are children of Sarah, children of promise (Gal. 4:21-31). I must admit that I’m really looking forward to meeting Abraham in Heaven, but I am also really looking forward to meeting and getting to know this great woman of God. Aren’t you?

 

Pic of Family_Florida

Jesse Flowers has been preaching for the church of Christ at Pruett and Lobit Street in Baytown, Texas for the past 8 years. He is married to his beautiful wife, April (Melton), and they have four sweet children, Jesse, Josiah, Anna and Clara. If interested, you can read more of his articles or listen to his sermons at www.biblework.com.

The Gift of Honor

rasberries

One phrase my girls and I use is: “turn the key in your heart.” I’ve personally been focused on turning the key in my heart to find ways to honor others. Giving honor to the Lord first, and then to those I come in contact with.

Several months ago, Deborah Brewer led a ladies Bible study focused on this subject. It opened my eyes to the choices we make to either give the gift of honor or dishonor. During the Bible study, Deborah asked a volunteer to join her at the front of the class and she handed her friend a gift. The recipient opened the present only to find dirt inside. Deborah said when we dishonor others, it’s like giving them the gift of…. dirt. In other words, when we show dishonor to God or others, it is hurtful, insulting, and demeaning. A moment later, another volunteer was given a gift. Again, beautifully wrapped. This time, the contents were sweet and thoughtful, representing when we honor one another. This simple exercise was powerful to me because while I know how important it is to measure my words and actions, this visual comparison will serve as a reminder of the unseen, yet lasting effects of honor… or lack of.

My grandfather once said, “If you don’t remember anything else I tell you, remember this: be the reflection of the good you see in people. Sometimes we can’t see the good in ourselves, so it’s important to tell people when you see it.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but he was helping me learn that one way of showing honor is to be a positive reflection to every soul. While there are times we must confront one another, and motherhood requires that we discipline our children, there are many opportunities to give the gift of positive feedback.

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

~ Romans 12:9-18

What are some ways we can honor God and His sons and daughters? We can start by immersing ourselves in God’s written Word, obeying Him, and praising Him. While praying to our Father, we can pray for one another and find ways to uplift each other (1 Thess 5:11, Heb. 3:13). When we notice someone using their God-given gifts for Him, we can thank them for sharpening us to grow spiritually (Prov. 27:17).

I certainly have moments I’ve regretted in life, but I don’t think I’ll ever regret honoring my brothers and sisters. By being purposeful in our walk with the Lord, we can truly make a difference in this world for Him.  One word, one action, one moment at a time. Let’s be gift-givers of honor this week!

Spiritual Mirror

daily reading
Photo by Heidi Palmer

My favorite part of gardening is the benefit of quiet reflection time. While I weeded my flower beds last week, I was reminded of the parable of the sower in Luke 8:15. There Jesus explains what happens when His Word is planted in “thorny ground”. Jesus said, “And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” As I continued pulling the weeds out of my garden, I considered what the thorns in my soul might be.

I tell my girls that reading the Bible daily is something our soul so desperately needs, just as much as our physical bodies rely on nutritional food. While we may not see the nutritional benefits immediately, those fruits and vegetables are making us stronger over time and behind the scenes. The same is true spiritually when we are immersed in His Word. He is making us more resilient to temptations and trials that can hinder our growth, deep within our souls (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.”
~Psalm 19:7-9

My family and I recently began a 52 day spiritual challenge (click here to listen to the sermon called “52 days” by Jesse Flowers.) I appreciate challenges because they first require evaluation. We can’t set a new goal unless we find our own starting line, right? Using the Bible, I looked in a spiritual mirror (James 1:22-25) and found some unprofitable habits, attitudes and perspectives that needed to be adjusted, and found more time I could allocate for searching the scriptures.

More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.”
~ Psalm 19:10-11

Just like tending an unkempt garden, we can use our Bible as a tool to renew our minds (Romans 12:1-2) so that we will be able to discern good and evil. We then can stay firmly rooted in Him (Colossians 2:6-7). The Lord makes our journey to heaven joy-filled when we:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
~ 1 Thessalonians 5:16-17

Do you have weeds growing in your spiritual garden, like me? Let’s live with purpose, starting right now.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
~ Hebrews 12:1-2

Godly Women of the Bible: Jochebed

Guest author Jesse Flowers continues his “Godly Women of the Bible” series:

Do you know the story of Jochebed? Perhaps for many children and adults she is virtually an unknown Bible character, and I suppose for good reason since she is only mentioned by name twice in Scripture. But we need to know her for she has an incredible story to tell us.

So who exactly is this woman named Jochebed? I will give you a BIG hint. She had a son named Moses. Of course, we know plenty about Moses, but what about the godly woman that gave birth to one of the most significant Bible characters of all? I think it’s high time that we tell her story.

  1.  She was the daughter of Levi. “And a man of the house of Levi went and took as wife a daughter of Levi” (Exodus 2:1). Here is further evidence of this same truth. “The name of Amram’s wife was Jochebed the daughter of Levi, who was born to Levi in Egypt…” (Numbers 26:59). That fact alone is pretty amazing to me. It would mean that Joseph was her uncle, Jacob was her grandfather, Isaac was her great-grandfather, and Abraham would have been her great-great grandfather! You see, Amram married his father’s sister, Jochebed. Amram’s father was Kohath, who was one of the three sons of Levi (Exodus 6:16-20). And that pretty much makes Jochebed “Bible royalty.” Of the twelve tribes of Israel, this would be the one tribe that would soon be set apart unto God for special service (Num. 1:47-54; 18:21; Deut. 10:8-9; 21:5; Josh. 13:14, 33). Her descendants and relatives would go on to do untold good for the chosen people of God, including a much later descendant named Elizabeth (Luke 1:5), the mother of John the Baptizer, the forerunner of Jesus Christ! And don’t forget that we too have been set apart unto God for special service (1 Cor. 6:11; Jude 1:1; 1 Peter 2:4-5, 9-10; Rev. 1:5-6).

  2.  She was a woman of great faith. Somewhat overlooked and too often forgotten in the impressive list of great heroes of faith, we find this statement recorded: “By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child…” (Hebrews 11:23). Now the faith spoken of in this passage did not belong to Moses yet, for he was just born, but rather it speaks to the faith belonging to Amram and Jochebed. Imagine having to hide your newborn baby from the government because they were seeking to kill him (Exodus 1:22-2:2). But this is exactly what Jochebed had to do, and it was her great faith that caused her to take such action. We read earlier in the same chapter, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (11:6). This is the faith that was possessed by Jochebed. She believed and trusted in God, and knew that her God was a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. May each one of us also possess such a faith!

  3.  She was very brave. The author of Hebrews also tells us that “they were not afraid of the king’s command” (11:23). No doubt their great faith instilled great courage in their hearts in a very frightening and dangerous time to raise a family. Pharaoh commanded all his people regarding the Hebrew women: “Every son who is born you shall cast into the river, and every daughter you shall save alive” (Exodus 1:22). The reason for the command was because “the children of Israel…multiplied and grew exceedingly mighty” (Ex. 1:7). Afraid they might join their enemies in time of war, the Egyptians made them their slaves, but the more they afflicted them, the more they grew (Ex. 1:12). Thus, Pharaoh gave the command to exterminate all male babies. I think as a parent I would have naturally been afraid of such a command. But the inspired text tells us that Jochebed was not afraid. Instead she trusted in God’s care and protection over her family (Ps. 27:1; 56:3, 11), and did all she could to keep her baby safe. I think in many respects today, Christian parents live in frightening times to raise a family. And so we too need to be very brave as we live “in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation” (Phil. 2:15) doing our absolute best to keep them safe and protected, bringing up our children “in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).

  4.  She was a woman of great strength. After baby Moses was discovered by the daughter of Pharaoh, Miriam offered to find a Hebrew woman to nurse the baby (Exodus 2:3-9). Of course, she brought her own mother, Jochebed, to be the baby’s nurse – and she was paid to feed her own child! Do we not see God’s wonderful providence in this story? But how difficult it would have been for her to later give up her little boy to be raised by another woman. Such would require great strength. “And the child grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son” (Ex. 2:10). But Moses never forgot his roots. He never forgot who his people were, and never forgot who was his true family (Ex. 2:11; 3:14; Heb. 11:24-26). “By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter” (Heb. 11:24). No, he was proud to be the son of a godly Israelite woman named Jochebed! May we also have such great strength when we face difficult decisions and circumstances as we raise our children.

  5.  She was the mother of three amazing children. “The name of Amram’s wife was Jochebed the daughter of Levi, who was born to Levi in Egypt; and to Amram she bore Aaron and Moses and their sister Miriam” (Numbers 26:59). All three of her children played a major role in the spiritual leadership and direction of God’s people. “For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, I redeemed you from the house of bondage; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam” (Micah 6:4).

a.  Miriam. The daughter of Jochebed, and sister of Aaron and Moses, was quite special in her own rite. She was a godly woman and leader among the nation of Israel. She is described as a “prophetess” who led all the women in praise to God (Ex. 15:20-21).

b.  Aaron. God initially chose Aaron to be the mouthpiece for Moses as he stood before Pharaoh in Egypt (Ex. 4:13-17). God later gave Aaron the great honor of being Israel’s first high priest (Ex. 28-29).

c.  Moses. Of course, God chose him specifically to lead Israel out of Egyptian bondage and to the Promised Land (Ex. 3:1-10). He was the great Lawgiver (“Law of Moses”) and prophet of the nation (Josh. 8:31-32; Deut. 18:15).

Consider this. If it wasn’t for the faith, love, bravery, and strength of a godly woman named Jochebed, then we would never read about the life and faith of Moses (Heb. 11:23-29). So in the future whenever you read in your Bible the stories about Miriam, Aaron, and Moses don’t forget about the very significant role of Jochebed. And let us be determined to also raise up great servants for the Lord and His people!

Flowers Family at Alamo

Jesse Flowers has been preaching for the church of Christ at Pruett and Lobit Street in Baytown, Texas for the past 8 years. He is married to his beautiful wife, April (Melton), and they have four sweet children, Jesse, Josiah, Anna and Clara. If interested, you can read more of his articles or listen to his sermons at www.biblework.com.

Sunbursr (2)

Heaven

Enjoy my daughter’s latest article about heaven:

Isn’t it so wonderful to think about how we are going to Heaven? God gives His people a reward, a wonderful one, at the end of their lives for all eternity. In Luke, it talks about Lazarus and the rich man. The rich man had a purple robe and fine linen. Anyone who can get too attached to their outside and how they act can become selfish and mean. In this story, a leporous man named Lazarus was sitting by the rich man’s gate, and of course, the rich man didn’t do anything. When they both died, the rich man saw Lazarus standing by Abraham’s side over in Heaven. The rich man was desperate for a drop of water to cool his tongue, for he was in Hades, or Hell. After Abraham said no, the rich man asked if he could warn his five brothers to repent. But Abraham said,

“They have Moses and the prophets: let them hear them… ‘if they do not follow Moses and the prophets,neither would they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”

~ Luke 16:29-31

In the end, we learn to be cautious of what consequences there will be if we sin. But God holds a seat for us in Heaven.

Godly Women of the Bible: Esther

Enjoy the latest article by guest author Jesse Flowers from his “Godly Women of the Bible” series:

The very first book of the Bible that I taught as a young preacher in training was the Book of Esther to a high school class in Danville, Kentucky. Ever since that time the incredible story of Esther has remained a personal favorite of mine.

“Like the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, Esther belongs to the post-exile period of Old Testament history. However, Esther is unique in that it focuses only on those Jews who remained in foreign lands during this time period rather than returning to their homeland. The book of Esther is also unique in that it is one of only two Old Testament books to bear the name of a woman, and it is the only Old Testament book which lacks any explicit mention of God” (David Dann, Overview of the Bible – Part 2, p. 29).

Esther’s life and story is truly amazing and inspirational. So what important spiritual lessons can we learn from this godly woman?

  1.  She was an orphan. “And Mordecai had brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle’s daughter, for she had neither father nor mother…When her father and mother died, Mordecai took her as his own daughter” (2:7). She was born in a foreign land as a result of the 70-year Babylonian captivity of her Jewish ancestors from Judah. Evidently at a young age she lost both of her parents. In a time of great loss, her older cousin Mordecai raised her as if she was his own daughter. No doubt one of the greatest acts of love that can be expressed by Christian parents today is to bring an orphan into their home, to love them and raise them as their own child (James 1:27). Consider the love of our heavenly Father in that through Christ He adopted us into His spiritual family as His own sons and daughters (Rom. 8:14-17). “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1) But God had very special plans for this very special orphan.

  2.  She possessed an outward and inward beauty. The previous queen, Vashti, was removed after displeasing king Ahasuerus (1:10-22). So beautiful young virgins were sought throughout his kingdom in order for him to select his next queen. Many young women, including Esther, were taken to the king’s palace in Shushan, the Persian capital, to undergo twelve months of preparations (2:8, 12). We read that “Esther obtained favor in the sight of all who saw her” (2:15). And further that the “king loved Esther more than all the other women, and she obtained grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins; so he set the royal crown upon her head and made her queen instead of Vashti” (2:17). Yes, Esther was “lovely and beautiful” (2:7), but more importantly, the Scriptures reveal to us her inner beauty. The godly character that she possessed. The fact that she was pure in heart and life. As we continue to live in a world that is so focused on outward beauty, may Christian women give their attention to adorning the hidden person of the heart (1 Pet. 3:3-4), for that is the place where the LORD sets His gaze (1 Sam. 16:7).

  3.  She was obedient to Mordecai. “Now Esther had not revealed her family and her people, just as Mordecai had charged her, for Esther obeyed the command of Mordecai as when she was brought up by him” (2:20; cf. 2:7, 10, 15). Mordecai was always looking out for the best interests of Esther. He was always there to provide, protect, and guide her in life. And from a young girl to a young woman Esther obeyed and honored Mordecai’s instructions. Even as queen she heeded his wise counsel. What a wonderful example she is to children and young people today. We are to obey our parents in all things “for this is right” (Eph. 6:1) and “well pleasing to the Lord” (Col. 3:20). We are to give honor to our parents as children and as adults (Eph. 6:2-3; Mt. 15:3-6; 1 Tim. 5:4). Esther is a shining example of a child trained up in the way she should go, and did not depart from it when she became older (Prov. 22:6).

  4.  She was a woman of great courage. Haman, a wicked and arrogant ruler, had persuaded king Ahasuerus to sign a decree to annihilate all the Jews in the whole kingdom (3:1-15). Mordecai gave Esther the most difficult command of her life to obey – “to go in to the king to make supplication to him and plead before him for her people” (4:8). Why would this be such a difficult task to obey? For one, the king doesn’t know that he himself is married to a Jew. Secondly, if she entered the inner court to the king without being called she would be put to death unless he held out the golden scepter (4:11, 13). And thirdly, she hasn’t been summoned before his presence for an entire month! Ultimately, she responds with some of the most courageous words recorded in Scripture. “And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!” (4:16) Esther’s act of bravery lead to the salvation of the Jewish nation and to multiple victories over their enemies (5:1-9:19). The people of God today need that degree of courage for the cause of righteousness (Acts 18:9-10; 1 Cor. 16:13-14; Eph. 6:10-17; 1 Tim. 6:12; Jude 3). To be willing to forfeit our life for Christ and our brethren if the hour and occasion would require such from us (Rev. 2:10; 1 Jn. 3:16).

  5.  She played a key role in the unfolding of God’s plans (4:13-14). “Though God Himself is not explicitly mentioned anywhere in the book of Esther, God’s providential protection of His covenant people is seen throughout the book” (Ibid., 32). Was it simply a matter of chance and luck that Esther happened to be in the perfect place at the perfect time? Or can we not readily see the hand of God in the unfolding of the various events in the book? As Mordecai expressed it to Esther: “Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (4:14). If it was not for Esther we would not read of the great Bible stories of Ezra and Nehemiah. But far more importantly if it wasn’t for the brave actions of Esther, the promise that Christ would come through the seed of Abraham could not have been fulfilled (Gen. 12:3; Matt. 1:1). The providence of God is truly an incredible and amazing reality in the lives of His people to this very day. Who knows whether or not you are God’s woman for such a time as this – in your local congregation, in your community, in the workplace, or in your home?

The story and life of Esther is truly remarkable. Think about it – a Jewish orphan that became the queen of Persia! From a young orphan girl to a beautiful and radiant queen who delivered her fellow Jews from death and destruction, preserving the very people through whom the future Messiah would come. Her courageous decision to stand up and speak up so long ago positively impacted every single one of us. Now that’s a Bible story that must be told and retold to our children and grandchildren!

 

Flowers Family at Alamo

Jesse Flowers has been preaching for the church of Christ at Pruett and Lobit Street in Baytown, Texas for the past 8 years. He is married to his beautiful wife, April (Melton), and they have four sweet children, Jesse, Josiah, Anna and Clara. If interested, you can read more of his articles or listen to his sermons at www.biblework.com.

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Be Content

Enjoy this edifying article by my cousin and guest author Heidi Palmer:

Webster’s defines the word content as pleased and satisfied; not needing more. The Bible teaches us in 1 Timothy 6:6 that godliness with contentment is great gain. The passage continues on to say that the LOVE of money is the root of all evil. Lack of contentment often goes beyond our material possessions though!

Paul writes in Phil. 4:10, “For I have learned in whatever state I am to be content.” He wrote this while in prison! Could we have that same attitude in those circumstances? All too often, we are not content with where we are, what we have, or even how we look or feel. I’d guess that our situations are not nearly as bad as the one Paul was in when he made that statement. Let us strive to be like Paul and LEARN to be content.

Many times, we are like the Israelites. God provided them everything they needed, but it was never enough. God rescued them from slavery in Egypt, but soon after they began to find things to complain about. They did not have good water to drink, so they complained to Moses. (Ex. 15:24-25) Then, just a short while later they complained that they didn’t have enough to eat. They even suggested that they would have been better off if they had died by God’s hand in Egypt where they at least had “pots of meat” and were able to eat “bread to the full.” (Exodus 16) How quickly they forgot all that God had done for them!

We need to be more like Esau. Do you remember what his brother Jacob did to him? Jacob tricked their father Isaac into giving him the blessing that was supposed to be for Esau. Later when Esau came out to meet Jacob as he was traveling, Jacob was afraid that Esau was going to attack his family. Jacob sent ahead several animals as a gift for Esau. When Esau saw it, his response was, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.” (Gen. 33:9). Esau could have taken it with the attitude of “I deserve it,” or “it’s the least he could do after he stole my blessing.” So often, our attitude is that way. We think we deserve more, or better instead of being content with what we have.

Is it wrong to desire to be better, or to want to have something nicer than what we have, or even desire to have better health? No, it is not. We can desire a better job. We can want to live somewhere different. We can want to have a newer car. We can want better health. None of these things are wrong. It becomes an issue when our wants and desires for these things are so great that we can think of nothing else. We forget about the blessings we have.

I am reminded of the story of King Midas. He had more gold than anyone in the world, but he never thought it was enough. He had a daughter named Marygold. He wanted her to be the richest princess in the world. One day, he was in his vaults admiring all his gold, and he wished that everything he touched would turn to gold. A stranger that had appeared to him in his vaults said that his wish was granted. He woke up the next morning and started touching items around his room. He was so excited when he realized his wish had come true! He sat down to eat breakfast, and his food turned to gold. He couldn’t eat it. His tried to drink some water, but it too turned to gold. His daughter Marygold came in and noticed that her father was sad, so she ran over and gave him a hug. When he touched her, she became a gold statue. King Midas began to sob. The stranger appeared to him again and asked him if he was happy. King Midas said he was the most miserable man in the world. He said he would give up all the gold he had just to have Marygold back. He had lost all he had that was worth having.

Things of this earth are temporary. Life isn’t always going to go “our” way. Our possessions can be lost, and our health will fail us. We will have suffering. Focus on the good, be thankful for what we have, and pray that we can learn to be content in any situation. But most importantly, remember to “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven….for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matt. 6:20-21) Heaven is our goal. If we spend all of our time focused on everything that is wrong with our lives on this earth, we may miss the ultimate prize!

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Am I My Sister’s Keeper?

Caleb Churchill from the Bronx, NY, recently preached for us at the Traders Point Church of Christ. The focus of this particular meeting was evangelism (you can listen to these sermons here). One of the points he made demonstrated how vital it is to be involved in each other’s lives as a church family, and how only then would we know how to best serve one another and help our brothers and sisters spread God’s word. He talked about us leaning on one another, building each other up, and rescuing each other when we struggle with temptation or discouragement.

He then said, “Be your brother’s keeper.  Be your sister’s keeper!” and it hit me. Yes! We are here to watch out for each other. Pray for each other (James 5:16). Reach out and rescue when one of our number falls (James 5:20). Bring food to the sick, comfort the weary. Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn (Ecclesiastes 3:4). Be present, and be considerate.

Our lives fill up so quickly with tasks that take our time. Speaking from a personal perspective as a mother, my goal is to mold these hearts to truly love the Lord, and that takes time. We are the managers of our homes under the guidance of our husbands. We set the tone of our home, we organize and structure our day with goals of maintaining cleanliness, preparing healthy meals, budgeting carefully, all while keeping God first in our hearts.

While these tasks are incredibly important and virtuous (Proverbs 31:27-30), I need to keep my sisters in mind and reach out a hand of friendship and give the gift of family. Let’s welcome each other into our messy homes and imperfect lives. We need to share our quirks and thank God that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). After all, in our weakness, God is glorified (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). We truly do a disservice to everyone around us if we pretend we are immune to life’s problems and temptations. Don’t we learn the most from people when they willingly confide mistakes they’ve made and how they have learned from them? My closest friends keep me accountable, and I thank God for them. They lift my hands up when I’m tired (Exodus 17:12) and share the joy of this beautiful life with me. They’re also incredible confidants and do not repeat what I’ve confided (Proverbs 17:9).

If we can interact with every soul in this world with a heart like Christ, we will gladly share the hope that is within us (1 Peter 3:15). We’ll be ready to bear someone’s burden (Galatians 6:2), reminding them how much Jesus cares for us all (Matthew 11:28). We’ll laugh with one another and share in that good medicine (Proverbs 17:22). We’ll labor together for God, even if that good work takes us out of our comfort zone. We’ll study together and let His light shine for all to see (Matthew 5:16).

Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.”

~ Luke 10:27

So, am I my sister’s keeper?

Yes, yes I am.

Godly Women of the Bible: Hannah

Enjoy another article by guest author Jesse Flowers from his “Godly Women of the Bible” series:

I’m sure you have heard the expression, “behind every great man there is a great woman.” This is certainly true as it pertains to the Bible story of Hannah and her son Samuel. She was a most impressive woman in so many ways. She will inspire you, comfort you, and even challenge you spiritually. Please join me in a study of a godly woman from whom we can learn and benefit a great deal.

  1.  She was barren. Elkanah “had two wives: the name of one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children” (1 Sam. 1:2). To make matters worse, Peninnah intentionally “provoked her severely, to make her miserable, because the LORD had closed her womb” (1 Sam. 1:6). Even when the family made the yearly trip to the house of the LORD “she provoked her; therefore she wept and did not eat” (1 Sam. 1:7). And although her husband tried to “cheer her up,” his words did very little to comfort her broken heart. She longed for a child, nothing was more important to her. Hannah was certainly a woman that could readily relate to the anguish and sorrow of not being able to bear children. To any who may find themselves in a similar situation today, remember that God has always cared about the plight of the barren.

  2.  She prayed fervently. “And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed to the LORD and wept in anguish” (1 Sam. 1:10). When was the last time you wept greatly while praying to God because of your misery, despondency, and sadness? She poured out her soul before the LORD (v. 15). When was the last time that you poured out your soul to God in prayer? God’s ears are open to the prayers of the righteous (1 Peter 3:12), and “the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16). Hannah’s prayers were heard and they accomplished much! It’s also interesting to note that after praying and her brief conversation with Eli that she “went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad” (1 Sam. 1:18). We feel great anxiety we are to pray to God “and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7). Never forget that when you feel overwhelmed to cast your cares upon God, knowing that He cares for you (1 Pet. 5:7). Never forget when you find yourself in a pit of despair to come boldly to the throne of grace to obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4:16). We all can learn some wonderful lessons about prayer from this godly woman named Hannah.

  3.  She kept her promise. While praying in Shiloh she made a vow to God that if He would bless her with a male child, then she would “give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head” (1 Sam. 1:11). Wow, what a promise to make! To ask God for a child, then promise to give him up all the days of his life! The great void and emptiness in her life was that she had no children. And when she finally received a child of her own, how tempting it would have been to go back on the vow she had made. But there is no indication that she ever entertained the idea. She made a promise to God, and she was resolved to honor that promise. This was a woman of great integrity. The psalmist David speaks of the one “who swears to his own hurt and does not change” (Psalm 15:4). That was Hannah. We too must strive to be men and women of integrity, that refuse to go back on a promise that we have made to God and to men (Eph. 4:25; Jam. 5:12).

  4.  She was sacrificial. It’s hard to fathom a greater and more difficult sacrifice for Hannah to make than her willingness to sacrifice her son to God for his entire life (1 Sam. 1:28). For that which she longed for the most, she surrendered him completely to the LORD. What are you willing to sacrifice to God? To sacrifice to is to give up something or someone that we value. Every Christian is to “present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1). We are to be willing to sacrifice our family, our self, our life – EVERYTHING for the Christ we love and serve (Luke 14:25-27, 33). We are “to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). Are we sacrificial when it comes to our service before God? Or do we merely follow the Lord when it is convenient to do so? David said that he would not offer to God that which costs him nothing (2 Sam. 24:24). Can you think of a greater or better sacrifice than Hannah’s, to give her child to God? Like Hannah, let us also be sacrificial and give our children to God!

  5.  She was a devoted mother. If there was ever a mother that redeemed the time with her children, then it was Hannah. Through the years older parents and grandparents, based on wisdom and experience, remind me to enjoy my children because they will grow up so fast and soon leave home. Indeed it is very true that our time with our children is both limited and precious, and so we must be very conscientious to redeem that time. But consider how this truth was incredibly magnified in the case of godly Hannah. She would not have her son Samuel for very long. Her plan was to fulfill her vow to God regarding her son, after she had weaned him (1 Sam. 1:21-24). We don’t know how old the “child” Samuel was when Hannah left him in the care of Eli, but we can be confident of her godly influence in his life from birth onward. She would bring him a little robe year by year when she came up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice (2:19). How she must have missed him terribly, and yearned with excitement and joy to see her young son each year. Let us also be devoted parents to our children that the Lord has blessed us with (Ps. 127:3) in bringing them up in the training and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:1-4).

  6.  She loved the LORD. There are many indications in the text of Hannah’s love for the LORD. Clearly, worshiping God held a place of great importance in her life (1 Sam. 1:3-5, 7, 19, 28; 2:19), and it should be a natural priority in our life (Jn. 4:23-24; Mt. 6:33; Heb. 10:24-25). Further, she described herself as a “maidservant” of the LORD (1 Sam. 1:11). We too ought to humbly view ourselves as the servants of God (Heb. 12:28). Also she was a woman given to earnest and steadfast prayer. She depended on God, she put her trust in God, she rejoiced and praised God, and freely poured out her soul before Him (1 Sam. 1:10-17; 2:1-10). If we truly love the Lord like Hannah did, then it will be evident in how we draw near to God in our prayers to Him (James 4:8). Even the name she gave to her child expresses her love and appreciation for the LORD. Samuel means “heard by God” (1:20).

Hannah may seem to you like a minor Bible character, but what a major role her sacrifice had in the lives of others. All Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew Samuel had been established as a prophet to the LORD (1 Sam. 3:20). He led Israel to repent of false gods and serve the LORD only (7:3). The hand of the LORD was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel (7:13). Consider the tremendous influence that he had upon Israel’s first two kings, Saul and David. And Samuel is listed among the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11. If we would only give ourselves and our children completely to the Lord, what great things we too could accomplish in the kingdom!

 

Flowers Family at Alamo

Jesse Flowers has been preaching for the church of Christ at Pruett and Lobit Street in Baytown, Texas for the past 8 years. He is married to his beautiful wife, April (Melton), and they have four sweet children, Jesse, Josiah, Anna and Clara. If interested, you can read more of his articles or listen to his sermons at www.biblework.com.