Helpers, Not Footstools

Read Genesis 2:21-23, Ephesians 5:21-33, Zechariah 2:8

Never tell a little girl that she is ugly, or that she will never find a man who will want her. For me, hearing those words from a beloved aunt meant that, as a woman, I had no value or worth in my own being, but only became valuable if a man thought me beautiful and wished to marry me. It also meant that I had no calling in life greater than finding a man who would validate my existence by marrying me and loving me. What I failed to realize was that God created woman from man’s side, to stand with him and help him, not from man’s feet, to be held down and battered. I did not realize that helpers are valuable in their own right.

Having read the Bible and learned that wives were to be submissive to husbands, and that husbands were to love their wives, by the time I was age 16, I was obsessed with finding a boyfriend who one day would be my husband and love me. Having never dated by my senior year in school, and never hearing my mother or father tell me that I was loved, I thought that I was the ugliest girl in the world, and that if  I found any man willing to date me, I would be submissive to him, no matter what.

No one explained to me that this was not a healthy way to think. So, when I finally met someone willing to be my boyfriend, even when the beatings started, I would not leave the relationship. I thought he was the answer from God of my prayers to send someone who would love me. I did everything he asked, even when he placed his feet on me, kicking me in the side. I told no one of the violence, because I was afraid of being seen as unlovable again. But, one night, as I prayed to God, I felt His presence, and I knew that this was not the kind of love God wished for me.

I just knew that love that hurts is not God’s way, for Jesus loved the church and He cared for it, not causing any pain or hurt to it. So, I asked God to give me the courage to end the relationship.  Two weeks later, I refused to submit to the guy’s request that I wash his sister’s dishes. I would be beat either way I chose.  In response to my saying no, unlike other nights, this time he hit me only once, but so hard I was in the hospital for the next seven days and I needed surgery for my injuries. Afterwards, I had to rethink how I saw myself as a woman and as a person of value, to prevent finding myself in another violent relationship.

I heard a preacher one night tell a congregation of women that no matter what your husband does, you continue to submit to him because woman came from man. I went to him afterwards and told him my story, and I asked him to reconsider his approach to the message. I said that many women will remain in abusive relationships, if there is no clarification that husbands are to love their wives as God loves the church, and that means husbands should not batter their wives’ bodies or souls.

As a minister and teacher, I tell the young women in my classes and congregations that they are the cake! If you have someone in your life who acknowledges your value and worth, supports your ideas and dreams, and who does not cause you physical or emotional pain, then that is the icing on the cake. But, too often, the icing overpowers the cake, making it impossible to know just how good the cake is. That is what an abusive relationship is like. I explain that the cake is edible without any icing on it, and that women are valuable separate from their roles in men’s lives.

I tell them that if a man gets past his conscience and hits them once, he will do it again, so leave the first time. I remind them that we were not created as women to be footstools, but helpers. Zechariah 2:8 reminds us that whoever touches us, as God’s daughters, touches the apple of God’s eye. Just knowing that God always loved me helped me to finally see myself as a diamond of great value.

Father In Heaven,

   Thank you for always being there willing to save us and help us know our value and worth. I pray today for every woman (or man) who are in an abusive relationship, because You let me know that love never causes us tremendous physical and emotional pain. Let angels encamp around them, and then, Lord, and deliver them from these bad relationships. Let Your love envelop them and keep them. In Jesus’s Name, Amen.

 

 

Women After God’s Own Heart

Judges 4:8-9 Barak told her, “I will go, but only if you go with me.” “Very well,” she replied, “I will go with you. But you will receive no honor in this venture, for the Lord’s victory over Sisera will be at the hands of a woman.”

The title for this study comes from Acts 13:22, wherein Paul relates the story of how David had been chosen to replace King Saul who disobeyed God. Because of David’s willingness to obey God in all things, God called him “a man after my own heart.”  I wondered what would it require for a woman to become someone after God’s own heart? What characteristics must women demonstrate to be victorious for God’s glory, and receive honor in their ventures for God? I believe that the three attributes of women after God’s own heart are the willingness to speak the truth as God reveals it to them; the willingness to challenge injustice and to work for change; and the acceptance of Christ Jesus as her Savior and Lord and doing God’s will in her life.

There are six women in the Old Testament and one woman in the New Testament whose stories, taken together, demonstrate the three attributes that I believe will help us understand what it means to be a woman after God’s own heart. The women in the Old Testament are the prophetess named Huldah and the five daughters of Zelophehad. The woman in the New Testament is named Lydia.

The first attribute of a woman after God’s own heart is the willingness to speak the truth as God reveals it to them. Hulhah’s story can be found in 2 Kings 22:11-20 and also in 2 Chronicles 34:14-28.  In 2 Kings, Chapter 22, King Josiah began to reign, and he did what was right in the sight of God. During the restoration of the Lord’s Temple, a scroll was found that was believed to be the Book of the Law. After hearing the words of the scroll, King Josiah tore his clothes in despair.

He gave orders to his officials, including Shaphan, the court secretary, to go to the Temple and speak to the Lord for him and for all of Judah. They were to ask God about the words of the scroll, for they had not been doing everything required of them in the Book of the Law. The officials went to the New Quarter of Jerusalem and consulted with the prophet Huldah (some translations refer to her as a prophetess).

Huldah, who was the wife of Shallum son of Tikvah, is not as well-known as her sister-prophet, Deborah, and she does not have a whole book that carries her name like Esther. But, she spoke the words revealed to her by the Lord. In 2 Kings 22:15–20, she told the officials what the Lord, the God of Israel, had told her to say. The scroll was real, and all the words on the scroll  regarding a pending disaster would come true, because God was angry at his people for their abandonment of him and their disobedience. However, she assured King Josiah that God would not send the promised disaster until after he was dead and had been buried in peace.

Although the words were not what King Josiah and his people wanted to hear, she did not hesitate to speak the truth, speaking only the words revealed to her, not adding to them or taking anything away from them. It is obvious that the king and his officials regarded the prophetess Huldah highly and trusted her to speak the truth. Huldah is only mentioned in the two places noted, but her story teaches us that God can and will speak through a woman, and that a woman after God’s own heart must speak only what God, through the Holy Spirit, tells her to speak and nothing else. I thank God that He is still revealing His words to His daughters as well as to His sons.

The second attribute of a woman after God’s own heart is her willingness to challenge injustice and to work for change. The story of the five daughters of Zelophehad is found in Numbers 27:1-11. These five women lived in a patrilineal system in which women did not inherit their father’s property, to keep the land within the family or tribe.  If a man died without sons, his nearest male relative inherited his property, placing his daughters in a precarious financial situation. As the children of Israel prepared to cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land, Moses was instructed by God on the division of the land according to tribal affiliation.

But, what was to happen to the daughters of a man who died without any sons? What were they to do about a place of their own in the Promised Land? The daughters of Zelophehad understood that they were in danger of not having any share in the allotments, which would leave them economically vulnerable and potentially homeless.  They must have felt the injustice of the situation, and decided to confront Moses and the other leaders regarding the unfairness of the present system.

We learn that they stood before Moses, the priest, the tribal leaders, and the entire community at the entrance to the Tabernacle and presented their petition. This was very risky, for they were women challenging a system that benefited men who would not want the system changed. The five women couched their request, not in terms of changing the system for women, but in terms of their father being cheated out of his inheritance and his name disappearing just because he had no sons. They asked for the land that their father would have received had he had sons.

This was a smart move, for when you confront the dominant group about injustice, you must know what to say and how to say it in a way that does not create anger. They did not approach the men in anger or talk about the unfairness to women. They chose a way that allowed them to make their petition known without causing a riot, even as they made a huge request, one that would change the way inheritances had been done for generations.

I like that Moses did not dismiss their petition out of hand or say, “That’s the way things have always been done, and we are not going to change it.” Instead, Moses went to God for advice on such a monumental request. God advised Moses that the daughters of Zelophehad had a legitimate claim, and He told Moses to assign them the property that would have went to their father. God changed the legal requirements regarding who could inherit, with women capable of inheriting. God commanded, though, that the daughters had to marry within their ancestral tribe, to keep the land from passing from one tribe to another one.

In Numbers 36:10, we learn that the daughters of Zelophehad obeyed the Lord, and they all married cousins on their father’s side. These women trusted God to be fair and impartial, and He proved to be just. Their story teaches us that cries for justice and fairness are heard, and that God recognizes the value of women and men. In God’s eyes, both are due equality of opportunity. We learn that women after God’s own heart must be willing to challenge unjust systems and be willing to work, whatever the risks or costs, for change.

The third attribute of a woman after God’s own heart is accepting Christ Jesus as her savior and seeking to do God’s will in her life. The story of Lydia is found in Acts 16:11-15. Lydia was a seller of purple, meaning Lydia was a businesswoman. The Scriptures tell us that Lydia worshiped God. She and other women were gathered by the riverside, when Paul stopped and began to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ. God opened her heart to accept the words Paul spoke, and she and her household were baptized. Women must take some of the responsibility for the salvation of their households, with family devotions and taking our children and grandchildren to church.

After Lydia was baptized, she persuaded Paul and Silas to come stay at her home, with all the extra work that entailed. She was willing to do all the extra work of cleaning and cooking because she loved God and felt that was His will. She teaches us that sometimes God calls us to do the mundane tasks, and that we are not always called to grand actions.

Yes, we must ask God what is His will for our lives, but we can start from the first serving Him by simply offering ourselves to help His people, using our skills to edify the Body of Christ. Lydia offered her home and hospitality, and after Paul and Silas were beaten, placed in jail, and, subsequently, freed, first by God and then by the authorities, they went back to Lydia’s house where the men and women of God could be found. She was a woman after God’s own heart who accepted Jesus as her Savior and then sought to do the will of God by serving His people.

We are God’s daughters and He loves us. He expects us to serve and obey him, just as David, the man after God’s own heart, did. We can be women after God’s own heart. Let us strive to be like the prophetess Huldah, women who speak boldly the words the Holy Spirit lays on our hearts. Let us imitate the five daughters of Zelophehad and challenge injustice, working to bring change.

And then, let us be like  Lydia, continuing to worship God, through His Son, Jesus Christ, keeping our hearts open to Him and to His will. Let us stay mindful that women, too, were made in God’s image. Seek to capture the heart of God in all you say and do. We can be women after God’s own heart, being the instruments of God’s victories in the land of the living.

 

 

In Whom Do You Trust?

In Whom Do You Trust?

Rev. Regina Davis-Sowers, PhD

2 Chronicles 32

It is a question that we must all face at some point in our lives, for troubles will come. There is no one rich enough, powerful enough, young enough, or slick enough to avoid the trials and troubles of this life. Times of hardship come, bringing with them fear and uncertainty, and these are the times when we discover who we can really trust to answer when we call for help. In 2 Chronicles 32, the story of King Hezekiah and the troubles he faced due to the relentlessness of King Sennacherib of Assyria teaches us that no matter how big troubles may seem, it is God, the maker of the heavens and the earth, in whom we must place our full trust.  Let me give some background on King Hezekiah.

Hezekiah became king at age 25, after the death of his father, King Ahaz, who was one of the most wicked of leaders, doing what was evil in the sight of God. Ahaz’s utter disregard and disrespect for God caused the Lord’s anger to fall on Judah and Jerusalem. Because Ahaz had placed his trust in times of trouble in the surrounding countries, and not in God, Judah had lost mightily in wars.

But, when Hezekiah succeeded him, he did what was right in God’s sight. Similar to his ancestor, King David, Hezekiah made a covenant with the Lord, to turn God’s fierce anger away from his people. Hezekiah reversed all that his father had done, beginning with the rededication of the Temple, the purification of the priests and Levites, and reestablishing the festivals that were required by Mosaic law. Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced because of God’s mercy and grace toward them.

The Scriptures do not tell us how a young man raised in such an ungodly home came to know God and trust in Him, but, somehow, Hezekiah knew that living right in the sight of God was the correct way to live. Maybe, someone in his past had taught him that God’s hand is on those who obey his commands. He understood that God was present in his life and in the lives of his people, and if they would just trust in Him in all the areas of their lives, God would be there when they called on Him. 2 Chronicles 31:21 states, “In all that he did in the service of the Temple of God and in his efforts to follow God’s laws and commands, Hezekiah sought his God wholeheartedly. As a result, he was very successful.”

But success does not mean that troubles will not come, even, or especially, for God’s people. Too many of God’s people today believe that believing in God and His Son, Jesus Christ, somehow protects them from suffering and pain or testing in this world. But that simply is not true, for John 16:33 reminds us that we will have trials and tribulations in this life, but we can still be cheerful, for Jesus has overcome the world. So, if you became a Christian to avoid troubles, then you are in for a rude awakening!

Even though he was a king with riches and honor, a time came when King Hezekiah found himself in a world of troubles. Having placed his faith in God, and not in human beings, King Hezekiah stopped paying tribute to King Sennacherib of Assyria, a much bigger and stronger country with a massive army. An angry Sennacherib conquered Judah, and then chose to attack and destroy Jerusalem, even though Hezekiah had paid him tribute to prevent the destruction of Jerusalem. In his fear, Hezekiah backtracked and tried to make a deal with an ungodly man.

Hezekiah discovered the hard way that if you say that you are putting your trust in God, then wait on God to act. Even today, when troubles seem so huge, we often try everything we can to fix the situation, calling on friends and experts for advice before we stop and call on God. But, we cannot take matters into our own hands, because neither our friends nor any experts have the power that God has to change circumstances. Proverbs 3:5-6 tell us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do and he will show you what path to take.”

King Hezekiah knew that God was able to help him, for in 2 Chronicles 32: 6-8 he encouraged his people with these words: “Be strong and courageous! Don’t be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria or his mighty army, for there is a power far greater on our side! He may have a great army, but they are merely men. We have the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles for us!”  Of course, the kings of Assyria, including Sennacherib, had been successful in destroying every nation they had encountered. They were so successful and full of pride that they did not fear taunting and mocking Hezekiah’s God. Sennacherib even sent letters advising God’s people to not let Hezekiah deceive them into thinking their God would save them when no other gods had been powerful enough to stop them.

But, when Hezekiah read the letter and heard Sennacherib’s message, he and the leaders cried out in prayer to God in Heaven. In 2 Kings 19: 15-19, Hezekiah prayed to God. Part of what Hezekiah said to God was: “It is true, LORD, that the kings of Assyria have destroyed all these nations. And they have thrown the gods of these other nations into the fire and burned them. But, of course, the Assyrians could destroy them! They were not gods at all, only idols of wood and stone shaped by human hands. Now, O Lord our God, rescue us from his power; then all the kingdoms of the earth will know that you, alone, O LORD, are God.

God responded to Hezekiah’s request, and He promised that the Assyrian armies would not enter Jerusalem, and not one arrow would be shot. Indeed, in verses 21-22, we learn that the LORD sent an angel who destroyed the Assyrian army with all of its commanders and officers, forcing Sennacherib to return home in disgrace. And when he entered the temple of his god, some of his sons killed him. Just as Hezekiah believed, the LORD rescued him and his people.

So, we are reminded today that we need to know in whom we can trust or who to call in times of trouble. By trust, I mean whom or what do you believe has the power, ability, and willingness to help you when troubles come. We cannot place out trust in our jobs, or in our bank accounts, or in our BFF (best friend forever), or in our spouses or significant others, or even in our religious leaders. Trusting in these things or people would be just like trusting in idols. First Samuel 12:21 tells us not to go back to worshiping idols that cannot help or rescue you—they are totally useless.

I am a living witness that God hears and answers prayers. I have often tried to fix problems myself, not wanting to bother God with what I thought of as trivial things. I thought He had more important situations to deal with than take care of things for me. But, when I was a victim of domestic violence, I knew I had a problem I could not solve.

One night, I found the hands of someone I thought loved me around my neck, choking the life from me. I started to feel as though I was falling into a black tunnel. I called out to God, saying, “Lord, don’t let me die like a dog in the street.” God heard my cry, and my eyes came open, I looked the guy in the eyes, and I told him to go ahead and kill me because I would rather be dead than live with him. He let go of me, saying that he wouldn’t give me the satisfaction of dying.  As we were going home, he said that he was going to beat me every day until I learned to respect him. When we arrived home, he went to sleep, and I, with blood still on me, reached into his pockets and took $20, called a taxi, went to the Greyhound bus station, and took the first bus leaving to Atlanta, where I ultimately found a job and was successful. I never experienced that kind of violence again.

I did not call on my mother, because I knew she could not help me. I did not depend on one of the many people standing by and watching, because they ultimately could not help me. I put my trust in God, because He had proven himself faithful to rescue me once before. I can say like David writes in Psalm 18:46-49: “The LORD lives! Praise to my Rock! May the God of my salvation be exalted! He is the God who pays back those who harm me; he subdues the nations under me and rescues me from my enemies. You hold me safe beyond the reach of my enemies; you save me from violent men. For this, O LORD, I will praise you among the nations; I will sing praises to your name.”

Also, do not put your trust in politicians or anyone else in these times of divisiveness and trials for our nation. You need someone more powerful than any politicians to call on and trust in when times get hard in your lives. Psalm 146:3-5 reminds us, “Don’t put your confidence in powerful people; there is no help for you there. When they breathe their last, they return to the earth, and all their plans die with them. But joyful are those who have the God of Israel as their helper, whose hope is in the LORD their God.”

Whatever the situations in your life today, follow the example of King Hezekiah. First, put aside your pride and cry out to the one who will never leave you or forsake you. Second, when new trials and tribulations come, remember all the times God has come to your rescue or you have seen Him rescue others, and call on Him again. There is no limit to the times you can call on God for help, and no problem is too trivial to take to Him. Third, human beings will fail you, mainly because they lack the glorious power of God. So, if someone asks you today in whom do you trust, tell them Jesus Christ, your Savior and Lord, Immanuel, which means God is with us. Relate to them 1 Chronicles 29:11: Yours, O LORD, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty. Everything in the heavens and on earth is yours, O LORD, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as the one who is over all things. May God bless you mightily and amazingly today!

Seeing Through God’s Eyes

Seeing through God’s Eyes

Judges 6:12-16: The angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, “Mighty hero, the LORD is with you.” “Sir,” Gideon replied, “if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about? Didn’t they say, ‘The LORD brought us up out of Egypt’? But now the LORD has abandoned us and handed us over to the Midianites.” Then the LORD turned to Gideon and said, “Go with the strength you have and rescue Israel from the Midianites. I am sending you!” “But, LORD,” Gideon replied, “how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!” The LORD said to him, “I will be with you. And you will destroy the Midianites as if you were fighting against one man.”

Too often, our opinions of ourselves are based on the ways we have come to see not only ourselves, but also the people around us, especially family members who lack success. What we are taught as children about our value and worth, and about the legitimacy and worthiness of the social groups to which we belong, remain with us as adults, defining what we believe about our potential for greatness and successful lives. However,  the LORD sees us differently, because he looks at us through the eyes of whom we can become with his help, if we will only have faith in him. The story of Gideon in Judges, chapters 6-8, is just such a tale of someone with a low opinion of themselves, but whom the LORD saw as a mighty and valiant warrior.

In the Book of Judges, Israel did not have a king, so God appointed judges, individuals  chosen to rescue Israel from their enemies. One of the judges was a young man named Gideon, from the tribe of Manasseh, who seemed the last person to be considered as a hero of his people. Here is a man who is threshing wheat in secret, to keep the Midianites from taking the wheat from him. The Midianites would come and destroy everything the Israelites produced from the earth, leaving Israel with no food. They also left no sheep, ox, or donkey. They came in hordes that resembled swarms of locusts, and they remained until there was nothing remaining in the land but devastation and despair. The Israelites had done evil in the sight of the LORD, so he allowed Midian to prevail over Israel for seven years. Yet, when the Israelites cried to the LORD because of the Midianites, he heard their cries, and chose young Gideon as the rescuer of his people.

Gideon was found by the angel of the LORD hiding from the Midianites, and still the angel of the LORD referred to him as a mighty warrior. Gideon’s ability to accept that he could rescue Israel was hampered by three factors: his views of his family and himself, his despair over the magnitude of Israel’s troubles, and his inability to comprehend that, even in the midst of Israel’s trials and tribulations, the LORD had never abandoned Israel.

Gideon had a low opinion of himself and his clan, calling the clan the weakest, or the poorest, in the tribe of Manasseh, and himself as the least of his family, making him the worst person among the Israelites.  His beliefs about his clan and himself had to originate from somewhere, because individuals do not come to think so little of themselves without prompting from others. Children born into social groups that others define as inferior, such as according to social class, race and ethnicity,  or national origin, internalize the stigmas attached to the groups, and they come to accept the negative stereotypes as authentic representations of themselves and of the people in their groups. Gideon’s estimation of himself and his clan speaks to the need of people to be careful about how we portray others that we perceive as different from ourselves, and of the need to give every child a sense of value and worth.

The magnitude of the troubles the Midianites caused Israel led Gideon to question the authenticity of the stories of miracles by the LORD passed down from generation to generation of Israelites, particularly the tale of deliverance from slavery in Egypt. He found it hard to believe that God had ever been with Israel, mainly because the Midianites were so wicked and powerful in their treatment of Israel that the Israelites attempted to hide from the Midianites, creating dens and hiding places in mountain caves. Whenever they had sown their plants, the Midianites would come with the Amalekites and the people from the east, and together they would destroy everything in the land. Like Gideon, when troubles seem too overwhelming, it can be impossible to believe that the LORD is still hearing our prayers.

Sometimes, it seems that the LORD is silent for so long that we question if God truly cares for us. Yet, it is in the testimonies of others that we learn that God does care, and if Gideon could only grasp how much God cares in the stories of the past, then he would know to wait on God to come to his rescue, in the LORD’s own time. It is a lesson I sometimes have to remember, especially when trials seem too impossible to change. It’s called having faith in God. The LORD appeared to Gideon, assuring him that the strength to complete the task assigned to him was already in him, all Gideon needed to do was use it to deliver Israel from the Midianites.

Isaiah 40:29 states, “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.” And Exodus 15:2 states, “The LORD is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation.” Even as Israel suffered due to their disobedience, The LORD never abandoned them, and he never forsakes or abandons his people still today.  Instead, the LORD instilled strength into a young man who did not have confidence in himself, but in whom God saw great potential. In God’s eyes, Gideon was mighty, valiant, strong, courageous, and capable of great exploits. With only 300 warriors, Gideon defeated the Midianites and their allies, and there was peace for 40 years.

Gideon’s story reminds us that we must see other and ourselves in the same ways that God, the Father, sees them and us. Every child needs to know they are valuable and have worth, and it is the responsibility of the adults around them to relay this message to them. We must be careful when we use stereotypes to define whole social groups, condemning every member as the same, because God sees what we fail to see, and that is that every child is God’s creation.

Once a beloved aunt told me that I would have to be smart because I was not pretty, and no man would ever marry me. I thought for years that I was the ugliest woman in the world, and that if “nice” guys liked me, there must be something wrong with them. I remained in an abusive relationship longer than I should have, mainly because I came to believe that, as a woman, I lacked value and worth without a male in my life. Through my faith in God and knowing of his unfailing love for me, and by being saved from the violent men by my Father in Heaven and given a wonderful and loving husband, I have come to know that God sees me as a capable and valuable member of the Body of Christ who is working for the salvation of others. My wish is for every child and person to know God’s love and come to see themselves as God sees them,  as people with value and worth, so that they can do the work that God is calling them to do, just as Gideon did.

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