Deborah

TEXT: JUDGES 4:1-10, 14, 5:7, 12


Julie Herrera-Maxwell
One of my sons is allergic to bees and even though we were very careful when he was growing up, he still got stung once or twice while playing outside. We couldn't keep him inside all the time! Because of my son's allergy, I've learned a lot about bees and wasps. There is a big difference between a honeybee and a wasp. They both have painful stings, but when a honeybee stings it leaves its stinger in the person and dies right after, whereas when a wasp stings it takes its stinger with her and can keep stinging and stinging and stinging!

Deborah -- whose names means "wasp" in Hebrew -- was just like her namesake. She was a strong woman, a fighter, and someone who people took seriously. When the Israelites were confronted with Sisera's army and his nine hundred chariots, God raised up this "waspy" woman to lead His people.

Deborah's front man, Barak, refused to fight against this powerful army by himself. Instead, he insisted that Deborah go with him. What was so special about this woman that a man asked her to go with him? I think it was her fearlessness in the face of danger -- her true fear of and hope in The Lord. Like a wasp, Deborah did not fear death or the formidable enemy, because her hope and security were in God. And so, like a small wasp, she stung and stung until the enemy ran away in fear.

You also have been created to live as a wasp -- or an Ezer warrior. Don't be afraid to confront the enemy's army. Remember, you don't fight by yourself; you have Jesus by your side to rescue you, to give you victory over the Enemy, and to give you eternal life!

 

Suzy Silk
Deborah is one of those people in the Bible who fully embraces her gifts and calling. She is a prophetess, a judge, and a leader. She is known for her wisdom, and Barak does not doubt her courage when he asks her to come with him into battle. The Lord has commanded Barak to go into battle against a huge army (with 900 chariots!), and Deborah doesn't even flinch when Barak asks her to come with him. Now that is an Ezer -- a warrior woman who brings real help and hope! When Israel was in trouble and needed help after being oppressed for 20 years, God raised up Deborah and Deborah led her people with wisdom, courage, and faith. She was even called the mother of Israel!

God is still looking for Deborahs today. Our world and our city are full of injustice, violence, and spiritual battle -- and we need God's warriors to bring hope. These battles are not just meant for men. God calls all of his children -- men and women -- to be His ambassadors and to put on their spiritual armor (Ephesians 6). He has given all of His children spiritual gifts to build His kingdom. As women, we need to follow in the footsteps of Deborah and Eve and become the Ezers God intended us to be -- walking by faith, speaking with wisdom, leading as spiritual mothers, and entering battles with courage and hope in Christ. Jesus is the embodiment of God's Hope, and He calls His daughters and sons to be ambassadors of that hope -- proclaiming the good news of Jesus to those living in darkness and despair, declaring His victory over the Enemy's strongholds, wearing His armor into the battles He is leading us into.

Where is God calling you to lead boldly, bringing His Hope to others? How can you encourage others to boldly follow God with you? Or maybe you are leading, and you feel all alone -- the only leader or the only woman surrounded by men. How can you lead with wisdom and femininity? How can you lead as a mother encouraging others to follow God with you? How can you affirm the men and women in your life to take their own leaps of faith? How can you inspire others to Hope in Jesus?

The Wise Woman of Abel

TEXT: 2 SAMUEL 20:15-22

Julie Herrera-Maxwell
Roberta Manchu was the first Indian woman awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. She was born in Guatemala in a time of terrible injustice and racial discrimination, but she never gave up fighting to obtain human rights for her people. What motivates ordinary people to do extraordinary things? For Roberta it was her family; her parents and children were victims of kidnapping and abuse. Second Samuel records the story of another heroic and "wise woman." The Bible doesn't tell us her name, only that her wisdom saved her town from becoming a place of murder and destruction. A rebel named Sheba, who sought to begin a civil war against King David, was fleeing Joab, the king's captain. Sheba hid in Abel Beth-Maacah and Joab's army surrounded the city -- forcing its inhabitants to flee inside. Unable to get water or food, work on their land, or take care of their livestock, the people began starving to death. Not willing to accept this unjust situation, this wise woman asked to speak directly to Joab himself. What courage for a woman with no rights to approach the king's captain and right-hand man! After reasoning with Joab, she was able to barter peace between her town and the king's army, in exchange for throwing over the head of the rebel trouble-maker.

What motivated this woman to react in such a way that saved her town from imminent death? The wise woman got tired of the injustice and knew something had to be done. Fear had paralyzed the people; someone needed to save the children, women and men from starvation. This woman’s bravery and wisdom is what kept them all alive. We have an Enemy that surrounds our lives every day; the Bible says that he is like a roaming lion looking to devour us. So, what are we going to do about it? Are we going to surrender our children, our husbands, and our friends to him? We need to fight back and tell him to his face that he doesn't have a part in our lives and that the war is over. We already have victory in Jesus's name. Put on your spiritual armor (Ephesians 6) and hope in our Victorious Savior. Cut off the enemy's head and throw him over the walls of your life. 


Suzy Silk
This passage reminds me that part of being an Ezer is joining with God in bringing wisdom and reconciliation to those around me. The wise woman of Abel brings hope to a city that was sure they were doomed! She does not rush into this situation with reckless bravery or try to offer help through feminine cunning. Instead she operates out of wisdom, faith, and a heart for true peace and justice. The book of Proverbs is full of reminders that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” No one is wise because of their own knowledge or devising, but only through their daily obedience to the commands of the Lord and their deep-rooted understanding that He is sovereign. The Bible calls this woman “wise” because in the face of danger, she only feared the Lord – more than Sheba or Joab or the king’s army. James 3:17 links wisdom and peace-making when it states: “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” As this woman feared the Lord and walked in wisdom, she was able to bring peace to her city and end violence and injustice.

The Bible encourages us to become peacemakers in our world. Jesus said: “blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Mt 5:9). Jesus, the Son of God, modeled this principle by making peace between broken humanity and the holy God of the universe (Eph 2:17, Col 1:20). In order to make peace, Jesus could not simply forget our transgressions, instead He brought about justice through the shedding of blood; but unlike in 2 Samuel, it was not the blood of traitors -- Sheba or all of us! – it was His own innocent blood (Is 53:5). His blood also brought about reconciliation between two historically divided groups, Jewish and non-Jewish people (Eph 2:14). Now as Jesus’ disciples, we can follow in His footsteps and bring peace to our world through His blood. As we fear the Lord, obey His commands, and recognize that only God can bring true peace, we can become “wise women” in our communities that bring true hope in dire situations. We can live like the wise woman of Abel.

What would it look like for you to continue to grow in true wisdom? What areas of your life do you need to more fully obey and fear the Lord? Where is God calling you to step out in faith as a peacemaker in your community, family, or workplace? How can the blood of Jesus continue to bring reconciliation in your life and community?

Shunammite Woman

TEXT: 2 KINGS 4:25-30

Julie Herrera-Maxwell
Have you ever dreamed or hoped for something that never became a reality in your life and now you don't even want to talk about it? Your dreams have been crushed so many times that you have built a shield around your heart. That is this woman's story. She tried unsuccessfully for years to have a baby, and then finally she gave up on this dream. She pushed this desire so far from her that even when the Prophet Elisha himself asked her what she needed, she didn't even ask for a child. Can we blame her? All of her hopes of having a baby were gone. But God knew what this woman was lacking and what was deep in her heart, and so the prophet told her that in one year she would be able to hold her very own child. What joy! And then what sorrow! This gift of a son is torn away just a few years later when her son suddenly dies. Can you imagine what she was feeling? How would you have reacted in this situation?
 
We can learn a great deal from this woman and how she reacted. First, she put the child on the bed where the prophet used to sleep, preparing for the prophet's arrival. Next, when her husband asked her to wait until another day to find the prophet, she did not delay but replied "shalom" (peace). She gave a similar response to the servant: "all is well." However, when she finally arrived, she cried and lay at Elisha's feet, begging him to go and see her son. Can you maintain the peace of your house in the middle of a troubling time? She did. Her dream was dead before her eyes, but she was able to maintain the peace in her house and brought her troubles and sorrows to the only person who could change the situation. Can you do the same? Can you bring your problems directly to God and believe that He is the only one who can change and revive what is dead? Hope is the only thing that can sustain us in the middle of terrible trials. Do not place your hope and faith in anything or anyone who doesn't have the power to change it. Go to God! He is the only Hope. He will listen to His daughters when they run to Him and fall at His feet.


Suzy Silk
The themes of presence, vulnerability, and provision are woven throughout this story. In the beginning, the Shunammite woman goes out of her way to have Elisha stay with her. She asks nothing of him, but simply wants to be in his presence -- to have this man who speaks and acts on behalf of God in her home. When Elisha asks what she needs, at first she is unwilling to express her need for a child, but God gives her a son in spite of her willingness to ask or be vulnerable. In the beginning we see a woman who desperately wants to be near God but who doesn't know how to be honest about her needs and desires -- someone who gives but is unable to receive from God. Have you ever interacted with God in this way? You long to be near Him and honor Him as your Lord, but you struggle to let Him into your innermost thoughts, to be honest about your fears and longings.
 
As the story progresses and the Shunammite is given a son who is tragically killed, we suddenly see a dramatic switch. This woman now knows exactly what she wants to ask for and she once again seeks this only in God's presence. Her husband seems resigned to his fate and his loss, but this woman (like the parable of the persistent widow) knows what to ask for and who to ask it from. She boldly and vulnerably casts herself at the feet of Elisha; she rushes into God's presence with honesty and confidence. The final part of this story occurs in 2 Kings 8:1-6. Here Elisha warns the Shunammite woman of a coming famine and so she flees to the land of the Philistines for seven years. Upon her return she must go to the king to appeal for her land back -- no simple request! With boldness she enters the king's court to declare her needs and The Lord gives her great favor. Not only are her lands restored but the king also gives her all of the produce from the fields for the seven years she was gone! When she asks, God gives abundantly!
 
The Shunammite woman encourages me to daily seek out God's presence, to give the Holy Spirit a home in my life and heart. She reminds me that my hopes and needs and longings can only be fulfilled by God, and that He wants me to learn to verbalize these needs and to bring them to Him. As Hebrews 4:16 says, "Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." God richly blesses those who diligently seek him, so why would I seek anyone else? Let’s join together as women of hope and seek God with our whole hearts – seeking out His presence and also giving Him the space to enter even the most desperate and painful parts of our hearts.

Naaman's Slave Girl

TEXT: 2 KINGS 5:1-15

Julie Herrera-Maxwell
It doesn't matter where you came from, or whether you arrived in an airplane, in a car, or even in a boat. We all have to start from zero when we arrive in a foreign land. If you don't speak the language, it's even more difficult and you soon find yourself smiling, nodding, and pointing a lot!

The story of this young lady was different. She didn't arrive in Syria looking for a better life or hoping that when she arrived she would get a better job or would save up money and buy a house. She arrived as a prisoner; she was taken from her home by force in order to serve as a maid for a powerful man named Naaman. He was a valiant soldier, captain of the king's army, but with a huge problem -- he had leprosy.

What makes this young girl's story remarkable is the fact that she didn't become indifferent to the suffering of her master. She didn't keep her mouth shut when she witnessed his problem. She felt compassion even though nobody in this foreign land had compassion for her; she spoke up for her master even when he wouldn't speak up for her. Another remarkablemoment in the story is when Naaman believes her words. She was not an important person in his house, but her words went all the way to the king! Her boldness eventually led to his healing.

Someone once said that the gospel is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread for free. I often think that if we could see the condition of people's hearts we might liken it to leprosy – numb or damaged without the healing touch of Jesus. Can we learn to be like this servant girl and place the needs of others before our own? Can we learn to boldly tell others -- whether servants or kings -- about the healing touch of Jesus, and then trust Jesus to do the rest? Our Jesus is a master of healing -- one who puts lives back together, restores relationships, and hears the cries of all those who hope in Him.


Suzy Silk
In Genesis, God tells Abraham that through his offspring all nations will be blessed (Gen 22:18), and later God tells Isaiah that he will make Abraham's offspring a light to the nations (Isa 49:6). This prophecy is certainly lived out by Naaman's Israelite slave girl. Even though she is a foreigner, and a lowly slave in the house of a powerful military general, she is still a light. Through her bold proclamation Naaman is not only healed by Elisha and given temporary hope, but Naaman becomes a follower and worshiper of the true God, the only God who can truly heal and save.

In the New Testament, we learn that Jesus is the promised light to the nations. Through his death and resurrection, we, as his followers, are invited to be like him - little lights sent out into a broken world (Phil 2:15).  No matter where we find ourselves - slaves or free, at home or in a foreign land - we are called to proclaim the truth of God to those around us. We are called to offer God's hope to those who are sick and to those who are spiritually dead.

Where has God placed you? How can you be a light in this place? Who in your life needs to hear about Jesus, the light of the world?

Jehosheba

TEXT: 2 CHRONICLES 22:10-12, 2 KINGS 11:1-3

Julie Herrera-Maxwell
One of the hardest things to do in life is raise children. First, we are not prepared for what we will have to face. Each child is different -- coming in a similar package but with completely different insides!  We love them and raise them the best that we can, hoping that when the time arrives for them to leave home, that they will be mature and ready to face this cruel world.

After the death of King Ahaziah, his mother Athaliah responded in vengeance by seeking to destroy the whole royal family of the house of Judah. But Jehosheba, King Jehoram’s daughter and King Ahaziah’s sister, saw what was happening and devised a plan. She took Joash, the infant son of Ahaziah, and hid him and his nurse in a bedroom. Later she brought the child to the Temple and hid him there for six years so Athaliah couldn’t harm him.

The Bible says that we have an enemy who prowls around us like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1Peter 5:8). This enemy not only seeks to devour us, but also our children. While our children are young, God gives us the responsibility to raise them well. In other words, we need to learn to act like Jehosheba and hide them from the enemy. We need to put them in a safe place, where they can grow in God’s knowledge and receive His unconditional love. The time will come when they will leave our homes and our protection; and that time will come sooner than we think! God wants us to be wise and understand that our battles are not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, authorities, the powers of this dark world, and against the evil forces in the spiritual realms. Therefore, we have to put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, we will be able to stand our ground (Eph 6:12). We have a very important responsibility in raising our children, and our first job is to prepare them early so that when the time arrives they will also be able to be warriors -- young men and women that fear God and know how to stand up against the enemy’s plans.

Jehosheba was not Joash’s mother but she did the job of every Sunday school teacher and woman who works with children.  She protected him against Athaliah and her plans. Perhaps you are not seeing the results of your hard labor now, whether it be in your church or in the school where you work, but allow me to encourage you to keep putting our children in the safe arms of our Lord. Tomorrow, we will have better leaders and better Christ-followers, thanks to you. Whether you are a mother, or a spiritual mother to children, the Lord can use you to change lives. Please do not give up; the next generation is in your hands!

Suzy Silk
When studying the life of Jehosheba, it’s helpful to get some context from the other chapters of 2 Chronicles and 2 Kings. Jehosheba was the daughter of Jehosephat, a descendant of King David and an overall good king of Judah. The Bible says that Jehosephat did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, but did not fully remove the idols in Judah (2 Chron 20:32-33). In the books of Kings and Chronicles, the kings are “ranked” by how obedient they are to God. Did they do what was right in the eyes of the Lord? Did they remove idols and restore worship? Or did they do what was evil in the eyes of the Lord and encourage idolatry? Jehosheba’s grandfather on her dad’s side was a good king, but her father proceeded to do everything differently. Jehoram married Athaliah, the daughter of King Ahab (king of Israel and husband of Jezebel). Ahab is known for being one of the worst kings in all of Israel’s history, and his daughter was no better. Jehosheba’s parents – Jehoram and Athaliah – led the people of Judah far away from the Lord. Jehoram killed all of his brothers and reintroduced idolatry. The Lord was so angry with Jehoram that He sent armies against Jehoram and then struck Jehoram with a deadly bowel disease!

In spite of having terrible, violent, evil parents, Jehosheba chose an entirely different path for her life. While the rest of her family was killing each other, she was married to Jehoiada, a righteous priest who served the Lord in the Temple. Here, far from political intrigue and bloodshed, Jehoaida and Jehosheba sought the Lord’s will for their own life and the future of their nation. They knew that God had promised to preserve the line of David and always keep a descendent of David on the throne (2 Chron 21:7, 23:3). This meant that God would not let Jehoram and Athaliah completely wipe out the line, and that God would redeem this now crumbling line of David. And so on faith in God’s promises, Jehosheba acted. She risked her life to hide Joash – the only remaining son of Ahaziah, and Jehosheba’s infant nephew – from the bloodlust of Athaliah. Just like a fairytale, Jehosheba rescued the son of “the promise” from the “Wicked Witch” out to destroy him. Jehosheba hides Joash in the only place he will be truly safe – in the presence of God. Here, Joash grows up with a completely new identity, as one who worships and loves God, as one who does what is right in the eyes of the Lord.

Jehosheba takes a bold risk because she has staked her life on the promises of God – the God who can redeem and restore even the darkest of situations through the promised Son of David, Jesus. Through her faith and obedience, she changes her family history and the future of her nation. Where in your life is God calling you to wholeheartedly embrace His promises? Where might He be asking you to stake everything on His character? Or where is He inviting you to partner with Him in maintaining His good promises to others?

Mothers of Kings

TEXT: 2 KINGS 12:1-2, 15:1-3, 15:33-34, 18:1-6

Julie Herrera-Maxwell
Somebody once said that mothers are the only ones who change this world -- one child at a time. Often when we read stories about the many kings in Israel, the Bible mentions their mothers by name. Have you ever wondered why? It was very common in those times for kings to have several wives and so raising a child was delegated to their mother. As a result, even though all those young men were trained by their fathers to be future kings, the ones who trained their hearts were their mothers.

Although the book of Kings is full of many sad stories of kings disobeying God, there are a few stories of hope. One of these is the story of King Hezekiah. The Bible tells us that King Hezekiah's mother was Abi the daughter of Zechariah. What is amazing is that during the time of his reign, King Hezekiah did not follow in the ways of his father Ahaz, who worshipped false gods and made sacrifices on the high places. Instead, King Hezekiah destroyed all of these high places and restored worship to its rightful place in the Temple in Jerusalem. He "held fast to The Lord" and as a result he and the nation of Judah were saved from the Assyrian army. Hezekiah's priorities were completely different from those of his father, and most likely his desire to worship God and restore the Temple was instilled by his mother. How important is a mother's job to raise her son well! As the book of Proverbs 22:6 states: "Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it."

Today we no longer worship God in the Temple; instead 1 Peter 2 teaches us that we are the Temple of God and that the Holy Spirit dwells in each of us. We are His new Temple made of flesh and blood. Just as in the time of King Hezekiah, God wishes to restore His Temple (our hearts) and to bring men, women, and children back into right relationship with Him. Like Abi, we can serve as mothers or spiritual mothers to the next generation, teaching them to love God with their whole lives.

 

Suzy Silk
In 2 Kings 12-18, there appears a series of kings who ruled over Judah. In this section the author gives a clue as to when a king will be good or bad, by including or not including the name of each king's mother. There are four good kings in this line-up and all four of their mothers (Zibiah, Jecoliah, Jerusha, and Abi) are mentioned by name. When the mother is mentioned by name, the author is essentially giving her part of the credit for how her son turned out. Each of these sons, though not perfect, "does what was right in the eyes of The Lord" and has a positive influence on the people. The greatest of these kings was Hezekiah who "trusted in The Lord, the God of Israel, so there was none like him among all the kings of Judah." His mother Abi must have been so very proud of her son! 

As women we can have a profound affect on our children and on those men and women around us. Every day we have the opportunity to pray for and encourage others to follow Jesus. The women in this story didn't have any real power themselves, but they had the opportunity to shape the minds and hearts of people who did. The same is often true of us. God gives us opportunities every day to point others to Him -- men, women, and children who may hold positions of power we could never hold ourselves.

Who can you pray for and encourage in your life? How can you help them to follow God more faithfully? Is there anyone you know who holds a position of power, influence, or leadership? Ask God to give you an opportunity to share with this person about Jesus.

Shallum's Daughters

TEXT: Nehemiah 3:12

Julie Herrera-Maxwell
During the Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem, the Temple was destroyed and the walls guarding the city were turned to rubble. Although the Israelites were eventually able to return and the Temple was partially rebuilt, the city and Temple were still vulnerable to attack since the walls had never been rebuilt. After Nehemiah found out about the condition of the walls, he immediately prayed to God for help to rebuild them.

This kind of job couldn't be accomplished by one person, so once Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem, he encouraged all of the people to join in rebuilding the wall. Everyone was assigned to build the wall near his own house. Most likely the majority of Jerusalem's residents had sons to help them work, but Shallum had only daughters, so he built his section of the wall with his own daughters.

There are two lessons I believe we can learn from this story. First, we need to recognize the importance of building and guarding the walls around our hearts -- the place where we hear from and worship God. As Proverbs 4:23 states, "Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it." Like Nehemiah and Shallum's daughters we need to recognize the importance of guarding our hearts and minds from the Enemy who wishes to distract us from worshipping and obeying God. Second, this story reminds us that God can use women to accomplish jobs that appear to be only for men. In the end, Shallum's daughters were able to help their father complete the task assigned to him -- and so proved to be just as useful as sons.


Suzy Silk
After the Jewish people began to slowly return from exile in Babylon and Persia to Jerusalem, they had to work diligently to rebuild first the Temple and then the city of Jerusalem. This work required everyone to be involved -- giving time and money to rebuild the walls, sometimes at the risk of physical harm (Neh 4:16). Even when it isn't dangerous, rebuilding a wall is sweaty, messy work that requires consistent work under a hot sun. Some leaders and nobles were too proud "to stoop to serve The Lord" (3:5) and sent their servants to do it -- but not Shallum and his daughters. Although Shallum was a ruler of half the district of Jerusalem and had no sons to help him, he and his daughters faithfully did their part. Shallum's daughters are the only women mentioned in chapter 3 and may well have been the only women building and repairing the wall. Every day these women engaged in hard labor to rebuild the city wall, so that their city and their people and the Temple of God would be safe from attack.

Even in our time, God is inviting us to join Him in the work of restoration and rebuilding. He invites us to be a part of building his Kingdom and of restoring the parts of his creation that have been destroyed and ravaged by sin and evil.

How is God inviting you to get your hands dirty in the work of restoration and rebuilding? What has hindered you from joining Him or from persevering in the work He has given you?

Ester

TEXT: ESTHER 2:5-8, 3:12-16

Julie Herrera-Maxwell
When we think about Queen Esther, we often imagine a beautiful girl in a pageant show; but there was so much more than that to her life. This beautiful girl was taken from her home by force. Esther's life was already full of pain -- she was an orphan living with her uncle, a Jewish girl whose whole people group had been taken from their homeland as slaves and were now living in a foreign land. And although the Persians had proved to be somewhat kinder than the Babylonians, Esther was snatched away from her uncle's home to become a part of the Persian king's harem. While the king was only looking for a beautiful new queen, God had more in mind for this beautiful orphan girl; He would use her to save His people!

Perhaps your life is never going to be exactly like Esther's. You might not end up in a castle married to a king, but did you know that you were chosen by God for this time, for this hour, to make a difference where you are now? Esther was made Queen so she could stand up for her people, stand up for God. Right now there are people around you hoping that someone will stand up for them, waiting for someone to let them know that there is still hope and that God still performs miracles. You were born with that purpose: to bring hope to the hopeless in your house, in your workplace, and in your school; to point people to our God who is just as powerful today as he was in Esther's time.


Suzy Silk
The book of Esther is an amazing tale about an Ezer fully living out her calling. Esther provides HELP and HOPE when it is desperately needed; and she doesn’t back down even when she must risk her life to save her people. The story of Esther and Mordecai teaches us that there are two key ingredients to being God’s agent of hope: (1) prayer and fasting, and (2) courage and boldness.

Esther’s first step is to pray and fast. She fasts for three days and asks everyone in her community to fast with her. She knows that standing up to evil and fighting injustice is no small matter, and that she can accomplish nothing in her own strength or by herself. She can only succeed if the Lord gives her great favor and wisdom. Just as Mordecai reminded her, the Lord is the one who will bring deliverance, and she must act according to His will. Oh, how often do I act before praying! Or how often have I prayed a quick prayer for protection and blessing instead of spending hours -- or even days -- in prayer and fasting! As Ezers we must learn to begin every action with prayer and to rely on the Lord when bringing hope to the hopeless.

After three days of prayer and fasting, Esther acts with courage and boldness. She does not delay to act or hope God will send someone else. No, she steps forward in courage and faith, risking her life, believing that God will provide. Once given entrance to the king, she is wise and bold in her requests. She does not hesitate or lose courage, but she continues to walk as a courageous, faith-filled Ezer. Esther is the perfect mix of waiting on the Lord and also walking in faith. She imitates her Ezer-warrior God in every way.

Where is God calling you to bring His Hope? Where has He placed you so that you might fight against injustice and protect His people? Where are you confronting Evil on a daily basis? Have you spent time in prayer and fasting? Have you sought the Lord’s will for your life and the situations He has called you to? Or maybe you have spent time in prayer but are hesitant to act? Are you waiting for more signs or for God to send someone else? How can you step out in faith today? How can you live out your calling with courage and boldness?

 

Proverbs 31 Woman

 

TEXT: PROVERBS 31:10-31

Julie Herrera-Maxwell
Many people have written and given sermons about this famous woman. We’ve learned that she does everything perfect and is the super-woman of all times; she has everything under control -- her emotional life, marriage, children, work, and yes, even her fashion.  So perhaps you are wondering who was this woman in real life?  Some suggest that she was Solomon’s mother; others say that she was just a figurative “ideal” woman in the Bible. I tend to agree with the latter opinion because everything the Bible says about her is just beautiful. She is perfect in every area of her life, and she acts with such gentleness and elegance.  She has a generous life and shares her wealth with everybody. She certainly seems to be the perfect, ideal woman.

How does Proverbs 31 line up with our normal lives? How can we be and act like her? The reality is that we all are busy daughters, mothers, wives, friends, employees -- just ordinary women who are trying so hard to be able to accomplish everything in every area of our lives.  We want to be the best mothers, the best wives, be able to have the best figures and best careers, be the best friends, etc.; but is that something attainable in our busy world today? The answer is NO! We can try all of the above and devote our whole lives to achieving perfection, but to be perfect in every area is impossible. You and I are not perfect people.

But there is hope. There is someone who is perfect in every area who wants to transform ordinary women into extraordinary daughters. He wants to guide you and empower you with His Spirit. He wants to help you accept yourself the way you are, with all your mistakes.  He wants you to finally realize that no matter how hard you try on your own, you will always fail in some area, because our nature is corrupt and limited.  The Author of hope will patiently change you only if you allow Him; piece by piece, layer by layer so you can become the unique masterpiece you were created to be -- a wiser woman who will face this life with courage and security because she realizes that she is not fighting in this busy world in her own strength but in His!


Suzy Silk
I always used to struggle with Proverbs 31 and the various ways the opening lines of the poem were translated. This poem always felt like an overwhelming list of domestic duties I needed to somehow daily achieve in order to be an ideal woman and wife in the eyes of God, the church, and the men in my life. I was a terrible seamstress, a sub-par cook, and I hated cleaning. The only part of the poem that grabbed my attention was that the woman having her own side business. Plus, where I really wanted to be, was sitting in the city gate discussing religion and politics! Reading Proverbs 31 often left me feeling unfeminine and less than ideal.

Thankfully, God loves to reveal His Word to us, and this happened for me in graduate school, the first time I was able to study Proverbs 31 in Hebrew. Instead of seeing this woman as previous English translators (who were mostly men) had seen her – as the epitome of a quiet, submissive, noble European woman – I realized she was the warrior woman Eve was meant to be (the ezer), and was described in similar language to Lady Wisdom (who appears in the opening chapters of Proverbs). The opening words “eshet chayil” can be translated as “woman or wife” of “noble character or warrior/military valor.” In fact, when the male version of this appears in the Bible (‘esh chayil”), scholars most often translate this as “mighty men or men of military valor” – for example, David’s mighty men who went into battle with him. The translations I had grown up with just couldn’t fathom a woman being described in the same way as male soldiers, and yet the rest of the language in Proverbs 31 supports this lens of interpretation. The poet consistently chose strong, military words to describe her actions – she hunts for prey when collecting food for her household, she brings in her spoils, she girds her loins with strength and makes her arms strong.

Now when I read Proverbs 31, I think of how Eve was created to be – an “ezer”, a warrior in times of dire need, a woman who faced the future with hope, courage, and wisdom. You and I were meant to be “ezer”s and “eshet chayil”s who imitate our Warrior God – a God who rescues the needy and oppressed. Sadly, like Eve, we have failed to be who we were meant to be because we have turned away from the Lord (the source of our strength, wisdom, courage). We cannot muster up our own strength and strategy, but must instead choose to fear the Lord. We cannot trust in our own beauty, our own cunning, or the many ways the world tells us to be perfect or wise; instead we need to be women who fear the Lord. Women who turn first to God in times of trouble. Women who trust in the wisdom that comes from God and not from ourselves. Women who come to the rescue and aid of others, because we have first been empowered and strengthened by the Holy Spirit.

Elizabeth

 

TEXT: LUKE 1:39-80

Julie Herrera-Maxwell
More than once I have seen women in my church go to the altar so the guest preacher or my pastor would lift up a special prayer for them because they could not have children. The frustration of not being able to conceive, despite hours of prayer, can drag any woman down in her spiritual life. The Bible says that Elizabeth was a direct descendant of Aaron, the first high priest. Both Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah were upright in the sight of God, and Zechariah served in the Temple. One might ask: "Can we be in God's Temple (or church), doing all of the right things, and still not have the desires of our hearts met by God?" Yes. Elizabeth and her husband faithfully obeyed God for many years and yet they did not have children.

So my friend, the next time you go through a difficult time in your life and, like Elizabeth, your heart before God is straight, do not let the Enemy put ideas in your mind that God is upset with you or that you did something wrong. Don't let him condemn you! Elizabeth and Zechariah were of the priestly caste, elite and righteous, and yet they still could not conceive.

After decades of waiting, eventually circumstances changed for this couple and the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah promising the long-hoped-for child. There is something that catches my attention when I read about how the angel Gabriel speaks to Zechariah. "Do not be afraid for your prayer has been heard." Gabriel speaks in the present tense. This reminds me that my prayer goes before God and that He will answer me in His time, not mine. For God, my prayers and His response are always in the present tense.

I don't know how long you have been waiting for something -- maybe you have been waiting for decades. But do not despair or grow weary. He has not forgotten you; your prayers are always before Him and in His perfect time, He will answer. Remember that in all things, even in waiting and in unmet dreams, our Lord works all things for the good of those who love Him (Rom 8:28).


Suzy Silk
I often love studying the meanings of names in the Bible. Like many cultures around the world, in ancient Jewish culture, children were given names with deep meanings – either in memory of a family member or famous relative, or because of the promises/blessings the parents wanted to bestow on their child. Often these children grew up to become exactly what their names meant!

Names are also very important in the stories surrounding the birth of Jesus. Zechariah’s name means “the LORD remembers” and Elizabeth’s name means “oath of my God” These are truly fascinating names because Zechariah’s parents and Elizabeth’s parents must have both believed that God, in-spite of being “silent” for 400 years, was still going to keep His covenant promises to Israel and bring about the restoration of Israel from her many enemies (like the Greeks and Romans). Despite years of political unrest, changing governments, and even corruption within the Levitical priesthood, these families believed that God would fulfill His promises and bring the Messiah.

So here is Elizabeth, a woman whose very name proclaims her long-enduring faith in a God who keeps His promises, still barren in her old age and waiting faithfully upon the Lord. I can’t imagine what it must have been like when first her husband returns home completely mute and then suddenly waves of morning sickness overtake her aged body. On top of this, when she finally returns from hiding out for five months, she is greeted by her teenage relative, Mary, who is also pregnant . . . and with the promised Messiah! Elizabeth is overcome by joy and filled with the Holy Spirit, and proclaims God’s goodness and promises boldly. She has seen the goodness of God and is bearing witness to a fulfillment of a thousand-year-old promise! Everything Elizabeth is now witnessing is a gift from God – her late pregnancy, the arrival of the angel Gabriel (the same angel who spoke about the Messiah to the prophet Daniel!), the fact that her relative Mary is carrying the promised Messiah, the prophecies concerning her own unborn son, and the overpowering of the Holy Spirit which causes her baby to jump in the womb and Elizabeth to burst into song. Everything is a gift from God, and so this is what Elizabeth and Zechariah name their son – “Gift from the Lord” (Jonathan). Their son will not only be a gift, but He will also be the one who announces the true Gift to our world, his cousin Jesus (whose name means “salvation”).

As women, we have the opportunity to be just like Elizabeth. We can choose to wait on the Lord, even when His promises seem far off. And then when we see His promises being fulfilled, we can accept all of this from the Lord as a wonderful gift to rejoice in. Like Elizabeth, we can proclaim God’s goodness to others and allow the Holy Spirit to fill us with words of praise and encouragement. Waiting can often be long, painful, sad, and difficult, but those who wait on the Lord (like Elizabeth) will have their strength renewed; they will run and not grow weary (Isaiah 40:13). They will see the Lord’s goodness and proclaim the great deeds He has done. As Elizabeth reminds us, “blessed is she who believe[s]” in the Lord’s promises, because one day all of His promises will come true.

The Woman at the Well

 

TEXT: JOHN 4:7-26

Julie Herrera-Maxwell
Have you ever gone on a blind date? You go to the place where you've prearranged to meet and for the very first time you meet the guy? Something similar happened in this story. The only difference was that this woman did not know that an amazing man was waiting to meet her. The Samaritan woman went to the well every day, but she was forced to go during the heat of the day when no one else would see her. She would rather face the scorching sun then the whispers and taunts about her many husbands. What a surprise it must have been when Jesus first spoke to her -- a Jewish man treating her with dignity and respect! While she pretended to be religious and argue with Jesus about where people should worship, Jesus went straight to her need. He asked her to call her husband and then revealed that he knew her whole past. He confronted her need and shame head on with honesty and gentleness, so she would begin to realize who He was. For the first time in her life, she'd met a man who knew her fully and loved her without any hidden motives. He offered her abundant life and was calling her to proclaim His coming to others. This woman, with a shameful past, became the very first evangelist in her town The Messiah was waiting at the well for a "divine date" that would change her entire life!

Where are the areas in your life in which you need Jesus to show up and meet you? When do you prefer the scorching sun to the shame of isolation or sin? Where do you long to be loved but have found only disappointment? Jesus is sitting at the well of your deepest need waiting to go on a date with you, waiting to speak into your life with grace and truth, waiting to give you the hope of an abundant life in Him.


Suzy Silk
Ive recently been going through a season in which God has been gently showing me the many sins hidden deep in my heart -- sins of fear, pride, bitterness, and frustration. I remember a time last month when I wondered if there was hope for me  hope for my damaged, broken heart which seemed to be clogged with so many lies that grace and truth could not freely flow through me. The story of the woman at the well reminds me that there is hope for a broken woman like me. Just like the woman at the well, my many coping mechanisms and sin patterns are not hidden from Jesus. He is aware of my long string of lovers  the many ways I have tried to unsuccessfully find happiness and fulfillment. What constantly amazes me is that even though Jesus sees all of this, He still invites me to sit and talk with Him each day. He still lets me talk about other subjects before gently leading me to the real issue at hand. Jesus is forever faithful to me, even though I am often unfaithful to Him. He continually brings me back to Him, the only true source of overflowing abundant life, even though I so often seek life from empty, broken cisterns. As Jeremiah 2:13 states: My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

What are some ways in which you have dug your own cistern? How have you sought other “lovers” as a way to find happiness and fulfillment apart from Jesus? As Jesus meets you today and sits with you, what are some of the things He is speaking to your heart? How is He offering you living water through His Spirit?

The Bleeding Woman

 

TEXT: MARK 9:25-34

Julie Herrera-Maxwell
My mother died when she was only 50 years old from ovarian cancer. With every passing day I would see her getting thinner and weaker. She lost a lot blood which made her anemic and unable to have a normal life. This experience helps me to relate to the story in Mark of the woman with the issue of blood. For twelve years she had to survive a similar circumstance. In the Old Testament women with this kind of problem were considered unclean. In other words, nobody was able to touch them. Even if this woman had children, she could not feel their embrace. Every place where she sat down had to be cleaned afterwards. How can one still have hope living this way, feeling shunned by everyone and not being able to live a normal life with family, friends, and neighbors? The Bible says that this woman spent all that she had seeing different doctors to help her, but nothing seemed to work. Maybe in the beginning she had hope that this would pass, that somehow the doctor would find a cure, but years passed and there was no more hope.

The Bible doesn't say how she found out that Jesus was in her town, but what we do know is that she did not care what she had to do to get close to Jesus, even if it meant touching people in the crowd on her way there. She knew that the only solution was right in front of her. Imagine a sickly woman with no strength or energy, bent over, reaching out to touch the fringe of Jesus's garment. Immediately she appears to feel better, and then Jesus turns and looks at her with eyes of compassion and love. This rabbi doesn't say to her "why did you touch me?" but instead, "your faith has healed you." Jesus said these words in public and out loud so he could not only heal her but restore her standing in the community, making her clean again.


Suzy Silk
In this story, we are told by that the bleeding woman pushes through the crowd in order to touch the fringe or corner of Jesus garment. She does not call out His name or grab ahold of Jesus hand, but stooping over, she reaches for the corner of His garment. Now for modern readers, the significance of this might pass us by, but a first century Jewish reader would not miss the reference; this bleeding woman reaches for Jesus fringe (tzitzit) for a reason. In Numbers 15:37-41 the Israelites are instructed to wear fringes on the corners of their garments as a visible reminder of the commands of God and of his redemptive act in bringing them out of Egypt. In Ezekiel 16:8 and Ruth 3:9 the corners (or wings) of the garment are linked to the marriage covenant God makes with Israel and to His desire to redeem her. So again the Bible links fringe/corner/wing to Gods redemptive act and His marriage to His people. Also the Psalms are full of references to taking refuge under the Lords wings or hiding in the shadow of His wings because the psalmists believe they can hide under Gods wings since they are in a covenantal relationship with the Lord (Ps 17:8, 36:7). Finally in Malachi 4:2, God promises that in the future the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in his wings. Taking all of these passages together, the fringe/corner/wing was associated with Gods covenant promise to Israel to be her redeemer, her groom, her Lord, and her healer.

By grabbing onto the fringe of Jesus garment, this woman was linking Jesus with the prophecy about the sun of righteousness and with God Himself. Whether she fully comprehended that Jesus was God or not, she certainly believed He was a prophet of God and the promised Messiah. When Jesus turns to her and says, Daughter, your faith has made you well, He is affirming her belief in His Messiah-ship. (Jesus goes even farther in Matthew 23:37 when He describes Himself as wanting to bring Jerusalem under His wings, essentially declaring Himself God!) What an amazing story when we understand it all in context. This woman not only longed to be healed but she recognized that Jesus was the Great Physician, the only doctor who could heal her.

When you come to Jesus, do you grab onto the fringe of His garment? Do you come to Him believing He is who the Bible declares Him to be? Are your requests and hopes founded upon ancient Scriptures? May we cling to the corners of His garment and find refuge in the shadow of His wings. May we always find His gentle eyes upon us, calling us His daughters.

The Widow of Nain

 

TEXT: LUKE 7:11-17

Julie Herrera-Maxwell
A person who has lost a close relative or friend could only really understand the pain and the void that one feels when that special someone departs. Meanwhile, the rest of us feel inadequate in what to say, because deep down we know that there are no words of comfort that would help them with their loss. In my country, when a person dies, the immediate family lines up outside of the church at the end of the service and all of the people who were kind enough to attend the funeral service give their condolences to the family.

So there I was, at 23 years old, in that line along with my father and brother, when my mother had passed away.  All of my mother’s friends and relatives were giving us words of consolation until a lady came to me and gave me a hug and then she said whispered in my ear “congratulations.” At that moment it really didn’t mean anything to me -- my mind was so far away, thinking about how I was going to continue life without my mother. Did I judge the lady? Of course no. She was like most of us, just feeling inadequate and nervous.

The woman in this story was burying her only son; and she was a widow.  Surely she was in such pain that what surrounded her at that moment did not have any importance. Perhaps in her mind she was asking herself what was going to happen with her now, saying “It should have been me . . . I should have died . . . There is no hope for me now . . . How will I go on?” In these times, widows that had no family were considered the poorest of the poor.

But Jesus was coming into her city and when he saw the funeral procession, he went to her and said “don’t cry anymore.” He then went to the people who were carrying her dead son and spoke to the young man and raised him from the dead. Can you imagine that happening right in front of you? She never even asked Jesus for a miracle, but Jesus knew what was going on; the same way He knows what is going on in your life this very moment. Perhaps you are going though a very difficult time and think that there is no more hope; but I want to remind you that Jesus is aware of your problem -- nothing is hidden from him. Jesus sees you and can bring new life. So today I will say to you, “don’t cry anymore.”


Suzy Silk
Unlike many of the other interactions recorded in the book of Luke, this woman makes no move towards Jesus – she doesn’t find him, come to him, or ask him for help. She is silent. If anything, she seems to be completely unaware of his presence. Jesus has walked to the town of Nain with a huge crowd following Him, and this woman is exiting the town, surrounded by throngs of mourners, heading to burying her son. She didn’t know Jesus was coming to her town, and she didn’t seek Him out for help. And yet, Jesus knows her – her story, her pain, her need. He sees her, even when she cannot see Him. He answers her deepest needs, when she can’t even muster the strength to ask for help. She may not have even known who Jesus was or believed He could save her son; and Jesus helped her anyways.

Our God is a compassionate God, who knows our needs before we ask. When we don’t know what to pray for, “the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Rom 8:26-27). Throughout the Bible, we are encouraged to ask God for what we need and to believe that He will answer and provide for us. Thankfully, even when we can’t ask, the Spirit still asks for us. When we are broken down and in despair, the Lord has compassion on us. When we can’t see God in the midst of our pain, when we aren’t even aware of His presence or feel that He is far away, Jesus is walking our way bring the hope only He can bring.

The Crippled Woman

 

TEXT: LUKE 13:1-20

Julie Herrera-Maxwell
Many times we can wrongly assume that every person who attends church is fine, free of troubles, and successful in every endeavor. But the reality is that people who attend church are like patients in the hospital. Everyone is sick and is going through the process of healing. The story of this woman has touched my life in so many different ways. She was attending the Temple and was sick for eighteen years. During that time, she probably got used to seeing things from her perspective and every time that she had to raise her head, she did so with difficulty.

Without even realizing the pain in our lives, the struggles that we have to face every day will force us, if we are not careful, to live a life bending over; and little by little we will get used to facing the world with a low view of ourselves. A divorce, the death of someone, the difficulty in conceiving a child, not being able to find a husband, etc. can bend us over, causing us to think that there is no hope for us or even that this is God’s will for our lives. All this while we still attend church faithfully. We are in a hospital, in the process of getting healed; but hospitals are not designed to live in permanently, only temporarily. Once we get well, we are supposed to leave. I’m not saying that we have to leave church. What I’m saying is that our minds must be renewed and healed, and the way we think about ourselves must be transformed.

The Bible says that when Jesus saw her, he called her and set her free of her sickness. Nothing will pass unattended by our Lord; He knew what she was going through. Now, the fact that we attend church doesn’t mean that we are going to be free of troubles, but He promises that He will never forsake us. It is time to raise your head up. Jesus is here and your situation is not going to be ignored by him. He wants to set you free. He wants you to see yourself like He sees you -- a wonderfully complex woman, with a renewed mind ready to accomplish all the things for which you have been created. My friend you are free!


Suzy Silk
In the opening verses of Luke 13, Jesus is discussing current events, guilt, and repentance. He is calling into questions the common belief that bad things only happen to bad people, and that those who have experienced good fortune must be more righteous than those who are experiencing calamity. Jesus then gives them a parable about a fig tree that has not produced any fruit for three years and is in danger of being cut down; but the gardener pleads for one more year to fertilize the fig tree in hopes that it will finally bear fruit.

I think Luke placed the story of the crippled woman directly after these opening nine verses to draw our attention to certain human assumptions which run counter to the truths of the Kingdom. On the Sabbath, as was his custom, Jesus is in a synagogue teaching and He encounters a woman crippled for eighteen years. In the eyes of her society, she is a woman oppressed by Satan and underneath a curse. People believed that either she or someone in her family must be guilty, because why else would she be suffering for so long with no relief. Maybe this was God’s way of punishing her. In the eyes of her community, she is the fig tree which is not bearing fruit and must be cut down.

Yet, in walks the Gardener. Instead of looking at the outside, Jesus sees her heart – one willing to step forward and be healed; one who will praise God. After years of suffering, this woman is set free both externally and internally because she has encountered the true God, the promised Messiah and has been healed by his touch. His love, his mercy, his grace is the fertilizer that brings new life to her soul.

But the synagogue leader can’t make sense of this interaction. Why is this woman causing a disruption on the Sabbath? Doesn’t she know the rules? Isn’t it enough that she has clearly been guilty for eighteen years, must she keep on sinning by breaking the Sabbath? In the middle of this, Jesus steps in and turns the leader’s narrative upside down. Jesus confronts the leader on the ways in which he treats his ox and donkey better than how he treats this Jewish woman. He reminds him that the Sabbath is the very time when hearts should be restored and prisoners set free.

This crippled woman is not the only one who needs to be set free; the synagogue leader and everyone in the synagogue are in desperate need of forgiveness and healing. The entire people are the fig tree which needs the Gardener to bring it new life, so it can produce the true fruits of the Kingdom. And even though this crippled woman seems small in the eyes of so many, and even though the Jewish people seem small compared to the nations, God can turn this small mustard seed into a great tree (13:19). He can use this woman’s words of praise to leaven the whole loaf (13:20). He can bring His kingdom into their lives in such a way that the whole world is changed.

How are you like the fig tree that needs to be restored? How is the Gardener inviting you to be healed and to bear fruit? Will you follow this woman’s example and boldly step forward to be healed? Or maybe, like the leader, how is Jesus calling into question the assumptions you have made about others? How do you need to repent and have your views of righteousness turned upside down?

Martha & Mary

 

TEXT: JOHN 11:1-7, 17-44

Julie Herrera-Maxwell
One of the greatest blessings in life is a friend. Proverbs 18:24 says that “there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Martha, Mary, and Lazarus were Jesus’ friends. He spent time in their home on many occasions and they opened up their house to Him with joy and gratitude. When Lazarus fell ill, the first person Mary and Martha reached out to was Jesus. They had seen with their own eyes His healing power and so they did not hesitate to ask Jesus to heal their brother. How would you want your friend to respond if you asked her for help? Would you want her to drop everything and run to your rescue? Instead Jesus did the exact opposite and waited for two extra days! Can you imagine how these two women must have felt? They were supposed to be Jesus’ closest friends and Jesus wasn’t with them during their darkest hour. By the time Jesus arrived, Martha and Mary had already buried their brother. When Jesus was close to their house, Martha ran to Him and said, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” but then she continued, “but I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Martha was full of faith in the midst of this storm. Despite His delay, she still turned to Him for help. Mary, too, knelt before Jesus in both sorrow and worship. In her pain, she still came to Jesus.

We can learn so much from these sisters. True worship is hoping in Jesus in spite of your problems; running to Him and worshiping Him, even when you don’t understand why He has waited to come to your aid. Do you believe that your problems can be used by God for His glory and your good? Jesus waited to heal Lazarus, so that His friends would know Jesus was truly the promised Messiah. These siblings were eye-witnesses of Jesus’ power over life and death!


Suzy Silk
I’ve always loved the three Martha/Mary/Lazarus stories in the gospels – Luke 10, John 11, and John 12. Too often, sermons are only preached on the first scene in Luke 10:38-42 when Martha is rebuked for not having chosen the better portion like her sister Mary. When we focus too much attention on this first story, we fail to see the progression of all three siblings as they continue to interact with Jesus. The transformation of each of them is rather astounding!

Lazarus is absent in the first story; he may not have even been in the house when Jesus visited. Perhaps he was the last of the siblings to hear about or care about this itinerant rabbi. However during the time from Luke 10 to John 11, Lazarus becomes an intimate friend of Jesus – “he whom you love.” Then Lazarus personally experiences the resurrection power of Jesus! People all over the country hear about Lazarus, and soon he is a wanted man (John 12:10) since his life becomes proof of Jesus’ power. In the final story, Lazarus is reclining right beside Jesus at the table – no longer absent but front and center!

Mary is always found on her knees in these three stories. In Luke 10 she is eager to become one of Jesus’ disciples and study at His feet. In John 11, she is overwhelmed by grief and so simply waits for Jesus to arrive. When He is finally there, she falls to her knees at His feet. And finally in John 12, Mary is back at the feet of Jesus, bent over in worship as she prophetically anoints His feet with oil.

In these stories, Martha is always standing, ready for what is ahead. Most likely Martha is the eldest of the siblings and often serves as a default leader. In the first story she is so busy trying to make the house perfect for Jesus’ arrival, that she misses out on the opportunity to sit at His feet as His disciple. But by the second story, her attitude has changed. Now she is waiting on the road, her eyes straining for His arrival. She knows that His presence is more important than any funeral preparations. She comes to Him with grief, but also deep-rooted faith. Martha is one of the first people in the gospels to truly grasp who Jesus truly is, and she confidently stands in this belief. Finally, we find Martha once again hosting Jesus in her home -- serving Him at the table, close to His side, but also allowing others to draw near Him as well. Martha stands by as Mary pours out their expensive ointment on His feet – not fretting at the cost or “lavish waist” but happily rejoicing in her sister’s act of worship. She stands by and serves the dinner, so that her sister might wash Jesus’ feet.

How has your life changed over time as a result of Jesus’ presence? How is Jesus continuing to call you into intimate relationship with Him? Do you find yourself full of hope – knowing Jesus will sanctify you – or do you struggle to see yourself as anything more than your last sin or failing? The Enemy loves to speak the lie into our heart that we will always make the same mistakes -- always be absent or too busy to follow Jesus. “Always a Martha and never a Mary.” But Jesus does not give up on us. He brings us from absence/passivity to being in the center of His ministry; from distracted service to intentionally standing in His presence; from despair to faith-filled hope.

The Ministering Women

LUKE 8:1-3, 23:49, 55-56; MARK 15:40, 47-16:1

Julie Herrera-Maxwell
Bolivia, the country where I came from, had a marvelous visitation of God in 1974. Christian historians call that time the revival of Bolivia. That movement gave birth to thousands of churches all around my country. God used a young man who was only 19 years old to revolutionize a nation. Thousands of people came to know The Lord because of this young man's obedience to The Lord. What do you do when you end up with a church of 600 members -- new believers that have never heard the Word of God -- but don't have a building to meet in or teachers to teach the crowd? In this case, Julio Cesar Ruibal chose 12 young people to lead this fledgling church. We were nine men and three women. In the beginning, the park was where we gathered for service; and twice a week we used to teach in every neighborhood in the city. That was the beginning of my Christian life. I was one of the young women that Julio chose and trained to teach every day in a different house to new believers older than myself. The life of these ministering women bring back memories of my youth and total devotion to God.

The Bible says that there were twelve male disciples who followed Jesus, but that there was also a group of women who followed Jesus and served Him out of their own means. This group of women is full of some fascinating characters -- women freed from evil spirits, ladies healed from infirmities, a manager of Herod's household, and mothers of some of Jesus' disciples. These women that were following Jesus helped to meet the very human, daily needs of Jesus. We can sometimes forget that Jesus - the Son of God - was also a man with physical needs and wants like everybody else. He had to eat, his clothes had to be washed, and he needed a place to sleep. What a blessing for these women to not only be able to meet the Messiah's needs, but to also be able to learn from Him and have their deepest needs met by His love and teachings. Every day they witnessed His miracles before the crowds, His healing of the sick, and His compassion for the poor. Each day they were instructed, along with the twelve disciples, on how to understand the Scriptures in a new way. Being able to wash Jesus' clothes or pay for his meals must have seemed like a small way to repay Him for all He gave them. Their lives were transformed and so they were willing to leave families and homes to follow Him. They had met the very embodiment of Hope and so they placed all their hopes for the future -- for security and for families -- in His hands and followed an itinerant Rabbi who had no place to lay His head.

How is Jesus calling you into an intimate relationship with Him that requires risk and sacrifice? How is He challenging you to make Him your Hope? I promise you that the costs may seem great, but that following Him with total devotion is always worth it.


Suzy Silk
Purposefully studying the lives of women in the Bible always yields surprising fruit. The women who followed and ministered to Jesus -- Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James and Joseph, Susanna, Salome, and Joanna, not to mention the sisters Mary and Martha --- often get little attention in our sermons and Bible studies, and yet their very existence in the gospels is challenging and encouraging. In their day, itinerant rabbis would allow small groups of men to follow them and learn from them as their students (disciples). The goal of every disciple was to walk so closely beside the rabbi -- in his very dust! -- that he would become like him and learn his way of interpreting the Scriptures (the rabbi's "yoke"). Many young men, especially those living in more religious regions like Jerusalem or the Galilee, would yearn to become disciples and intimate confidants of a rabbi. And yet, this was a career path completely closed off to women. Only the most educated and wealthy of women -- or those who were wives or daughters of rabbis -- would even have access to the type of basic education needed to consider following a rabbi. Yet, in every gospel account we find mention of this assorted group of women following Jesus -- up close and personal.

Even more astonishing is that these women not only serve Jesus and meet his physical needs, but they become the entrusted witnesses of the death and resurrection of their Lord. When many of the male disciples had fled in fear or sorrow, these women remained at the cross and then returned to anoint the dead body of their Lord. Just as they had helped to clothe him in life, they also clothed his body in death. And so in a culture where a woman could not be a disciple or even be a witness in a court of law, these women became the humans most acquainted with Jesus' terrible death and then His glorious resurrection. Though society overlooked them and discounted them, God entrusted them with carrying His message of Hope to our world.

You and I are never too small, too hidden, too ignorant, or too poor to be used by our Lord. He invites all of us to follow Him -- up close and personal -- and to bring His good news of Hope to others. When the world discounts us and forgets us, He sees us and entrusts us with Himself.

Mary Magdalene

TEXT: LUKE 24:1-12 & JOHN 20:1-18 

Julie Herrera-Maxwell
The first time we are introduced to Mary Magdalene in the gospel of Luke, we are informed that she was once possessed by seven demons but is now a devoted follower of Jesus. It is stunning that a woman once full of evil spirits was now one of Jesus' closest followers. The reality is that once you have proof of Jesus' mercy, His grace, and His love, where else can you go? And so Mary followed Jesus everywhere, ministering to His needs and trying to be as close as she could be to the man who changed her life. Mary's whole life had been totally transformed. Nobody loved her like Jesus did.

But now her teacher, the only one who loved her, was dead on a cross. Where was she going to go? What was going to happen with her life? Perhaps that is why she was the first one to run to the tomb. She had to see His lifeless body one last time, before saying goodbye forever. What a surprise it must have been when she saw the stone that covered the tomb rolled away. When she, and the other women, tried to make sense of what had happened, the angel asks her: "Why do you seek the living among the dead?" And yet, Mary Magdalene still does not comprehend; she remains in the garden weeping, until Jesus Himself appears before her.

I don't know where your hope died or when you first buried your dream, but today I want to remind you that the One who loves you no matter your situation, He still lives. He has risen so we can have life -- deep, rich, abundant life. So, like the angel asked Mary, "why are you looking for the living among the dead?"

Suzy Silk
A few years ago, while sitting in a mud-hut in northern Uganda, this story hit me in a fresh way. For the first time, I read the story of Mary Magdalene as a response to the story of Eve. In Genesis, we find the first woman (ish-shah) created to bear the image of her warrior-helper God by being an “ezer” who brings much needed help and hope in times of trouble. Sadly, she soon turns away from her God and her calling, and buys into the lies of the Serpent. Instead of being a protective aid to Adam, she walks him straight into danger. Eve and Adam sin and are separated from God, hiding themselves in shame and fear from the Good Gardener who is walking through the garden in search of them. The story ends with the first woman (ishshah) in tears and God promising that one day her Seed will crush the head of the Serpent (Gen 3:15).

With this in mind, we can now read the story of Mary with fresh eyes. Here we find a woman who has spent most of her life enslaved by Satan (the Serpent), until one day she meets Jesus (the promised Seed) who frees her from the seven demons who have been controlling her. Mary rejoices in her new found freedom, and follows Jesus all across the countryside, caring for His needs and soaking up His teachings. But suddenly her Teacher, the one who has freed her, is captured, tortured, and killed in front of her. And when she goes to mourn over His body, she finds His body gone. Mary is overcome with grief. Another woman crying in a garden, believing all hope to be lost.

“Woman (Ishshah), why are you weeping?” asks the Gardener.

And suddenly, the story has been flipped on its head. For here is the Seed victorious, having crushed the Serpent and defeated Death. Here is the Gardener fulfilling his promise to Eve. Here is Jesus welcoming Mary into the best and freest life she could have ever imagined, for He has redeemed her from everything that ever enslaved her and has won for her eternal life with Him! And here is Mary, now sent as the redeemed Ezer to carry the message of victorious Hope to her brothers.

I have seen the Lord! He is alive! (John 20:18) He has swallowed up death forever! The Lord God has wiped away tears from all faces! (Is 25:8) O Death where are your plagues? O Sheol where is your sting? (Hosea 13:14) The Seed has crushed the Serpent!


**For more on Mary Magdalene, listen to Diane Langberg’s 2014 Hope Gathering talk or Suzy Silk’s 2015 Hope Gathering talk on our website.

Lydia

TEXT: ACTS 6:11-15, 40

Julie Herrera-Maxwell

We see successful women every day in every area of life. There are women who lead countries, run international companies, make scientific breakthroughs, and tirelessly serve as mothers. We all have the privilege of knowing successful women. Nonetheless, Lydia shines in the pages of the Bible. We don’t know if she was married or widowed, but we do know that she was a pioneer businesswoman, a seller of purple goods. What I admire most about this woman is not her entrepreneurial spirit, but her hospitable heart. As soon as she hears the good news of the gospel, she begs Paul and Silas to go to her house and spend a few days there.

We meet important women every day, but it’s not often that we have the pleasure of meeting a hospitable woman. Our busy lives don’t allow us the time to do so; but Hebrews 13:2 reminds us to not neglect showing hospitality to others. When was the last time you invited someone to your home to share a meal? We always think to invite people to our churches, but have you considered inviting someone to your apartment and sharing the gospel with them in the intimacy of your home? Lydia opened her house and as a result her whole family accepted Jesus as their Savior and soon a new church community was born.

 

Suzy Silk

I find it fascinating when studying the stories in the book of Acts how often one person and then her/his entire household will come to faith in Jesus. For instance, in Acts 10, Cornelius and all of his relatives believe and receive the Holy Spirit; and in Acts 16, Lydia and her entire household are baptized at once. Even though under the New Covenant, each person must come to Jesus on their own and is not saved or condemned based on their parents' actions (Jeremiah 31:29-34), in the book of Acts we still find the Spirit bringing whole families to faith at the same time. Maybe it was God's desire to grow the early Messianic movement or His commitment to remain the God who keeps "steadfast love to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin" (Exodus 34:6). Whatever God's reasoning, I desperately long to see these types of "all household conversions" in our time and in our city. What a joy it would be to see not only one of my friends turn to Jesus, but also her family; not just one of my relatives come to faith, but every single one of them. What made Lydia's newfound faith so compelling to her friends and family? Why were they instantly convicted to the point of wanting to be baptized? How can we become these types of women who accept the gospel so completely that our families cannot help but seek Jesus themselves?

Today, let's join together and ask God to pour His steadfast love out on our families to the thousandth generation. Let's claim spiritual dominion over our apartment buildings and ask God to bring our "whole household" to saving faith in Him. He is the same God yesterday, today, and tomorrow, so let's pray His promises back to Him and ask Him to do the works He did in Lydia's life in ours as well. May we see God birth fledgling churches in every apartment building across this city!