Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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The Lion of Judah- Women of the Word Part 5

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Reading the Chronicles of Narnia as a child, I became captivated by Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter and their many adventures in the magical land of Narnia. As an adult, I re-read the books to my kids and reveled in them again. C.S. Lewis portrays the central character, Aslan, as a Christ figure. His choice to use a lion for this role is no coincidence; he knew the deep biblical symbolism associated with this majestic animal.

If you’ve been following along with this series of posts based on Women of the Word: The Family Tree of Jesus, then you know the next two characters in the family tree are Leah and Tamar. Both women were closely connected to Judah, Jacob’s fourth born son. Near the end of Jacob’s life, he pronounced a blessing on each of his sons. His words for Judah relate directly to the symbolism C.S. Lewis borrowed to create the character of Aslan:

“Judah, your brothers will praise you; your hand will be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons will bow down to you. You are a lion’s cub, Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness—who dares to rouse him? The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his.” (Genesis 49:8-10, NIV)

 Despite being Jacob’s fourth son, Judah received the distinct honor of being the one through whom God’s blessing would continue. Jacob prophesied that the mantle of lordship and power, symbolized by the scepter, would remain in Judah’s family line until “he to whom it belongs” came (The Messiah). And ultimately, He would command the obedience of the nations.

The promise of the Messiah began in Genesis, first with Adam and Eve when God said that Eve’s offspring would one day crush the head of the serpent, Satan (see Genesis 3:14). The promise continued with Abraham, whose offspring would bless all people on earth (see Genesis 12:3). With Abraham’s great-grandson, Judah, we see the Messiah symbolized as a strong lion that would one day command the obedience of the nations. (We are still waiting for this part of the promise to be fulfilled).

The next time we see this term used is in Revelation, the last book of the Bible. In this yet-to-be fulfilled prophesy, the writer, John, describes the Messiah as both a lion and a lamb. The scene he describes is a vision of the heavenly throne room. In it, John sees that there is a scroll in the “right hand of him who was seated on the throne.” He begins to despair because there is no one found worthy to approach the hand of God to take and open the scroll. But John’s fears are unfounded:

“Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals… He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. And they sang a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.’” (Revelation 5:5, 7-9, NIV)

This connection between the first and last book of the Bible amazes me. John describes how Jesus, the Messiah, fulfills the prophetic statements made thousands of years earlier. As the sacrificial lamb, He washes away the stain of sin through His death on the cross, making it possible for all who follow Him to share in His ultimate victory over death. As the lion, He represents the conquering King who will return to slay the enemies of God.

Remember the last sentence of Jacob’s blessing to Judah? He talked about Judah’s family line ruling until One came who would command the obedience of the nations. Now, read this verse from Revelation:

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!’” (Revelation 5:13, NIV)

John’s prophesy mirrors Jacob’s—both show that one day the whole earth will have no choice but to bow down and worship at the feet of the Lion of Judah who the New Testament reveals as Jesus.

The seamlessness of the Bible leaves me in awe. Jesus is woven throughout the pages, from Genesis to Revelation. Taking a step back to view the bigger picture every now and then gives me an even deeper understanding of God’s greatness and the way His perfect plan unfolds in His perfect timing.

I’ve attached a song that ties together the tremendous symbolism of the Lion and the Lamb. Although this is an audio version with no lyrics written out, you can clearly understand the words of Doug Eltzroth’s song “Judah’s Great Lion Now Lamb.” So click on the link, close your eyes and take a moment to worship Jesus, Judah’s great Lion who became a lamb so that we could know God and enjoy eternity with Him. And if you haven’t read the Chronicles of Narnia, go find a copy of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and get started!

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The Art of Avoidance- Women of the Word Part 4

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Glancing at the Christmas card as I sorted mail, my stomach lurched.  Something wasn’t quite right. Examining the photo more carefully, I saw that among the smiling faces, one member of the family was conspicuously absent. I realized an old friend must’ve had a major shift occur in her life. Without a letter to accompany the photo, I was at a loss.

Showing the picture to my husband, I began to speculate, “What do you think happened?   Do we have a mutual friend who might know their story?” I couldn’t think of anyone I could contact to ask. My next idea was to scan the family’s social media pages for clues, but I came up with no new information. Then a thought occurred to me—why not just reach out directly to my friend? I was hesitant.  Our paths hadn’t crossed in a long time and I didn’t  want to seem nosy or like I was just after “scoop.” Finally, I reasoned that over two decades of friendship was enough to show her I genuinely cared.

After exchanging several messages, we set up a time to meet. Sitting face to face with steaming cups of tea, we finally had the opportunity to share about our lives. Eventually, we also discussed the mystery behind her Christmas card photo. It was a good conversation with some hard moments, but filled with love, encouragement and compassion. We said goodbye resolving not to let so much time pass before we connected again. It’s one of those friendships I cherish, despite the infrequency of our time together.

I’ll admit, I had been a little nervous to reach out to her, but what would I have missed if I had called a mutual acquaintance to ask for “the scoop” on her instead? How real would our connection have been if I’d found the answer on her Facebook page and had sent a message to wish her well?

No one likes to have hard conversations. We don’t like to talk about situations that make us feel awkward or uncomfortable. Most of us avoid entering into dialogue with someone who doesn’t see things the same way we do. Sadly, this is as true for our relationships with spouses and family members as it is with friends, co-workers and even partners in ministry.

The art of avoidance is part of our nature–there are examples of it all around us and even in the lives of familiar characters in the Bible. And we also see the destruction it causes. A good case in point is Rebekah, the wife of Isaac and mother to twins Jacob and Esau.   Recorded in the book of Genesis, the stories about Rebekah and her family provide a cautionary tale about the dangers of avoiding hard conversations and choosing to manipulate situations in the background instead.

From the time she was pregnant with her boys, Rebekah knew that there would be challenges. When she prayed to ask God why her babies “jostled each other within her”, the LORD answered:

“Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:23, NIV)

As the boys grew, Rebekah favored their second born twin, Jacob, while Isaac preferred their firstborn, Esau. Rebekah wanted to see Jacob fulfill God’s prophecy, but rather than talking with her husband about it, she schemed behind his back. She resorted to creating an elaborate plan to deceive Isaac and ensure Jacob would receive all the rights and privileges of a firstborn son. Ultimately, Isaac discovered the deception, but there is no record of him confronting Rebekah. In fact, the only conversation mentioned reveals Rebekah telling him a half-truth and manipulating him further. (You can read the story in Genesis 27).

Rebekah’s deception seemed to accomplish her desire: Jacob received the birthright and covenant blessings God had promised to the boys’ grandfather, Abraham. But she paid a high price, ultimately having to send away her favorite son so he wouldn’t be killed by his vengeful brother. There is no record in Scripture of Rebekah ever seeing her beloved Jacob again.

I wonder if Rebekah ever considered that God had the power to ensure the prophecy would be fulfilled, even without her schemes. How could she have forgotten that He did the impossible by enabling her to conceive twins after twenty years of being barren? Why was her first inclination to deceive her husband instead of simply talking with him about their differing opinions? Was it too contentious? Too awkward? Too challenging?

Think about all of the effort she expended to avoid a confrontation with Isaac, opting to work behind the scenes instead to get what she wanted. Now think about how it all turned out.   God’s plans were accomplished, but the family fractured itself in the process.

Now consider your life. Is there an issue you’ve been steering clear of with a family member, friend, co-worker or partner in ministry? Are you expending more energy artfully avoiding the situation than you would be confronting it? Let me encourage you to take the first step toward resolving it by praying. Ask God to give you wisdom. Tell Him why you’re struggling. Share your worst fear with Him about this situation. Ask Him to give you courage. Invite Him to show you when and how to deal with the issue in a way that honors Him and brings healing to you and anyone else involved. It’s worth a try, isn’t it? Give God room to work and watch Him transform your difficult situation in His perfect timing. Stop avoiding and start living the abundant life He meant for you to have.

Francesca Battistelli’s song “If We’re Honest” invites us to consider the blessing of facing our fears instead of avoiding them. Click on the link and be inspired by the music.

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Unintended Consequences of Taking Control- Women of the Word Part 3

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Giddy with anticipation, the kids could hardly contain themselves as we waited for the other families to arrive. It was a warm summer morning and we’d invited some friends to join us for a day of fun at a small lake about an hour from home. All of us were meeting at a central location so we could caravan together. As an afterthought, I’d also printed directions for each family, just in case we got separated (this was before the era of smartphones and navigation systems).

Shortly after getting on the road, one family called to say they needed to make a stop but would catch up with us at the lake. An hour later, the caravan arrived and we began unpacking towels, coolers, inner tubes and water skis.   Keeping an eye out for the family who had peeled off from the group, we began our day of fun, assuming they would arrive at any minute. After an hour, I called them. When they described their location and wondered how much longer it would take to arrive, I was perplexed. They were miles north of the lake and actually needed to get off the freeway to head south toward us. I couldn’t figure out how they had veered so far off course.

It turns out that they’d decided to deviate from the directions and take a “short cut,” which actually bypassed the lake and deposited them on the freeway quite a bit north of where they needed to be. Once we figured out they were heading in the wrong direction, they turned around and eventually joined us, albeit frazzled and several hours late. I’d never thought to include directions for what roads not to take.

We don’t always think of the consequences of ignoring directions and doing things our own way, do we? I think most of us like to believe we’re in control. Even when things are clearly laid out for us, we’re sure we know better.

That was certainly true with Abram’s wife, Sarai, in Genesis 16. (They were later re-named “Abraham” and “Sarah” by the Lord). Despite the fact that God had promised Abram he would be the father of a great nation, Sarai got tired of waiting and decided to take control of their situation.

“Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, ‘The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.’ Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife.” (Genesis 16:1-3, NIV)

Sarai’s decision to take control had some unfortunate and unintended consequences. Although Hagar did conceive a child according to Sarai’s plan, the pregnancy caused her to show contempt toward her barren mistress. Before the child’s birth, an angel told Hagar: “He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.” (Genesis 16:12, NIV)

And once the child, Ishmael, was born, he must have been a source of tremendous grief for Sarai. With a second family, Abraham’s heart was divided and his responsibilities were increased. And even when Sarah (at this point re-named by God) gave birth to Isaac and saw God’s promise fulfilled, Ishmael continued to cause her pain.

“ The child [Isaac] grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, ‘Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.’ The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. But God said to him, ‘Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.’” (Genesis 21:8-13, NIV)

True to His promise, God allowed Ishmael to have twelve sons (listed in Genesis 25). However, the passage ends with a sobering fulfillment of what the angel had prophesied before Ishmael’s birth: Ishmael lived a hundred and thirty-seven years. He breathed his last and died, and he was gathered to his people. His descendants settled in the area from Havilah to Shur, near the eastern border of Egypt, as you go toward Ashur. And they lived in hostility toward all the tribes related to them.” (Genesis 25:17-18, NIV)

And to think, the contempt and hostility Sarah and her descendants experienced was all a consequence of her decision to take control. In spite of her “shortcut”, God kept His promises, but He also allowed the consequences of her actions.

I think we’re all tempted to take shortcuts instead of doing things God’s way. We don’t like waiting and we don’t like the time it takes for a process to unfold. We forget that growth and maturity develop slowly and that God rarely caters to our desire for instant gratification. Few of us want to walk the long, slow road of obedience and let God’s plans unfold in His perfect timing.

But when we rush God’s timing and try to “help” Him fulfill His promises sooner, we create problems for others and ourselves. It’s like trying to force a tightly closed flower bud to open instead of waiting for it to bloom. In the process of trying to get the flower to look the way we want, we ruin it.

Where are you tempted to take control instead of trusting God? What unintended consequences have you reaped from doing this in the past? Is there a situation in your future that you’re tempted to manipulate and control so it will turn out the way you want? Let Sarah’s story be a warning to you. God’s sovereignty will always prevail, but He won’t stop you from creating a mess for yourself when you do things on your terms.

If you’re tempted to take control and need some encouragement to wait on God, click on the link and listen to Meredith Andrews’ song “Soar.” It will remind you of God’s promises and that He is bigger and better than any plans you can make on your own.

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Authority Lost and Reclaimed- Women of the Word Part 2

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Squaring my shoulders, I tried to smile, hoping no one could see my heart thumping wildly as the teacher spoke, “Class, this is our new student teacher, Miss Callahan. She’ll be taking over for the rest of the semester and I expect you to show her some respect.”

One or two expressionless sophomores made eye contact with me; the rest slumped in their chairs or talked with their seat mates. No one acknowledged the teacher’s announcement. As an unseasoned student teacher ready to start my first classroom assignment, the scene in front of me was hardly encouraging.

That semester of student teaching was one of the most challenging times in my life. The two classes I taught behaved in almost opposite ways: the sophomores were disengaged and disrespectful while the seniors were open and willing to learn.   It wasn’t that my teaching methods varied from one class to the other or even that the kids were different ages. The issue was the way the students viewed my master teachers, the ultimate authorities in the classroom. One teacher had lost the attention and respect of her students in September, so by the time I arrived in January, her authority meant nothing. I was fighting a losing battle to win their respect. The other teacher, however, was both feared and esteemed. Her authority meant something, so as her student teacher, the class took my authority seriously too.

This memory surfaced recently as I pondered the concept of authority reading the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 1-3.   Just after creating Adam and Eve, God blessed them and said: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:28, NIV)

God created the world and then gave Adam and Eve authority to rule over it. They had the free will to choose to do things His way or to follow their own path. Although everything He had given them was good, it wasn’t long before Satan came in the form of a serpent and enticed Eve to doubt God. By tempting her to disobey Him, the snake implied God might be withholding something desirable from her:

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’

 You will not certainly die,’ the serpent said to the woman. For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” (Genesis 3:1-6, NIV)

By choosing to disobey God and eat the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve gave away the authority God had given them at creation. They were too naïve to understand that everything under their authority would fall when they fell. Their actions brought a curse on all of creation and gave Satan authority over all that God had given them.   Although God remained the ultimate and sovereign authority, He allowed Adam and Eve to exercise their free will, even though it went against Him. But they also had to live with the consequences of their choice.

This is why many years later, when Jesus was just beginning His earthly ministry, Satan could legitimately claim authority over the earth when he tempted Jesus: “The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, ‘I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.’” (Luke 4:5-7, NIV)

Fortunately, Jesus retraced Adam and Eve’s footsteps to the point of temptation and succeeded in obedience where they had failed. Although Jesus was fully God, he set aside that part of Himself so that He could function completely as a human:

“[Jesus] Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8, NIV)

When God resurrected Jesus from death, Satan was defeated and stripped of his authority: “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive… Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 24-25, NIV)

Jesus gave us the same Holy Spirit that empowered Him, making it possible for us to be obedient to God and to have an intimate relationship with Him (see John 14:11-21). Jesus returned us to the original place of authority for which we were created. He said to His disciples: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:18-20, NIV)

Our Master Teacher commands ultimate authority and respect and as His “student teachers” we have access to that same authority. It is ours to claim, if only we will recognize this and act upon it.  Satan was defeated at the cross, but he will continue to wreak havoc on the earth until Jesus returns.  He pushes boundaries, preying on weakness and taking advantage of people who don’t know or have access to spiritual authority through Christ.  “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8, NIV)

There is no need to fear, however:  “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.” (Romans 16:20, NIV)

Do you understand the authority God has given you? Are you using it to combat the enemy and to unleash God’s rule and reign in your spheres of influence?

If you want to learn more about these concepts, consider reading Charles Kraft’s book I Give You Authority, which provided the inspiration and content for this post. The information here is a brief overview of this important topic for anyone that is serious about following Jesus.

For a musical reminder of this important truth, click on the link to hear Blanca’s song “Greater is He.”

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