Tag Archives: understanding God

Authentic :: Deborah & Jael

As a woman of the 21st century, I have a special place in my heart for strong, intelligent women who can take charge while at the same time maintaining respect for everyone around her. It’s a tightrope not many women walk gracefully. Personally, I am hanging on to the tightrope with my feet dangling beneath more more often than I balance there. 

Currently, in my Bible study, we are going through the book of Corinthians and 1 Corinthians 6 highlights the church’s responsibility to settle civil disputes among the body rather than taking one another to court and displaying dirty laundry for the world to see. The question we contemplated was whether or not we view ourselves as being equipped to solve disputes among others. After all, we have the spirit of truth dwelling in us (John 14:17), teaching us all things (John 14:26), with a promise from God to grant us ability and wisdom (James 1:5), and we have the scriptures that we study (Hebrews 4:12). So, yes we are given the equipment. But that is very different than feeling equipped to be a mediator or judge. As a teacher, I’ve had to employ these skills and sometimes I get it right, often I have to back peddle, follow up, and even ask for forgiveness because let’s face it: teaching is a learning process too.  Deborah, on the other hand, not only had these gifts, she used the gifts and had confidence that the gifts God had given her would be put to amazingly good use. 

A Woman in Charge in a Man’s World

Deborah is the woman in charge. She is the judge over the Israelite nation before the days of the Kings. Not only is she a judge (and a woman) she is also named as a prophet. Interestingly, most judges during this time weren’t arbiters as we see in today’s society, but rather commanders and military leaders. Deborah, on the other hand, is seen in the opening of Judges 4 as a more passive arbiter—sitting beneath a tree and passing judgment over the disputes of the people. If she wasn’t already unique enough, this sets her apart even more.


Photo by Miguel Bruna on Unsplash

Furthermore, Deborah is judge during a bad time for the Israelites. They had once again done evil in the site of the Lord and so had been sold into the hands of Jabin, a king of Canaan and the commander Sisera. The Canaanites were a highly advanced and technological society—with iron chariots and better weapons than the Israelites (Judges 4:1-3). Actually in a lot of ways this situation is very similar to the time the Israelites spent in Egypt. Fortunately, they didn’t have to wait quite as long for deliverance.

When we first meet Deborah in Judges 4:4-7, she is doing her job: sitting under her tree, giving out judgments. Then a prophecy comes to her. It’s time for the 20 years of oppression to come to an end! So she sends for Barak and gives him very specific instructions for how to defeat Sisera’s army and what the result would be. Actually, she confirms what the Lord has already told Barak: take 10,000 men and attack Jabin’s army and I will deliver them into your hand. 

Now, Barak had heard this direction from the Lord and then it is confirmed by Deborah. That’s some pretty amazing confirmation, so at that point, I would expect Barak to be like “Let’s do this.” Yet, his response in 
Judges 4: 8-10 is kind of odd for a man of war: “I’ll go if you go.” 

Now nothing in the prophecy stated that Deborah needed to be a part of the military campaign. And, in fact, she would probably have been somewhat of a distraction as the men would feel it was their duty to protect her rather than fight all out. So this is an odd request.

But I get it. 

I’ve had a similar conversation with God and godly people before: this is what I want you to do (says God). Um, okay (says me) but only if…


 Our hesitancy can often cause us to lose out on blessings 

This kind of negotiation sets the tone for the kind of deliverance. Deborah tells him that she’ll go, but it’ll change the outcome–all of Sisera will be delivered nto the hands of a woman. This response transitions her from a passive to an active role and we expect that the army will now follow her lead rather than Barak’s–after all he’s using her as a kind of good luck charm.

At any rate, they go to battle and the actual scene is pretty short: Judges 4: 12-16highlights that the Lord is given all the glory and Deborah is giving all the orders. Her faith spurs the men into action. 

The Song of Deborah and Barak in Judges 5: 4-5 details exactly how the Lord lead them into victory: a sudden storm causes these highly advanced ‘iron chariots’ to fail! Routed in the mud, the army flees and their military strategy is kaput.  That’s what you get when you rely too heavily on any one thing rather than in an all powerful God. The task before Barak seemed impossible…and yet Deborah knew the Lord would make a way. So, in the end, it is Deborah…and another young woman…who get the starring role next to God. Not the leader of the army. Because that is the thing about faith. Our hesitancy can often cause us to lose out on blessings God has in store for us. 

When Women Take the Lead

In Judges 4:17-22 we meet Jael, a second female character who, like Deborah, takes on a non-traditional female role. First, she appears to be quite welcoming to Sisera, inviting him in with sweet words and promises of protection. He enters because, after all, they are supposed to be allies. Instead of giving him water, she gives him milk. What a motherly thing she is doing here, nurturing this man and even lulling him to sleep. So cute! All the while, the audience here is building tension expecting what—Deborah to come in? But no, suddenly Jael picks up whatever is handy—a tent peg, and drives it through Sisera’s skull. YIKES! That is no easy task (in case you were wondering, that would have had to been a tremendous force to go all the way through the skull to the ground). Talk about subverting expectations for a climax. The prophecy came true, but certainly not in the way we—or even they (certainly not Sisera)—were expecting.


Sometimes we are called to a purpose we don’t quite understand. 


Photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash

We’re never told why Jael decides to murder Sisera. Her husband is his ally. All we know is that she fulfills God’s prophecy and is honored for this action. Sometimes we are called to a purpose we don’t quite understand. But, when we know we are following God’s will, we can rest in the knowledge that he will work it all out for our good (Romans 8:28). 

Judges 5 is perhaps one of the oldest poems in the Bible and relates the story in more detail. This song has a war driven tone and regales the history of Deborah’s people. 5: 24-27 relates Jael’s story and then we get to Judges 5: 28-30  where we see our final female character in this passage- Sisera’s mother who is waiting, in vain, for the return of her son.

Interestingly, all three female figures in Deborah’s story have motherly qualities, but both Deborah and Jael who are the protagonists are hero-ized for their non-traditional roles as they transition from passive to active participants in God’s story. To me this offers reminds me of the promise that God has equipped us ALL to do his work–not just the males. Females were not made to be minor characters, in a supporting role. They were made to help drive the plot forward, and God honors women who step into their purpose as much as he honors men. 

Leadership and Submission

The Bible tells us that females and wives are supposed to be submissive to male leadership and husbands. How do we reconcile the idea of ‘submissive’ with our own call to leadership roles like that of Deborah? Well I don’t have the answer to that, but I have some thoughts. 

The Trinity is made up of God, the father, Jesus, the son, and the Holy Spirit, helper. They are all three equally (one person, one God), and yet, they are 3 persons and each role is well-defined in a hierarchy. Jesus submits to his father (Luke 22:42), and the father sends the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). But Jesus still takes on a leadership role throughout his ministry and life. 

Submission doesn’t mean you are a doormat. It doesn’t even mean you can’t make your own decisions. Submission is merely a voluntary recognition that you are not the ulitmate authority on everything in your life. And since absolute power corrupts absolutely, being able and willing to submit is an important life skill for everyone. Therefore, women are not called to be men’s underlings, but rather to work alongside for a greater purpose: the highest authority, which is God’s. 


Feminine doesn’t have to mean fragile. 


Photo by Anita Austvika on Unsplash

Feminine doesn’t have to mean fragile. Deborah and Jael both had very feminine qualities and they used these to their advantage to gain both strength and honor in their communities. And we can too. 

Authentic :: Rahab

I know this may come as a shock to you, but I am not a risk taker. I don’t like roller coasters. I rode one, an upside down one, once—I gave into peer pressure. It was not fun. My bff wants so bad to go skydiving and she can usually talk me into just about anything (you really don’t want to know about the cab ride in Savannah…). I told her to go for it, I’d wait at the bottom with a couple of pom-poms, a glass of wine, and cheer her whole way down. I went into a casino on my 25th birthday—just for funsies to say I’d gambled. I put 5 dollars on slot machine card. Played once. My heart rate increased so badly it was kind of unreal. I gave the card to my bff who finished playing while I recovered. All this is to say if two spies came to my house and asked to hide, I’d have probably slammed the door in their faces and called the police.

Photo by Jonathan Petersson on Unsplash

So I guess that’s why God chose a woman like Rahab for this particular mission and a woman like me to face down teens every day in the last place 85% of them want to be—a classroom.

That’s what I love about God and His plans for us. He uses each of us in unique ways as long as we are brave enough to say yes. No, I’m not a risk taker, at least not for the sake of taking risks, but it takes courage to do a lot of what I have said yes to in my life—and a lot of what I’ve said no to as well.

Rahab was brave. She made some mistakes, sure. We all do. But God is gracious, and he is good and if you have the kind of faith Rahab did, well you just might move some mountains too.

Some Backstory

Numbers 13: 26-31 and 14: 2-4 sets the scene for what happens later once Rahab enters the scene. Moses, Aaron and Miriam had just led the people out of Egypt and across the blazing hot desert to the foot of the Promised land. So, per God’s instruction, they send out 12 spies, one from each tribe of Israel. Once they return, they all report some pretty awesome thing–great land, good fruit, truly the land flowing with milk and honey. But, there’s one tiny catch…the place is swarming with GIANTS, they are powerful and their cities are fortified and there is absolutely NO WAY we can defeat them. Thanks for nothing, leaders of God. 

The usual grumbling commences until Caleb speaks up. Hey ya’ll, we’ve got this. Caleb knows that it doesn’t matter how big and strong or how fortified the cities are, the Israelites have something the Canaanites don’t: God. 

Still, the grumbling. 

10 spies say “No, don’t go!” 2 say “Come on we got this!” but the people give into their fear and rebel. God is not happy and sends them back to wander in the desert for 40 years as punishment for their disobedience. 

So, when Rahab enters the narrative, the Israelites have just finished their 40-year wandering through the desert The last time they sent spies into Canaan it didn’t’ go so well. And the spies? Well, the 10 negative Nancies were struck down with the plague. 

Enter Rahab

The 2 who trusted God, they got to enter the Promised Land, though no one else did.  We start our story really in Joshua 2:1-3. Joshua was one of the original spies, one of only 2 individuals who survived the wandering in the desert to see the Promised Land because of his faithfulness (see Numbers 13:8, 16 and 14:38). This time, however I note two things about the spies.

Photo by Ehud Neuhaus on Unsplash

1) Joshua sent them out in secret.

2) The number is significantly reduced.

I don’t know why there are only 2 spies sent out, but I get the feeling Joshua is trying to avoid a repeat of the previous generation. God has encouraged him to be strong and courageous, so Joshua does what he thinks is best for the group moving forward, with guidance from God. The spies go to Jericho and enter the house of Rahab the prostitute. We don’t know what they did before they entered her home, but I think it’s fair to say they did their job, spying on the place, but their low profile only got them so far…after all their entire nation is camped on Jericho’s doorstep, so two strangers coming into town and asking questions is going to raise a few red flags. Why Rahab? Well, clearly the encounter is ordained by God, but it was probably one of the few homes open to them as strangers. There is a certain amount of fear–their reputation precedes them across the desert lands–and a good portion of the people of Jericho would have swept their kids inside their homes and locked their doors as the spies made their way through town. As the fear spreads, so does the panic and word gets back to the palace where the king of Jericho doesn’t sit idly by, but sends soliders after them. 

So I imagine a “psssssst,” coming from Rahab’s home where she whisks the two brave, handsome men inside and straight up to a hiding place before going down to meet her next guests, the palace guards. 

Joshua 2:4-7 gives us an account of this encounter. Somehow or other it is known that the spies have visited Rahab; I don’t know why, maybe it’s marked on the tourist map that all visitors must have this experience—like Madame Tussauds the wax museum (of course Rahab was a whole different kind of Madame, but let’s not get into that at the moment). At any rate, in they go and everybody knows it. The soldiers arrive and demand to know where the spies are–after all everyone has seen her take them inside; I guess she’s not exactly discreet as the town whore. But Rahab flips her hair and maybe uses her feminine wiles and spins a tale that sends the soldiers after the spies who are hiding on her rooftop all the while. 

I think it’s important to know that Rahab is NOT an Isrealite. She is a Canaanite—and a prostitute at that. When the police come knocking on her door, she takes a great risk and LIES to them. This kind of lying/manipulation is not unheard of (see Exodus 1:17-19 and 2 Samuel 17:19), but it is a bit unusual given the circumstances. Not to mention murky morality. Despite the lies, God sees the woman’s heart and her compassion–and even more importantly her faith. 

Joshua 2:8-24 shows us just how smart this woman is. Okay, sure she’s identified with the epithet “the prostitute” but clearly that’s not all she is. I mean come on, she owned her own house, she had fields or at least the means to dry flax (a type of grain) on her roof, she had the ear and eyes (at minimum) of the king. She’s not your average lady of the night. And she’s smart—she thinks on her feet. Best of all, she knows how to choose the winning team.

She not only confirms that Jericho’s people are melting with fear, she puts her faith in the men and in their God to save her from the destruction that is sure to follow. She could have turned them over, but God has spoken to her heart and given her a reason to side with Him. And she does. 

In the end, both sides kept their bargains. In Joshua 6 we see how it all plays out. Rahab took a great risk, but then so did the spies. And God rewarded them both for their faith.

I can’t help but wonder how she convinced her family to come over for the ultimate sleepover in her home. Was she such a good businesswoman that they didn’t disown her because of her profession? Did she have to get into the profession for reasons that were really quite noble? Whatever the reasons, her family hovers around her day after day as the Isreali army marches around the city building tension, suspense and ultimately fear in their enemy until the walls come tumbling down. All the walls, tumbling around Rahab and their family…except their own. Faith over fear–a rescue worth remembering

Tumbling Walls

This encounter reminds me of an Elevation Worship song that I love called Do It Again. Take a look at the lyrics and video. In the case of Rahab, her walls literally came tumbling down. What separated her from God wasn’t just her sin, it was a whole culture. She saw an opportunity to escape and all she did was say please, God and he provided. That kind of faith is unbelievable and hard for me to truly understand having grown up in a Western, sheltered culture. Regardless, I have my own walls. Some I’ve built myself and some others erected. God is bigger than all the walls in my life and my faith is what keeps me safe and guarded when those walls tumble (not if, because all walls fall when and where God says). 

Because I’m a nerd I love the symbolism and numerology: scarlet cord, three days, seven times, direction vs. misdirection. Our lives are lived in patterns. So Rahab made her own mistakes. She chose a life for herself that was outside the moral standards of almost all cultures, which is why even in the New Testament, long after her transformation she is still labeled as “Rahab the prostitute”(see Hebrews 11:31). The epithet is misleading; Rahab’s sins were forgiven completely and she started over as a brand new woman right smack dab in the middle of the people of God. Sound familiar? We all have sins, regrets, and walls…. essentially, we all have pasts we carry, but the truth is we don’t have to carry them around with us if we just have faith enough to lay them down at the feet of Jesus–who will crush all of them!

It would have been easy for Rahab to feel like her life wasn’t what she planned and to just give up because God had failed her. But she didn’t. She asked God to rescue her and because he is faithful and true (even when we are not), He plucked her out of where her bad choices had landed her and straight into a new redeeming life. She married into the Israelite nation, and did you know her offspring would be a part of the lineage of Christ himself. 

Faith is risky. It requires that you step out of the known and rely on the unknown. That you relinquish control in your life to the One who made your life. James 2:26 says faith without works is dead. Notice that it does not say you can earn your way into heaven, but that your faith should manifest in action. Rahab’s faith was not dead. She didn’t just say she was going to do something, she did it, transforming her life from ‘the prostitute’ to ‘the faithful one of God’. And we can transform too.

What God Taught Me in Slovakia

Shut up and dance with me.

While this is a lyric to a rather popular pop song by Walk the Moon, it is also the most valuable lesson God taught me while I was in Slovakia this summer. Actually, to make things more interesting, He continues to teach me this lesson at home, which is why I haven’t actually been able to write about Slovakia until now.

Now I realize that the pop song is more about teenage hormones than spiritual enlightenment, but God is pretty cool and can speak through, well, anything, including this.

I have a serious problem. I am nearly thirty-one years old and in my heart I think I can out plan God. I have a plan A, a plan B, a contingency plan for both plan A and plan B and just in case those don’t work out I have a backup for those.

Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but that’s pretty much how I’ve lived my life. Risk managed and assessed carefully.

That’s the way I started out the summer. I planned carefully for every English lesson for my class. I talked it over with the right people. I printed out the materials. I had it all packed perfectly. I knew what the plan was. My plan.

And then God told me to Shut up.

13626353_10101605095143666_8945679386299957395_n
Cassie and Karolina at KECY site

Did you know that God says shut up? He does. I mean, I think people put God inside this box and think that he is super polite all the time with like fluttering eyelashes as He says ‘Be still, my child.’ And sure. He says that. But how many children do you know always listen to that tone?

Sometimes God has to get real. And he DID. He told me straight up to SHUT UP.

Now, when God tells you to shut up, my advice is…shut up. Because I’ll be honest with you. I didn’t. At first. I kept trying to plan and arrange and ignore…

But He said it again.

Shut up.

I had run out of plans. At a loss, I did what I was told (finally). And that’s when I heard the rest of God’s command.

Shut up and dance with ME.

That was kind of a shock. Because I am NOT a dancer. I move my head a little to a beat. And every once in a while when I have maybe a drink or two I’ll shake my white girl hips a little, and look absolutely ridiculous. But I have the rhythm of a three legged sloth so I DON’T DANCE.

Shutting up was bad enough, but dancing?

But here’s the thing. God wasn’t asking me to shake my white girl  hips. He wanted me to dance with HIM. If you know anything about dancing, you know that it can be beautifully sexist (oxymoron?) and all a woman truly needs a strong male lead.

13592247_10154153469320999_5328749629164137934_n
Laura Troutman, Sarah Troutman and Ashley (me!) Carmichael in Bratislava (Picture credit to Sarah and Will Troutman)

Oops.

Shut up and dance with me had nothing to do with MY abilities or MY plans or even MY wants. God simply wanted me to shut up and let Him lead.

And when you let God lead—You shut up and let Him just move, you realize just how awesome He really is. God’s going to move when He wants to. I saw evidence of that in Slovakia in the Slovak leaders, in the students, in the changes, in the conversations—both English and Slovak—, in our American team, in traveling God moves. The thing is when I shut up, HE gets the glory HE deserves and I actually get to dance with Him, not around Him.

And then He taught me about myself, about what it means to communicate and be godly. He showed me my heart. He showed me others’ hearts. More importantly I listened as He spoke.

And a funny thing about dancing with God…once you start, you just don’t want to stop. Now that’s a destiny worth pursuing.

13612274_1172188862804549_2492001750230361153_n
KECY camp 2016 in Prozina, Slovakia

VICTORY is Mine: My journey through Psalms (20-22)

 

May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed. – Psalm 20:4

Sometimes you just have GOOD days. Yesterday was one of those amazing days that might be a little weird, but it’s just genuinely a good day and you feel overwhelmingly loved and honored by God.

The last day of school is always a nice day, because let’s face it, everyone is ready for a break by the time it finally rolls around. I had only one final exam left to give and I knew my students would do fairly well on it, so the morning was shaping up to be pleasent enough, but it only got better when after the exam one darling girl thanked me for being a good teacher and asked me to never lose my passion.

I have not felt all that passionate for the last couple of years. I still enjoy my job, but I don’t have the same spark I had as a new teacher. Let’s be honest, life happens and as it does our passion sometimes wanes. So the fact that she still sees a passion in me despite the fact that I sometimes feel  little a full pencil gives me a lot of hope that the spark is still there!

Then I had the opportunity to get to know another student and really talk to her during the next block. We had not had the opportunity to speak much before so I saw this as a real blessing.

When the power went out…well that seemed like a real bummer. And it was. But, in a lot of ways that turned out to be a real blessing too–despite some of the headaches it caused.

You have granted him his heart’s desire and have not withheld the request of his lips. –  Psalme 21: 2

In the dark I decided to read my class surveys. And that’s where the light really began to shine and my tears began to fall. Students are much kinder on these things than I usually expect, but this year especially in the comment section I had some delightful things.

-What was your favorite thing about this class? The instructor
– What can the instructor do to improve? Nothing she’s perfect

Okay I’m not perfect, but they’re super sweet to say so. But the one that sent me into teats was the student who thanked me for understanding her not only as a student but as an individual and teaching her that she is loved in the world. Okay yes I am crying now even as I am typing because I may have questioned my calling more than once in my life but it is moments like these that confirm I made the right choice.

No one should ever have to question that they are loved and if I can teach that, then hell, I’ll call it a successful year for sure.

They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it! – Psalm 22: 31

God has won so many victories for me this year. I look back and see how far we have come together and I am just in total awe of him. As I move forward in studying his word and becoming more the person I know he designed me to be I hope I always remember that he is at the helm–because when God is for us, who can be against us.