Shiphrah, Puah and Irena

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I have the opportunity and the privilege to teach young people on Wednesday afternoons at our church. This year we are learning about bible stories. Now I thought I was up on all my bible stories, but here’s the thing, the curriculum we are using is telling stories of people you might not even know or circumstances you have just passed over.
 
For instance, who can tell me who Shiphrah and Puah is? I couldn’t even pronounce the names let alone remember who they were. As I was studying, I now realize, I have read this story several times, but I have missed one of the most important lessons in the Bible. I will remember these names forever. Their story has left an impact on my own life.
 
We find their story in Exodus. Follow along with me. “The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?” The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.” So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.” Exodus 1:15-21
 
These two women were called in to speak to the king of Egypt. They were summoned to be exact. This is not something they requested to do. After being summoned, the King then asks these women to do the unthinkable; to kill baby boys. I am not sure, but I think all women have a mother instinct in them. I can’t imagine being asked to kill babies after losing on myself. They were pretty clever. If they said no, I am thinking the King would take their lives. He would not take kindly to women who refused to obey him. So, I am thinking the women said yes and at the same time began to devise a plan not to take the lives of babies. I am not sure they knew who God was, but I am sure they knew right from wrong and this was wrong in every sense of the word.
 
These women saved the baby boys that were being born at this time. They refused to obey the King and they did what they knew was right. Now comes the King again. Finding out these babies were being kept alive, he called Shiphrah and Puah back. He asks them why they weren’t killing the babies. They probably have discussed this before the King summons them back in and they have a very reasonable answer to give to the King. Apparently, he was okay with their answer. He didn’t have them killed and he didn’t punish them.
 
After that something amazing happens. God blesses them with their own families. God sees what good they have done and he rewards and blesses them. Pretty neat story huh?
 
The lesson for the children that day was that compassion and courage go hand in hand. Showing compassion takes some courage on our part. The other part of this lesson was to make the children understand that sometimes doing the right thing can actually mean breaking the laws.
 
As I was working on this, I found another unfamiliar name. Read about this lady: Irena Sendler. An unfamiliar name to most people, but this remarkable woman defied the Nazis and saved 2,500 Jewish children by smuggling them out of the Warsaw Ghetto. As a health worker, she sneaked the children out between 1942 and 1943 to safe hiding places and found non-Jewish families to adopt them. She did the right thing but was breaking the law.
 
I emphasized to the kids that sometimes we are called on as Christians to do the right thing even though it is against a law or rule. To get it down to the kids level, I used this example. A friend comes to you who is being mistreated or abused at home. They confide in you but tell you not to say anything to anyone. They may even go as far as make you promise or command you not to tell anyone. I told the children in this case they needed to do the right thing for their friend, even if it meant breaking the promise or the command. Showing compassion for their friend and being courageous by telling someone who could help the friend.
 
I wanted to share this with you because of the many things that are going on right now. We never know when we will be called upon to do the right thing. There may be a law that we might not agree with. This law might be destroying the lives of those who are powerless to do anything about it. It’s up to us as Christians to follow the commands Christ has given us and to step in and help when we can. God will be with us just like he was with Shiphrah and Purah.
 
The other emphasis I want to add is this: sometimes it is better to do the right thing than to do what the world tells us we ought to be doing. There is so much chatter in the world today about what we should be doing, what we should be protesting or how to live our lives. I think for each of us it’s time we turn to God for those answers. It’s time to be a Shiphrah and Puah and have the courage and the compassion to do what God has called us to do instead of following the world. If this world is ever going to turn around, it’s because we had compassion on those who are powerless. If we turn the world around it will be because we were courageous enough to tell the world I will only do what is right in God’s eyes not because you think I should do this or that.
 
We do not know what the future holds for each of us. We do not know if someday we will be called in to do the right thing even if it’s against the rules or the laws. As a volunteer, I have a set of guidelines I am to follow when helping people. There are times I have to set aside those guidelines and do what’s best for those clients I am helping with. When we find ourselves in those places I hope you remember the courage and compassion of Shiphrah and Puah and even Irena Sendler.
 
Dear God: I hope I am given the courage to help people when I am called upon. I hope compassion wins over the world’s view and beliefs. Show me where and how I can make a difference in someone’s life. Teach me to be courageous and compassionate like Shiphrah and Puah and Irena. Thank you for giving me these particular ladies as an example to follow. Thank you for blessing them and watching out for them. Amen
 
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A Strong Hand with A Gentle Touch

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We are continuing our study on the Fruits of the Spirit. We have one more month after this. How are you doing? It’s been challenging for me. This will be something I will have to continue to work on.
 
Today we are looking at gentleness. Wikipedia says this about gentleness, “Gentleness is a strong hand with a soft touch. It is a tender, compassionate approach toward others’ weaknesses and limitations. A gentle person still speaks the truth, sometimes even painful truth, but in doing so guards his tone so the truth can be well received.” It also describes it as being kind and considerate.
 
I often think of times when Jesus had to be gentle as he taught his Disciple. The Passover meal that he shared with his Disciples was a teaching time. They were limited in their understanding of what he was telling them. He had to be gentle, tender, and compassionate as he spoke about the things that were going to happen to him. He had to speak the truth even though it was painful for them to hear. I am not sure though how well received the message was.
 
I think of the gentleness of Jesus as he took the time to be with the little children. Matthew 19:13-15 tells us this, “Then the little children were brought to Jesus for Him to place His hands on them and pray for them; and the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them! For the kingdom of heaven” belongs to such as these. And after He had placed His hands on them, He went on from there.…” I can see Jesus being compassionate and gentle as he said to His Disciples do not hinder them.
 
Jesus showing gentleness is throughout the Bible. I think about the woman who touched Jesus’s robe and he asking who had touched him. I think he was gentle as he asked the question. He showed compassion toward the one who had touched him.
 
What does being gentle mean for us today? I think for me it’s about being compassionate about something yet not be so overbearing that the message doesn’t get out. I think it’s about being tender toward others and still speaking the truth. I think it is about knowing the limitations of those whom you are talking with.
 
The people I deal with everyday need me to be gentle with them as I share the good news Christ has for each of us. I need to understand the limitations they may have and realize I can only take baby steps with them. I can’t give them the whole doctrine all at once. It’s more about showing gentleness and compassion and allowing God to speak the truth through me.
 
For me the quality of an excellent leader is gentleness. I want a leader that is gentle, yet compassionate about the work they are doing, but at the same time keep everyone on the same page. I think a leader is one who knows the weaknesses and the limitations of those he/she works with. I want a leader that may have a painful message for me, but brings it to me in a kind, tender and gentle way; not one that will tear me down, but will lift me up.
 
How many of us would follow Christ if he never showed gentleness, or compassion or was tender? How many of us would follow Christ if all we got was praise from him? We all know dessert is great, but we need vegetables for nutrition. We don’t all like vegetables, but they are healthy for us. We need to hear criticism once in awhile so we can grow in our relationship with Him.
 
We all know screaming and yelling at our kids when they mess up does not always produce the results we want. It’s when we sit down with them and talk with them in a gentle manner showing compassion and tenderness that we often get the results we were looking for. We need to understand the limitations and the weaknesses our children have and work with them in the way that’s best for them.
 
That’s the way it is with God. I have never heard God scream or yell at me. Instead, I have felt tenderness and gentleness as he quietly and with great compassion lets me know I am headed in the wrong direction. Just like the Disciples sometimes I have gotten the message other times I have not. He just gently continues to work with me until I do get the message right.
 
If you are being ripped apart, if you don’t feel the compassion or are being torn down I would venture to say you are not hearing that from God. That is Satan that is presenting himself. God is not a God that will destroy us; he only builds us up.
 
Just as God is gentle with us we need to be gentle with others. God was a compassionate God; we need to show compassionate toward others. God knows our limitations and never asks more than we are capable of doing. We need to know the limitations of those around us. God knows our weaknesses and he will never put us in a situation that will allow us to be defeated or brought down. We are called not to bring down others, but to know their weaknesses and not ask them to do more than they are capable of. Christ wants us to succeed; we need to help others succeed.
 
To follow God is to be a person who is gentle in all our ways, compassionate and tender, yet can still get God’s message across in a loving way.
 
Let’s work together this month and let our gentleness show. Find times when Christ showed his gentleness toward you and allow those times to be stepping stones for others.
 
Dear Lord, help us to be gentle with one another. Teach us about compassion and tenderness. Help me not to point out others limitations or weaknesses, but to be aware of them so I can help them to succeed. Thank you for being gentle with me as you correct me and put me on the right path. I love you God and thank you for being in my life everyday. Amen

One of the Hardest Gifts to Open

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If you could ask for any gift for Christmas what would it be? What would it look like? We talked about the gift of joy and how important joy was in our lives. We talked about the gift of belonging. We are ready to open our next gift for Christmas. Are you ready….anticipating it…ready to open it?
It’s the gift of grace. Grace is defined as kindness, favor and leniency. Another word is clemency. Compassion is used when describing clemency. So, compassion is wound around grace. God gives us grace when we come to him. We have all messed up and we will continue to mess up because we live in a fallen world. Romans 3:23-24 says this, “or all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;…” In other words we have all sinned at one point or another and we will continue. Christ came and took our sins to the cross with him. We no longer need to carry them with us. Because he did when we mess up he has compassion on us. We don’t get what we deserve when we go to him and ask for forgiveness. We may still pay the price of sinning, but it won’t be as bad as it could be.
The first step toward accepting God’s grace is knowing you don’t deserve it. You didn’t do anything to get it. It’s a free gift that comes from God. We can’t do enough good works to earn it, we can’t pay for it; it’s a gift from God. A gift is usually given to a friend sometimes as a birthday present or some kind of celebration but then there are gifts given, “just because.” That’s what God grace is a “just because” gift. God offers us the gift of grace because he loves us, because he sent his son to take away our sins, because he likes giving good gifts. 
He doesn’t put demands on us when he gives us grace. He doesn’t say, “Well this gift of grace is yours if you don’t mess up anymore, if you work hard enough or trust me more.” No he just hands us grace at the moment we accept Him and join in a relationship with Him. 
I have read this story before and you may have heard it before, but I want to share it again with you.
  •  The boy stands defiantly with his head cocked back and hands clenched. “Go ahead. Give it to me; I can take it.”The principal looks down at the young rebel. “How many times have you been here?” The child sneers rebelliously, “Apparently, not enough.” The principal gives the boy a strange look and says, “You have been punished each time, have you not?” “Yeah, I’ve been punished; if that’s what you want to call it.” He throws out his small chest and says, “Go ahead, I can take whatever you can dish out; I always have.” Carefully studying the boy’s face, the principal says, “Are there any thoughts of punishment when you break these rules?” “Nope; I do whatever I want. Ain’t nothing you people gonna do to stop me neither.” The principal looks over at the teacher who is sitting nearby and asks, “What did he do this time?” “Fighting. He took little Tommy and shoved his face into the sandbox.” The principal turns to look at the boy and asks, “Why? What did little Tommy do to you?” “Nothin’, I didn’t like the way he was lookin at me; just like I don’t like the way you’re lookin at me now! In fact, if I thought I could do it, I’d shove your face into something.” The teacher stiffens and starts to rise, but a quick look from the principal stops him. He contemplates the child for a moment and then quietly says, “Today, my young student, is the day you will learn about grace.” “Grace? Isn’t that what you old people do before you eat a meal? I don’t need any of your stinkin’ grace.” “Oh, but you do,” says the principal. After studying the boy’s face he whispers, “Oh yes, you truly do need grace.” The boy glared as the principal continued. “Grace, in its short definition, is unmerited favor. You can’t earn grace, my child. Grace is a gift and it’s always freely given. Grace means you will not be getting what you so richly deserve.” The boy looks puzzled. “You’re not gonna whup me? You just gonna let me walk?” The principal looks down at the unyielding child and says, “Yes, I am going to let you walk.” The boy studies the face of the principal and says, “No punishment at all? You’re not going to punish me even though I socked Tommy and shoved his face into the sandbox?” “Oh, there has to be punishment. What you did was wrong and there will always be consequences for our actions. There will be punishment. Grace is not an excuse for doing wrong.” “I knew it,” sneers the boy. Holding out his hands he says, “Let’s get on with it.” The principal nods toward the teacher and says, “Bring me the belt.” The teacher presents the belt to the principal. He carefully folds it in two and hands it back to the teacher. He looks at the child and says, “I want you to count the blows.” The principal slides out from behind his desk and walks over to the child. The child stands defiantly with his hands outstretched. The principal gently moves the child’s expectant hands down to his sides. Turning to the teacher, the principal stretches out his own hands and quietly says, “Begin.” The belt slaps against the principal’s outstretched hands. Crack! The young boy jumps. Shock registers across his face, “One” he whispers. Crack! “Two.” His voice raises an octave. Crack! “Three.” He is unable to believe this. Crack! “Four.” Big tears well up in the eyes of the young rebel. “Okay, stop! That’s enough. Stop!” Crack! The belt continues to come down on the principal’s swollen hands. Crack! The child flinches with each blow. Tears start streaming down the child’s face. Crack! Crack! “No, please,” the former rebel begs. “Stop. I’m the one who did it. I’m the one who deserves the punishment. Stop! Please stop,” the boy sobs. Still the blows come. Crack! Crack! Finally it is over. The principal, with sweat glistening across his forehead, turns to the former rebel and kneels down. Carefully cradling the child’s face with his swollen hands, the principal softly says, “This, my boy, is grace.”This story is an excellent example of God’s grace (unmerited favor). 
Just as the boy received the opposite of what he deserved, we too can receive the opposite of what we deserve. God reached down and offered us the gift of grace. Grace can be a hard gift to open, but it can’t be used if we aren’t willing to open His gift to us. 
This Christmas as we unwrap another gift let’s remember the gift of grace God has given us. He took the punishment that we deserved. Just like the principal offered grace to the boy who didn’t deserve it God does that for us. 
We aren’t always so anxious and eager to open this one, but this one we must. 
Dear God: I don’t deserve your gift of grace. I have messed up so many times I get scared and wonder if I have gone too far, but then I hear the words from a song that says his grace reaches farther than my worse mistakes and I am in awe. Sometimes this gift is hard to open and sometimes I want to hand it back, but then I am forever grateful for your grace. Teach me to share your grace with others. Amen!