What did the following women have in common:
After you've taken a minute to think about it, scroll down to read the rest of the post.
These women all shared a miracle. They all received a miraculous gift. They all became Mothers in unnatural ways. They each had miracle babies. They each needed God to make this happen, because quite frankly, Sarah and Elizabeth were too old. Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah, and Mrs. Manoah had female problems. And Mary was, well, too single.
But, they all found themselves surprisingly pregnant, and delighted to hear the news. Hannah and Mary broke into singing. Sarah laughed. Mrs. Manoah ran for her husband she was so excited. Elizabeth's baby leaped in her womb. Rachel praised God. And, poor Rebekah didn't know what to say, because of the distressed pregnancy, so she prayed for God to tell her what was going on inside her. Supernatural prayer gave her the results she couldn't obtain before ultrasound- "Sit down sister, you're carrying twins!"
Sarah's son was a Mamma's boy. Rebekah gave birth to the twins: one was an unbeliever and apostate, the other so deceptive that his own family despised him for years. Manoah and his wife both spoiled their son, and he was a party animal and immoral; sleeping with whores and tying foxes tails together just to set them on fire and watch them run through his enemy's cornfield. Rachel's son was thrown in prison, after being accused of rape, and Mary's son was sentenced to die as a terrorist. Elizabeth's son was thrown in jail for "hate speech" and afterwards executed. Hannah's son once became so angry that he chopped a political prisoner to death with a soldier's sword.
There the stories diverge, and we must remember that Sarah's, Rebekah's and Mrs. Manoah's sons turned to God later in life, after "sowing some wild oats." But, the sons of Rachel, Elizabeth, Hannah, and Mary were all upright and honest men, with a zeal for serving God that would explain their odd behavior and imprisonment, and even executions.
Sarah was the mother of Isaac, one of the Patriarchs who redug the old wells of his father, a Spiritual symbol for us today. And, he married Rebekah, who was the mother of twins Esau and Jacob. Esau never repented and turned to the God of his father, but forgave his conniving brother Jacob in midlife. Jacob raised a family of more than 100 children and grandchildren, establishing the nation of Israel in their worship of the one true God. Mrs. Manoah gave birth to Samson, the mighty man of valor, who repented after years in confinement and prayed for God to use him one last time. And, God did. Rachel gave birth to the honorable judge Samuel, who served his whole life without mention of sin, until it came time to raise his own sons, and they didn't turn out so well. It seems he let them get away with whatever they wanted to do in his house, just like Eli had before him. Elizabeth gave birth to the wildman John the Baptist. After his parents died, John lived as a Bedouin in the desert, eating locusts and honey. He preached salvation to Israel to turn their hearts to God, and prepare for the coming of the Messiah. And, his 2nd Cousin Mary gave birth to Jesus, the Messiah and Savior for the whole Earth. John and Jesus were both imprisoned and executed, but one came out of the grave. Because that baby was born, you and I today have been saved. This birth brought about the salvation of the whole Earth.
Never forget the importance of a single prayer.
Men and women in the Bible were simply human...interacting with a God. We have many accounts of great exploits and heroic faith recorded, but most Bible believers had some major faults or problems recorded as well. I can't think of any who were perfect, except maybe Daniel. (And, surely his problems were merely unrecorded.) Even John the Baptist had poor social skills; eating grasshoppers, living in the desert, and calling people names. I don't imagine many bedouins have excellent table manners.
It seems the greater men, the ones held in higher regard, had more faults listed. Like Moses, we see that God was able to do a great work through him, despite his many weaknesses and flaws.
The twelve apostles were a ragged lot, not highly esteemed among their peers. Judas was greedy and disloyal. Peter was rash and often foolish. Doubting Thomas must have been slow-minded, if not mildly mentally handicapped, from some of the statements he made and the way he misunderstood simple figures of speech used in the common language that Jesus used.
Noah got drunk on unmixed "strong wine" not long after the flood and passed out naked. I'm sure he knew better. Lot got drunk twice after being delivered from the burning Sodom and Gomorrah, with incestous results. Genesis 19:33-36
Even the great Apostle Paul was frequently recorded as being stubborn, rash, and thick-headedly inflexible. To begin with, we see him supervising the stoning of Steven in the book of Acts, in the name of Heaven. He continued to violently harass the early church, stoned and arrested Christians, and vented his human rage on those whose doctrine differed with his. I wonder what made him such an angry man? I wonder what he encountered in his early years that made him express his passion for God so violently? Maybe his Father was abusive and violent. Or, perhaps there was an ex-wife in the picture. He mistakenly took this human rage to be the zeal of God. But, he quickly found himself up against Jesus Christ Himself.
He spoke harshly and brassly about having got in Peter's face about Peter's prejudices and inconsistencies against the gentiles. He argued with Barnabas about allowing John Mark to resume his junior missionary field work, after John Mark's desertion. This seems quite selfish and petty when you consider how kind Barnabas had been to Paul immediately after Paul's conversion; taking the murderous Saul/Paul under his wings, and urging the other disciples to accept him in the church. I like the kind Mr. Joseph Barnabas! His name means Son of Encouragement. Acts 4:36 He was often seen encouraging others.
We could argue that Paul's goal was not to "Win Friends and Influence People," but to spread the gospel message. Yet, when you compare Jesus' methods to Paul's, you see quite a bit more discord sown in Paul's path. As a side note, Ministers often have different preaching styles. Before you think that a man who is spitting and shouting has more anointing than the Preacher who speaks calmly and quietly, with his hands in his pockets, remember of which sort Jesus often was when preaching. Kerygma, the Greek noun for the Preaching (Kerusso is the act of Preaching/Verb form,) is worship, and like worship preaching comes in many forms, and is a unique expression of the individual giving the gift.
One event in Paul's ministry particularly stands out as totally irrational and bizarre. He was on his first missionary journey, covering Acts 13, 14. He and Barnabas had gone through Cyprus Island with some success, but had more trouble when they reached the mainland. The men of Antioch weren't all agreeable. (Incidentally, for those who like to point out the way women were even prone to arguing in the Bible like Euodias and Syntyche in Philippians 4:2, :) notice that men were prone to throwing big rocks at people.) By the time Paul got a few sermons in at Iconium, they were mad enough to plot together to stone him. Acts 14:5
Paul and Barnabas decided to skip town quickly, as they hadn't yet been beaten or stoned, and didn't seem to desire that outcome. Then they began preaching in Derbe and Lystria, where they healed a man born crippled, through the power of Jesus' name. The people were in awe of the disciples after witnessing that miracle, and decided that Barnabas was the Greek god Jupiter, and Paul was Mercury, since he was the main speaker of the preaching pair. Then the local priest of Jupiter brought in garlands and cows to sacrifice to Paul and Barnabas.
This was just too much for Paul's and Barnabas's Jewish sentiments and their fierce devotion to the one true God. The Bible records that the two men tore their own clothes and ran among the people, putting a stop to the worship. Acts 14:15.
Tearing and shredding of clothes was not uncommon in those barbaric days, but was a way to show intense sorrow or anguish. The Jewish are often intensely outwardly emotional people, culturally. But, even then people could be shocked and put off at excesses of zeal. This fact can be illustrated by looking at the time the prophet Samuel chopped the hostage King Agag to bits with his sword, because God had commanded the Israelites to take no hostages in that particular battle. We know Samuel's passionate zeal was a shock to the people because we see that his own people shortly after that trembled at his presence when Samuel came to town to anoint David king. 1 Samuel 16:4
Back to the case of Paul shredding his clothes, we see intense expressions of anger. It can be inferred that Paul was not merely saddened, but deeply angered because of the use of the word "vanities." Paul was calling their deeds foolish. Coupled with the way they ran in among them, you quickly see that Paul found it easier to let his emotions show, than to control his temperament.
Now, Paul had already made the men in Iconium mad, and they followed him here and stirred up the people who Paul had just offended to stone Paul. The Bible doesn't say that Barnabas was stoned with him. Only Paul. This seems reasonable since we know that Paul did most of the talking. Also, as we see later when Paul and Barnabas argue over John Mark, Barnabas is a tender, sensitive man. He appeared to be gifted at making friends. Paul, conversely, appeared to be gifted at making enemies.
There is no way to explain away the fact that they participated in the act of shredding their own clothes in anger. This was not a reasonable response or reaction to the ignorance of those who don't know God. Even if you consider it as a cultural norm for that day and age, you know that Paul had to know better than shredding his own clothes in a fit of rage. Surely, he felt some shame and remorse for that afterwards, (or at least by the time they were finished stoning him.)
Here you had Paul, who considered worship of false gods a heathenistic practice, yet he was ripping his own clothes like the heathen. This behavior was inconsistent, to say the least.
But, we all have our inconsistencies, don't we? Many good Christian people struggle with feelings of anger and rage that can be uncontrollable. Many pastors like to use the term "goals" to describe the behavior we know we should be displaying as Christians. In other words, it is our goal as Christians to grow in the fruit of the Spirit and learn to control our anger, if that is what we struggle with. Sometimes you may fail in weak areas, but you have to allow God to pick you back up and you have to keep striving towards mastery of your weaknesses. If you haven't overcome any of your weaknesses, then you are still drowning or wallowing in sin. Otherwise, what has God saved you from?