Reaching Out

Both were eunuchs. Both were Ethiopians. They shared palace parallels even though they lived six hundred years apart. Together they illustrate the two facets of a helping hand.

One reached out for it. One reached out with it.

The Ethiopian eunuch who reached out for a helping hand struggled with his muddled mind. Words he was saying weren’t making sense to him. A voice, taking him unawares, interrupted his confusion: ‘“Do you understand what you are reading?’” (Acts 8:30 NASB).

Who was this stranger suddenly standing beside his chariot? And how was this any of his business? Nevertheless, the royal treasurer owned up to his inadequacy: ‘“Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him” (Acts 8:31 NASB).

This first-century evangelist and deacon accepted the eunuch’s invitation. As they rode along the desert road, Philip explained that the ancient prophecy the eunuch was reading had been fulfilled in their lifetime through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When the eunuch believed for himself that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, he asked Philip to baptize him. “And they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him” (Acts 8:38 NASB).

Today the Ethiopian eunuch who reached out for a helping hand is nameless. Not so with the one who reached out with a helping hand.

Ebed-melech, one of the king of Judah’s eunuchs, lost no time in setting out to right a wrong. Never mind that he was about to ask the ruler to reverse himself. The injustice demanded it! How could this monarch have listened to those self-serving, wicked officials! Now there was an innocent man helplessly mired in mud and left to die.

Following the king’s changed orders, Ebed-melech “took the men under his authority and went into the king’s palace to a place beneath the storeroom and took from there worn-out clothes and worn-out rags and let them down by ropes into the cistern to Jeremiah. Then Ebed-melech the Ethiopian said to Jeremiah, ‘Now put these worn-out clothes and rags under your armpits under the ropes’; and Jeremiah did so. So they pulled Jeremiah up with the ropes and lifted him out of the cistern, and Jeremiah stayed in the court of the guardhouse” (Jeremiah 38:11-13 NASB).

A helping hand is either needed or given.

 

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Reversals

He was good enough for them when they were growing up together. But when property and money counted, his half-brothers thrust him out of the family. Zero inheritance.

What had he done wrong? That one thing: He had been born of a prostitute.

And how was that his fault? He didn’t ask to be born. He had had nothing to do with the conditions that brought about his birth.

Nevertheless, the day came when he was again good enough for them. Actually, more than good enough. All because of what he had become in the interim.

Driven from his homeland and forced to fend for himself, he had weathered into a seasoned warrior. Now the outcast was the one person everybody back in Gilead wanted. So the tribal leaders made the trip to Tob and met with Jephthah.

In dire straits, they begged him to come back and command his homeland’s army. War was at their doorstep.

Jephthah, determined not to be discarded a second time, gave the distressed delegation his terms. If he defeated the invaders, they would make him the ruling head of his native country.

No problem. “The elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, ‘The Lord is witness between us; surely we will do as you have said’” (Judges 11:10 NASB).

As had happened to Gideon in the past and would happen to Samson in the future, “the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah” (Judges 11:29 NASB). Energized with supernatural strength, Jephthah was victorious on the battlefield.

And thus it came about that “Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died and was buried in one of the cities of Gilead” (Judges 12:7 NASB).

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
before I’d even lived one day.
(Psalm 139:13-16 MSG)

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The Defiant Wife

She was beautiful, smart, married to a tycoon, and scared to death. Her husband had stupidly insulted their future king—and a war hero to boot. The lives of their household and workers were now in dire jeopardy.

A piercing reminder that she was married to a fool! Pigheaded with a thunderclap temper! What he had done this time was critical. Someone had to do something and fast.

She didn’t have time to track down Nabal and try to talk sense into him. Even if she did, he wouldn’t listen to reason from anyone, especially a woman—least of all her—Abigail—his wife.

What she had in mind would be defying her husband, but he was dead wrong. He had put many innocent lives in impending danger. At that very moment David and his men were arming themselves to retaliate, vowing that there would be no man or boy alive in Nabal’s domain by daybreak.

Abigail would take a risk for the greater good. Knowing there was no time to lose, she barely thanked the shepherd who had rushed to her with the heads-up. Spinning on her heel, she shot out orders to her house servants. David would get his request.

Food was fair payment for David’s band of men, who without fail had guarded Nabal’s flocks from marauders. Hadn’t their protection increased his prosperity? And it wasn’t as if her husband didn’t have plenty of food on hand today for the shearing festival!

As soon as humanly possible, Abigail sent ahead to David’s camp donkeys laden with wine-filled goatskins, cooked sheep and trimmings, two hundred loaves of bread, and fig cakes galore. Riding last in the caravan, she clung to the hope that the advancing food would soften David’s vengeful heart. But what should she say to him? Would her words carry enough weight to make a difference?

“It came about as she was riding on her donkey and coming down by the hidden part of the mountain, that behold, David and his men were coming down toward her; so she met them” (1 Samuel 25:20 NASB). So soon?

Like a flash, Abigail dismounted, fell down down at David’s feet, and took the blame for her husband. “Please,” she implored, “forgive the transgression of your maidservant” (1 Samuel 25:28 NASB).

She hastened to speak of possible future regrets: “And when the Lord does for my lord according to all the good that He has spoken concerning you, and appoints you ruler over Israel, this will not cause grief or a troubled heart to my lord, both by having shed blood without cause and by my lord having avenged himself” (1 Samuel 25:30-31 NASB).

“David then said to Abigail, ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me, and blessed be your discernment, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodshed and from avenging myself by my own hand’” (1 Samuel 25:32-33 NASB).

Abigail did not submit to her husband and is universally praised for her kindness, courage, and wisdom. Some describe her as shrewd.

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Too Much for God

Gideon thought of himself as a nobody: “My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house” (Judges 6:15 ESV). However, God used that nobody: “The Spirit of the Lord clothed Gideon with Himself and took possession of him” (Judges 6:34 AMP).

Thus outfitted, Gideon prepared to resist the annual invaders. Every harvest time for the past seven years, foreign hordes, swarming like locusts, had swept through their land, pillaging and plundering. When the dust from their returning camels settled, nothing was left except impoverished men, women, and children holed up in caves and dens.

Now, on the eighth year, emboldened Gideon mustered 32,000 men for a pushback. But God did not approve. The number was too much.

Gideon offered all who were in trembling fear of a fight to return home. Twenty-two thousand took the discharge.

The remaining 10,000 was also a number that was too much for God. He instructed Gideon how to reduce it.

Gideon ordered the volunteer army to drink from a nearby brook. Those who lapped water from their hand and did not kneel down to drink would stay. That number was 300, and it satisfied God. Why? That number was so low that the Israelites could never brag, “My own power has delivered me” (Judges 7:2 NASB). Indeed, when those 300 men utterly routed 135,000 invaders that year, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the victory went to God.

Thus God reinforced an eternal truth: “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,” says the Lord of hosts (Zechariah 4:6 NASB).

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A Piggyback Faith

Preserved for the throne, Joash was seven years old when he was brought out of temple concealment and publicly revealed. Also on that day “Jehoiada and his sons anointed him and said, ‘Long live the king!’” (2 Chronicles 23:11 NASB). Six years previously his aunt, in a daring deed, had rescued the boy from infanticide (“The Princess Who Saved a Dynasty”).

Relying on his uncle’s counsel, “Joash did what was right in the sight of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest” (2 Chronicles 24:2 NASB). Did you notice the time limitation, “all the days of Jehoiada the priest”? For when Uncle Jehoiada died, Joash made an about-face.

He listened to other voices, ones that convinced him to abandon the worship of God and accept idolatry. Why did Joash, having been hidden in the temple, steeped in the things of God, and raised by the high priest, stop doing what was right? Why did he become vulnerable to the vices and devices of others?

Could it be that Joash had never formed his own attachment to God? That for forty years he had ridden piggyback on his uncle’s faith? That when push came to shove, he had no spiritual leg of his own to stand on?

Without the sure-footing of a personal commitment to God, Joash let evil officials sway him and shape him. That slippery slope led to the murder of his cousin Zechariah, who had dared denounce the king’s wickedness.

So they conspired against him and at the command of the king they stoned him to death in the court of the house of the Lord. Thus Joash the king did not remember the kindness which his father Jehoiada had shown him, but he murdered his son (2 Chronicles 24:21-22 NASB).

The once snatched-from-death infant sank to depths of depravity: No respect for the house of God! No reverence for life! No regard for a family’s kindness when he was helpless!

Like an eternal flame, grief ignited at the king’s unthinkable act burned on in some lives. Seven years after the tragedy, Joash’s “own servants conspired against him because of the blood of the son of Jehoiada the priest, and murdered him on his bed” (2 Chronicles 24:25 NASB).

But let him who glories glory in this: that he understands and knows Me [personally and practically, directly discerning and recognizing My character], that I am the Lord, Who practices loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, says the Lord (Jeremiah 9:24 AMPC).

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The Antidote

Daddy had been dead a year, more or less, when I sat in the examining room with my husband. It was his routine visit. The doctor’s first remarks, however, were anything but routine.

Maybe they were the aftereffects of examining his previous patient. Regardless, he blurted out that he did not want to live when he became old and useless. He wanted someone to make sure he died. “Why live when I am not of any use?” he asked.

I gave him my answer—the one I received from my father. When he was eighty-eight and demented and bound to a wheelchair and shut up in a nursing facility, Daddy became the father he had not been for sixty-four years.

My father’s alcoholism was a taboo subject that the family carefully guarded both outside and inside the home. No, not even among ourselves did we discuss the secret shame.

Whatever was in our hearts, we bottled up. No fears, frustrations, emotions, or dreams escaped.  Confined to a biological definition of family, we were like strangers in a hostel. That changed when our father became helpless.

His remaining five children then had to make life-changing decisions for him. Forced to converse with each other, we voiced our thoughts. Shared ideas. Agreed on responsibilities.

Amazingly, all of us wanted what was best for our feeble father. We did not spew out anger or bitterness or resentment for his past mistreatment. Not one of us dismissed him or sought to get even.

A missing piece of our childhood miraculously nestled into place. We expressed ourselves and, in so doing, discovered each other’s uniqueness.

There was the time, when, after explaining to my second brother how I had handled a problem with the nursing facility, he exclaimed, “Judy, we didn’t know you were smart! We knew you got good grades, but we didn’t know you were smart.”

In Daddy’s end-of-life setting, incredibly, he caused us children to bond. Although he was never cognitively aware of that accomplishment, his children were.

When I finished my answer, the doctor was silent. Directing his attention to my husband, he performed his examination. Then, as he was leaving the room, he turned to me and said, “Thank you for the antidote.”

Who but the Creator has the right to say when a person is “used up”?

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NASB).

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Easter Remembrance

And lest we forget:               

Three men died on the crosses that day
Three men were hung on the tree.
Two of them died for wrongs they had done
The third One died for me.

One of them said, “I don’t believe
That You’re the Saviour of man.
If this is truly what You are,
Prove it, if you can.”

The second man who hung that day
On the other side of Him
Rebuked the first, saying, “Don’t you know
This Man has done no sin!”

“Jesus! Remember me,” he cried,
“When you come into Your own.
For I believe. I do believe!
You’ll sit on Heaven’s throne.”

The third One who was hanging there
Looked at the first in pity.
But to the second one He said,
“Today you shall see the Holy City.”

Three men hung on the crosses that day.
Three men who were crucified.
One died in sin, one died to sin
And One who for all sins died.

“Easter 1977” was written on April 7, 1977, by bmh (known by family and friends as Betty Holbrook). Betty died this year at the age of ninety-five. My sister-in-law gave me permission to share her mother’s poem.

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Hands Outside the City Gate

Inside the city gate the governor dried his compromising hands on a regal towel. He had just sent Jesus Christ to be crucified outside the city gate. Other hands would now pick up where Pontius Pilate left off.

Forced Hands

Simon from Cyrene, Africa, met the pathetic procession as he was heading toward Jerusalem from the country. Like many intentions gone awry, his plan to walk into the city was stopped. The soldiers seized him “and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus” (Luke 23:26 NIV).

Charitable Hands

According to custom, when a criminal arrived at the place of execution, aristocratic women provided him with a drugged wine. The drink would serve as a sedative for the crucifixion’s impending pain. In Jesus’ case, “They offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it” (Mark 15:23 NIV).

Obedient Hands

The first duty drilled into a soldier is to obey orders under all circumstances. Thus conditioned, Roman soldiers nailed Jesus’ hands and feet to the wooden cross. With callous precision, “They crucified him” (Mark 15:24 NIV).

Collective Hands

Jesus’ hands were not the only ones that had nails hammered into them that Friday: “At the same time two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right hand and one on the left” (Matthew 27:38 AMPC).

Gambling Hands

Roman soldiers got a bonus for carrying out the odious order to crucify. They could keep the clothes belonging to the one hanging on the cross above them. And so, beneath the cross of Jesus, four soldiers “divided up his clothes by casting lots” (Luke 23:34 NIV).

Ridiculing Hands

“Those who passed by hurled insults at him” (Mark 15:29 NIV).

“In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him” (Mark 15:32 NIV).

“The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself’” (Luke 23:36-37 NIV).

The two criminals “crucified with him also heaped insults on him” (Mark 15:32 NIV). Later, one of them, somewhere in his own suffering, had a change of heart and testified to his counterpart: “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:41 NIV).

Relinquished Hands

From the cross, Jesus handed over his mother’s care to the apostle John. “When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home” (John 19:26-27 NIV).

Sympathetic Hands

When Jesus said “I thirst,” the hands of Roman soldiers reached out to Him. “A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth” (John 19:29 ESV).

Receiving Hands 

Knowing He had finished the work God gave Him to do, “Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ When he had said this, he breathed his last” (Luke 23:46 NIV).

“And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood” (Hebrews 13:12 NIV).

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Zip It!

The set of her jaw stopped me. Peering closely at her picture, I noticed that her barefoot stride also showed determination to get to her destination.

Bands of bright green cloth spiraled snugly around her head. Not a strand of hair leaked out.

She had on a flowered cotton dress. I liked it until I saw what was missing. The center back seam was creased for a zipper—a 22-inch one, my sewing eye sized. But no zipper had been sewn in. What audacity!

Who in the world would wear a dress without a zipper? Not me! Oh, no, I took pride in my zippers, carefully selecting the right color for every dress I made. I had even gone so far as to make a perfect match with Rit dye. Recently, I had started saving zippers from throwaways. Reusing a zipper was fine, but not using one was absolutely—without excuse—totally unacceptable.

Who would leave her dress wide open from the neckline to way below the waist? Who would expose herself like that in public? And look! No underwear! What kind of woman would do such a thing?

Repelled, I shut the magazine. A score of years passed before, connecting the dots, I could finish that picture.

In an article about a church’s missions work, I read the reprint of an old appeal for clothes donations that would be sent to Haiti. The last sentence admonished: “Do not remove the buttons or zippers.”

Then I knew what kind of woman she was. Dirt poor. Desperate. Destitute. Dependent. Doing the best she could with what she had.

Sadly, I cannot say that experience cured me of a critical spirit. But I can say that it is still a good reminder to heed Jesus’ advice, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24 NASB).

 

 

There is so much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the best of us, that it ill behooves any of us to find fault with the rest of us.
(James Truslow Adams, 1878-1949)

 

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Button Connection

Was it because she had no daughter that my grandmother asked my mother, “Do you want my button can?” Perhaps. However, it was not the reason I heard.

No longer would my grandmother walk upstairs and sit at her sewing machine. Her feet would not treadle like a see-saw under the window. Her eyes would not glance out at what used to be her strawberry patch while freckled fingers deftly told the hand wheel when to go and when to stop.

Accepting she had come to the end of those days, my grandmother offered their last link to my mother. Buttons that for years had been snipped from worn-out shirts, blouses, dresses, coats, and pants passed to Mama. There was unspoken hope they would be revived on new garments.

As time would have it, there came a day when Mama relayed the button can—with her additions—to me. I had already begun my own collection; so I merged them. Watching the aged buttons tumble on top of mine, I was surprised to see again the three mother of pearl shell buttons.

Years before while exploring my grandmother’s button can, I had wondered about those iridescent buttons. Where had they once glistened? Had my great-grandmother sewn them on a special dress for my grandmother? Was it an Easter dress? Was it the dress she wore to the disappointing talent show she shared with me from her rocking chair? Or were they worn on something else forever buried in my grandmother’s memory?

In the end, those buttons from long ago, for whatever reason, had not been selected to adorn anything again. Yet, they had never been discarded. Not like “Family Buttons.”

I discovered “Family Buttons” framed and leaning inconspicuously against a box on a garage floor. When I asked the young mother if it was also for sale, she said yes and added, “My grandmother cross-stitched that for me. When she found out she had cancer, she made one for each of her grandchildren before she died.”

“How much do you want for it?”

“Two dollars.”

Fifteen years later “Family Buttons” still speaks from a wall in my home. More than one guest has valued its words:

A button here from Grandma’s gown
Worn on her wedding day;
Another from mine, a pearl one,
Precious as words can say.
That one is from my husband’s shirt,
A blue one, I recall.
And those are from the baby’s things,
That’s why they are so small.
There’s buttons here from children’s clothes
Discarded through the years.
Buttons recalling happy times,
And some recalling tears.
Counting the different buttons
Sewn here around my rhyme
I see they form a history
Of a family—
Mine.

On the day of his death, Moses taught the people he was about to see no more a song he had written. Among the words is the instruction, “Remember the days of old, Consider the years of all generations” (Deuteronomy 32:7 NASB).

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