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Thursday, June 27, 2013

The God Who Hears

Treasured friend,

You've doubtless noticed that in my grief over losing my precious Daddy to cancer, I've been less prolific in my writing to you in the last several months. It's not because I don't think of you or even pray for you often; Rather, I suppose it's that I feel less qualified than ever to offer words that will provide meaningful comfort. Many days, in fact, I feel depleted and even detached from the comfort I'd so wish to offer to you.

Yet, many godly friends -- and most of all many forays into the Word -- have provided brief glimpses of comfort to me. So, that is all I have to share with you. Fragments and moments of comfort from the God of all comfort.

Today in my devotions I read a Psalm -- and at once it reminded me that the God of the Word knows exactly what you and I are feeling in the difficult days of caregiving, of loss, of disappointment and frustration. He's heard it all before from His faithful followers down through the generations. But when He hears it from us, He is no less faithful to answer than He's always been to each one who calls.

The Psalm that brought this epiphany is number 6, a psalm of David, on stringed instruments no less. (As a violinist, I do seem to pay special attention to the stringed-instrument songs!)

Here are the verses that expressed what I've been having trouble putting into words:

Psalm 6:6-9 (ESV)
6  I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. 7  My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows weak because of all my foes. ... 9  The LORD has heard my plea; the LORD accepts my prayer.


David the poet describes what I could not ... in word pictures more familiar to my experience in these days than I'd wish you to know.

Yet, over the course of just a few verses, David turns a corner. He reminds himself -- and us -- that weeping is not the end of all things for the believer. It is a part of our experience, certainly. But not the whole experience.

What is the whole truth he wants us to remember? It's that Someone greater than our tears stands near. We serve a God Who knows, a God Who understands, a God Who weeps with us, a God Who hears our pleas and accepts our prayers. In days when grief and exhaustion strip us bare of anything else, we can still be sure of this amazing fact. The God of the universe is near to the brokenhearted. He listens to us, and He holds us near to His heart.

I pray you find this truth as uplifting as I have today. I offer you the comfort I've received -- I can do no more; I will do no less.

Blessings and prayers,

Julie

 © 2013, Julie-Allyson Ieron. All rights reserved. For reprint permission, email: orders@joymediaservices.com

Sunday, June 9, 2013

On Looking Back, Or Pressing Forward

Treasured Friend,

I've been thinking quite a bit these days about one of my favorite Bible women, Priscilla. Much of her story is told by Dr. Luke in Acts 18. Her life speaks to so many areas of our own lives -- which may be at once unsettling, discouraging, frightening, and packed with opportunities to serve Christ through our adversity.

So, as a project that may appear in a compilation book one day soon, I've written a short fictionalization of her life -- along with a devotional that can help us apply her lessons to life today. So, if you stick with me on a rather long one today, I'd love to share with you what I observed (with a few literary license additions that are true to the culture of the day). Hope you enjoy!

Blessings and prayers, Julie

A Press-toward-the-goal Life
Julie-Allyson Ieron

AS TOLD BY A FICTIONALIZED PRISCILLA

It’s not like my life was safe before my husband Aquila invited a certain Jewish rabbi into our sparse home, nestled in the shadow of the Temple of Apollo in old Corinth. In fact, by then we’d already weathered one upheaval. But that day would mark a significant upturn in danger and adventure for us.
Years before, Aquila and I had met in our families’ synagogue in Rome. After our marriage we made a decent living, crafting tents of goat hair and selling them to shepherds, travelers, merchants, Bedouins, even soldiers. The Roman soldiers, especially, loved our tents for their durability and workmanship.
Mostly, Aquila did the heavier work with the large cloths and skins, fashioned tent pegs, and ran the business side of the operation. My job was to weave the tent-cloth. I was known for my skill in using natural dyes to create color and pattern on the tapestries hung between rooms of the more lavish tents of sultans and merchants. This helped us obtain commissions from powerful and wealthy fellow-citizens.
We kept to ourselves, worshipping on the first day of the week with other followers of The Way, but causing no affront to the Roman way of life. That couldn’t be said, though, of the angry Jewish religious leaders who converged on Rome. A mob of them stirred up so much trouble for followers of The Way that Claudius Caesar took notice.
He would have none of this sibling squabbling between Jews and Christ-followers. To keep the conflict from disturbing the peace in his seat of government, he tossed us all out of our homes and expelled us from our city. He didn’t care that we were the peaceful ones. He ousted both sides—Jews and Christians of Jewish nationality.
We were better off than most. Our Roman soldier customers learned of the decree and stationed themselves at our home. This bought us extra moments to gather our most necessary belongings and hastily plan our exodus. God must have been looking out for us, because a customer had commissioned a traveling tent and then decided he didn’t want it after all. So, we left with only that tent, our looms and working tools, and our scrolls of God’s precious Scriptures.
We made our way by both land and sea, feeling at once aimless, and again like Abraham of old—looking for a city whose builder and maker was God. Actually, the land travel I didn’t mind; it wasn’t all bad living in a tent we had crafted with our own hands. But my arthritic joints and aging constitution didn’t do as well on the voyage across the choppy Adriatic Sea.
Eventually, we landed in the great commercial center of Corinth by way of the port at Cenchrea. My relief was boundless. Never again did I wish to board a sea-going vessel. I made my preference known loudly (and often) to my patient Aquila. I was sure we’d have plenty of business for our trade in Corinth’s bustling marketplace; we would settle in to stay. I wouldn’t allow him even the most wistful mention of one day returning to our old life in Rome. Forgetting what is behind, I reminded him. Pressing toward what’s ahead. I’ve always found those great words to live by, especially if what I saw ahead was blessed, dry land.
Again, we set out to lead quiet lives; we avoided trouble and conflict at every opportunity.
It was just weeks after settling in Corinth when Aquila rushed into our work space, making an uncharacteristically boisterous entrance. I stopped my even motion at the loom, and the yam stalled awkwardly between the warp threads I was working. I grimaced as I noticed how that stop marred the perfect pattern I’d been crafting. It was to be a tapestry curtain, commissioned by a Corinthian nobleman for his bride’s traveling tent.
Just as quickly, though, I forgot my weaving woes as I recognized the guilt etched in my husband’s face. I’d seen that look before. Our conversation, dripping with husbandly compliments, is seared in my memory.

“Prisca, my dear,”
 I hated it when he started a conversation with that familiar variation of Priscilla; it always meant trouble.
“I have invited a visitor—a rabbi—to stay with us.”
“Oh, husband, we are barely settled. We don’t even have an extra bed palette to offer to a guest. And business is not established enough yet for us to support a rabbi out of our abundance.”
“You are a most gifted hostess, my precious wife. I know you will be able to make our guest and his fellow-traveler welcome. He is a tentmaker. He is willing to work with us to build the business here in Corinth. He is a stranger here, like we are. And … He is a follower of The Way.”
Well, when you put it like that …

With only those few moments’ notice, I sprang into action—bustling as best I could to create a comfortable place for the travelers who followed a few paces behind Aquila.
I heard them before I saw them. Two strange male voices. The dominant one had the sound of the Asian dialect—from what you in your day would call Turkey; and yet, he had a schooled accent—Jerusalem, I’d guess. It was then that I looked up from my frenzied preparations into the piercing eyes of the rabbi guest, a teacher of The Way called Paul.
Oh, this day would bring trouble, absolutely. But I felt the Spirit of God inside me affirm that these men were kindred spirits—true Christ-followers not to fear, but to welcome.
This Paul and his fellow traveler Luke carried their own bed palettes—and their own scrolls of the Scriptures. Luke also packed a medical bag because of his training as a physician. Who knew we would all need those skills and those salves he carried? Soon, but not yet.
Together, we settled in comfortably. The two men became like extended family—connected to us by circumstance, certainly, but also by a shared faith and love for our Messiah and Savior Jesus Christ. Our stimulating conversations about Him made work hours pass quickly. It turned out that Paul was quite the scholar. His schooling made his exposition of the ancient Scriptures come alive with implications for us as disciples of the Messiah.
The other great news was that God blessed our work efforts with much business in this new city. Soon our tentmaking was generating enough to support all of us comfortably.
Every Sabbath, we went together—Paul, Luke, Aquila, and I—to hear Paul reason with the Jews and devout Greeks in the synagogue. Many came to faith in The Way by trusting Jesus, God’s Son, as their Savior from God’s wrath.
I wasn’t terribly thrilled, though, when two more of Paul’s associates, Silas and young Timothy arrived from the Macedonian province. With this bigger entourage, Paul needed a larger base of operation, so he moved to the house of Titius Justus, next door to the synagogue. Paul’s tentmaking time with us was limited then, but he still worked when he could. Aquila and I missed the hour-by-hour closeness we had shared. We rejoiced, though, that The Way was being preached with success. Even Crispus, the synagogue ruler, came to faith.
I remember when Paul stopped by one morning to share with us a vision he had of God telling him to keep on speaking without fear—that no one could harm him here. That set my motherly heart on edge; if God had to warn him not to be afraid, what mischief was around the corner?
Yet life went on for eighteen months in this relaxed routine.
Then things started happening fast. Those troubled Jewish leaders set their sights on Corinth, this time to stir up trouble for Paul. They dragged him before the proconsul’s tribunal and launched a united attack against him.
We sheltered Paul as best we could from the crowd’s growing fury. Those were perilous, uncertain days. His life and ours were in great danger. When we needed him, Dr. Luke was always ready to minister to injuries caused by the crowd. We all clung to the promise God had given Paul—not to be afraid.
We were glad when the proconsul refused to judge the case, but it became clear God was moving Paul out of Corinth.
Separately, Aquila and I prayed about this move. I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear the answer I feared God would give.

“Prisca? You awake?”
“Yes, my husband.”
“I’ve been thinking.”
“Thinking?”
“About the fact that we aren’t Corinthians. This isn’t our true home.”
“Yes, my Aquila. We are like these tents we craft for our customers. We are pitched here in this place for just a short time. Until the fields are harvested. Until the wind of the Spirit moves us onward.”
“My love, that is exactly what I have been thinking.”
“So, it is time to pick up our stakes and move again.”
“You knew?”
“I have heard Paul talking with Luke about sailing for Ephesus. The Spirit of God confirmed this direction in my heart. As much as another sailing journey makes me uneasy, I’ve been feeling a sense of anticipation about it that I can’t explain.”
“Paul has indeed invited us to sail with him. We must go with him to points unknown, my precious Prisca.”
“I’ve already been packing our few belongings. We are ready to go.” I could feel the muscles in Aquila’s neck relax into sleep as I lay awake planning our next exodus.

We did sail, this time across the Aegean Sea to Ephesus with Paul and the others. It was a safe and blessedly short journey. A trade like ours is needed across the Empire, so Ephesus offered us plenty of work. Paul, as was his pattern, sought out the synagogue where the Jews gathered; we held down the home front. Too soon, God’s Spirit moved him on from there. We, however, felt it God’s will for us to stay in Ephesus.
Those were productive years for us in Ephesus working alongside young Timothy, whom we grew to admire. We had the privilege of watering God’s garden of believers after Paul and Timothy did the planting. The harvest was plentiful, even in a city known for its wanton debauchery. The awe-inspiring Temple of Artemis, flaunting its vile practices, towered over the city. Even so, we saw the pure truth of God proclaimed with power. The Church was planted, took root, and grew strong amid opposition from the enemy of the faith.
In Ephesus, as in Corinth, Aquila brought home a visitor. This time an eloquent preacher named Apollos who knew only of John the Baptist, but nothing of Christ. Apollos was a bold speaker, and a teachable one. Much as we used to do in those Corinthian days with Paul, this time Aquila and I sat for long hours with Apollos at our Ephesian dinner table, our scrolls of the Scriptures unfurled before us. We explained to the young preacher the teachings and faith of our Resurrected Messiah. It was a sad day for us (yet also a proud one) when, after learning well the lessons of The Way, Apollos moved on into powerful public ministry refuting the troublemaking Jewish leaders. We always considered him our son in the faith.
And we, learning that Nero succeeded the assassinated Claudius, took one more journey: back to Rome. God led us all the way home again. One by one our old circle returned, gathering in the work room of our home on the first day of the week to share the journey, to worship our Risen Lord, and to pass the faith along to men and women just like you. Oh, and Paul? He sends his greetings. He expects to be in Rome very soon. I wonder what new adventures his coming will bring.


DEVOTIONAL: NONFICTION
AS TOLD BY JULIE

While I’m not proud to admit it, I’m a looker backer. I major in the skill of longing for yesterday. How many hours do I waste being wistful over emotions left unspoken, sorry over words spoken carelessly, sad over friendships severed by space and time? Maybe you feel a similar angst with me and bemoan how much of life we squander looking behind. As I read Priscilla’s life story, recorded by Dr. Luke in Acts 18, I’m amazed at the forward-thinking wisdom she exhibited. Amazed … and envious.
Her life had more twists and turns, more heart-pounding adventure, and more opportunities to fear than most twenty-first-century movie scripts. That I don’t envy. Yet, without a spoken word recorded, Priscilla speaks volumes to women of our generation through her choices and attitudes.
Several themes from her life challenge me where I struggle:
·         her sensitivity to God’s Spirit (how hard I find it to listen for God’s still, small voice)
·         her adaptability to unsettling circumstances (I hate change of all types)
·         her willingness to follow God’s convoluted path (I’m programmed to like the direct path of least resistance)
·         her wisdom in teaching the lessons of the faith so clearly that others could run with them (too often I feel proprietary about the message).
But for us today, Priscilla’s most poignant lesson may be her forward-looking life. She couldn’t have felt much personal safety or security living in tumultuous Rome while Jewish leaders were stirring up crowds against her faith. In her sandals we’d have felt a longing for the safe and secure days before this strife.
Not Priscilla, though.
She couldn’t have enjoyed being evicted and put out of her hometown. After all, travel security in her day would have been far more challenging than our uneasy moments in airport full-body scanners. Yet, she journeyed far not once, but three times: from Rome to Corinth; from Corinth to Ephesus; from Ephesus back to Rome. And in every setting, no matter the comfort or circumstance, she taught the faith, opened her home to fellow believers, and worked hard with her hands. She looked forward to heavenly glories with Christ rather than longing for what was behind.
Did she complain? Did she worry? Did she become discouraged or fearful or panicked? We have no indication of it. In fact, whenever Paul writes about her, he speaks highly of her grace and her partnership in ministry for the sake of the gospel.
So, when Paul instructed the Philippian believers to forget the challenges and disappointments of yesterday and press toward the high goal of God’s calling on their lives, I wonder whether Priscilla’s picture flashed before his mind. Troubles, disappointments, and challenges dotted her life’s landscape. Yet, through them all, she modeled for him—for us—the resiliency of one who doesn’t allow circumstances to deter her from pressing toward the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
One day, when I grow up in Christ, I want to be like Priscilla.


Scripture verse:
Philippians 3:13-14 (ESV) Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.


Author Bio:

Julie-Allyson Ieron is a perceptive journalist who investigates God’s truth and crafts discoveries in ways that engage your mind and resonate with your heart. She is receiving critical acclaim for her book: The God Interviews: Questions You Would Ask; Answers God Gives (Leafwood Publishing, 2012). Additionally, as a longtime caregiver for her father who succumbed to pancreatic cancer in early 2013, Julie continues her ministry of encouragement with the release of Comforting Words for Caregivers … And Those They Love (Warner Press, August 2013), a devotional written from his hospital room.

© 2013, Julie-Allyson Ieron. All rights reserved. For reprint permission, email: orders@joymediaservices.com