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Archive for January, 2018

help
In Nehemiah chapter 2, we find Nehemiah still very concerned and dejected about the state of his homeland.  Four months have passed since men from Judah had come and reported to him the destruction and desolation in Jerusalem.  Now, he has opportunity to speak to his boss, the king, as he serves in the palace.  It is probable he had been in the king’s presence the entire time, but perhaps needed to pray and wait before being sure and ready to make his requests.

Regardless, four months is the time span between his knowledge of the problems at home and his request to help.  This time, as he goes in to serve the king, his countenance and disposition is different.  Apparently, Nehemiah was generally a jovial, positive person to be around while working for the king.  This day, however, the king noticed that he wasn’t acting like himself.  In Nehemiah 2:2, we find the king asking Nehemiah what’s wrong.  Being melancholy and out of sorts ought always and only be the exception, not the rule when we are being employed by another to do any job.

Clearly, the king and Nehemiah must have had a close relationship.  Being able to not only pick out Nehemiah’s despair, but also caring enough to ask his subordinate what was the matter proves the relationship between this king and his subject was favorable.

Before Nehemiah answers the king as to what is wrong, he again prays to God.  Nehemiah recognizes God as being the ultimate authority and the king being secondary.  Surely, he feels the need to invite the Lord into the conversation before he speaks so that he might not misspeak, miscommunicate, or otherwise hinder the words he is about to say.  So important is his request that he dares not say it until God is present with him.

After praying, Nehemiah answers saying, “Let the king live forever!  Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” (Nehemiah 2:3)  In other words, how can I not be upset, boss?  My home and my people are in a bad situation.  I am very concerned and distressed for their sake.

Notice how Nehemiah not only prays to God before sharing his heart, when he does start to share it he begins by praising his boss.  He doesn’t rush right into all his troubles the second he walks into work.  He waits to be asked.  He prays before speaking to his superior.  He shows honor and respect to the king when he is asked what’s wrong before sharing details.  What a good example of how we ought to behave in our own lives when we are in a bad way or in need.

The king then asks what Nehemiah wants.  There is usually an understanding between a subordinate and his master that one has resources that the other needs.  This king was willing to help his servant as a friend.  We, too, ought to consider those in need with whom we have relationships and concern ourselves with their needs when we come to know them personally.

The text informs us that Nehemiah was afraid to ask for what he needed.  This is the king he’s talking to!  He doesn’t want to seem ungrateful or greedy.  He just knows he needs help for his people.  So he answers despite his fear and he humbly asks to go and help them himself.

Notice that Nehemiah doesn’t say, “Send someone to help my people.”  He says, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Jush, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.” (Nehemiah 2:5)  How about that!  Send me, boss.  I want to go help them.  I am willing to leave this place of comfort, luxury, and riches to go rebuild my town.  The people I love need help.  I want to go help them.

Sounds like someone else, huh?  Jesus did the same for us.

God knows we are serious in our prayers when we are willing to do our part and do whatever we can to bring about that for which we are asking.  Remember, Nehemiah had been praying and fasting for his home and his brothers even before he knew that they were in trouble!  Here is a man who is willing to make personal sacrifices on behalf of those he loves.

The king answers Nehemiah favorably.  He asks how long it will take indicating that he wanted Nehemiah to come back and serve him again.  Nehemiah tells him how long it will take and then asks for the king to give him papers that would give him authority to travel safely to his destination and a letter for a lumberjack (Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forrest)  so he can get the wood he needs to build with.

Notice that Nehemiah is very specific when he asks for help.  He tells the king exactly what he needs.  Anytime we approach someone with a request, we ought to first know very clearly what we are asking for.  Making sure we do so ensures that others understand what we need and how to properly help us.  Always think through what it is you are asking for before you ask someone else to help.

Finally, we find the king granting Nehemiah’s requests.  Nehemiah credits God with this favorable outcome.  He didn’t say thank goodness for my friends in high places – he had them.  He didn’t say thank goodness I’m so special – he was.  He didn’t say good thing I have done such good service for the king – he had.  He didn’t say good thing I have this trusted position at work – he did.  No.  It is always and ever fitting to recognize and praise God first when given the opportunity to carry out his will.  Nehemiah does so and so should we.

“And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.” ~Nehemiah 2:8

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brother
The book of Nehemiah is believed to have been written by Ezra the scribe around the 430-400 B.C.   Originally, Ezra and Nehemiah were a single book.  Here, we have the memoirs of a trusted, honorable, pious man whom God uses to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity.

In Nehemiah chapter 1, we find Nehemiah residing in a palace in Susa, the capital city of the Persian empire.  Nehemiah is a Jew who has been elevated to the most trusted position to the Persian King.  Nehemiah is serving as cupbearer to the king, although his humility does not speak of it save to inform his readers of the historical background.  He initially tells us only that he lives in Susa, not that he holds this distinguished position.  Matthew Henry says, “From hence we may learn to be humble and modest, and slow to speak of our own advancements.” 

Some men come from Judah and he inquires about the state of Jerusalem and all the exiles who had returned there for the building of the temple.  When he is told that the remnant is in “great trouble and shame” and that the “wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.” (Nehemiah 1:3)

For a city in that day and age, having a broken down wall and burning gates was tragic.  The people living there had no protection from enemies and no security.  Nehemiah immediately turns to the Lord in prayer.

The text tells us that Nehemiah sat down.  He didn’t stand up to lead a charge or an army in his own strength or with his own position and power.  No.  He sat down in deference to God and began to weep and mourn.  It says he “continued” fasting and praying.  Consider his position.

Nehemiah was living in comfort, luxury, and high esteem, yet he has been faithfully praying for his brothers who were not so fortunate.  The first thing he does when he sees his kinfolk is ask what’s going on back home.  Many men who live in the lap of luxury  have no concern for anyone who they’ve left behind or who are less fortunate.  Nehemiah teaches us that a good man never forgets where he came from and always remembers his brothers and sisters who belong to the family of God.

Furthermore, Nehemiah has been praying all along.  He doesn’t just jump into a, “God, help them!” prayer when he hears bad news.  No, Nehemiah has been faithfully, steadily fasting and praying for his homeland and the people of God.  How many people do you know who regularly fast for the help of those less fortunate people of God who are suffering?  Nehemiah makes a regular practice of personal sacrifice in care and concern for his people.

Consider also how Nehemiah prays.  Nehemiah begins by praising God and confessing.  He not only confesses the sin of his people, but for his own sin.  He bears responsibility for sin he and his family have committed against God and begs the Lord’s pardon.  He is very specific in his confessions saying, “We have acted corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses.”  (Nehemiah 1:7)  Many a man will pray for others, but it takes a noble and humble man to pray sincerely about his own faults and failures asking mercy for the sake of his friends.  Nehemiah could have easily said, “Not my fault; not my problem.” Instead, he takes personal responsibility and does so for the good of others.

Nehemiah relies on the mercy of God and points to God’s promises as he asks for help and pardon for himself, his people, and his broken, burning down  land.  Nehemiah doesn’t say, “Save our name!  Save our town!  We deserve it!  We don’t deserve this terrible destruction!  We’re your people!”  Nope.  Nehemiah says something like, “Save us and save Jerusalem because your good name and your promises are at stake.   We don’t deserve anything; we made this mess from our disobedience.  Forgive us and save us for your good namesake.”  We ought all take note.

Nehemiah’s very name means, “the Lord has comforted.”  God’s use of this man is going to bring big results and much comfort for suffering the people of God, however, it will not come without much opposition and overcoming.  Let us look to Nehemiah for wisdom on humility, integrity, tenacity, faithfulness and determination over the next few months.  Surely he can teach us how to love our brothers better and rebuild the broken, burning down walls in our lives.

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Some of life’s best gifts are surprises.  When I first discovered that the title “Mrs. Fayette County PA” was legitimate, I was a bit confused and honestly somewhat amazed.

My husband and I were joking around and we talked about how I was going to be “Mrs. Fayette County.”  I curiously googled the title, looked up at him with eyes as wide as two full moons, and paused in utter disbelief.  “What?” he asked.  In absolute bewilderment I said seriously, “It’s a real thing, husband.  There is ac-tu-ally a real, live person called “Mrs. Fayette County.”  I turned the phone toward him and showed him the beautiful woman of whom I had never heart and of whose existence I had no prior knowledge.

“What?!” I exclaimed.  “How is this possible?  Why have I not seen this woman before?  Why do I not know her name?  Who is she?…That’s it.  I’m going to be her.  I’m going to be Mrs. Fayette County!”

And that was the very end of my ambition.  I mentioned it a few times over the months that followed when an opportunity arose in conversation about our area.  “Well.  I’m going to be Mrs. Fayette County so I’ll help.”  It was a joke.  Literally nothing more than witty tabletalk riding on the shirttails of my fascination coupled with the fact that I remained shellshocked at my ignorance of this public figure.

Fast forward to mid-January.  About six months after this chance encounter with Mrs. Fayette County’s Facebook page, my friend began to share on social media under the title “Mrs. Westmorland County.”  What?! It was honestly too much.  Heather!  How are you Mrs. Westmorland County?!  How is the possible?  I have been saying I’m going to be Mrs. Fayette County for six months!  I was only kidding but you’re seriously your county’s representative!  Tell me about this!

That’s when I first saw the website for Mrs. Pennsylvania America 2018.  I reviewed it.  I briefly considered it.  Then I thought, no.  Seriously?  First of all, I don’t do pageants.  I am 38 years old.  I have been a tomboy my entire life.  I’m past my prime.  I’m not flakey and superficial…but…neither is Heather.

Wait.  I’m confused.  I clicked on the application.  I considered the fact that my husband and I have had a vision for community service for the past four years and the fact that it is about to take shape this very spring at his place of business, God-willing.  I began to realize that this was more than just a pompous, vain contest of beauty.  This was an opportunity to get the word out about our mission for our local community as well as network with other communities in their philanthropic and altruistic endeavors.

I filled out the application never thinking I would really be selected.  When I was, I wasn’t sure what to even do.  Do I really go through with this?  Do I really?  What if it’s not what I imagine it to be?  I have four kids, two dogs, five chickens, a husband, a household, and a waistline that all need a lot of attention.  Is this really worth my precious little time?

I was on vacation when I got the acceptance letter.  I thought about it for several days and spoke to the co-director before committing.  I wanted to be certain that this undertaking was something worthwhile because I have no place in my life for the wasting of time.

I committed, but I still was not entirely sure in my heart.  These are uncharted waters for me.  I had no idea what to expect.  All my warning signs and red flag inhibitions were flashing in my brain.  “What will people think?  They will think I’m trying to be some kind of plastic personality.  They won’t understand my intentions or motivations.  I hate being misunderstood!  Is this going to be a real life version of mean girls meets dance moms with the other contestants?!  Aren’t these the kind of people everyone avoids?  I hope this isn’t a mistake…”

Then…I met the other contestants and the two former winners of Mrs. Pennsylvania America.  They were nothing like I had imagined in my mind.  They were down to earth, warm, funny, accomplished women who have real depth of character.

That said, I am ashamed of my stereotypical presuppositions.  I fear that many others may have these same misperceptions when they see a middle-aged woman wearing a county title and a sash.  That is why I am writing this article.  I want you to meet the real women who enter the Mrs. Pennsylvania America pageant and allow your misconceptions about who really gets up on that stage be debunked.  So, here they are, in alphabetical order by county:

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Photo credit: Ray Feather Photography

Sindel Taylor, Mrs. Allegheny County PA America 2018, is a cosmetology instructor with a heart for activism.  She believes in a higher power and is open-minded about spirituality.  She says she appreciates different experiences within various religious communities.  She describes herself as non-denominate while some consider her a “seeker.”  She has been married for 3 years to a US Army staff sergeant and has two children – one boy and one girl ages 10 and 6.   Her favorite thing about her county is the beautiful entrance to the city and all the bridges therein.  She also loves how many opportunities there are to serve in her community.  Her passion is heart health awareness and her goal is for every man, woman, and child to be given the opportunity to learn CPR at low cost in order to reduce deaths related to heart failure.  She also hopes to establish a program wherein every student in high school will be given the opportunity to learn CPR before graduation.  Her greatest ambition is to hold the largest CPR class in the world in Pittsburgh by the year 2020.  She also operates an annual fundraiser event called “Style for the Heart” where she uses her cosmetology skills and background to raise funds for the American Heart Association.  She has already raised over $3000 for the cause to date.  Wow!  What a beautiful shining star in Allegheny County!

Danna Kurela, Mrs. Beaver County PA America 2018, is a seamstress who describes herself as shy and somewhat introverted.  She was raised Catholic and identifies as a Christian. She has been married for 3 years to an executive at Mellon Bank and is step-mother to his twin sons who are 19 years old.  She appreciates the great work that the Lions Club does in Beaver County.  Danna was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum a year and a half ago and now seeks to raise awareness about autism in women and girls.  She is trying to challenge the stereotypes of autism being relegated to any one people group.  Because symptoms present differently and are often missed in girls, she seeks to help others understand that no one can tell if you have autism just by looking at you.  She hopes to encourage early diagnosis in girls.  Thank you for your efforts Mrs. Beaver County!

Adrean Turner, Mrs. Berks County PA America 2018, is a personal and professional life coach, trainer, speaker, and author who seeks to help others improve their lives in many ways.  She is a Baptist by denomination and is a strong supporter of spirituality.  Her husband of 27 years is in professional marketing and is an ordained deacon.  Adrean has three grown children, Angelique, Richard IV, and Jordan, as well as two granddaughters ages 6 months and five years old.  Because she is part of a small minority population in her community, she feels her differences give her a unique edge with those around her.  Although Reading, PA faces challenges with poverty, she finds that the majority of the people in her community are very willing to support one another and live in a close knit structure.  Adrean is also a part of her local Chamber of Commerce and aims to become an even more vocal representative in highlighting the importance of women’s wellness and advancement in her community.  She would love to see many more women take on roles in business ownership and boards and is striving to come alongside the women in her community to make that vision a reality.  I wish every community had at least 10 Adreans!  Encouragers are the fuel behind those who succeed!

Jeanine Uqdah, Mrs. Bucks County PA America 2018, is a Christian woman who has been married a year and a half.  She has a 5 year-old son and is focused on empowering women and teaching others about self-love.  She has a passion for educating women on sisterhood and unity versus cattiness and jealousy.  She considers herself an average, everyday person who believes she and others can do impossible things once resolved to get the negativity out of your head.  Jeanine hopes to tie her passion for women’s enrichment with her endeavors involved with being Mrs. Bucks County PA America 2018.  I am honored to know this young woman full of motivation!

Emtiaz Youssif-Benford, Mrs. Cumberland County PA America, is a devout Roman Catholic veteran.  Her children attend Catholic school and her and her family are very involved in their church’s clothing and food drive outreaches.  She believes God is the center of everything.  Emmy has been married for 13 years to a retired combat veteran.  This beautiful lady has a heart to help needy children and owns a non-profit organization built on giving away much needed baby items to her former community, Cumberland County.  She says the best thing about her local area is that because it is rural and small, everyone knows one another and are always willing to help each other out.  Good job on being such a great giver, Emmy!

Lori Rodeheaver, Mrs. Fayette County PA America 2018, is me!  I am a homeschooling mom of four daughters (ages 2, 8, 10, and 12) who practiced dental hygiene for 12 years prior.  I am also the girls’ cheerleading coach and the bookkeeper for my husband’s business.  I follow the Lord Jesus Christ and love him with all of my heart.  My husband of 17 years owns an automotive performance shop locally.  My community is close to my heart because I have lived in Fayette County my entire life.  It was booming in the coal era and my grandfather was a coal miner.  Here, I have been afforded the opportunity to become part of the local hospital’s pastoral care team which gives me the privilege of praying with and visiting the patients while they are in the hospital.  My husband and I hope to launch a new community enrichment program at his place of business in the spring of 2018.  Our goal is to offer a basic life skills class which incorporates life skills knowledge, exercise, and bible teaching for youth.  Please pray for us and those in need in our community!

Shanna Brooks, Mrs. Franklin County PA America 2018, believes in living a Christian-based life.  She attends a non-denominational church regularly and has been married for a little over a year.  Her husband works in warehousing and she is a Certified Nursing Assistant.  Shanna is involved in a group of entrepreneurs who actively volunteer within the community.   She has been a member since October 2017.  She also runs a nonprofit organization called, “Compassionate, Noble, and Amazing Sisterhood,” which assists and visits people suffering with Sickle-Cell Anemia.  She has a radio broadcast called, “Zebink Notes Productions,” where she interviews successful independent entrepreneurs and allows them to share their stories of hard work and achievement.  Shanna hopes for even more opportunities to interact with her community in the future.  She appreciates how her community often has festivities which are open to the public where independent business owners are encouraged to participate.  There’s nothing to do but applaud this busy business lady!

Sarah Marie Arledge, Mrs. Luzerne County PA America 2018, is a stay at home mom of one little boy, Alexander, who is soon to be 2 years old.  Sarah is a non-denominational Christian.  She has been married for 3 years to a man she met when she was only 10 and he was 8.  She loves her community because her family history runs deep.  Her grandparents came from Italy to Luzerne County, PA before World War I and five generations have now been born and raised there.  She grew up punk and never imagined she’d participate in a pageant.  Sarah is very outdoorsy and loves to volunteer helping low income families.  Her efforts are to raise awareness and educate these families on health care, primarily for low income women and children.  It is obvious that Sarah is very family oriented and loves reaching out to people in need!

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Nikki Johnson-Houston, Mrs. Montgomery County PA America 2018, is a tax attorney who has been married for 13 years.  Her husband owns a legal technology company.  She is a practicing Catholic who lives and works in Philadelphia, PA.  She attended college at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.  She has created an app for smart phones called “Donafy” which recognizes and locates community aide programs for people in need according to their present location.  The app was launched in 2015.  Competing in a pageant has been on her bucket list since seeing Miss America on television as a child living in a homeless shelter.  Her passion is reaching and raising awareness for homeless and at-risk girls due to her own experiences.  When she met Mrs. Chester County who went on to be Mrs. PA America 2017, Valerie Ross, at a book launch event, she was inspired to look further into participating in the Mrs. Pennsylvania America Pageant this year.  All the best to this outstanding example of determination and tenacity!

Marihelen Valentino, Mrs. Northampton County PA America 2018, went to school for early childhood education and worked as a Pre-K teacher until she was put on bed-rest with her pregnancy. She now works part-time at a beauty salon while waiting to return to teaching and is currently raising three little girls, a 2 year-old, Mandy, and 3 year-old twins, Megan Anna and Makenna Judith.  The twins were a result of in-vitro fertilization after Marihelen was told she would never be able to get pregnant. Mandy was another miracle. The twins’ middle names are the names of her and her husband’s late mothers.  She has been married for 6 years and they chose to marry on 11/11/11 – Veteran’s Day to honor her husband’s father and her grandfather who were both veterans and strong influences in their lives. Marihelen’s husband is very involved in their Catholic church and he owns his own business working as an electrician.  Marihelen was born and raised in Bucks County but is learning more about Northampton County since she has been representing them.  They do all they can to support the Catholic schools afloat in the Philadelphia area.  Her passion is helping other women who struggle with infertility, removing the stigma, and helping others to become more open about related issues.  She seeks to help women struggling with infertility to put away ideas of feeling as if something is wrong with them, guilt, or failure as a woman and her goal is to remove shame and raise awareness in regards to infertility.  Kudos to Marihelen for taking on such a difficult and sensitive issue for so many women today!

Heather Husband, Mrs. Westmorland County PA America 2018, is a stay at home mom of two children, a 2 year-old boy named Kevin Jr. and an 8 year-old girl named Hollie. She is a firm believer in the golden rule and tries to always investigate and get to know both people and places for herself before making judgements.  Heather has been married for 11 years to a self-employed president and CEO of a satellite production company.  The thing Heather loves most about her community is the annual Art and Heritage Festival in Latrobe, PA.  The festival takes place for 4 days around the fourth of July every year and offers a wide variety of arts and crafts to browse.  Heather’s interest in this Mrs. Pennsylvania America pageant began with a drive to find a mutual interest with other women and an opportunity to be herself.  What a lovely lady!

Mary Claire Knight, Mrs. York County PA America 2018, is a bank compliance officer who has been married for 9 years.  Her husband is a retired from banking. She is Catholic by denomination. Mary Claire has been a resident of York County for 10 years and appreciates the welcoming friendliness of her community.  She has a 7 year-old toy poodle and her passion is animal rescue. She often assists her close friends in periodic fundraisers for animals.  She has always loved the Mrs. America pageants and can’t wait to participate in Mrs. Pennsylvania America 2018 this May!  Best of luck to you, Mary Claire!
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Valerie Ross, Mrs. Pennsylvania America 2017, is a Christian who has been married for 16 years.  She is a CRNA (Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist) and her husband is a pharmaceutical representative.  She has two children, a 24 year-old daughter and a 13 year-old son. She ran in the Mrs. Pennsylvania America 2017 Pageant as Mrs. Chester County PA America 2017.  She resides in Chester County, PA which was voted one of the top ten places in the country to live.  She loves that her area has a nice mix of rural charm and suburban opportunity.  Valerie owns a nonprofit organization called, “You Are Beautiful” where she works with high risk youth who have been fostered, trafficked, homeless, disabled or even lost parents who served in the military.  The goal of her program is to reestablish the participant’s self-worth, make them active participants in their community, and to recognize their own value.  Before she participated in Mrs. Pennsylvania America 2017, she had had no previous experience doing pageants.  It was when she was made aware of the possibilities the pageant had to offer her community involvement that she committed to doing it.  She is a great role model and leader for our girls to look up to!

April Taylor-Walker, Mrs. Pennsylvania America 2016, is a strong Christian woman who works as a licensed behavioral specialist doing behavior support, individual therapy, and helping children with ADHD, Autism, PTSD, etc.  She is also the co-director for the Mrs. Pennsylvania America 2018 Pageant.  April has been married for 7 years to her husband who is a pastor as well as a vice principal and clinical therapist.  She has four children, 2 boys and 2 girls.  April appreciates her close knit community and the vast amount of history in her area.  She has been working as a volunteer for over 20 years in Montgomery County, PA.  When she took home the crown in 2016, she could only thank God for her success.  What a humble, down to earth, wonderful leader to follow!

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obedience

In the final chapter of the book of Exodus, chapter 40, we find Moses again hearing from the Lord.  Although at this point all the specified items had been made – the furniture, the Ark of the Covenant, the curtains, the framework – for the building and furnishing of the tabernacle, Moses has waited upon God for further instruction.  He did not simply move on ahead and put it all together until God said to do so.  We must always remember to allow God to go before us every step of the way on every journey he sets us out upon. If not, we often end up doing our own will rather than his.

Here, we have God speaking to Moses and telling him exactly how and when to erect the temple and anoint the priests.  God is very specific and Moses is very obedient down to each and every minute detail.  We know this because of the absolute redundancy of chapter 40.  Not only did God repeat exactly that which he had previously told Moses on Mt. Sinai the first time, but after every act of obedience the text says this, “…as the Lord had commanded Moses.”  Consider the text:

Exodus 40:16 – “This Moses did, according to all that the Lord commanded him, so he did…” 

Exodus 40:19 – “…as the Lord had commanded Moses.”

Exodus 40:21 – “…as the Lord had commanded Moses.”

Exodus 40:23 – “…as the Lord had commanded Moses.”

Exodus 40:25 – “…as the Lord had commanded Moses.”

Exodus 40:26 – “…as the Lord had commanded Moses.”

Exodus 40:29 – “…as the Lord had commanded Moses.”

Exodus 40:32 – “…as the Lord had commanded Moses.”

Moses did all that the Lord commanded exactly how and exactly when the Lord commanded.   That is why this portion of scripture ends with the words, “…So Moses finished the work.”  It was because of Moses’ strict obedience and deference to God that the perfect work of the Lord was completed.  Apart from our submission and complete surrender to God’s will, we personally will not be positively useful in finishing his perfect work, yet we may be negatively useful.  By this I mean that by obeying God will use us in a positive way to build his church, but in disobedience God may use us in a negative way to build his church in the same way he uses the evil in the world to stir up courage and compassion in the just.

After the temple was erected and furnished according to all that God had said, the priests were anointed.  Here we have the order of operations.  First, the church is to be built, then the leaders are to be inaugurated.  Matthew Henry says,  “Thus, in the visible church, which is God’s tabernacle among men, it is requisite that there be ministers to keep the charge of the sanctuary, and that they receive the anointing.” Many a men have mistakenly sought to build a church without understanding the importance of chosen, called, just, anointed leadership designated before attempting to begin ministry in that place.

Once the priests are anointed for service, God’s presence arrives.  A cloud descended and covered the tabernacle.  The cloud remained every day and fire was in the temple by night.  Israel saw these proofs of God’s holy presence at all times during their subsequent journeys.  It was for their consolation that he was indeed with them at all times, as well as their protection.  The cloud hid them from the world while they worshiped here.  What a beautiful example of how when we repent, obey, and move close to God, he comes down and moves close to us.  Henry notes,  “As when, in the creation, God had finished this earth, which he designed for man’s habitation, he made man, and put him in possession of it, so when Moses had finished the tabernacle, which was designed for God’s dwelling place among men, God came and took possession of it.”

This is a picture of the modern day church.  We repent.  We obey.  We surrender fully to God’s leading and he comes down, reassures us of His holy presence at all times through the Holy Spirit, and protects us when we draw close to him.  The Lord Jesus Christ builds his church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.  Still yet, we so often fail.  Moses was not permitted in the holy place once the presence of God descended.  In the closing of this amazing book, I will leave you once again with the words of Matthew Henry,

“This shows how terrible the glory and majesty of God are, and how unable the greatest  and best of men are to stand before him.   The divine light and fire, let forth in their full strength, will overpower the strongest heads and the purest hearts.  But what Moses could not do, in that he was weak through the flesh, has been done by our Lord Jesus, whom God caused to draw near the approach, and who, as the forerunner, has has for us entered, and has invited us to come boldly even to the mercy-seat.  He was able to enter into the holy place not made with hands; nay, he is himself the true tabernacle, filled with the glory of God, with the divine grace and truth prefigured by this fire and light.  For in him dwells all the fullness of he godhead boldly.  Blessed be God for Jesus Christ!” 

Amen!

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Little_Miss_Vain

I wanted to briefly go back and examine Exodus 38:8 before moving on to the final chapter of this amazing book of the Bible.  It says this:

“He made the basin of bronze and its stand of bronze, from the mirrors of the ministering women who ministered in the entrance of the tent of meeting.” ~Exodus 38:8

Here, we have a special note made of what a few particular women contributed to the building of their Father’s house.

Consider first what kind of women these givers were.  These women were described as ministering women.  The text says they ministered in the entrance of the tent meeting.  When and where men and women came to worship God, these women would be found encouraging, supporting, participating, and edifying all those who came as well as giving glory and honor to God by their faithful and honorable presence.  There are always those who are prominent in their community, more exemplary in their devotion, and more vigilant, serious-minded, and frequent in their attendance to the things of God and his house.  Doubtless, these were those women.  Ministering women are not common women by any means, yet they are humble, kind, unselfish women whose ultimate daily goal and aim is to please God and love others.

Consider next what these particular women gave.  Our verse tells us that the bronze basin was made from the mirrors that had belonged to these women.  Now that’s quite an interesting item to put in the offering plate!  The item they gave in sacrifice for God’s glory was the item that, naturally, entangles and bewitches many a decent woman to sin.  We women often have a natural desire and common temptation to look too long at ourselves for vanity and even fall in love with our own appearances because of the power and prowess that goes along with a misguided use of our own beauty.  Just as men are tempted ever to look, women are tempted ever to make them look.  How much more then were these women admirable and noteworthy!  The item these holy and devout women gave in sacrifice and worship to God was the very item that unholy and irreligious women use to empower and worship themselves.  God save us from this truncation of God’s purpose and plan for our beauty!

Being a beautiful woman requires great deference to Our Lord because our beauty can either be channelled and purposed for the good of those around us or it can be used for the evil and selfishness dwelling in our own hearts.

Thirdly, let us consider what these precious gift mirrors meant for those who received them.  The mirrors were used to build a basin where the priests would wash after offering sacrifice and before entering into the holiest place in the temple.  Actually, it was indeed the holiest place in the entire world.  The sacrifice of these women made it possible for the leading holy men close to them to wash their own selves clean and examine themselves rightly before meeting with God on behalf of others.  There is much to be said for humble, faithful, devout women who give sacrificially.  Our gifts are often the very catalyst and prerequisite for change and growth in the women and, especially, the men around us.

The selflessness of these ministering women resulted in the ability of their spiritually leading male counterparts to wash and rightly examine themselves.  Surely we ought to take note!  Not one of us should ever enter into the presence of our perfectly holy God and Father without the washing of repentance and looking into the mirror of self-examination.  The Word of God is our mirror, and, as people of God, the more time we spend learning, studying, meditating, and loving the Bible, the less time we will spend wasting on vanity and vain things.

We must lead by example and never trade the influence of personal faithfulness and devotion to God for the influence of physical attractiveness.  We must use instead the latter to bolster the building up of the former, not vice versa.  Anything that stands in the way of our faithfulness must be sacrificed for the greater good of both ourselves and others.  As Matthew Henry says, “God’s service and glory must always be preferred by us before any satisfactions or accommodations of our own.  Let us never complain of the want of that which we may honor God by parting with.”

Keep in mind that it is not sinful to be beautiful.  It is sinful to use our beauty for self-centered and ungodly ambitions.  God created women to be attractive and lovely both inwardly and outwardly.  The most important thing is to never make the mistake of getting the two out of order; the outward must serve and bow to the inward, not the other way around.

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Some of life’s best gifts are surprises.  When I first discovered that the title “Mrs. Fayette County PA” was legitimate, I was a bit confused and honestly somewhat amazed.

My husband and I were joking around and we talked about how I was going to be “Mrs. Fayette County.”  I curiously googled the title, looked up at him with eyes as wide as two full moons, and paused in utter disbelief.  “What?” he asked.  In absolute bewilderment I said seriously, “It’s a real thing, husband.  There is ac-tu-ally a real, live person called “Mrs. Fayette County.”  I turned the phone toward him and showed him the beautiful woman of whom I had never heart and of whose existence I had no prior knowledge.

“What?!” I exclaimed.  “How is this possible?  Why have I not seen this woman before?  Why do I not know her name?  Who is she?…That’s it.  I’m going to be her.  I’m going to be Mrs. Fayette County!”

And that was the very end of my ambition.  I mentioned it a few times over the months that followed when an opportunity arose in conversation about our area.  “Well.  I’m going to be Mrs. Fayette County so I’ll help.”  It was a joke.  Literally nothing more than witty tabletalk riding on the shirttails of my fascination coupled with the fact that I remained shellshocked at my ignorance of this public figure.

Fast forward to mid-January.  About six months after this chance encounter with Mrs. Fayette County’s Facebook page, my friend began to share on social media under the title “Mrs. Westmorland County.”  What?! It was honestly too much.  Heather!  How are you Mrs. Westmorland County?!  How is the possible?  I have been saying I’m going to be Mrs. Fayette County for six months!  I was only kidding but you’re seriously your county’s representative!  Tell me about this!

That’s when I first saw the website for Mrs. Pennsylvania America 2018.  I reviewed it.  I briefly considered it.  Then I thought, no.  Seriously?  First of all, I don’t do pageants.  I am 38 years old.  I have been a tomboy my entire life.  I’m past my prime.  I’m not flakey and superficial…but…neither is Heather.

Wait.  I’m confused.  I clicked on the application.  I considered the fact that my husband and I have had a vision for community service for the past four years and the fact that it is about to take shape this very spring at his place of business, God-willing.  I began to realize that this was more than just a pompous, vain contest of beauty.  This was an opportunity to get the word out about our mission for our local community as well as network with other communities in their philanthropic and altruistic endeavors.

I filled out the application never thinking I would really be selected.  When I was, I wasn’t sure what to even do.  Do I really go through with this?  Do I really?  What if it’s not what I imagine it to be?  I have four kids, two dogs, five chickens, a husband, a household, and a waistline that all need a lot of attention.  Is this really worth my precious little time?

I was on vacation when I got the acceptance letter.  I thought about it for several days and spoke to the co-director before committing.  I wanted to be certain that this undertaking was something worthwhile because I have no place in my life for the wasting of time.

I committed, but I still was not entirely sure in my heart.  These are uncharted waters for me.  I had no idea what to expect.  All my warning signs and red flag inhibitions were flashing in my brain.  “What will people think?  They will think I’m trying to be some kind of plastic personality.  They won’t understand my intentions or motivations.  I hate being misunderstood!  Is this going to be a real life version of mean girls meets dance moms with the other contestants?!  Aren’t these the kind of people everyone avoids?  I hope this isn’t a mistake…”

Then…I met the other contestants and the two former winners of Mrs. Pennsylvania America.  They were nothing like I had imagined in my mind.  They were down to earth, warm, funny, accomplished women who have real depth of character.

That said, I am ashamed of my stereotypical presuppositions.  I fear that many others may have these same misperceptions when they see a middle-aged woman wearing a county title and a sash.  That is why I am writing this article.  I want you to meet the real women who enter the Mrs. Pennsylvania America pageant and allow your misconceptions about who really gets up on that stage be debunked.  So, here they are, in alphabetical order by county:

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Photo credit: Ray Feather Photography

Sindel Taylor, Mrs. Allegheny County PA America 2018, is a cosmetology instructor with a heart for activism.  She believes in a higher power and is open-minded about spirituality.  She says she appreciates different experiences within various religious communities.  She describes herself as non-denominate while some consider her a “seeker.”  She has been married for 3 years to a US Army staff sergeant and has two children – one boy and one girl ages 10 and 6.   Her favorite thing about her county is the beautiful entrance to the city and all the bridges therein.  She also loves how many opportunities there are to serve in her community.  Her passion is heart health awareness and her goal is for every man, woman, and child to be given the opportunity to learn CPR at low cost in order to reduce deaths related to heart failure.  She also hopes to establish a program wherein every student in high school will be given the opportunity to learn CPR before graduation.  Her greatest ambition is to hold the largest CPR class in the world in Pittsburgh by the year 2020.  She also operates an annual fundraiser event called “Style for the Heart” where she uses her cosmetology skills and background to raise funds for the American Heart Association.  She has already raised over $3000 for the cause to date.  Wow!  What a beautiful shining star in Allegheny County!

Danna Kurela, Mrs. Beaver County PA America 2018, is a seamstress who describes herself as shy and somewhat introverted.  She was raised Catholic and identifies as a Christian. She has been married for 3 years to an executive at Mellon Bank and is step-mother to his twin sons who are 19 years old.  She appreciates the great work that the Lions Club does in Beaver County.  Danna was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum a year and a half ago and now seeks to raise awareness about autism in women and girls.  She is trying to challenge the stereotypes of autism being relegated to any one people group.  Because symptoms present differently and are often missed in girls, she seeks to help others understand that no one can tell if you have autism just by looking at you.  She hopes to encourage early diagnosis in girls.  Thank you for your efforts Mrs. Beaver County!

Adrean Turner, Mrs. Berks County PA America 2018, is a personal and professional life coach, trainer, speaker, and author who seeks to help others improve their lives in many ways.  She is a Baptist by denomination and is a strong supporter of spirituality.  Her husband of 27 years is in professional marketing and is an ordained deacon.  Adrean has three grown children, Angelique, Richard IV, and Jordan, as well as two granddaughters ages 6 months and five years old.  Because she is part of a small minority population in her community, she feels her differences give her a unique edge with those around her.  Although Reading, PA faces challenges with poverty, she finds that the majority of the people in her community are very willing to support one another and live in a close knit structure.  Adrean is also a part of her local Chamber of Commerce and aims to become an even more vocal representative in highlighting the importance of women’s wellness and advancement in her community.  She would love to see many more women take on roles in business ownership and boards and is striving to come alongside the women in her community to make that vision a reality.  I wish every community had at least 10 Adreans!  Encouragers are the fuel behind those who succeed!

Jeanine Uqdah, Mrs. Bucks County PA America 2018, is a Christian woman who has been married a year and a half.  She has a 5 year-old son and is focused on empowering women and teaching others about self-love.  She has a passion for educating women on sisterhood and unity versus cattiness and jealousy.  She considers herself an average, everyday person who believes she and others can do impossible things once resolved to get the negativity out of your head.  Jeanine hopes to tie her passion for women’s enrichment with her endeavors involved with being Mrs. Bucks County PA America 2018.  I am honored to know this young woman full of motivation!

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Alisa Kahn, Mrs. Carbon County PA America 2018, is a practicing Catholic who just got married in December of 2017.  Her husband is Jewish and works in advertising sales.  Alisa works in experiential marketing and public relations for a casino in King of Prussia, PA.  Her hometown is in Carbon County.  The Mrs. Pennsylvania America 2018 Pageant is the first pageant she has ever competed in.  Alisa’s platform is bettering the lives of children in foster care.  Her parents fostered a child so her personal knowledge and experience led her to have compassion and motivation to improve these children’s lives.  Thanks for making a difference, Alisa!

Emtiaz Youssif-Benford, Mrs. Cumberland County PA America, is a devout Roman Catholic veteran.  Her children attend Catholic school and her and her family are very involved in their church’s clothing and food drive outreaches.  She believes God is the center of everything.  Emmy has been married for 13 years to a retired combat veteran.  This beautiful lady has a heart to help needy children and owns a non-profit organization built on giving away much needed baby items to her former community, Cumberland County.  She says the best thing about her local area is that because it is rural and small, everyone knows one another and are always willing to help each other out.  Good job on being such a great giver, Emmy!

Lori Rodeheaver, Mrs. Fayette County PA America 2018, is me!  I am a homeschooling mom of four daughters (ages 2, 8, 10, and 12) who practiced dental hygiene for 12 years prior.  I am also the girls’ cheerleading coach and the bookkeeper for my husband’s business.  I follow the Lord Jesus Christ and love him with all of my heart.  My husband of 17 years owns an automotive performance shop locally.  My community is close to my heart because I have lived in Fayette County my entire life.  It was booming in the coal era and my grandfather was a coal miner.  Here, I have been afforded the opportunity to become part of the local hospital’s pastoral care team which gives me the privilege of praying with and visiting the patients while they are in the hospital.  My husband and I hope to launch a new community enrichment program at his place of business in the spring of 2018.  Our goal is to offer a basic life skills class which incorporates life skills knowledge, exercise, and bible teaching for youth and adults.  Please pray for us and those in need in our community!

Shanna Brooks, Mrs. Franklin County PA America 2018, believes in living a Christian-based life.  She attends a non-denominational church regularly and has been married for a little over a year.  Her husband works in warehousing and she is a Certified Nursing Assistant.  Shanna is involved in a group of entrepreneurs who actively volunteer within the community.   She has been a member since October 2017.  She also runs a nonprofit organization called, “Compassionate, Noble, and Amazing Sisterhood,” which assists and visits people suffering with Sickle-Cell Anemia.  She has a radio broadcast called, “Zebink Notes Productions,” where she interviews successful independent entrepreneurs and allows them to share their stories of hard work and achievement.  Shanna hopes for even more opportunities to interact with her community in the future.  She appreciates how her community often has festivities which are open to the public where independent business owners are encouraged to participate.  There’s nothing to do but applaud this busy business lady!

Sarah Marie Arledge, Mrs. Luzerne County PA America 2018, is a stay at home mom of one little boy, Alexander, who is soon to be 2 years old.  Sarah is a non-denominational Christian.  She has been married for 3 years to a man she met when she was only 10 and he was 8.  She loves her community because her family history runs deep.  Her grandparents came from Italy to Luzerne County, PA before World War I and five generations have now been born and raised there.  She grew up punk and never imagined she’d participate in a pageant.  Sarah is very outdoorsy and loves to volunteer helping low income families.  Her efforts are to raise awareness and educate these families on health care, primarily for low income women and children.  It is obvious that Sarah is very family oriented and loves reaching out to people in need!

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Nikki Johnson-Houston, Mrs. Montgomery County PA America 2018, is a tax attorney who has been married for 13 years.  Her husband owns a legal technology company.  She is a practicing Catholic who lives and works in Philadelphia, PA.  She attended college at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.  She has created an app for smart phones called “Donafy” which recognizes and locates community aide programs for people in need according to their present location.  The app was launched in 2015.  Competing in a pageant has been on her bucket list since seeing Miss America on television as a child living in a homeless shelter.  Her passion is reaching and raising awareness for homeless and at-risk girls due to her own experiences.  When she met Mrs. Chester County who went on to be Mrs. PA America 2017, Valerie Ross, at a book launch event, she was inspired to look further into participating in the Mrs. Pennsylvania America Pageant this year.  All the best to this outstanding example of determination and tenacity!

Marihelen Valentino, Mrs. Northampton County PA America 2018, went to school for early childhood education and worked as a Pre-K teacher until she was put on bed-rest with her pregnancy. She now works part-time at a beauty salon while waiting to return to teaching and is currently raising three little girls, a 2 year-old, Mandy, and 3 year-old twins, Megan Anna and Makenna Judith.  The twins were a result of in-vitro fertilization after Marihelen was told she would never be able to get pregnant. Mandy was another miracle. The twins’ middle names are the names of her and her husband’s late mothers.  She has been married for 6 years and they chose to marry on 11/11/11 – Veteran’s Day to honor her husband’s father and her grandfather who were both veterans and strong influences in their lives. Marihelen’s husband is very involved in their Catholic church and he owns his own business working as an electrician.  Marihelen was born and raised in Bucks County but is learning more about Northampton County since she has been representing them.  They do all they can to support the Catholic schools afloat in the Philadelphia area.  Her passion is helping other women who struggle with infertility, removing the stigma, and helping others to become more open about related issues.  She seeks to help women struggling with infertility to put away ideas of feeling as if something is wrong with them, guilt, or failure as a woman and her goal is to remove shame and raise awareness in regards to infertility.  Kudos to Marihelen for taking on such a difficult and sensitive issue for so many women today!

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Jessica Mohn, Mrs. Schuylkill County PA America 2018, is a Baptist by faith and has had a relationship with the Lord since the eighth grade.  She has been married almost five years to an electrician.  She works as a pastry chef for the Hill School Family Boarding School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania.  She has a five year-old son and a three year-old daughter.  Jessica always dreamed of being in the Miss America Pageant growing up, but had many other activities which demanded her time.  She has suffered from absence seizures since she was 13.  In addition to struggles with depression and anxiety, she was diagnosed with epilepsy in 2015.  The diagnosis, as well as having loved ones affected by  the same things and substance abuse, drove her to became more interested in spreading mental health awareness and helping people understand the disease.  Good luck, Jessica!

Heather Husband, Mrs. Westmorland County PA America 2018, is a stay at home mom of two children, a 2 year-old boy named Kevin Jr. and an 8 year-old girl named Hollie. She is a firm believer in the golden rule and tries to always investigate and get to know both people and places for herself before making judgements.  Heather has been married for 11 years to a self-employed president and CEO of a satellite production company.  The thing Heather loves most about her community is the annual Art and Heritage Festival in Latrobe, PA.  The festival takes place for 4 days around the fourth of July every year and offers a wide variety of arts and crafts to browse.  Heather’s interest in this Mrs. Pennsylvania America pageant began with a drive to find a mutual interest with other women and an opportunity to be herself.  What a lovely lady!

Mary Claire Knight, Mrs. York County PA America 2018, is a bank compliance officer who has been married for 9 years.  Her husband is a retired from banking. She is Catholic by denomination. Mary Claire has been a resident of York County for 10 years and appreciates the welcoming friendliness of her community.  She has a 7 year-old toy poodle and her passion is animal rescue. She often assists her close friends in periodic fundraisers for animals.  She has always loved the Mrs. America pageants and can’t wait to participate in Mrs. Pennsylvania America 2018 this May!  Best of luck to you, Mary Claire!
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Valerie Ross, Mrs. Pennsylvania America 2017, is a Christian who has been married for 16 years.  She is a CRNA (Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist) and her husband is a pharmaceutical representative.  She ran in the Mrs. Pennsylvania America 2017 Pageant as Mrs. Chester County PA America 2018.  She resides in Chester County, PA which was voted one of the top ten places in the country to live.  She loves that her area has a nice mix of rural charm and suburban opportunity.  Valerie owns a nonprofit organization called, “You Are Beautiful” where she works with high risk youth who have been fostered, trafficked, or even lost parents who served in the military.  The goal of her program is to reestablish the participant’s self-worth, make them active participants in their community, and to recognize their own value.  Before she participated in Mrs. Pennsylvania America 2017, she had had no previous experience doing pageants.  It was when she was made aware of the possibilities the pageant had to offer her community involvement that she committed to doing it.  She is a great role model and leader for our girls to look up to!

April Taylor-Walker, Mrs. Pennsylvania America 2016, is a strong Christian woman who works as a licensed behavioral specialist doing behavior support, individual therapy, and helping children with ADHD, Autism, PTSD, etc.  She is also the co-director for the Mrs. Pennsylvania America 2018 Pageant.  April has been married for 7 years to her husband who is a pastor as well as a vice principal and clinical therapist.  She has four children, 2 boys and 2 girls.  April appreciates her close knit community and the vast amount of history in her area.  She has been working as a volunteer for over 20 years in Montgomery County, PA.  When she took home the crown in 2016, she could only thank God for her success.  What a humble, down to earth, wonderful leader to follow!

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In Exodus chapters 37-39, we find the people of God finally carrying out the commands of God, down to every jot and tittle.  Herein we find the making of: the Ark of the Covenant, the table for showbread, the lampstand, the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering, the bronze basin, the court, and the priestly garments.

Bezalel was one of the head craftsmen.  He literally made the Ark of the Covenant with his own two hands.  Consider that.  WOW!  This was the most sacred material item every known to man in the history of the entire world.  This item that no one other than the high priest could touch or even see was made by the hands of a skilled man of trade.  This guy touched the Ark – something no one was ever permitting to do save the high priest once a year.  He made it!  Kind of gives you a new perspective on the grand importance and respectability of blue collar men.  What a privilege to be gifted and called to work with your hands!

We have already heard all about these specifications in previous chapters.  Now, as Bezalel and the working men set their hearts and hands to make them, the people of God are told once again of all the specs.  Why this redundancy?

Perhaps this was to show them (and us) our need to carefully consider God’s instructions.  What Moses said, these men made…exactly.  Anything less would have been disobedience.  Much detail is given likely so that we can see how faithfully they followed their Father’s instructions.

Furthermore, Israel did not get to see these items, for the most part.  The detail, namely of the Ark of the Covenant, is repeated doubtless so that they might look closer at that which had been revealed to them.  Likewise, we do not see God, but he has given us His very detailed Word to look at.  This is the means by which we commune with Him, learn of Him, know Him, and see Him.  God does not judge us based on what he has not revealed to us, but by the depth to which we’ve concerned ourselves with that which he has revealed.

In chapter 38:21-31, we have a record of the giving and the costs of this undertaking.  Matthew Henry says, “See how liberal the people were and how faithful the workmen were, in both which respects their good example ought to be followed.”  This was not cheap.  Neither is any effort of sacrificial giving for the advancement of God’s Kingdom.  Consider that carefully because we must always count the cost before making commitments.

I will be taking a closer look at Exodus 38:8 tomorrow.  It concerns what certain women gave and why it is notable.

Chapter 39 is an account of the making of the priestly garments.  Matthew Henry again says it best saying, “The priests’ garments are called called here clothes of service. Those that wear robes of honor must look upon them as clothes of service; for from those upon whom honor is put service is expected…Holy garments were not made for men to sleep in or to strut in, but to do service in; and then they are indeed for glory and beauty.  The Son of man himself came not to be ministered unto, but to minister.”

In these closing chapters, we find that God’s people repented and obeyed exactly that which the Lord commanded.  They did much excellent work in a short amount of time.  Henry rightly notes, “Church work is usually slow work, but they made quick work of this, and yet did it with the greatest exactness imaginable.” These people were blessed because of their diligence.  Consider Moses’ words at the end of Exodus 39:

“According to all that the Lord had commanded Moses, so the people of Israel had done all the work.  And Moses saw all the work, and behold, they had done it; as the Lord had commanded, so had they done it.  Then Moses blessed them.” ~Exodus 39:42-43

Amen and amen!  Let the same be said of us!

 

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