I used to know a little about my worth. Now I’m convinced.

chipmunkHere’s a little disclaimer. I had oral surgery yesterday. My mouth is pretty sore, and I’ve got a big ol’ chipmunk cheek to prove it. Possibly—probably—I shouldn’t attempt to write given the medication that I’ve taken. But I can’t stand it. I’ve got to get this out!!!

It’s been a long time since I gave any thought to my self-worth—how I evaluate it, whether it’s too low or too high, etc. Perhaps I thought I had evolved enough emotionally that this really wasn’t an issue anymore. And then again . . .

I had to go on a junior high retreat to find out otherwise.

What I discovered on retreat was that we all need to work through this. No matter how much we mature, we are always either puffed up or torn down by external factors. I left junior high 30 years ago, so I don’t worry so much about what the cheerleaders think of me nowadays. But I’ve only replaced their evaluation of me with something else—-

I catch myself getting either a little manic or a little depressed depending on how many views I get on this blog. If I could just be funnier, deeper, or get more shares, I’d feel better.

It bothers me—deeply bothers me—if I feel like my students aren’t enjoying my class. Nothing sucks the wind out of the sails of this teacher like a classroom full of complaining students. A teacher said to me once, rather condescendingly as I recall, “I don’t think we have to entertain these kids!” Well, I don’t think I have to, but it’s a whole lot more fun for me if they’re having fun. And when they’re not having fun, I worry that I’m not good enough. If I could just be more organized, take more time to plan, be a little more creative . . .if I could just bring my ‘A game’ every single day without dropping the ball, I’d feel so much better.

As hard as I tried not to worry about keeping up with the Joneses, when we were looking at houses to buy, I could not stop myself from wondering what other people might think of my new house. Now that we’re in the house, I worry about color scheme and furniture and knickknacks. If I could just have the money and the sense of style to put together something impressive, I’d feel better.

Over the last several years, we’ve had enormous changes in our lifestyle. We don’t live and work in the same town anymore. A lot of the spare time I had to run in the evenings has been eaten up by working full-time, commuting, and motherhood. Moving to Arkansas brought other challenges for a non-athlete such as myself. It is so DAD GUM HILLY around here. I’ve battled several injuries that have sidelined me for months at a time. I’m just not able to keep up with workouts like I used to and now I’ve gained weight. I cannot begin to describe how much my weight and body image haunt me. Day in. And day out. For. Years. If I could just have the energy to get back to training, I’d lose the weight, look better, and feel better.

I began dieting in elementary school and by the time Christmas rolled around my sixth grade year, I was seeing a counselor twice a week for self-esteem issues and compulsive dieting. This battle of understanding my worth began more than 30 years ago, but I’ve not mastered it. So, in some ways, maybe I’ve never left junior high.

The speaker at the retreat, Blake Hudspeth, called on the students to recognize who defines them, who gives them their identity, who determines their worth. He used Matthew 16:13-20—Christ builds Peter’s identity when Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ.

I was listening carefully and taking notes, knowing that I would be leading a discussion over the message to a small group of girls afterward. Something nagged at me. I know all this is true. I know my worth is much higher than the amount I typically assign to myself. I can list verses about Christ’s love and how it should be the factor that determines my worth. Ugh. What’s wrong with me?

It’s not that I don’t understand my worth in God’s eyes. I’m not convinced of it. I looked around at the students—especially at the sweet girls in my charge. They will struggle and struggle to overcome the definition of worth that the world forces on them. We cheerlead and we encourage and we compliment and we exhort them to recognize how beautiful they are. Why will they not be convinced?

Becoming convinced begins with a confession. I’ve been locked in a battle with God—sort of indirectly—where my actions imply that His appraisal of my worth isn’t accurate.

I don’t value my life if I’m not

  • skinny
    • pretty,
  • smart
    • talented . . .the list goes on . . .

I depreciate my value if I can’t

  • get published
    • be everyone’s favorite teacher
  • run 30 miles a week
    • be the perfect wife and mother and NEVER DROP THE BALL

I’m insecure if I don’t get enough attention—especially regarding the things above.

So, there’s my confession. I try to talk God out of loving me, His creation. I, in fact, imply that He isn’t doing enough to help me attain all of those things and that’s why I don’t feel as good as I’d like. Forgive me, Jesus. Scrub me clean!

Now, how do I become convinced that what God says about me is true? I admit, Blake Hudspeth, I drifted off for a few minutes while you were teaching. I got lost mulling this over because I’ve been in a holding pattern over self-worth since the 3rd grade. It. Must. Stop.

Then the thought occurred to me, who are the people who can convince me that I’m smart, pretty, or talented? When I was single, if a guy I was attracted to was attracted to me, I felt good. Back in junior high, if the popular girl I so admired complimented my clothes or my hair, I felt good. When an athlete friend of mine told me that I was doing well training for my marathon, I felt good. When Todd Beasley told me he loved me, I was over the moon.

What’s the magic formula that makes these people have so much influence? It is because I value them. When the people on whom we place the most value notice us, recognize our accomplishments, love on us—we allow ourselves to be convinced. We accept the compliments and the praise and the adoration from those we most admire because we want so much for their high opinions of us to be true.

Now, why on earth are we not so convinced by God love and adoration of us? Why would I not want His high opinions of me to be true?

It is because we don’t really know the value—the exceedingly great worth—of our Savior. Not really. If we truly understood how worthy is the Lamb of God, who gave Himself up for us, then we would abandon the pursuit of earthly validation. Part of not knowing His true exceeding worth, is acknowledging the exceeding depth of our sin.

We know what He’s done for us. We know the things that He said about us during His ministry here. God’s Word is full of proclamations of His love. If we are unimpressed by God’s love, perhaps it’s because we don’t know Him all that well. Maybe if we press in and spend some time in His Word, we will more fully see how beautiful and cherished we are, and BE CONVINCED THAT IT’S TRUE BECAUSE WE WILL KNOW HIS WORTH. WE WILL KNOW THAT HE IS FAR MORE VALUABLE THAN ANYONE WHOSE VALIDATION WE SEEK ON EARTH.

God Rays

Maybe we just don’t get how awesome He is and, therefore, don’t realize that it’s a BIG DEAL to be chosen by I AM. What He did was rescue us, clean us up from all that filth, and proudly proclaim us His bride. Now, why is someone’s opinion of my house or my hair more important than the One who put Himself on a cross for me?

What is it that you want changed in order to feel more convinced of your worth? Is it a job? Your appearance? More money? Your children and their success? A man or woman in your life? A different man or woman in your life? Some dream that has gone unfulfilled?

As we grasp the worth of the Lord Jesus, we more readily cast these things down to take up the cross. He told us to follow where He leads, and the things He has for us have exceedingly more worth than what we now pursue.

God, give me eyes to see the depth of my sin and the incomprehensible worth of my Savior.

I lost my mind. I don’t much miss it.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.   Matthew 16:24

Like any Christian, I struggle with how much is enough. “I gave this up, God. Isn’t that enough? What??? You want more??? C’mon!!!!”

As a young adult, I thought the ultimate sacrifice was allowing God to make my decisions—where to attend school, what career, who to date, how to date, to marry or not to marry, and on and on. It’s convenient that I often found God leaving room for my preferences back then. Disciplining myself in the world of dating was possibly the most difficult, but aren’t I lucky that He chose Todd Beasley for my husband and that I was like-wild-attracted to him?

If I were to be completely honest, most of the decisions of my young adulthood were simply my preferences submitted to God for His approval. When He didn’t give His approval, I waited for something else I strongly preferred and gave Him a chance to say yes. It took a little trial and error until I happened upon the things I most desired, but I could soothe myself with the promise that good things come to those who wait.

I left very little room for God to say, “Nope. Absolutely not. You’re not getting married. You won’t so much have a career as a ministry, and I’m thinking maybe in Africa. Pick up that cross and let’s roll.” It’s as if I convinced myself that not hearing God ask me to make a sacrifice meant that He didn’t require one. And yet, in those days, I would have told you that abstaining from sex as a discipline in dating was the pinnacle of taking up the cross. That, ladies and gents, is denying yourself. Amirite?

As I get older, God makes it ever clearer that taking up my cross is an abandonment of me. It’s not just giving up a worldly behavior or waiting for God to say yes to something better. What I think I need, what I think is best, whatever rationale I use for my prioritizing is rubbish in light of the cross. I need the mind of Christ. So I’d better get busy losing mine!

One day as I was reading Matthew 16:24, I envisioned the effort it would take to shoulder the cross. Jesus had nothing else with Him. Just a cross, a crown, and blood. Philippians says that He “emptied Himself. . . and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” To follow Jesus’ example, I also have to set everything aside. If I am to pick up that cross and walk with it, anything else in my hands has to be left behind. It is physically impossible for me to continue on with all my stuff, my junk, my baggage, while carrying that cross behind the Lord.

Carry the cross

Now that I see the meaning of the verse more clearly, the question becomes so obvious. What are you carrying that must be dropped so that you can manage the cross of Christ? In moving to Arkansas to plant a church, Todd and I have had to set aside the traditional notion of the American Dream. If I choose Christ, there is no promise that I will achieve prosperity equivalent to or in excess of the Joneses. It’s a lesson I continue to learn. I felt entitled—that my age and effort should naturally graduate me to a higher tax bracket. Entitlement competes with my devotion to Christ. And Christ is better.

What competes with your devotion to Christ? Is it your children? Is your number one desire for them to be successful? Or for them to be spiritually transformed into the likeness of the Lord Jesus? Leave it–the ridiculously overcrowded schedule, attending every sporting event even at the rather pricey cost of neglecting church, giving in to their every whim, breaking the bank to give them the best of material things. Lay it down, and lose your mind for the mind of Christ. Jesus loves our children infinitely more than we do. We give them the very best by teaching them how to follow the Lord by carrying the cross.

What prevents you from committing to Him completely? Your job? Are you shouldering your career with ease but dragging the cross along behind? Have you convinced yourself that you need the money to live, when really you just don’t want to live on less? If you feel secure in your job, then your faith is dangerously misplaced. The Lord Jesus, who is the very Word of God, promised that He provides when we seek Him first. Set it down and take up the cross. You might find it is easier to bear than your worries over money.

What chip sits on your shoulder in place of the cross? Is it pride? Bitterness? Has someone or some circumstance so injured you that your love for the Lord has long since been choked out? His love for you is boundless, matchless, nothing in your past or future alters it, and no power can break it. He is priceless and died for you. He died for you because you needed him to. Of what, then, do you have to be prideful? What wrong have you suffered that His cross can’t right? Don’t take another bungling step —struggling to manage the cross and your baggage.

Is it a decision? Has God brought you to a crossroads and now you must choose which way to go? Every atom in your being screams, “Do what’s best for you!” But obedience is costly. It always requires yielding to God the “right” we feel we have to make our own decisions. Whatever the choice is, you must ask Jesus which way He is going. He will give you an answer and invite you along. But don’t be surprised if He says, “But we aren’t going any further until you lay all that stuff down. Not another step. Grab that cross and let’s go!”

Lay it down, leave it, and lose your mind. You may find that you don’t miss it much.

 

 

 

Death, Darkness, Law, and the Light

Daddy and Eden“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”  Matthew 5:17

On June 24, 2011, I arrived in Fort Worth to see my dad for the last time. My mom called while I was on the road to tell me that they had made plans to release him from the hospital to receive hospice care at home. But I knew. I didn’t have the heart to tell her, but without even seeing him, I knew he wouldn’t live through the night.

I’m no expert on how God communicates with believers, so I don’t want to cross a line and claim that it would happen this way for everyone. The day that I found out about his diagnosis—leukemia—I had the strangest sense that for a long time this testing of my faith had been rising up in the distance—the same way a mountain range appears on the horizon, slowly taking shape until each craggy peak is distinctly visible. God was preparing me. For several years before his illness, something inside me felt a little sad every time I said goodbye to my dad on the phone. One time, I remember actually saying to myself as we hung up, “Tell him you love him. There’s only so much time.” Simultaneously, God stressed his authority to me over and over. In every bible study, each time I sought His guidance, the Lord revealed Himself—He is on the throne. He is in control. He has proclaimed the end from the beginning. Even as I drove to Fort Worth on that terrible day, I heard from Him as clearly as if He were sitting in the passenger seat, “Katie, nothing touches you that hasn’t passed through Me first.” I prayed against bitterness. I asked to see His purpose.

The car rolled to a stop on my parents’ driveway, in the exact spot where I said goodbye to him on my previous trip. My parents always waved goodbye from the porch when a visit ended. On that day, he stood with me on the driveway and gave a hug I will never forget—the kind that’s almost too tight and your toes almost leave the ground but it’s exactly what you crave. I also needed words that he wouldn’t speak. I needed him to tell me, straight up, that he was dying. He kept it to himself. If I’d known, I wouldn’t have waited six weeks to return.

I flung myself and my luggage through the front door with acute urgency. Long overdue at the hospital, I was afraid that he would not live long enough for me to see him. Dread dripped from me, making every move clumsy and slow—like the all too familiar nightmares featuring monsters and dreamers with lead feet, unable to flee. There were only a couple of things to do: drop my bags, bathroom break, get to my dad. But I seemed to have lost the ability to efficiently command my own limbs.

With all of us in town at once, the only place available for me to sleep was my parents’ bed. Once inside, I froze at the foot of the stairs, staring up at their door just beyond the top step. On my previous trip, I’d peeked through that same door and saw him in bed trying to sleep. I remember how little of his hair was left. So very sick, but not admitting it—at least not to me. Now I was to sleep there in his place.

“There is only one door,” my brother had said of the loss that we faced. “There are no choices. One door. And you have to go through.” I really didn’t have time right then for metaphors, or for insight, or melancholy memories. My bags and I lumbered up the stairs while I attempted to push any real thought from my brain. Just put it on auto pilot. It’s time to go see him die.

On his last night at home, my mother found him, bleeding where he had fallen and hit his face on the nightstand. Leukemia patients are in great danger when they fall because their platelets might be so low that the blood won’t clot. She never knew how long he laid there, bleeding and bleeding. As I drove to Fort Worth, I’d tried to prevent myself from imagining what this had been like for them. She had called an ambulance, and I assume left the room the way it was when she found him. All day, I had sort of saved the inevitable hysterical crying fit for the impact of seeing the blood stain on the carpet next to the bed where I would be sleeping.

Mercifully, someone had cleaned the floor so I wouldn’t collapse at the sight of it. There was no trace of blood to be found.

Where I did have the breakdown was odd and unexpected. Shaking my hands dry at the bathroom sink, I caught sight of my own face in the mirror. A face which reminds me that, though I’m a long time Beasley now, I’m still a Prescott and favor my daddy. In that slight moment I confronted the features that I had inherited from him, and how proud I am to be his, how much I cherish the words she’s so much like her dad. Many, many things I had looked forward to in the coming years. Now fresh fear washed over me, fear of who I would be—who all of us would be–without him there.

“I can’t do this! I can’t do this!” I said through sobs to the face in the mirror.

But there were no choices—just one door.

Finally at the hospital, my anxiety rose with the elevator to the seventh floor. Nothing could settle me. Silence had hung between us, preventing us from talking about death. What would we say to each other now?

I had worried over that detail needlessly. Now at his bedside, I realized it was too late for talk. My family left me alone with him. I gently touched his arm, but he jerked away as if in pain. Words left me. I never spoke to him that I remember. After a moment, his eyes opened and fell on me, and he sat still so I could hold his hand. Quickly he looked away. I wish I had some assurance that he knew who I was.

For some reason, I imagined that the room would seem dim to him, growing darker and darker the closer he came to death. As I held his hand and watched him struggling, unsettled and in pain, I realized that someday we will all be there, facing the end. Suddenly I appreciated Jesus more than I ever had. Maybe I truly worshiped Him for the very first time.

Those few moments I spent alone with my dad are a turning point for me and my faith. So many things that I knew superficially, that I had believed with childlike faith, I now understand with more depth in light of God’s authority. The darkness is real. It is deep and vast, full of pain and horrors and evil. We should fear it. We should be racing to God for our rescue. Sin is evidence that this darkness exists, and we should run from it as if all the darkness of hell is nipping at our heels–because it IS. No wonder Jesus is the Light of the World.

Somehow, I did come to see God’s purpose in all this pain. Our sin separates us from Him. Without God’s mercy, that pain and darkness my father faced would be all we could hope for. Even after a lifetime of rule following, generosity, and goodness, my father could not reconcile himself to his God. We all fall short of God’s glory.

God is in authority over us. The law, God’s standard, is inflexible. It does not yield for anything. It is not redefined because of our weaknesses, because we refuse to resist temptation. It does not bend for our excuses, nor for any of our debate and reasoning. The law does not budge because we decide that evil is not evil after all. It does not change if we are rich or poor, educated or ignorant, or because we are born this way or that way. The law is the law even if you don’t believe you are under its authority. The law does not pass away—even for our good intentions or our seemingly right motives or for things beyond our control. The law must be fulfilled.

And this is a mission that only Jesus could accomplish.

We live most of our lives oblivious to suffering until it is thrust upon us. Believers spend years trying to understand the value of obedience to the Lord, trying to live in the belief that the rewards of Heaven—so intangible and abstract—are better than anything we could hope for here on earth. Yet Jesus did it in the opposite order. He understood suffering first. He already knew all the rewards of Heaven, but chose to leave it and suffer for us. He came to accomplish all that we can not. He followed each rule to the letter so that we could enter into relationship with the Father–so that what seems like the end, even though it is painful, does not lead to darkness after all. Jesus fulfilled the law.

“Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” Revelation 1:17-18

Grief left me so raw that I truly feel pierced by the truth of His Word. Darkness is so terribly dark. Why shouldn’t God make us face it, so that we turn to Him and walk in the light? I needed to see it, what it’s like when darkness closes in, to truly see Jesus’ worth and worship Him. I had to experience the pain to have real gratitude for God’s mercy and for the future with Him that Christ bought for me with His own life.

Three years ago today my daddy went home to the Lord. Once, when I was having miscarriages, I let loss interrupt my relationship with God. Now my father’s death is a catalyst that transformed my faith. I probably talk about it too much. It comes up in my teaching maybe a little too often. But my prayer is that someone reading this will allow God to reveal His purpose in their pain. I hope this story makes a difference to someone out there.

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. Isaiah 9:2

 

 

Fear. Fostering. Faith.

It’s been too long since I’ve posted. The truth is–I’ve been in a bit of a hole since Easter. We had the flu for two weeks at the Beasley abode. In fact, we went to the closing for our new house with at least one of us running a fever. Then, of course, we had to actually move our lives from one address to another, which is a gargantuan task. All of that extra drama at home sets you back at work, so you spend a week or two digging your way out. But now, I’m sitting in my new living room, my dog is running gleefully through his new back yard, my children are with the grandparents for a week, and this school teacher is off for the summer. Hallelu-yer, I’m back.

Zacchaeus, my wee little man...and a wee little man is he...

Zacchaeus, my wee little man…and a wee little man is he…

The next post in my Matthew walk would put us in the Sermon on the Mount. One of the reasons I haven’t written in a while is that I couldn’t decide how much of the Sermon I wanted to tackle. God gave me some insight on performance and perfectionism—and how miserable I make myself with those things—and I’m eager to write that piece. But something happened last night that turned me back to the Beatitudes.

 “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.”      Matthew 5:4

In the last year I’ve made a new friend through Bible study. She and her husband have two children and they also are foster parents. Since I’ve known them, they’ve loved and nurtured a brother and sister who have moved on to other families, and currently they are caring for a baby girl they hope to adopt.

Let me push the pause button on their story for a moment to say this. I deliberately avoided foster care. Through the whole ordeal of our many miscarriages, one thing that I simply would not consider is fostering. Todd and I never even discussed it. After experiencing so much loss, I could not imagine making myself vulnerable to loving a child that might not be forever mine. The thought of loving a baby, who I might have to surrender to another family, terrified me. Honestly, it still scares me even today.

Another problem was that I worried I might be a miserable failure at fostering. Through my friends, I’ve met children who have endured more violence in three years than I have in a lifetime. Their need for healing is so dire. What if I’m not capable of meeting those needs? What if I’m too sheltered or too selfish or just plain inadequate for the depth of love that these babies require?

Yet my friends eagerly meet that challenge in spite of the very real risk of a broken heart.

Last night I got a text message. They may not be able to adopt the sweet baby girl they have loved and cared for these last few months. She has siblings in the care of another family, so she may be moved in order to be reunited with her brothers and sisters.

Sounds good, right? To keep the sibling group together. It’s difficult to argue with that—except that my friends love her so much. They opened themselves up to this loss—and have tried to prepare themselves for this possibility. I am deeply saddened that they are faced with something so painful.

And deeply ashamed that I am such a coward.

In the context of church planting, we talk a lot about how to love our community—and how to genuinely put that love into action. That same fear that kept me from fostering babies has kept me from a lot of opportunities to love the world as Christ loves. I’m afraid that I’m not capable. I’m afraid that no one really wants what I have to offer. I’m afraid that it will expose my selfishness for others to see.

I am afraid that I’ll get my heart broken.

Last night as I read that text message, I knew that I had no response that would suffice. There will be a period of uncertainty while those in authority decide what course is in the best interest of the child. My friend asked for us to pray for what’s best for this little girl. They are putting her needs first. Now that’s love. Truly.

So I turned back to the Beatitudes and saw them so rich with rewards for these friends of mine who have loved so sacrificially.

They have given themselves over to complete, humble dependence on the Lord. They have been merciful and sought to bring peace into each child’s life. They have loved the Lord so deeply that they hoped to pass on a hunger and thirst for righteousness to their children—even if they are only together for a season. They have told their story again and again as a proclamation of who their Savior is and why this is the manner in which they choose to serve Him.

They will see God. They will inherit the earth. For them, the blessing of righteousness overflows. They will be shown mercy. They will be called children of God. Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

And when they mourn, they will be comforted. The Father in Heaven—not one who is inadequate, selfish or fearful—holds them with a supernatural, miraculous embrace. He will bind their wounds and ease their weariness.

Someday, you will be able to see with absolute clarity that your legacy is not just in the children you’ve raised, but in the way you influence others because of your faith. His Word moves with power because of your faithfulness and testimony. My sweet friends, I’m grateful for your obedience to our Lord. You inspire and challenge me to love with courage.

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.       I Corinthians 15:58

The Tempter and the Poisonous IF

I finished a wildly uneventful spring break and limped back into school on Monday. My week off didn’t afford much excitement. We stayed home mostly. But I did live vicariously through all of you, via Facebook, who spent the week at Disney, et al. It’s good for me to feel jealous and bitter because then I get lots of practice repenting. And not once did I pray that it would rain on you blessed people who actually got to spend your vacation on vacation.

We had two big (that’s a relative term) outings last week. One little day trip was to the Wal-Marts where’s we got our hairs did. This is fun because A) the Beasley youngers aren’t savvy enough to realize that Wal-Mart is not at a spa, and B) they don’t scream at the stylist when she combs through those curls like they do at their momma. So it IS like a vacation. It also provides photo ops like the following:

Spa Day, Sort ofEden at the Wal-Marts

Our second outing included a movie and lunch date with friends. We saw God’s Not Dead, which I loved. I promise no spoilers here, but I do have to explain the inspiration for what I’m about to write. One character in the movie explains that he lost his faith when his mother died of cancer. He told God that he would worship Him forever if God would heal her. I had a bizarre reaction to this scene.

First, I cried. Now, I’ve always been emotional, so maybe that’s not all that bizarre, but it’s been really bad since my dad died. Here’s the weird thing–I felt a very strong impulse to jump into the screen and tell that (fictional) character that the same experience which convinced him that God ISN’T, convinces others that God IS. Now, why is that?

Matthew 4:1-11

All that week, I’d been reading through Matthew 4 over and over in preparation for writing this post. I’ve studied the book of Matthew several times, so in each reading, I saw the same thing in the text that I had for many years. I read it as an example of how to confront temptation. Believe me, we should certainly read this passage and follow Jesus’ example. He confronts the Enemy with God’s Word, and so should we. After seeing the movie, though, one word popped off the page.

IF.

If you are the Son God…

If you heal her…

One of my little language arts teacher tricks is to think yourself into the text. Which character do you identify with? In this case, I’d always put myself in Jesus’ shoes–err, sandals. Satan’s after me, so I need the tools to protect myself. After some careful consideration of that word IF, for the first time EVER, I realized that maybe I’m the tempter, not the tempted. Do I test the Lord with that word IF and make room to doubt God?

So, let’s break it down. Verse 3–“If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus is wrapping up a 40 day fast. He’s famished–in need of nourishment in a way that most of us have never, probably will never, experience. Like the testing of Eve back in Genesis, the devil simply presents what is available for the meeting of a “need” that isn’t exactly a need. He points out to both Eve and Jesus an option which is there oddly enough BECAUSE of God in the first place. God put that tree in the garden, so why not take it? God’s power is present in Christ, so why not use it?

Though Jesus needs food in a way that Eve obviously didn’t, He isn’t in such a hurry that food has to appear before him miraculously. In fact, Jesus is so careful with His power that He would never exaggerate a need so that He can use God’s power when it isn’t God’s plan to do so. And His answer (v. 4) to the tempter is just gorgeous–“Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” In other words, let’s talk about what we really NEED.

First, God’s word is necessary. Not just helpful, like little tips to sprinkle around here and there to soften the blows of life–it IS LIFE. God is not a life coach. We need Him and His word. Like food. Like water. Like air.

But don’t miss this, either. Jesus said we need every word from God. EVERY. WORD. Y’ALL. That means the words that sound good to us AND the words that don’t. Even the words we don’t want to hear–those words sustain us.

Wow. I wish I had a dollar for every time I told God that I had a need and plugged my ears to shut out what He might say. And maybe another dollar for every time I called what is actually a desire a need, as if God didn’t understand the urgency of my situation. Then another dollar for every time I told God to just sprinkle His magic fairy dust to fix my need because, ya know, God may not have weighed out all the options when He made out His master plan. Last year, I prayed lots of these prayers. We had needs–we had to have a place to live, jobs, income, insurance. Daily, we listed it all out for God, and in that stressful state, we told God how to handle our problems.

Please don’t misunderstand me. Talk to Him. Tell Him everything. Discuss the options and what you think and feel and how you hope to see things happen. Talk to Him all the time, everyday, in your prayer closet, in the car, everywhere–keep that conversation going. However, we have to remember that we’re listening for EVERY WORD of God’s, not just the ones that sound pretty. I don’t recall using that conditional word IF with the Lord when we talk, but there have been a few difficult times when I just quit talking to Him because He didn’t jump through my hoops.

Years ago, I wanted a baby. In the absolute worst way, I wanted a baby in my arms. We suffered through quite a few miscarriages. I never actually said to God, “I’ll worship You if…” But that’s precisely how I acted. Looking back, I’m a little shocked at the way I treated God, at how I withheld my love–my worship– from Him and gave Him the cold shoulder. You see, I was a believer–and had been for many years–when all this happened. I didn’t want to NOT be a Christian. I still wanted Jesus for my salvation, but as far as the ongoing relationship is concerned, I wanted certain things on my terms. I treated my Savior as though He wasn’t worthy of my worship because He didn’t meet my need.

When Eden was born, it all made sense. I told God (imagine my repentant attitude) that I would do it all over again ten, twenty, thirty times, just so I could have my sweet Eden. All the more amazing is that God gave us Eden through adoption. So He in no way jumped through my hoops. He gave us a baby and then met a need that I wasn’t even aware I had. He used adoption to show me how much He loves me. I share this experience with many Christian adoptive parents. We pine for that baby for so long, and then finally we get to scoop one up in our arms and exclaim, “MINE!! ALL MINE!!” I ran after motherhood for so long, and it was oh so sweet when it finally came together. Now. Remember the story of the Prodigal Son? Remember how the father RAN to scoop that boy up in his arms? God ran after me and when I placed my faith in Jesus, He scooped me up and said, “MINE!” And the angels had a party. I rediscovered HIS love through my love for Eden–because I could see that, by sending Jesus, God ran to get His treasure–those He loves.

I don’t waste time wondering what life would have been like if God had used His miraculous power to give me a biological child. God’s answer–His word–was bitter. And better.

That lesson from adoption continues to shape my faith even now. Last year when we were getting pretty desperate for income, I genuinely had needs. We had to have an income to feed ourselves. It was scary. The Lord and I discussed all this at length over and over and over. I begged God to give Todd one job in particular with the Arkansas Highway Department. I was pretty depressed when he didn’t get that job, and I won’t lie, I had a hard time praying at times. But I remembered Eden–how God’s plan to give children to the Beasleys was far better and so much more than what I’d asked for. His word was hard for me to hear at first, so how could I have predicted that I would one day be thankful for miscarriages? God had revealed His character to me. Now I had to trust–and like Jesus said, immerse myself in God’s Word like it’s bread and water. Every once in a while, I would get a little cheeky with God, quote Matthew 6:31-32, wag my finger at Heaven and say, “You promised!”

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

I told Todd on a number of occasions, “I know that somewhere on the other side of this, God has a job for you that will be more and better than we ever expected.” My faith was still a little rickety at times, but nothing like those bitter days before we adopted. I’ve made some progress, y’all! She CAN be taught! Since I just covered the answer to the job search prayers in my last post, I won’t go through it all again. Take a look at State of the Beasley Union if you want to read a neat story about our prayers and God’s plan.

The second temptation presents Jesus with the opportunity to perform a dramatic feat in a very public place. Simply put, to show off. And Jesus’ answer? Don’t test Me. One commentator said that when the devil says “if you are the Son of God” in verse six, it really should say “since you are the Son of God.” The enemy knows exactly who he is dealing with, exactly what power our God has.

But people don’t. Not really. Certainly someone who doesn’t believe in God will rationalize away any evidence of God’s power, but even believers get comfortable thinking of miracles as something God used to do. That is, until we hit a crisis and we need that miracle to prove to us that He is there. Then we start pressing Him with all our might in prayer. IF You are there, IF You are who You say You are, do this. We may avoid Him in every other area of our lives—we may not give Him a second thought as we make huge life decisions, as we begin and end relationships, when we take on new challenges and it seems like we have the world by the tail. We accomplish every other thing in our lives in our own strength until suddenly, we need that miracle.

It’s impossible to avoid this trap, I think, even for believers. We all go there at one time or another. Something awful happens, you’re in pain, and you need God to show off. Nothing less than the impossible will do, and nothing’s impossible with God, right? So, why doesn’t He demonstrate His power for me? Doesn’t He love me?

After reading this text with myself in the role of tempter, I have to admit that I am guilty of testing Him. Even if I don’t tell Him directly, I imply, “IF You are there, and you really love me, You’ll do this.”

If You really love me, You’ll let me carry this baby to term.

If You are really there, You will heal my dad’s leukemia.

Picture God answering me with the same directness He used with the devil. Katie, don’t test Me. I AM.

Ouch. Isn’t that how we hear Him sometimes? When we imagine getting the dreaded word “no” from God, don’t we assume that He’s harsh? Or dismissive? Or cruel? Since I’m an English teacher, I know how to experiment with the tone to hear how a loving Father might reveal Himself to me. How would it sound if that loving Father wants you to know Him, not fall away in disbelief? What words might He use if He desires intimacy with us–if His real goal is to draw us closer and deepen our faith?  “Katie, I love you. Whether you believe in that love or not, it is there–even in your darkest days. Don’t test me. It will only cause you to doubt. Trust me. Wait on Me. I AM.”

I miscarried eleven days before my dad was diagnosed with leukemia. Did I pray for that pregnancy? Did I pray for my dad’s healing? Absolutely, I did. I am in no way suggesting that you shouldn’t pray for every single miracle that you hope for in life. Pray big–then watch expectantly for the amazing and beautiful things your Abba Father will do for you. Just beware. When you relate to God with that added conditional element–If You love me, if You are good–you are setting yourself up for doubt. You are in danger of slipping into bitterness or unbelief like the character in the film. Then when you come to your senses, you will have lots of regret–and lots of work to do.

My father didn’t live long after the diagnosis. Those were my darkest days. It’s difficult for me to explain what that year was like. It was so, so hard. But I had learned a few things from my pre-Eden years. Back then, I was so angry that I shunned God for a time. Now I realize that God is no less God because I choose not to love and worship Him. He’s still worthy of my adoration and affection even when I withhold it. Once I wore myself out on that bitterness, I’m the one who had to start over. God was still there; He’d never left, never stopped loving me. But now He had to scrub me clean of that unrighteousness and I had to begin again, working to trust in Him even in situations that made it look like He wasn’t worthy of that faith.

Following His third temptation, Jesus tells us plainly (v.10), “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” When I place an expectation on God, with that condition IF You are a loving God attached, I am really attempting to make myself the object of worship. Huh, kind of like the devil does in verse 9.

Here’s the thing that needs to sink in. God doesn’t need me to worship Him. He is just as awesome and all powerful when we don’t believe in Him as when we do. Worshiping Him and serving Him alone really benefits me. It teaches me. It changes me. It keeps me humble. It keeps everything in perspective.

I can test Him, but it will only lead me to doubt. I can plug my ears, trying to avoid the words from God that sound bitter, but I’ll miss seeing Him fulfill His word in me. I can withhold my love and worship, as if He is somehow empowered by adoration, but I am the one who is pinned down and lost without His power in me. I can try to connive things so that I’m the object of worship, but I’m no good at being God.

Or I can just do away with that poisonous conditional IF, and know that He IS. And He rewards me when I seek Him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Churchy Or Changed?

Oddly, it’s taken me a couple of weeks to complete this post. I actually started writing it, or a version thereof, a year ago. I was using a Bible plan that had me reading Isaiah and Matthew at the same time. It struck me that God has some tough talk for people who say that they belong to Him, who have a name that they belong to Him, but don’t act like they belong to Him. I was reading words like judgment, and wrath, and disaster. In Isaiah, He indicts their worship—what He calls the “evil assemblies” of His chosen people. In Matthew, John calls the religious elite a “brood of vipers”—which, according to every commentary and for a variety of reasons, was not at all a nice thing to say.

The thought of judgment of the religious filled me with dread. I am fearful for the American church. In my last post, I mentioned the ho-hum worship of which I was long guilty. Churches are full every Sunday. We say we belong to Him. We have a name that we belong to Him. Are we any different from these religious people who were warned of the coming judgment?

Matthew 3:1-12
From my Bible Study Fellowship days, I remember that John the Baptist is the prophesied herald of the coming Messiah. If you pick through the various definitions in a dictionary, you’ll find that a herald acts in service to a king. He precedes, makes proclamations, or ushers in. Likewise, John proclaimed the coming of the King and set the tone for Jesus to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). He “[prepared] the way for the Lord” by calling the people to repent, and demonstrate that change of heart through baptism.

OK, so this all sounds about right. Repent. Be baptized. Sounds very churchy…so, what’s the big deal? Well…

What is so interesting about John’s baptism is that 1st century Jews would have a different association with baptism than the modern reader. Baptism was a ritual performed when a Gentile converted to Judaism. It symbolized a complete turn from the old way of life and entrance into the covenant of Abraham. Gentiles professing Yahweh as the one true God turned from pagan religions and idols—practices that Jews found abhorrent. Therefore, baptism indicated a radical change of heart, an abandonment of a sinful life for one patterned after God’s law.

So, John tells a people who say that they belong to God, and have a name that they belong to God, that they should be baptized—in the exact same way as people who don’t belong to God but want to belong to God. Huh. That’s curious. My assumption is that it was humbling, and perhaps a little confusing. I would guess that some Jews found it downright offensive. I’m OK, right? I follow the rules, make the sacrifices, dot every ‘i’, cross every ‘t’. Now, tell me again why I’m being treated like a pagan?

But John’s message is clear—the correct response to the coming kingdom is repentance. Repentance makes us ready for Christ to enter in. With repentance comes a recognition that I need something from God—His mercy. Many things cause us to seek Him out. Failing marriages. Broken hearts. Financial needs. Loss. Loneliness. We go to Him for provision, for healing, for answers. But entering the kingdom begins with repentance. Do not misunderstand me. God cares about all those hurts and wounds. He does meet our needs. But He knows that your most crucial need is His mercy, even if you don’t know it yet. The first step in salvation is repentance, turning from our old way of life and relying on God’s mercy for our rescue.

The people must have sensed that sin still had its grip on their hearts even if they outwardly carried out the rules of religion. In a sense, by baptism, they agreed that sin is the great equalizer. Then, we encounter the Pharisees and Sadducees. The brood of vipers. If you ever believed that you belonged to God because of your lineage—because you come from good folks—this is the passage to read. If you’re tempted to place your faith in your religious involvement—in all your churchy stuff—verse 10 will cure ya. Verse ten puts me right in my place. If you are devoted to God in your heart, you will bear the right fruit, i.e. your life will look like you’re devoted to God.

I mentioned in The Rotting Branch (March 9, 2014) that I love studying genealogy. Every time I think I’ve found the last interesting tidbit on the Prescotts, something new falls into place. Yesterday I discovered that two of my Puritan ancestors, my 8th and 9th great grandmothers, were accused of witchcraft. Y’all. That’s just awesome. Yes, I’m a big nerd. It took a while for me to come to terms with it (nerdiness, not witchcraft), but I’m OK now.

It’s triple the nerdy fun to be a genealogist, a history teacher, and a Prescott all rolled into one. There are a couple of notable Prescotts who took part in the American Revolution. Dr. Samuel Prescott rode with Paul Revere on April 18, 1775. Actually, Samuel Prescott is the one who completed the mission and made it all the way to Concord. The British captured Revere. It’s true. The only reason we all know Paul Revere’s name is because Longfellow immortalized him in a poem. And get this…he chose to use Revere’s name in the poem because it rhymed. Listen my children, and you shall hear… Yeah, nothing rhymes with Prescott.

History is kinder to Colonel William Prescott, who led the American forces at Bunker Hill. You may have forgotten his name, but you probably remember the famous quote, “Don’t fire till you see the whites of their eyes!”

I don’t know my exact genealogical connection to Samuel and William if there is one. From the available evidence, I simply have the same name. So where does that leave me? With not much claim to these people at all! But, notice, that doesn’t stop me from bragging about it. My students just love it when I wax enthusiastic about my family tree. (Not really.)

Here’s the thing. I can wear my maiden name with pride, but I don’t have any part in the glory. Not really. It’s just talk. I’ve done nothing worthy of association with William Prescott’s courageous leadership or Samuel Prescott’s derring-do. My connection to them is tenuous at best. I can wave my credentials around and make a claim to their inheritance, but who I truly am is so far removed from who they were that I don’t really belong to them at all. Ever wonder what it means to use someone’s name in vain?

How about claiming an identity that you don’t really have? How about claiming that identity in order to take something for yourself that is not rightfully yours? How about expecting the inheritance and glory that really should pass to someone with a more genuine connection?

What, then, is taking the Lord’s name in vain? What if it’s claiming Christ and His inheritance but not living for Christ? What if it’s wearing that name Christian in anticipation of being saved, but not turning from the old way of life? What if it’s sitting in church week after week while refusing to admit that a true Christ follower abandons the idols and lives a life devoted to Him? What if it’s checking in at our regular pew for a song and a sermon when nothing else in our lives distinguishes us from someone who sleeps in on Sundays?

If who you really are is so far removed from who He really is, then your claim that you belong to Him is possibly false. Jesus Himself tells us in chapter 7, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter into the kingdom of Heaven, but only He who does the will of my Father” (verse 21). So, how do we fix that problem?

John came and cleared the path by giving us the first steps to entering the kingdom of heaven. First we repent—we turn from the old life, acknowledging our need for God’s mercy. This prepares us for Christ to enter in. Then we “bear fruit in accordance with repentance.” That doesn’t sound like we get to sit back in the pew and get comfy, does it?

I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God.   Revelation 3:1-2

Questions to Think Over:

  • Is the person you really are far removed from who He really is? If so, what needs to change?
  • In what ways is it evident that you have turned away from a former life to follow Christ?
  • In what ways should the church show a greater devotion to Him?

 

Go the Distance–So to Honor Him

This is post #3 of my walk through the book of Matthew. It’s looking like a pretty leisurely stroll. Three posts per week may be a bit of a stretch, so I have to extend some grace to myself–which is so hard for me to do! Regardless of the number of posts, I’m enjoying this. I’m spending several days reflecting on just a small section of a chapter; today’s post covers Matthew 2:1-12. It’s a different exercise than doing a daily reading and moving on to the next thing the very next day. If you feel challenged or encouraged, please comment and share!

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Matthew 2:1-2

Quite possibly the most excruciating Bible lesson I’ve ever sat through was over this passage. As a young adult I attended a church heavily populated by seminary students. I loved the church, the pastor, the teaching, all of it. But, being in a Sunday school class packed with would-be scholars (when you ain’t one) has its drawbacks. On one hand, we never had a teacher shortage at that church. On the other, everybody thinks they’re teaching the class.

We endured, for far too long, the argument discussion over exactly what the wise men followed to find Jesus. Was it a nova? Jupiter and Saturn positioned closely together? A comet? No, no, it can’t be this. It must be that. Haven’t you read what so and so wrote on the subject? My professor from thus and such class says… Not that theories aren’t interesting, but listening to a bunch of guys holding the lesson hostage, all trying to one-up each other, just made me want to throw a chair.

If memory serves, in my tried and true, opinionated, foot-in-the-mouth demeanor, I steered the conversation toward the wise men themselves. Like a bull in a china shop. Hey, at least I didn’t throw a chair. I’m so proud of me.

I like the story of the wise men because they were foreigners. They didn’t belong to this geographical area, or the culture, or the religion. Yet, they came to worship the king of the Jews. Huh. That’s odd. It needs explaining.

Like the star, theories abound for the origin of the wise men as well. My favorite traces the Magi’s journey from Babylon. Because the Jews were held in captivity in Babylon, and some never returned from there, wise men in that area easily could have been influenced by Jewish traditions, writings, and prophecies.  I like this explanation for so many reasons—mainly because I like the irony that God would call someone out of Babylon to worship Him. Other theories purport that the wise men came from more distant places, perhaps India or even China. Whatever the case, it doesn’t matter that much. While I enjoy tossing these options around, I really only need what is provided for me by Matthew.

A number of things get my attention here. They came from far off and brought offerings for worship. We don’t know exactly how far they traveled, but from the explanations available through historical study, even a conservative estimate might figure around 900 miles. In that day, a trip of that distance could be covered in a few months, possibly less. Still—two months? Three months? To search for the king of a people that isn’t even yours? This is an expedition, not a vacation. It’s not something they planned on a whim. Furthermore, the bible tells us that the wise men took a different route when they returned to their own country. If we assume they took the most direct route to Jerusalem, then isn’t it possible that they took a longer route to get home? After all, they were avoiding Herod, so it makes sense to choose an unexpected route to cover their tracks.

So, just guesstimating at three months both ways, this trip was no bargain. It would have taken them away from every other thing in their lives. Whatever comprised their lives before the trip had to be put on hold–the cause of Christ was about all that remained.

Here’s something to think about. The Magi went the distance to worship the Lord. I’m not qualified to do a lot of speculating as I’ve done only minimal research—but I’m not sure the Magi understood who Jesus truly was, or who He would later claim to be. Their knowledge of the Christ would have been limited to Jewish prophecies—and we don’t even have evidence that they were aware of these prophecies at all. They did know that He was the king of the Jews and that He was worthy of worship. They acted on God’s call to go the distance and worship.

Then there’s the Magi’s actual act of worship. Matthew said they were overjoyed and bowed. One article I read said the gifts they presented would have been typical gifts to bring a king. Now, don’t you think it a little strange that after a long journey in which they expected to find the heir to a throne, to be filled with joy upon arriving at a poor carpenter’s house? Matthew does not indicate any measure of disappointment or hesitation, only joy and worship. They bowed and gave their costly gifts to a child, born poor. What a beautiful story of faith and obedience.

My wise preacher husband taught on worship once. It made an impression on me. Worship, he said, is the acknowledgment of His worth to us. Worship is a devotion that should reflect the value of the One we worship. I think about these wise men, about how they put their entire lives aside to go the distance and worship the Christ, when they had limited information about where He was and who He was. They didn’t have the benefit of the New Testament to educate them on the worth of the Christ. We have the gospels. Christ’s purpose is fully explained for us. He is so valuable that cost of His blood is enough to cover the sins of mankind. His worth is so astronomically high that His death bought us back from evil and death.

Now, consider what the wise men had available to engage in worship. There is no choir, organ, or piano. There is no band, no worship team. No guitars, microphones, worship leader or sound checks. There is no argument over which song or style is better. There are no preferences for this or that. They simply bow. They put their lives completely aside so that the only thing that can possibly be acknowledged is the value of the One they worship.

So, how do you worship? Full disclosure. . . I might be teetering on the edge of putting my toes upon your bad side. I apologize in advance.

I sang in a worship band for years. The last thing that I want to do is minimize the importance of corporate worship through music. But let me give you an idea of what it looks like from the stage. I saw a lot of picking. Yawning and stretching. Shifting from foot to foot. Maybe a quick check on the ol’ phone. Glancing at the watch. Down in the youth pews, a little flirting maybe. I saw many bored, complacent faces. It could not be more evident that attending “worship” is not at all convenient.  Even the small act of regular church attendance is too much to ask for some Christians. The wise men go the distance; we can’t skip a soccer game to be in church.

Let me backtrack a smidge and tell you that I’m the chief of sinners. God taught me a lot of lessons on worship the hard way. I endured a lot of loss before I recognized the depth of my sin in light His abundant mercy. One of those sins was that I stood on the stage for a lot of years with nary a clue what the value of my salvation truly was. How could I “lead worship”? I couldn’t. Not really. Oddly, I realized that there was a disconnect between His worth and my worship, and I had to pray for Him to set me straight. It hurt. But I absolutely do not regret it.

My prayer is that whatever I write today makes a difference—that someone’s life would change because I wrote what He wanted said about worship. Go the distance. Make a sacrifice. Put the stuff that comprises your life entirely aside and examine the immeasurable value of a King who would die for you. Ask Him how to make your life—not just on Sunday during a song service, but every day—reflect His worth.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • How does a person worship from Monday through Saturday?
  • What does going the distance in worship look like for us?
  • Are you trying to live a life that reflects the worth of the Lord Jesus?
  • If not, what’s stopping you? What needs to change?