Sin much? Love much.

“You need to start praying that God will show you the depth of your sin.”

Her words hung in the air for a moment. It didn’t sting like it does when someone boldly calls you out—at least not at first. It was a conversation with a mentor, my mom, and her delivery on this kind of thing is always gentle. But gentle with conviction.

And wisdom. It is one of many conversations that I play back over and over, even years after the fact. I’ve got dozens of these little gems, life lessons, that I can trace back to coffee and a chat with my mom.

When I did feel the sting, it wasn’t because she was calling me out for being a sinner. She was telling me I was a Pharisee.

At the first of the year I began reading through the New Testament, but lately I’ve been on a quest to understand worship. Everything I read gets filtered through that lens.

Church culture has staunchly settled on 20 minutes of music selections on Sunday mornings, calling that worship. But if we even bother to attend physically, we may check out spiritually. There continues the ubiquitous dispute over what we have labeled worship style. Does those two words together sound contradictory to anyone else? No? Just me?

But, if you go looking for guidance in the bible, worship in scripture can be perplexing. Often the word appears with little detail except, “And he bowed and worshiped.” In other places the word is used when a biblical figure makes a sacrifice, as when Abraham prepares to offer Isaac and tells the company with them, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” (Genesis 22:5, ESV)

Huh. I’m not much further along than I was when I started this whole worship quest thing.

Then my morning reading brought me to this story. Jesus has dinner at the home of a Pharisee—you knew I’d get back to the Pharisee thing, right? A woman with a bad reputation found out where Jesus was, and her arrival at the feast made Simon the Pharisee indignant. She washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and her hair. She kissed His feet and poured perfume on them.

“He can’t be a prophet,” Simon thought. “If he were, he would know all about her.” I can just see Simon rolling his eyes and exchanging looks with other Pharisees at the table. In that age, in Simon’s world, the touch of such a woman—even a loving gesture on your nasty stinky feet–would be repulsive.

Never fear, folks. Jesus set the man straight. And true to form, He used a parable to illustrate His point. Rather, He used a parable so that Simon could make His point.

“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Luke 7:40-43, ESV

See what He did there? He set this up for Simon to expose his own hypocrisy. From the parable, it may sound like this woman who seemingly had morals like an alley cat owed a bigger debt because of her sin. But if you read the gospels, a lot—an inordinate amount, really–of harsh words and stern warnings are reserved for the Pharisees, the supposedly less sinful.

John the Baptist kicked off the show by calling them a “brood of vipers” and talked about the coming judgment (Matthew 3:7-12). Later Jesus would soundly castigate them with words like “blind guides” and “hypocrites” because, among other reasons, they slam heaven’s door in the face of genuine seekers. And, oh yeah, the Pharisees are not actually entering the kingdom, either (Matthew 23:13-14). Then He would call them sons of the devil because—guess why?—they don’t love Jesus so there is no way that God can be their Father (John 8:42-44). Those two things—loving Christ and being God’s child—are irrevocably connected.

Here’s what it boils down to. Judgment is the same for anyone who does not respond to the invitation of the grace and forgiveness of Christ. When He separates the sheep from the goats, there are no sub-categories. There’s not a special place for those who didn’t quite make it to heaven but aren’t so bad that they should go to hell. Either you enter the kingdom or you don’t.

Furthermore, the price for the woman’s sin and the price for the Pharisees’ sin is exactly the same—it cost the Son His life. Period. He didn’t have to give an extra sacrifice because these sins are worse than those sins. There’s no special negotiation that took place for those whose behavior serve as a cautionary tale trumpeted by the self-righteous.

What is so special about this woman is her worship. One difference between her and Simon the Pharisee is she knows the depth of her sin. Another is the depth of her love. Remember, loving Jesus and being God’s child are connected.

Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.  You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet.  You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.  Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”  (Luke 7:44-48, ESV)

Worship encompasses a lot of things. There are many examples in the bible that don’t look like this one, and we won’t always engage in such an emotional display of affection for the Lord. But I still feel there is a model for worship in this story that is important. Worship should always be more than a passive deference to God. I became His child because I love Jesus. It should be evident in my worship.

If I want my worship to be a genuine act of love for Christ, I need to understand the depth of my sin. I come back to that conversation with my mom often. That sting I felt for the exposure of my hypocrisy is not at all a bad thing. It makes me thankful for a rescue I don’t deserve, and for the enormous worth of the Savior whose life paid for that rescue.

For those who are in Christ, our sins, which are many are forgiven. We should “love much.”

And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”

Revelation 5:9-10, ESV

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bought With a Price

Years ago at a bible study, I learned something about Jesus’ last moments on the cross that I had never heard before. Jesus’ declaration moments before death, the Greek word tetelestai or “it is finished”, was a business term. It appeared at the conclusion of documents showing that a transaction had been completed—like a receipt or invoice showing that no more payments are required.

Think on that for a moment. In the agony of His last few moments, how did Jesus choose to proclaim that the work was done?

All accounts are settled.

The cost is covered.

The debt is paid in full.

I’ve always loved that little nugget. Every time I hear the cross preached, I hope to hear it included but never have. It makes that term redemption sink in a little deeper for me. I’ve always associated the word redeem with coupons. Present a coupon, get a dollar off or something of that ilk. But our redemption didn’t come with a discount. The price was not slashed to 50% or offered as a ‘buy one get one free’ bargain. We cannot fail to miss this important point about our rescue. It was costly—enormously so. God paid for me with His Son’s life, and His suffering and blood are the currency.

But I ran across something else today that provided even more insight. I began reading through the gospels at the first of the year. You know how bible reading plans can be—miss a couple days (or a week, maybe two), get a little behind and give up. This reading plan is self-imposed, though, which helps curb the power of the nagging perfectionism that makes me want to quit if I fail to keep up. I’m not following a prescribed plan; I just read until I’m done—and how far I get each day boils down to time constraints and my ability to concentrate. Some days I get very interested and do a lot of flipping to different chapters, other gospels, chasing down some of the scriptures that are cross-referenced. Lately I’ve been in Luke, and, in deference to that pesky perfectionism, I started doubling up so that I could land on the events of the crucifixion for Good Friday.

The verse that got my attention this morning was this—

“When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.” John 22:53 (ESV)

This isn’t the first time that verse has held my attention. It’s always impressed me that Jesus tells them straight up that they are on the side of evil. But this morning I did my flippity-flip routine, looking to the other accounts of Jesus’ arrest. It benefits me to layer this scripture with others.

We have this from the Last Supper in John’s gospel, hours before Jesus is arrested–

After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke.  One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus’ side, so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” John 13:21-27 (ESV)

And this account, also from John, which includes other details of Jesus’ arrest–

Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” John 18:4-8 (ESV)

It is Jesus’ authority, and how He wields that authority, that gets my attention. First it is absolute, and second, it is accompanied with absolute power.

Jesus tells Judas, and Satan who had just entered him, to make arrangements for His arrest. Does that even sound reasonable? Jesus tells Satan, the enemy, what to do, and the enemy complies. Not only does He tell Satan to handle a few details, He is sending evil off to make arrangements for His own murder and, if that’s not enough, to be quick about it.

Later in the garden, though Judas had a plan to identify the Lord for the party of soldiers, Jesus willingly identifies Himself. And not just with a casual, “OK, guys. You got me.” He uses God’s name, the divine declaration I AM. And just look at the power of those words when spoken by the One who has authority to use them. The mob’s reaction is to fall on their faces. Each time I read it, I find it even more surprising. It’s like Jesus has to tell them, “So if that’s why you’re here, then arrest me already.”

John’s account makes Luke sound a little understated. “This is your hour, and the power of darkness.” But in all three scriptures, I see the tension between His authority and power, and humble obedience to the Father and the task He’s been given. In fact, I wonder if Jesus’ statement in Luke isn’t meant to imply something like this, “Didn’t you notice that you weren’t able to lay a hand on me in the temple? Remember all the times I simply passed through your midst? But this is why I’m here. OK, now you can do your thing.”

I’m sure these soldiers, the priests, Judas, every one involved, believed that they were exacting some sort of payment. This payment could only be collected by demands and threats and violence. They wanted revenge, and the cost of revenge was Jesus’ life. They were sure that His death would settle some account, one where they have to force payment in blood, one in which they believed they were justified.

But the payment isn’t forced at all. He willingly gave Himself for us. In power and authority and obedience, Jesus steps aside and lets darkness have its day.

What a beautiful redemption–

The power of darkness did not steal the payment in an act of revenge.

It wasn’t given up because of demands or threats.

It wasn’t on sale, nor was it at all cheap.

Jesus did not bargain shop for the reduced price of buying us back from evil. When He knew that He had fulfilled all that was required, He rightly declared, “It is finished.”

When those who are in Christ stand before God, they bear the seal of the Holy Spirit. We carry the receipt. Paid in full.

You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. I Corinthians 6:19-20 (ESV)

 

Katie Revisits Pain and Purpose–or, She’s Back in Black

I shocked myself a little bit this week when I realized I hadn’t published anything on this blog since February. FEBRUARY. Dang. Where’ve I been?

It’s not that I haven’t written at all. I’m working on a bible study that I hope to have published. My biggest obstacle is deciding when I’m done with research and can actually write. I’d like to have it done by the first of the year. Don’t hold your breath, though. I sure won’t.

We launched Sunday morning services for Renew Church in February. It was awesome. Euphoric. What a joy to see it all come together! After all those years of wrestling with God’s call to move and plant a church, we now see a long inspired vision spring to life. My insight into this rather lengthy test of faith was that God indeed has a plan, that the plan is most often challenging if not downright painful, and that the pain of the plan puts me on my knees. I get to be a part of what God’s doing, and it draws me to Him like a gravitational pull. The more challenging the test, the stronger the pull.

The church launch was the last time I wrote for this blog. Since then? More of the same. Husband, kids, teaching, church plant.

Oh yeah, and then I got pregnant.

You’ll find these two principles sprinkled throughout my blog: God has a plan, and God gives me more than I can handle. Then there’s a third principle—that the first two are for my benefit (among many other things). What follows here is more of more than I can handle.

When I found out I was pregnant, I almost didn’t react. Back in the day, when getting pregnant made sense, I would stand over the little pee stick and wring my hands in anticipation. A positive test would be met with squeals and then a high five to the good Rev. But this?

Unplanned. Unplanned for a 45 year old. Unplanned for a full-time working momma and wife to a bi-vocational pastor. Unplanned after many miscarriages had gone before.

One time in all our pregnancies we heard a heartbeat, but it was still so early that there was nothing to see on the scan. All we knew is that the baby’s heart was beating. Back then, I thought a heartbeat meant that everything would be okay. But four weeks later I was bleeding.

Last summer, we allowed ourselves to get excited when we saw our 8 week ultrasound. With this scan there was more to see. Peanut had a head and body. There was a picture of a little person there.  I knew that we weren’t out of the woods.

Two weeks later, I went in for another scan. There’s a horrible moment when the tech doesn’t say anything. Just tick, tick, tick on the keyboard, and you know that it’s bad news.

Loss is not uncharted territory to me. I’ve done this many times. But it’s doing a fine job of wrecking me.

My husband took my girls on a trip this weekend, so I’ve been alone. It’s actually been really good for me to have a couple of days to reflect. People have a great capacity to sweep grief aside in order to perform. The only way for me to function was to put this loss on the proverbial backburner. Day in and day out, I had this peculiar feeling that there’s some loose end that needed attention, but I couldn’t bring myself to face it.

Since Friday night, I’ve been facing it. What I’ve found out is that when I can assign a purpose to my pain—when I see how it figures into God’s plan—I go straight to Him with that pain. But when I can’t figure any way that He can use it? When it seems purposeless? I bolt.

All my planned pregnancies, and subsequent miscarriages, led me to something. They led me to adopt. They taught me about His authority. They strengthened my marriage. They deepened my empathy and provided me with an avenue to minister to others. I see their purpose.

But not this time. I got nothin’.

As I took all this to the Lord this weekend—finally—I realized that my obscured view of His purpose is the purpose.

If “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”, then certainly I must apply faith to this situation. I can’t see his plan. I don’t know His purpose, and yet it is my deep hope that He has one. It’s the lack of understanding—or perhaps the lack of accepting—His purpose that is the opportunity to build my faith.

Before I found out I was pregnant, I read a blog which asserted that everything doesn’t happen for a reason. It bothered me. Maybe we’re splitting hairs here. Maybe you say God doesn’t have His reasons yet still believe that He will “cause all things to work together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.” The writer who published that blog contended that Romans 8:28 does not mean that everything has a purpose, but that I can choose a response to my circumstances that benefit me. The obvious question here is, what if my response is wrong? What if I make the wrong choice? And I definitely chose wrong in the past. In the beginning of our miscarriage journey, I chose anger, and it got me absolutely nowhere.

I say that interpretation of Romans 8:28 makes too much of me and my ability to respond and not enough of God. He is bigger than my ability to make the right choice. His Word declares that God Himself makes all things work together for my good. I believe it, and yes, believing it is a choice.

Picture this. You take your last breath. Your spirit departs your body. You hear ethereal singing and the Holy, Holy, Holy of the creatures around the throne. You see Him—complete with the holes in His hands that are now reaching to embrace you. When you pull back from the most heavenly of hugs, He offers to answer your most disturbing question.

Why did I suffer? Why did I have so many miscarriages that I lost count?

“Oh,” says the Word, who has been with God since the beginning, “no reason.”

No. That can’t be right.

I choose faith—the assurance that though I can’t see or understand His purpose, He has one. When I ask Him why I suffered, I believe He will point to my participation in the work of the kingdom, to others who were moved by my testimony, and to how my suffering was the gravitational pull that put me before Him and kept the cross before me.

For I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is no one like Me,
Declaring the end from the beginning,
And from ancient times things which have not been done,
Saying, ‘My purpose will be established,
And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’

Isaiah 46:9-10

ADVENTures Day 22–Dark Games

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 (NIV)

I come from that generation who played outside until dark. “Be home when the street lights come on!!” my folks would say, and mostly we obeyed. This is a bit of a problem since, well, it’s fun to play in the dark. Every once in a while, in the wintertime when it is dark by 5:15, we would stay outside and play and play until someone stepped out and called us in.

We made this a habit during Christmas break, and I think my mom would let us get away with it just to keep us out of her hair. I understand this, now that I have my own two bairns–my two sweet little angels who woke me up on the first of my 10 vacation days with loud shrieking and the unmistakable sounds of trading punches. Sigh. Peace on earth.

One year during Christmas break, we took to playing hide-and-seek in the dark. I. LOVED. IT. No one could beat me. I had the very best hiding place–right on the front porch. This would be the proverbial hiding in plain sight strategy, except I could just step back into the shadows and no one knew I was there. The biggest danger is giving yourself away by laughing. Someone would come so close, even look directly at that dark corner and never see me.

We were out there until someone called–someone with authority called me by name out of the darkness .

My life before Christ was a little like this. I was a good kid–mostly, but some things about the darkness I found hard to resist. Generally I wanted to be obedient, stay out of trouble, and stay safe. But I held back a little darkness here and there, because it was fun–exciting even. It was obvious from watching the people around me that the darkness–as attractive as it seemed–was truly dangerous. After seeing one or two lives in shreds, I worked at maintaining a balance between light and dark.

But it doesn’t really work that way. You can’t love the light and flirt with darkness.

‘It can be bright with joy if you will do what you should! But if you refuse to obey, watch out. Sin is waiting to attack you, longing to destroy you. But you can conquer it!” Genesis 4:7 (TLB)

And this . . .

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. I Peter 5:8 (NLT)

God had allowed Israel to be devoured by the nations around them. He spared a remnant, brought them home, and promised them a Savior. The Lord had to teach His own people not to love the darkness–that they couldn’t be His chosen people and sprinkle in practices from pagan religions. What a treacherous, painful lesson for all those people. Yet, we repeat that pattern, don’t we? Isn’t it all too frequent that those who claim Christ as Savior are holding a little bit of darkness back for themselves?

That was my life for a number of years. I had made the decision to follow Christ, but I tried to bring the darkness with me. The Lord in His mercy knew that I had to be taught just how dark the darkness is. I love Psalm 110:75, “I know, O LORD, that your judgments are right, and in faithfulness you have afflicted me.”

My husband’s testimony is a dramatic example of being rescued from darkness. He would tell the story better, but in a nutshell, he made a decision to follow Christ as a kid. When he grew older, like so many of us, he rebelled because he loved to play in the darkness. One night as he was out with some friends, God simply spoke to him. Clearly, Todd heard Him speak. “You don’t need this anymore.” I love this story. I’ve heard him tell it so many times that I knew there was a specific spot on a particular street in Marion, IL, where my husband heard and obeyed the voice of the Lord. When we went home for Thanksgiving, I asked him to take me there and I snapped this picture.

Boulevard

That night put my husband on a collision course with so many things that followed–a call to the ministry, college, seminary, me. I’m so grateful. He shook us both loose from the darkness so that we would be ready for each other.

God, in all His authority, has stepped out of Heaven and called you home. He gave us Jesus, the Light of the world, so that we would have no fear of being devoured by the darkness. If you have received the gift of the Lord Jesus, then you have so many things to praise Him for this Christmas.

If you are still flirting with darkness, are you tired yet? Maybe your life is in shambles because sin has devoured you. It’s not too late. Light has dawned on those living in deep darkness. He has done all these great things for each of us–and yes, also for you! Don’t refuse His gift!

Leave your darkness and run home to the light.

Merry Christmas.

 

ADVENTures Day 18–Highly Favored

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth,  to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, the ]bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.  Luke 1:26-38 (NASB)

Well, friends, I’ve missed a few five days. I have no excuse, really. Wait, yes I do. I’m a teacher which means that (pretty much all the time) I chase my tail, herd cats, and all that jazz. We are giving final exams this week, which must be graded, and I am also in the middle of a pile of essays—the ones that I now regret assigning. Anyhoo . . . I’m back with a word.

Today brings us to Mary. Gabriel brings news that turns every atom in her universe inside out. She had been looking forward to a wedding; now she’s to be pregnant and unwed—albeit a virgin, but you know how people are! And these aren’t just people we’re talking about here. These are 1st century Jewish folks. Churches today give a lot of attention (or they should, and if you aren’t, shame on you) as to how to welcome people into our ministries regardless of their background. But back then? It was perfectly acceptable to shun a sinner. In fact, because of the legally binding status of engagement in that society, Mary would have been considered an adulteress. Remember the woman caught in the act of adultery? (John 8:1-11) Was this the kind of treatment that a woman in Mary’s situation would expect?

Still, I don’t see the terror that I would have felt if this announcement had been made to me. The tone of the passage indicates Mary’s thoughtful consideration of the matter. She’s perplexed—not quaking with fear. The angel gives her the rundown of how the Holy Spirit would bring about the pregnancy. I love how he punctuates this explanation of the miraculous—“she who was called barren is now in her sixth month . . . nothing is impossible with God.”

To me, Mary’s reaction to the news indicates precisely why she is favored. God highly approves of this young girl. That’s quite an endorsement. And for this role in human history, it must be. She was given the responsibility of raising our Lord. The amount of trust that God places in Mary is difficult to imagine.

I think Mary’s quiet confidence is an indication of her faith. She must have trusted that if God chose her, He would bring His plan to completion. Any actions her community might take against her were the least of her worries at the moment. Perhaps she already saw the pain that lay ahead—a pain unlike any other, and infinitely deeper than that of an unwed mother. “A sword [would pierce her] own soul,” Simeon said in the next chapter. Absolutely it would.

Then, notice how Mary concludes the meeting, not Gabriel. It almost sounds like she is dismissing God’s angel. “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is one of my favorite verses in all of scripture. You see, I think Mary realized that being highly favored meant that a lot would be required of her. In the book of Exodus, a bondservant is described as a slave who loved his master and did not wish to go free. He would then demonstrate his devotion to his master by having his ear pierced with an awl. Mary realizes that she is God’s servant, but she chooses the word bondslave and indicates her love for Him with a willingness to obey in very difficult circumstances. What I hear Mary saying is, “I love the Lord. Go back and tell him I’m ready.”

We are also highly favored. In Christ, God offers His grace—unmerited favor, approval which we don’t deserve and cannot earn. With His favor comes enormous responsibility—to take up our cross and follow Him and bring as many as we can with us. I wonder if we need to hit a reset button somewhere, and like Mary, thoughtfully consider what God requires of us—but also consider what He has done for us.

Honestly, in light of the gift of Christ, I think Mary’s response is the only response.

I love you, Lord. I’m ready.

ADVENTures Day 12–Barren

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.

Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.     Luke 1:5-13

Don’t get me wrong–I like all the prophecy/Old Testament connections in Advent readings. But I LOVE THIS. I love the story–THE STORY–of how the arrival of the Son of God came about. Here, all the pieces start to come together. People who had never dreamed of playing a role in Messiah’s story get visits from an angel. Today’s part of the story I revel in–because I remember my days of being childless.

I addressed this passage in a very recent post, Pray Boldly, which I’d love for you to read, but I have more thoughts to add here. Women who can’t have children suffer from peculiar feelings of failure. No matter what the doctor said to convince me I was not to blame for the miscarriages, and I knew there was nothing I could do any differently, I simply could not carry a baby to term and so, was a failure. So I thought. It felt like I wasn’t able to do something that was automatic for every other woman around me. For several years, I kept these feelings to myself; I never even told Todd. Finally I said something to a counselor, who, thankfully, validated those feelings and all of my anger.

For Elizabeth, I imagine these feelings were magnified exponentially because of their culture. If you can’t have children, you must be a sinner. Surely there is a reason God has denied you His blessings–His favor. My generation is kinder, thank God. Yet, in general terms, I struggled with the why. A genetics counselor said to me, when I broke down after sitting in a waiting room for over an hour with a bunch of very pregnant women, “You feel persecuted, don’t you?”

Yes, that’s it. Persecuted. Maybe I’m a little old-fashioned, but I’d imagined my future a certain way. I would work until I got pregnant and then stay home and raise my children. That was my purpose; I was sure of it. Everywhere I turned women were great with child, talking about nothing but motherhood, positively giddy about being stay at home moms.

That’s as close a connection as I can make with Elizabeth. Still, it seems pretty close to the heart of things. If this isn’t to be my role, then what is? And what’s so wrong with me having this role in the first place?

Look what God did for Zechariah and Elizabeth. He gave them the son that Elizabeth said took away her disgrace. More than that, he birthed a new purpose in them. They raised the child that will herald the King of Kings.

I was recast as an adoptive mom. Believe me, I don’t regret it. Looking back, this is just one of many times that God placed my feet on a different path than I would have chosen for myself.Road Sometimes it takes years to see how God was working out some purpose, but it has all been worth it.

You may be in one of those seasons of life. Something you had felt sure of didn’t materialize. What you had believed was your purpose is off the table. It’s heartbreaking, isn’t it? This Christmas, look at those circumstances through the lens of God’s purpose. He works it all for good if you love Him and are called according to His purpose.

I’m praying that this post finds its way to readers who need these words. Grace and peace to you, friends. Merry Christmas.

ADVENTures Day 9 or (10ish)–Rights? What Rights?

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God–children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.'” Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.  John 1:9-18 (NIV)

So . . . I missed another day. But I didn’t miss because I was too tired. I missed because I was spending time with my family! That’s a good excuse, right? After a game of Wahoo that put my daughters at each other’s throats, we went light lookin’ (my husband’s term). I had about half of this post written and wanted more time to finish than thirty minutes before my face hit the pillow. Here ya go . . .

I tell my students routinely that they don’t have rights. As you might expect, this provokes some protest. “What??? We have freedom of speech! Freedom of expression!!” And we’re in Arkansas, so, figure on at least one kid per class getting really upset that I’m not acknowledging their 2nd amendment rights. But obviously I’m not in favor of wiping anyone’s Constitutional rights off the books.

Follow me on this. Do you have a right before God to say whatever you want in any way you want? No. The bible says we’ll be held accountable for every careless word that drops from our lips. Women’s rights activists claim that I have the right to choose what to do with a pregnancy. Is that a claim that can be made before God? I’d like to see you try. Or maybe I wouldn’t. The government and its laws allow me plenty of room to act immorally. Do I have a right before God to do those things? Certainly not.

I’ve only seen a couple of places in scripture where the word right is used in this way. Prior to in-depth bible study, like any American, I assumed that documents written by the founding fathers were akin to the gospel. And like any American, I’m grateful that I live in a country where I can speak my mind without fear, assemble to worship the one true God–again, without fear–and I’m not giving up my 2nd amendment rights either.  Political rights and human rights–these are good things, very necessary things, to ensure (or at least strive toward) the safety and equal treatment of all people.

But in terms of my relationship with God, having rights is an illusion. Rights empower me, and when I feel empowered, I tend to make myself an idol. Then I quickly screw something up, rather badly, and find out that I’m not God for a variety of good reasons. As I’ve come to know Him more intimately, I realize how I’ve allowed that American sense of entitlement poison my perception of things. Everything that I have came from Him. Everything. I said to my students once, “Breathe in. Breathe out. God did that. Now thank Him–because you didn’t give you life.”

In this passage, we find that those who receive the Lord Jesus and believe in His name are given the right to become children of God. It’s a curious use of that word. He may be extending to me a right, but it’s the right to be a child–dependent, maybe even helpless–under the absolute authority of an all-powerful God. My political rights give me the power to challenge authority if the need arises. God is in authority over all of us–whether we choose to acknowledge that authority or not. His power is absolute, which would be threatening if He weren’t also just, righteous, and good.

The right to be a child of God means that my status has changed–my days of slavery have ended; the King has adopted me and paid for it with His blood. Forever I will have the right to lean entirely on the power of my Father. That’s a radical gift for many, many reasons–not the least of which is that I get to depend on Him rather than myself. I’ll gladly give up entitlement in order to have the pressure transferred to someone who can truly handle it!

What we have in the Lord is favor which is unmerited and cannot be earned. “Out of His fullness, we have all received grace . . .” Lots of gifts will be exchanged this Christmas, some quite expensive. We will interpret the value of each gift, sometimes because of the expense, sometimes based on a gift’s usefulness, or maybe a gift is priceless in our eyes because of the identity of the giver.

In being given a Savior, we have value in all three. It is priceless, it is eternal. The Giver of Grace IS THE GIFT, and He IS priceless and eternal.

giver of grace

 

Lord, open our eyes to see the incomparable value of Your gift to us.