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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Matthew 1:1-17 or the Rotting Branch on the Family Tree…

This post discusses verses 1-17 of chapter Matthew chapter 1. I know that’s a lot of names, people. If you’re new to studying the bible, take courage!  I started to skip over the genealogy for fear of running you off. But my wise mother told me once to study it all—it has relevance.

Plus, I love genealogy. That probably sounds crazy to most of you, but I am fascinated by even the smallest detail. There is just something about these faceless people who make up my past. They belong to me. I’m a product of who they were—their great deeds, their failures–but mostly their great deeds. (Okay, I’m kidding.) The way they raised their children, their decisions—big and small–I own all of it in some way.

And because I’m just as vain as the next person,  I’m hoping to find connections to people who were special, famous or particularly influential. In my history classes, I frequently draw attention to where my family tree intersects with historical events– colonization, the 1849 Gold Rush, World War II. But in a few cases, I can boast of my connection to significant characters of history—Daniel Webster is one, for example. Rarely—actually never– do I make mention of the darker aspects of my lineage, though it is there. It’s more fun to stick to the stuff I can brag about. I can just let the rotting branches fall off the tree.

If you haven’t read the Old Testament, Jesus’ genealogy may not mean much to you. Pick a few characters, though, and take a look at their stories when you get a chance. It may leave you wondering why the lineage is included at all. To be fair, I haven’t researched what the listing of such a lineage would have meant to Matthew’s first century audience. But I can tell you what stands out to me. Jesus had the benefit of watching his lineage unfold before his birth. He knew exactly who made up His earthly ancestry. When God inspired Matthew to write the book, He made sure Matthew didn’t clean up the family tree.  All kinds of people are included in this listing of Jesus’ heritage—not just the ones that look pretty hanging from the branch. He isn’t weeding folks out based on gender or religion or, surprisingly, behavior. Men and women. Jews and Gentiles. The righteous. The wicked. The faithful and the faithless. It’s all there.

Here is what I want you to get from this. There is nothing that is so bad that it can’t be named as belonging to Christ. Yes, you heard me right. NOTHING is so terrible—no sin, no circumstance–there’s no X mark next your name anywhere that precludes you from the invitation to come to the table. Sin separates us all from God, so really we are all rotting without Christ. The purpose of the gospel and of the book of Matthew is to extend that invitation to believe in Him and be restored. From rotten to redemption. That is good news!

Take David’s role in Jesus’ lineage to heart. King David’s life covered a range of faithfulness, sin, repentance, and restoration that pretty much anybody can identify with. He ran after God’s heart, and yet fell into a terrible sin. Ever been there? Have you ever felt like you were doing pretty well and then did something awful? I have. I’ve sat in the muck of my own making and said, “How did I ever get here?”

I’m so grateful for David’s story. He repented and sought restoration with a “broken and contrite heart.” He trusted in God’s unfailing love. Many generations before Christ, David trusted in the Lord for salvation even though he could not have known what God’s ultimate plan for salvation would be.

Right here in His family, we have adultery, idolatry, murder, and prostitution. We have grief, homelessness, wealth, poverty, dysfunction, violence, terror, and loneliness. And then, right here in this lineage and for the same flawed people, we see God’s provision, and that they were privileged to be a part of His plan for salvation. We see His blessings and promises, and the unfailing love that David often spoke of in the Psalms.

Now, what could you possibly be carrying that God did not anticipate—that hasn’t already made an appearance in the earthly family that brought us our Lord? What flaw have you made an idol, believing that it prevents you from being useful to Him? Even worse, does it prevent you from experiencing His unfailing love altogether?

Here we are at the beginning of a study of His life and ministry. We all come with sin and baggage, with questions and pain, just like the men and women named on His family tree. And even those of us who have already placed our faith in God, sooner or later, we fall flat on our faces like David. Perhaps not to that extreme, but we still make messes. We even sometimes blame Him when things aren’t going our way. These kinds of people,those kinds of people, my kind of people, all kinds of people—Jesus Christ came to save. Even if you’re so angry about the hand you’ve been dealt that you can’t see past your rage, Christ came for you. Don’t look at your life or your past or your heritage and assume there is nothing here for you. Don’t let anything stop you. Press on.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • Why is it important for all kinds of lives and backgrounds to be listed here at the beginning of Christ’s story?
  • Are you comforted or offended that both men and women, sinners and saints, Jews and Gentiles have made the list? Why?
  • Does your situation resemble any of those listed above? Does this affect the way you approach God? Does it prevent you from coming to Him at all?
  • Do you think (consciously or unconsciously) that there is something in your history that is an obstacle to your becoming a follower of Christ?
  • Do you think (consciously or unconsciously) that there are some things that you just can’t talk about with God?
  • What needs to change for you to draw closer to Him?

I’m Okay with Sinking

Wow. I just got my second wind. And just in the nick of time!

I can play along at fake it ‘til I make it for awhile, but eventually the bottom drops out and right about that time I have to admit that my faith is dwindling away.

Here’s where I’ve been over the months that I’ve neglected—through no fault of my own—this little blog. Last summer we moved, after ten years in Orange, Texas, to a town just outside of Little Rock. It was quite literally the biggest test EVER of my faith to abandon my comfy, predictable life down South for a new beginning in a new state. Not that we didn’t do it for good reason—God called us to Arkansas. My husband, a minister, has thought for years that his ministry would ultimately lead to planting a church. A brand new church. In other words, we didn’t come here with a paying position all set up for Todd. The plan is to transition to bi-vocational ministry, i.e., work a full-time job and also work on the church plant. I won’t bore you with what previous posts can explain. I’m working—teaching—at a Christian school, and I love it. But it’s a part-time job, and without another income, well…you can imagine what the Beasley emotional ride has been like in recent months. It’s not even a roller coaster. It’s one of those bungee things where they pull you down as far as you can go and catapult you into oblivion. Terrifying. But fun, I think. Oh wait, I may throw up…

Not too long before Christmas, my husband applied for a job that he really wanted. He’s applied (is applying) for many positions, but this one in particular interested him. We prayed and prayed through the whole process. And then…what a terrible letdown.

For months we kept reasserting our faith in God’s promises and felt pretty confident that whatever God will do to provide a full-time income is just over the horizon. Then this job went to another candidate just as we were staring Christmas in the face, with a bleak financial landscape to usher in 2013. The gift money and income tax refund we’d been living on was slipping away. It was time for us to begin paying for our own health insurance (thank you FBCO for covering us since August!). Our house in Texas still hasn’t sold. Suddenly, at what is usually the jolliest time of the year, I could not shake any of a sundry of negative emotions: fear, abandonment, hopelessness, anger.

What happened to my faith?

A number of years ago I did a bible study in the book of Matthew. I especially enjoyed the teaching on Jesus walking on water. One question addressed in the study invited us, the learners, to think our way into the story. You know, which character do you most identify with? Are you in the boat, not even asking to hop out and take a stroll on the waves? Are you Peter, braving the waves to walk with the Lord? Are you like Jesus, never flinching in the face of adversity? This question made me laugh. My answer? None of the above. I had to invent a character to identify with.  The scripture says that the disciples had been rowing all night, buffeted by the waves, to get to the other side because Jesus had told them to. During the fourth watch, say about 3 a.m., Jesus walks on the water toward the boat to meet them.

“A GHOST!!!!!!!!” the disciples exclaimed in terror. And pandemonium, no doubt, ensued in the little fishing boat.

Here’s where Katie features in the story. I can just picture myself, engaged in the task–the not at all glamorous, ever so laboriously painful task which God is MAKING ME DO. At certainly not my proudest moment, I bark at the quivering, lily-livered disciples, “HEY!! Quit GAWKING at the ghost! Get over here and help me ROW!”

I had to laugh because back then, it was 100% true. There was work to do, God was making me do it, rarely did it yield any fruit, and faith had very little to do with it.

But not anymore.

What a change God can make! What a hard road He took me down to create in me a clean heart! Friends, I pray your way to obedience is easier than mine! Nevertheless, I made it. I’m here. God’s work is no longer just a task I have to check off my list. It is a great spiritual blessing that He’s imparted to me, that I GET to be a part of what He’s doing. Now, I pray, “God give me work—meaningful work—to do for You!”

But back to the deep despair of Christmas 2012. A week ago, that’s where I found myself, asking, “What happened to my faith?” The last week has been pure drudgery.  This morning, I woke up early and prayed for God to restore my hope, my faith, and my joy.  I’m not sure why I’m so surprised that He answered.

I put myself on a bible reading plan for 2013. This morning I got to read–guess what?–Matthew 14 wherein we find the story of how Jesus walked on water. After reading it twice, to my great relief, something broke in me and I felt a surge of relief and hope.

It came with the realization that I’m no longer the curmudgeon waving the oar at the other disciples. I’ve leaped out of the boat, and guess what?!! I’m sinking!!

But Katie, you’re not supposed to WANT to sink. Peter started sinking and Jesus chided him for doubting and not having enough faith.

Yeah, I’d be all broken up about the failure of my faith if it weren’t for the fact that Jesus is RIGHT THERE, CLOSE ENOUGH TO GRASP MY HAND AND HOLD ME UP ABOVE THE WAVES.

Not too many years ago, I wasn’t near close enough to exercise any faith at all. But today, I’ve leaped off the edge because He told me to and I’ve never been closer to my Savior in all my years.

Praise God. He’s RIGHT THERE.

“Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.”

Truly.

I Know My Limitations. I Live in Here.

A great friend of mine texted me recently, “You amaze me with your faith.” She knows me better than just about anybody, so I’m sure she wasn’t dazzled for long. I cringe when someone says something like that to me because, if I may be permitted to borrow a line from Rock of Ages’ Stacee Jaxx, “I live in here.”

I like to pretend I have it all together, but I’m overly prone to stress, an easy scare, not a risk taker, a good candidate for a sundry of meds…you get the idea.

I’ve been describing my most recent circumstances as a journey of faith and fear. There could not be a better description of life as I now know it. Here’s what’s happening. A number of years ago, my husband started ruminating on a desire to plant a church. That is, he wants to start a church from scratch—no congregation, no building, no salary, no insurance, no IRA, no security. You see where this is going, right?

Admittedly, I didn’t take him all that seriously at first.  At about the time that he expressed an interest in church planting, both of our fathers had life threatening health crises within about six weeks of each other. To our great relief, they both recovered, but this segued into a conversation about how–possibly, perhaps, maybe, someday, at some ill-defined point in the future–we should consider moving to a location between our parents. A location such as–let’s say–Arkansas, or more specifically, Little Rock. That’s roughly halfway between Fort Worth , Texas, and Creal Springs, Illinois. No need to google Creal Springs, folks, I will enlighten you.  It’s in Southern Illinois near Marion and Carbondale (Any grads of SIU out there? Go Salukis!)—about the same distance north and east of Little Rock as Fort Worth is south and west.

This was all sort of theoretical back then. We were established in Southeast Texas and obviously God had work for us to do.  Hurricane Ike had blown through, creating all kinds of mayhem, and we wanted to stay and see our church through a rough patch. Moving to plant a church was like this disturbing dream where I keep reaching for a doorknob but it is always just a fingernail’s length out of reach.  I can’t decide if I want the door opened, but something compels me to keep reaching. Even asleep, I’m vaguely aware that what is on the other side of the door is at least unsettling, if not a nightmare. Still, we only discussed a possible move someday.

When my father became terminally ill last year, we had to give this move a lot more consideration. Todd is an only child living twelve hours away from home. My recently widowed mother is finding her way without my dad after 47 years of marriage. Being equally accessible to them as they age makes sense. My husband began networking a little, so moving to Arkansas suddenly wasn’t just a whim residing somewhere over the rainbow. Then, in the last six months, things picked up quite a bit. We made a trip to Little Rock over spring break to check out the opportunities. Dave, a church planter and friend, drove us around the city and discussed all the locations and possibilities. Nothing captured my attention until he said something about starting a “multi-ethnic” church.

Sometimes, it just takes a word and the dots connect. All he had to do was throw it out there like one of so many other options. It sounded distinctly in my ear while everything else downgraded instantly to background noise. Multi-ethic. Cross-cultural. Many-colored. Did I mention that our children are bi-racial? A blend, just like my family. How beautiful! No longer is this solely my husband’s vision and only sort of my ministry but just by association. I’m not just along for the ride anymore. It’s my call, too. Not the decision type of call—the higher type of call.

The opportunity to plant a church in Arkansas is there, and really all that’s left to do is take that proverbial leap of faith, make the move, and get to work. EEE. GAD.

Now, an easy way to approach this is to wait for a “parent” church to get onboard and provide a stipend or a salary of some sort. We could do that. All this time that we theoretically talked about planting a church, I naively believed that there would be some kind of funding from the get go. However, there is no guarantee that any church will ever assist us. Plus, regardless of the timing, Todd will have to be a bi-vocational minister in order to be a part of this project. I simply had never realized this before we had a real opportunity on the table. Oddly, I’m the one who proposed that we move this summer, whether we have jobs or not, so that our children can start in their new school this fall. Doesn’t sound much like me. I am, after all,  the person for whom stress balls were invented.

The reason I can confidently say no one should be amazed at my faith is that I’ve lived with me for the last four months. Why did I ever think that I could handle stress like this? Keeping the secret alone had me climbing the very walls! And looking for a job? I was categorically unprepared for the anxiety of looking for a job when I’ve been wanting to transition into writing for so long anyway! What if I end up being the bread-winner and I’m locked into working full-time for years to come? Then there is the question of getting this house sold. Money is so tight. Moving is so expensive. Holy cow. Too many variables. Too many things that I have to trust God with ALL AT ONE TIME.

Still, it’s done. Todd announced his resignation even though neither of us had jobs. We had been unable to secure even a bridge in Arkansas to live under, and all the while our house in Orange has been on the market since May without so much as a nibble. For several months, we have both been looking furiously for employment. I had several promising opportunities, including two interviews, for full-time positions with benefits. Nothing came of any of it.  Finally, a week after Todd resigned, God opened a door for me to teach part-time at a Christian school, the same school where my children will attend (no, we aren’t paying for the tuition—that’s gift from my sweet momma!).  Although this won’t do near enough to meet our financial needs, Todd insisted that I take this job. He knows that part-time employment is best for his hyper-stressed wife. What’s good for the goose, ya know…plus, I can work and still make time to write.

Once I committed to a job with a start date on August 1st, we had to find housing even if we don’t have the money to pay for it.  We found a house to rent, for which I’m very grateful. The landlords are friends of some dear friends, are taking our word for it that we are good for the rent, and are kind enough to allow us to keep our enormous dog, Zacchaeus, in the house. This is no small answer to prayer. Zacky was my baby when I couldn’t have babies. I couldn’t bear the thought of giving him away.

Housing and a job for Katie. Those two things we can check off the list.  I thoroughly enjoyed my first day after accepting the teaching gig because I didn’t have to troll the internet for a job I don’t really want in the first place. We still lack a job for Todd and for our house in Orange to sell. I don’t know how to trust God with this except to just keep saying, “Hey, God, I trust you with this.” In fact, when I really feel low, I mentally cash in my Matthew 6:33 chips, wag my finger toward Heaven and remind Him, “You promised!”

Twelve years ago, Todd and I were in a similar predicament. He was pastor of a small church that couldn’t really afford a full-time minister. I had a miscarriage about six weeks before we moved to Tulsa for this job, so I was pretty fragile. Then the church’s lack of funds became increasingly obvious. They had to cut our insurance just a few months after he started, and we had planned on getting pregnant again. I vividly remember Todd delivering the news about how the decision had been made, how we would have to pay thus-and-such amount when the church had promised otherwise before we moved. Todd, although pretty discouraged, spoke calmly from the recliner across the room from me. On the other hand, I responded the way you would expect someone to respond when they match the description above.

Collapsing at his side on the floor, I hung my top half over the arm of the chair and wailed, “What if God brought us here just so we could sink?!

I love this man. He said, “Okay. So, if God brought us here to sink, is that okay?” He didn’t have to elaborate. I’ve never forgotten it. I hope I never will.

The LORD will fulfill His purpose for me;

 your love, O LORD, endures forever—

do not abandon the works of your hands.

                                    Psalm 138:8