Following Makes the Follower

I’ve just read another article defending school teachers. It’s the millionth  (probably zillionth) published, rapidly going viral, well deserved justification of my profession. Really, there’s so much written which credits teachers as heroes that I’m having trouble figuring out who the villains are. Exactly who is panning American educators, laying the blame squarely out our feet for the very downfall of Western Civilization? Admittedly my research on this topic is grossly limited because no one is liking and sharing the blog posts which bemoan teachers for being lazy freeloaders.

Teaching wears me out. It’s hard work. And ladies and gentlemen, I am not lazy. Here’s a little known fact that I always want to scream from a rooftop when I hear teachers criticized—the skills, people. It takes an unbelievable amount skill to deliver a lesson well. Communication, intuition, classroom  management, on your feet decision making, maintaining discipline—SKILLS. And that’s just the delivery of a lesson.  That’s not to mention the interpersonal skills it takes to develop relationships with  your students and create a welcoming atmosphere for each class, even though at times you’re met with fierce resistance.

Now, how about planning? When I first switched from teaching English to history, I sat at my desk and cried because I had no idea where to start. I’m not sure about other teachers, but I do a fair amount of research for history presentations. It’s very time consuming. Then, you have to be creative, even a little artistic at times. Technology? Heck, yeah. You better be on top of that.  Time management? Indispensable. Planning is just a fraction of what a teacher does in the mislabeled “planning period”. Teachers act as their own personal assistants. We type, copy, distribute, and file every document ourselves.  In 45 minutes, I may have a stack of papers to grade, a couple of tests to run through the copier, an assignment to type, and five or so emails to answer in addition to all the research and lesson planning. Then there’s the matter of personal business. More than once, I’ve spent the bulk of a planning period playing phone tag with my doctor’s office.

But here’s the kicker, folks. You can’t simply have nominal familiarity with each skill. To be the teacher that apparently we are all expected to be, you have to master all these skills.  What’s a perfectionist like Mrs. Beasley to do? Well, let me tell ya. I feel a lot of pressure. All the time. At least once every school year, I have something like a nervous breakdown. The kids know I’m a basket case and discuss it when I’m not around. It’s embarrassing. I thought it would get better when I left public schools for Christian education, but I have a unique gift for not letting things go.

All this pressure has given me mixed feelings about my career as a teacher. I love planning (the creative part, not all the clerical stuff) and presenting. I truly do. I enjoy my students. But my heart’s desire was always to be a stay at home mom.  As a young adult, I never envisioned my children in daycare, or in full-time pre-K classes, all so that I could put in my time teaching other people’s children during the day and have nothing left over for my own in the evenings. I thought it would get easier when my children got a little older. They’re in the first and fifth grades now, and I chase my tail now more than ever. I’d love to quit my job, run my household, be more available to my husband and children, and write.

I’m sure that sounds cynical, but I promise this post has a happy ending. I’ve returned to teaching several times because of circumstances. It took a lot of years for us to finally have a family of our own. Every year that I returned to school in August felt like a slap in the face. I simply wouldn’t be there if I hadn’t miscarried. Those years were long and bore the ever present specters of brokenhearted loss and freaking out over test scores. Public school, I don’t miss you.

For a few years after we first adopted, I quit teaching and worked part-time. This I could manage. But, Todd’s call to plant a church is my call to plant a church. It’s that one flesh thing, I think. The first time that he suggested I go back to teaching school full-time so that he work on a church plant, I lit into him. It was not my finest hour as a wife, I confess. Amazingly, the Lord went to work on me, and I’ll never regret the decision to move, go back to work, and plant Renew Church. I might choose an easier schedule, but I love my school and I love my students.

Unfortunately, my spiritual gift is wearing my feelings on my sleeve and blabbing my thoughts and opinions to anyone with ears, so it’s no secret how hard teaching full-time is for me.

Luckily, my principal and I have a good working relationship, one characterized by my frank admissions that teaching wears me out and I’m pretty much always overwhelmed. He knew the day he interviewed me that I’d hoped to move on from teaching eventually. That he still hired me is better than any trust building exercise. Over time, I’ve conveyed my deepest concerns about my employment without holding much back. I’m a better wife and mother when I am not obligated to a full-time job. It plays on my conscience to be deprived of the time and energy that I’m sure should go to my family. Recently, he waved me into his office to ask me how I’m doing. I had a miscarriage a couple of weeks before school started. It’s been a hard year.

We had an honest conversation. We always do. He knows that I would like to be at home more and have time to write. He knows that I have to work to support us while we plant the church. He knows that more than anything, I wanted my baby. I assured him that, as worn out as I get, I’m all in. “I know,” he said. “You’re committed to these students.” Thank you for that, Mr. G. I’d like to think that each and every nervous breakdown has been for the greater progress of the gospel.

Then he said something that I wasn’t sure I could accept.

“You’re going to have to be OK with the fact that God called you to teach. I know it’s true because He’s using you here.”

See, this is a problem because that was a really nice thing to say, and I can see that you’re my biggest fan, but that’s not what I wanted to hear.

Also, that’s the second principal who told me that I’m called to Christian education. It’s the second time that I doubted (and resented) this assessment of God’s will. That conversation has hovered over my thoughts since that day. Honestly, it depressed me a little. And irked me a lot. I’d like to determine what God’s telling me to do, thank you very much.

A few weeks ago, I was writing a bible study lesson for my small group when God placed a startlingly simple truth under my nose. What makes a follower of Christ? It’s the following.

In order to disciple, we teach all these different facets of the Christian walk—pray, study, worship, serve. Don’t conform. Be transformed. We flesh out all those simple truths into a litany of specific obligations. Attend church—be there. Join a small group—get real.  Sing in the band—serve in the way that gives you joy. Teach Sunday school—volunteer when no one else will. Go on a mission trip—stretch yourself. Surrender to the ministry—make church your job. Plant a church—even if it’s crazy. Surrender to missions—go where no one else will.

So much stuff. Am I simply picking what works for me and my situation? Why do some women get to stay home but I have to work? And, how do I know I’m not called to something even bigger, like foreign missions? And, if I have a passion to write and it is really fulfilling to me, can that be my call?

A week or so later, I was teaching European imperialism to my 9th grade history students. The presentation includes details of the Chinese Boxer Rebellion between 1899-1901. As we discussed the massacres of foreign missionaries and Chinese Christians, I told the students that one question plagues me every time I teach this unit.

Why does God call some to all that hardship—in this case to be the victims of unthinkable atrocities– but He called me to Baptist Prep?

Funny. Those words—called me to Baptist Prep—that actually came from my mouth. OK, it’s true. If I felt that God had some other plan, that’s what I would do. Also, in comparison to martyrdom, teaching seems so easy. Even funnier, the next thing to tumble from my lips was that startlingly simple answer. What makes a Christ follower is the following. He leads. You follow. Period.

I have a friend who might have made an awesome school teacher, but she is now a missionary in Ecuador. She’s single. Her heart’s desire is to take God’s Word to women in the jungle. He led her there. She followed. It never crossed my mind that God might ask me to follow Him, as a single woman with no children in my future, into missions.

I have a another friend who would much rather be a missionary in Africa than teach school. She owns a salon, her day job, if you will. But she’s also  fundraising for African Christian Outreach for no pay at all. Someday, she’ll be in Africa full-time. She can’t wait for the day that Jesus leads her to Kenya for good. I’ve always been kind of relieved that He never led me to Kenya.

I have another friend who works in a nursing home and I can tell that those patients are richly blessed to have her there. She is amazing, so compassionate and genuine.  Me? I’d rather teach school, or go to Africa, or to a jungle, or teach school in an African jungle, than work in a nursing home. I kind of have a phobia of nursing homes. Please God, don’t lead me there!

What those women do seems so difficult to me. Yet, I’ve heard from my friends again and again, “I don’t know how you do it. I couldn’t work with kids every day.” They might be really relieved that God didn’t call them to teach writing to eighth graders (which is hard, I can tell you).

The strongest spiritual influence in my life, my mom, was a teacher for a short time. I’m sure she believed when she was in college that she would teach for a lot of years. But God led her to Bible Study Fellowship International, and she followed—first as a class member, then in leadership in the children’s program, and finally she became a teaching leader. I’ve always been astounded at the influence she had because of BSF.  When I was a kid, I just thought she gabbed on the phone with her leadership circle a lot. Years later, I realized  that it was her ministry which she conducted over the phone, in leaders’ meeting, and giving her lectures. She taught hundreds of women over the years, but also personally mentored many of her leaders. She also mentored me. Things would have turned out very differently for a lot of people if my mom had gone a different route.

Jesus led my husband to plant a church. Todd followed—and brought his family along! Jesus led me back to teaching. I followed. I’m going to trust Him that our choice to make our lives here will turn out for the greater progress of the gospel—that a lot of lives would turn out differently if we weren’t following where He leads.

In His authority, God carries out His plan. Maybe where He leads you is where you will have the most influence—where your presence will turn out for the greater progress of the gospel. And guess what? That’s hard work, no matter what it is. Going to China or the jungle, teaching or a nursing home—if you’re there to proclaim the gospel, it will never be easy. What is it that Jesus said to do before you follow? Oh, yeah. Deny yourself. Take up your cross.

 

 

 

 

 

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 11–Unwrap

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life,and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.   John 1:1-8 (NIV)

I just wrote a piece over today’s scripture right before Thanksgiving, and I don’t think I can dig deep enough to come up with any additional insights right now! I’m actually quite proud of that piece, so I hope you take a look at An Inestimable Masterpiece for thoughts on John 1:3-5.

But I’m not posting without anything new to share. I’d love for you to take a look at this video produced by the students at the school where I teach. I started on my ADVENTures with the goal of meditating on the scriptures and looking expectantly each day to Christ. What I’ve found is that the running theme through my ADVENTures posts has been Christ’s worth, the incomprehensible value of our salvation. This video so beautifully portrays how easily we brush aside a truly priceless, phenomenal gift.

God uses circumstances to get our attention. But His real purpose is to reveal our need for salvation and point us to the Cross. I hope you will unwrap that gift this Christmas and recognize its worth. Glory to the newborn King!

 

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.

ADVENTures Day 8–Unimaginable Peace

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
    the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and of might,
    the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
    or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
    with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
    with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt
    and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

The wolf will live with the lamb,
    the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
    and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
    their young will lie down together,
    and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
    and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
    on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.

In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.  Isaiah 11:1-10 (NIV)

This passage is so packed full of greatness–I’m not sure where to start!

I’ve only had a little bit of time to dig into the details here, but what I have learned is interesting. The end of chapter 10 is the prophecy of the destruction of Assyria, who had carried Israel into captivity. Isaiah describes Assyria’s fall as a permanent one. God Himself would fell the cedars of Lebanon, which in this case symbolically represent the Assyrian army.

See, the Lord, the Lord Almighty,
    will lop off the boughs with great power.
The lofty trees will be felled,
    the tall ones will be brought low.
He will cut down the forest thickets with an ax;
    Lebanon will fall before the Mighty One. Isaiah 10:33-34 (NIV)

What I would never have known had I not looked it up for the sake of this post, is that cedar stumps do not produce shoots. In fact, a felled cedar will die slowly. By contrast, an oak tree stump will grow “sucker” stems. David’s dynasty came crashing down, but unlike Assyrian rule, this is not the end! From David’s line comes the Messiah.

It’s also interesting that Isaiah does not specifically mention David in verse one, rather he reaches one generation back to Jesse. Why? I don’t know what the scholars have to say, but here’s my take. The stump can create a bunch of shoots–not unlike Jesse who had a gaggle of sons. If you recall the story, Jesse had not bothered to call David in from tending the flock when Samuel came to anoint the king. David was the youngest and seemed the least likely candidate for so lofty a position. Now, what about the birth of Jesus? Who would have supposed that a child born so poor was divine, a king whose reign would never end?

The passage continues to describe how the Holy Spirit would rest on the Messiah. Jesus would house the character and identity of God, not just be intermittently inspired by the Holy Spirit as the ancient prophets were. His rule, then, would bear the qualities you would expect from God. He would be wholly just and righteous, being an advocate for the oppressed and slaying the wicked.

My favorite part of the passage is what follows. Again, I haven’t done a ton of study, so I’m no expert. But one commentator described this section as a description of the church of Jesus Christ. From that perspective, the different animals represent the diversity of the body of Christ. Even more telling, the violent and the victim come together for worship, and they are completely at peace with one another. Jesus’ reign, having been initiated by grace and forgiveness at the cross, will be one of unimaginable peace. It is so unlike anything we’ve ever known that it can only be described in terms that are almost laughable. A child reaching its hand into a snake’s nest? Ridiculous!

But that’s what we’re in for, followers of Christ–peace which can only be achieved by the supernatural moving of the “Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

As I continue through these Advent readings and unravel the levels of history and prophecy, I sense God’s voice saying, “I have done great things. I AM doing great things. I will do great things.” What does that mean for you? If you are a follower of Christ, that means that you are a part of great things brought about by a great God whose love rescued you from great peril.

If you don’t know the Lord, ask yourself if you want unimaginable peace. Then place your faith in the Lord Jesus and be a member of His family.

Christmas tree 2

Friends, I pray that this Christmas, more than ever before, you will be confounded by the power and love your Savior. May we all enjoy a silent night with sweet dreams! More tomorrow.