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 2–It’s the bad news that makes the good news . . .

How delightful it is to see approaching over the mountains
the feet of a messenger who announces peace,
a messenger who brings good news, who announces deliverance,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”
Listen, your watchmen shout;
in unison they shout for joy,
for they see with their very own eyes
the Lord’s return to Zion.
In unison give a joyful shout,
O ruins of Jerusalem!
For the Lord consoles his people;
he protects Jerusalem.
 The Lord reveals his royal power
in the sight of all the nations;
the entire earth sees
our God deliver.       Isaiah 52:7-1

Day 2. I’ve been in the car all day, driving home from Thanksgiving at the farm. As tired as I am, there’s no way I’m skipping the second day of Adventures in Advent! Especially since God has made this scripture real to me.

Tomorrow is the last day of National Adoption Month. For weeks I’ve wanted to get some thoughts on my blog about our adoption experience, but time is at a premium and other topics were easier to tackle. As I looked over the second Advent scripture, I saw my experiences with adoption peeking out from behind the words. I know what good news is!

Possibly, I know good news so well because the bad news was such a piercing to my heart.

I was ten weeks pregnant when I went to my first OB appointment. Todd went with me, and we were so excited. Todd had spent months looking for a church job after graduating from seminary. The appointment was on a Monday morning, but the day before Todd preached at a church in Tulsa in view of a call to a staff position. The whole weekend had been one long interview, and we felt sure that this job was the one we had prayed for. Now we were off to see the first images of our first baby. Everything was coming together. A new job, a new home, and now the beginnings of our little family. I was going to quit teaching and be a stay at home mom. We had the world by the tail.

The doctor was all smiles, offered an extra VHS tape since we hadn’t known to bring one, and I was all set up for the ultrasound and the first recording of our sweet little one.

Maybe the reason I’ve held off on writing about these experiences for so long is that words just fail me when I try to describe that pain. I remember every excruciating detail, but to write it is to relive it, and maybe deep down, I don’t want to go back there.

The doctor went from buoyant to business in a fraction of a second. Quiet and grim faced, he simply tapped my knee, saying to get dressed and come to his office. We, of course, were seized with fear. I remember my limbs going limp and clumsily going through the motions—tumbling into my pants, getting lost in my shirt sleeves, gripping my equally shocked husband, numbly making my way to a seat in another room.

The doctor delivered the news factually but compassionately. He seemed particularly concerned that I not blame myself. Todd stuttered his way through a few questions—I couldn’t find my breath. It felt like I’d been body slammed. Then I was given a choice: I could schedule a D&C or wait until I miscarried naturally. At that moment, I was suspended somewhere between denial and complete despair. I just wanted out of there, to find a place where I could cry or collapse or scream or throw things or any other socially unacceptable behavior I chose.

There is so much more to this story. I could fill a book. But for the purposes of this post, I’ll stick with what is relevant to our Advent passage. We went through this pain several more times—being told by a doctor that our baby had not survived beyond the seventh week. Those three miscarriages were particularly traumatic—the first two I ended up in the ER. But I believe that there were a number of very short pregnancies in between where I miscarried before I knew I was pregnant.

So what does this have to do with Advent?  For about five years, all we got was bad news. I wish I could tell you that these were years that were fruitful in my walk, years I spent pressing in, studying His Word and allowing Him to reveal His character during my times of suffering. Ha! Not even close. I was unbelievably angry with God. If He loves me, why doesn’t He heal this? It’s like my situation didn’t reflect what I thought was true of God, so I just held Him at arm’s length for a long time. I did not see any new revelation of God’s character because I wasn’t really looking. What I wanted was an answer to my prayer in the only way that I could see where the healing of my heart could take place. He simply had to give me a baby.

Then one day, after four years of miscarriages and heartache, I started praying the right prayer. Instead of praying that God would give me a biological child, I prayed that He would heal me in whatever manner He chose. I just didn’t want to be angry anymore, and I wanted my relationship with Him to be what it had been before all this mess. I wanted Him to restore the joy of my salvation.

One thing led to another that led to an adoption agency in Houston, Texas, called Alternatives in Motion. We waited a long year for the phone call. You know the one I mean? THE phone call!

The phone rang on a Sunday night when we were least expecting it. We were a few minutes into the conversation before I realized what was happening. I remember saying, “Wait, are you saying that this baby is available for adoption?”

On the other end of the line was the agency director, Jan Deets. She laughed a little. “Katie, I’m saying this is your baby!” I’m not even sure what happened for the next few minutes of the conversation. Todd was on the phone in the bedroom, asking a few questions and getting all the details. I was too busy dancing! Finally!

Jan with Emma Kate

That’s Jan on the day we met our second daughter, Emma Kate. I’ve always loved this picture.

 

Within a few weeks of having our sweet Eden home, I realized what God had done. He had revealed Himself through the adoption of our daughter. Even though I was a believer for a lot of years before, I now saw salvation in a different light—that God deeply, deeply loves me and made all the arrangements so that I could be His child. I had doubted for so long that God could work all this pain together for good. I had felt for so long that God was punishing me by not allowing me to carry a baby to term. I had grown accustomed to thinking of God as angry, and cold, and distant. But here He was showing Himself. He does good things! I pined for that baby for so long; finally I was able to bring her home, call her mine, and lavish her with love I’d been carrying for years since my first pregnancy.

Eden day 1

The good Rev with sweet Eden on day 1. This picture is another one of my all-time favorites.

 

Isn’t that a beautiful picture of salvation as well? He pines for us, for our repentance, so that we can be forever in His love—never to be snatched from His hand. Todd and I went through a whole rigmarole in order to adopt—paperwork, interviews, workshops, and payments. But God made His payment for my adoption in blood—the blood of His own Son. And if I, being so imperfect, could so love this little baby girl who was only mine because of a legal document and the say-so of a judge, how much more could a perfect God love those for whom He paid so immeasurable a price?

As for our scripture, Isaiah spent many pages describing judgment and exile, using words like fire and wrath. These people got bad news, over and over, unlike anything that we can comprehend. God’s people would not only hear the bad news in prophecy, they would live out its horrors. They must have doubted His goodness at times. They must have wondered if they had been forever cut off from His love. Imagine the joy, the expectancy, of a people who so suffered to hear their salvation proclaimed! Not only that, how they must have treasured the assurance that they belong to the God who reigns over all—and that every nation everywhere would witness their redemption.

Guess what? If you are in Christ, these words are for you as well. Sometimes, the good news is best understood in light of all the bad that has gone before. None of what you have suffered has been wasted. Your God reigns, and He will return and comfort His people. Every nation everywhere will see what our God has done to redeem us.

If you don’t know Christ, then know this–He wants to adopt you. You’ve been separated from Him because of your sin, but He’s pining for you. All the work is done, signed in the blood of the perfect Christ, who will buy you back from your sin. We celebrate His birth at Christmas, but it’s His death and resurrection that are the true tidings of comfort and joy!

 

 

Pray boldly–even when it doesn’t make sense.

Though Zechariah and Elizabeth were well along in years, the angel says his prayer had been heard. No doubt the couple prayed for a son when it made sense to pray for one—but all those years later?

A few years ago I prayed for a son. I’m not sure that it made sense praying to that end—I was 41. Emma Kate, the younger of our girls, was about 2 at the time, and I believed that we were “done.” We put in five hard years of miscarriages and indecision before God led us to adopt. Our family was indeed complete.

But I was not.

Still, I was in part unaware of my feelings about having a biological child until the doctor tossed out the word hysterectomy. He only meant to inform me of my options—I might endure endometriosis until I completed the change, but if not, I could always go under the knife and have my womanhood removed. No big deal.

I was not prepared to hear those words. At all. He left the room and I burst into tears. Where was this coming from?

I’d always held out the possibility of getting pregnant again. I just did my best to pretend it was something I didn’t need to do. The results of our genetic testing a few years before had shown that biological children were certainly possible; in fact, according to the genetics counselor, we should only miscarry one pregnancy in five.

So we prayed. Maybe we were praying when it no longer made sense to do so. I was labeled advanced maternal age, high risk, and I’d already lost six or seven babies at this point.

I prayed very specifically, very boldly, for a healthy son who would not carry the chromosome translocation that increased our chances of miscarriage.

But it didn’t make sense. It was unlikely that God would give me the answer I wanted.

Was this Zechariah’s prayer? Was he hoping that God would act on their behalf and take away his wife’s disgrace? If so, how strange that he doubts the angel’s news! Zechariah’s reaction to Gabriel begins a pattern that is repeated throughout the gospels. People will see something supernatural right before their very eyes but will not receive its message nor recognize the identity of the Christ. Ritual religion does not help you detect the movement of God. Looking eagerly for Him helps you recognize Him.

Prayers have been heard

The answer to Zechariah’s prayer is unified with God’s purpose.

He will be a joy and delight to you . . . Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God.” Luke 1:14, 17

That purpose is always to engage in meaningful relationships with people—not just in ritual religion–to turn them from their sin, to discover the value of eternal life in Christ Jesus.

And—for Zechariah—did this begin with a prayer that he never expected the Lord to answer?

When I prayed for a son, I miscarried, but that doesn’t mean the prayer wasn’t answered. Maybe, if I peel back the layers of the last few years, I’ll see clearly the Lord’s purpose. Maybe it was to engage in a more meaningful—less ritualistic—relationship with me. Maybe it was part of the greater work of preparing the Beasleys to be on mission–leaving what is comfortable and leaping into situations where we have to depend on HIm. Maybe it was simply to prompt me to pray more and more unlikely prayers—and ask boldly—so that I might better see that His purpose is for my good and His glory.

Always pray boldly, even the prayers we think He is unlikely to answer. His answers–the ones we hope for and the ones we don’t–are unified with His  purpose.

When He speaks, it is so often not the words I want to hear, but I can always be sure that that they bear His purpose. He always draws me closer so that I am engaged more deeply in my relationship with Him. As He answers each prayer, He prompts me all the more to turn from my sin, to submit to His authority, and in doing those things I discover the value of the life I’ve found in Christ. He brings the supernatural right to my doorstep, and I look all the more eagerly for Him–not just for the answers to my prayers.

Because of God’s tender mercy,
    the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us,

to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    and to guide us to the path of peace. Luke 1:78-79

I lost my mind. I don’t much miss it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carry the cross

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

The Tempter and the Poisonous IF

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

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

Spa Day, Sort ofEden at the Wal-Marts

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

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

Matthew 4:1-11

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

IF.

If you are the Son God…

If you heal her…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Obedience–Sans Medal, Joy Beyond Words

Matthew 1:18-25

My husband Todd and I are adoptive parents. We have two beautiful little girls, Eden and Emma Kate. Being their mommy is simultaneously the most fun, scary, costly, draining, exhilarating, most eternally consequential challenge I’ve ever taken on. Raising children, as you most likely already know, is a tremendous responsibility.  With that in mind, I can tell you with absolute certainty that there is no other honor on this planet like being chosen to raise someone else’s child.

We may make a big deal over our celebrities and their awards ceremonies and their acceptance speeches. We fawn over our athletes and their almost super-human feats. Trophies and big paychecks are seemingly the highest honor in the land. But success and accomplishments are not the same thing as someone studying your character and then selecting you over all the other candidates. Not once, but twice, someone looked closely at the Beasleys and drew the conclusion, “You are good enough for my baby.”  It’s a pretty awesome feeling. So….where’s my medal?

Now give some consideration to Mary and Joseph. The Creator chose them to raise His son.

Joseph is the one who really has a choice to make. Mary will become pregnant, for sure, and debating the angel is not likely to change her fate. But her fiancé could bail out on her if he chose to. Legally and culturally, he would have been completely within his rights to put her aside for someone else. Who would blame him?

But Matthew tells us that Joseph was righteous. His habit was to follow God’s law. He considered handling the situation in the most delicate way possible—to bow out but still protect Mary if possible. Already, he has my admiration. Most of us like to see others’ sins exposed when they’ve caused us grief. What God needs from Joseph is an act of obedience that would fill each of us with dread. It requires more than humility. He must put aside any plans that he has made for his own future—he must abandon his pride, his personal goals, his “right” to seek security and prosperity—all for the cause of Christ.

Righteousness is costly. Obedience has its price. The longer I walk with the Lord, the more aware I become of the continual call to yield to God’s authority. Each time I reach a fork in the road and choose to obey, I experience some loss. Maybe I’m abandoning the pursuit of something pleasurable. Or I am faced with giving up some ease or luxury that seems to come automatically to everyone else. Other times, it seems that I must give up my dreams in order to fulfill my responsibilities.

Likewise, the longer I walk with the Lord, the more I realize that He works and works and works (really hard…because I’m stubborn) to change my definition of the things that become obstacles to Him. Success takes on an altogether different meaning so that we don’t measure it by awards or a paycheck. Obedience has a way of converting that desire for pleasure into a deep longing for joy. Even our decisions become God’s to make.

Some years ago, my husband started making a lot of noise about wanting to plant a church. I gave him a hard time about it. Well, I tried to sound supportive, but really I was hoping he would come to his senses. He had a position on a church staff in Texas—a nice, safe job with a paycheck and benefits. Then he suggested moving to Arkansas and I thought, “Now you’ve just gone too far. Arkansas???”

Just abandoning all that security to take a risk was the big scare back then. But it’s actually even scarier in practice than I ever imagined. As it turns out, each step in this process is marked by that same fork in the road, “Now what, Beasley? Are you going to obey?”

We’ve done a lot of downsizing—our home, our lifestyle, not to mention our pride! When we decided to move, we didn’t have jobs. We’ll just trust God that He has jobs for us. Well, of course He did, but we never imagined how long we would be here before we had jobs that would actually pay the bills. I had quit teaching a few years ago because I wanted to write. In fact, I told Todd once that I would not teach school so he could plant a church. I applied for every job imaginable, but God gave me a job—you guessed it–teaching at a Christian school.

If I could name just one thing, the hardest thing, about yielding to God’s will by making this move, it would be giving up the pursuit of prosperity. We are so accustomed to the American dream that we think it’s our right to expect that bigger and better things will come our way as we get older. Social media ruins me on this. Everyone posts pictures of their new homes and their vacations. Compared to everyone else, it felt like we were going in reverse.  I would look at where we are and not just feel jealous, but a little ashamed.  Once I was looking at a church bulletin, perusing the bible studies being offered and upcoming events. I didn’t have the money to attend any conferences or workshops. I could come up with the fifteen dollars for bible study book, but decided I needed that money for other things. Even church was too expensive for me.

Here’s the crazy thing. Obeying God’s call to make this move has given us so much joy. The Lord has answered our prayers in the most amazing ways. I tell my students all the time, “Yes, there is a God. I’m teaching school and I love it.” They know my story. I didn’t want to go back to teaching at all. I viewed it as God making me give up my dream of being a writer. But I have never had more fun at a job, and every day I look forward to being with my kids.

Now, I could have stayed in Texas. In fact, I was sneaky enough with my pseudo-supportive wife act, that I’m sure I could have manipulated Mr. Beasley into staying right where we were.

And I would never have known the rewards of obedience.  It was costly, but I’m overwhelmed by blessings.

Joseph is faced with a choice. When God intervened, He said, “Do not be afraid.” I wonder if that was enough for Joseph. Do you suppose that he made the decision to obey, and the fear just–poof!–disappeared? Keep reading and you’ll find that obedience does not automatically equal safety. I find it interesting that Joseph could have avoided all those risks, but he would have missed seeing God at work!

We aren’t told much about Joseph as a dad, but since I’m raising two kiddos, I’ll read into it. I routinely look at my girls and gush to the Lord, “Thank you! Thank you for trusting me with these babies!”  If I have so much joy as a parent, what must it be like to watch the Savior grow and learn? How does it feel to watch baby Jesus, toddling along grabbing at pieces of furniture, steadying himself and then reaching to sit in your lap? Do you suppose Joseph, at the end of his life, regretted his decision to obey?

Here are some questions to consider:

  • Can you give an example of a time that God gave you joy when it was completely unexpected?
  • How do you respond when God presents you with something new? Do you feel like it’s an opportunity or that God is just asking too much?
  • What act of obedience have you been avoiding? What will it take for you to make the leap?

 

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?