Tuesday, February 6, 2018

No Second Class Citizens

When I was a young child, women were limited to certain jobs. When they began to go into jobs that had been dominated by men, they weren't paid as much as men in the same jobs and they didn't climb the corporate ladder as quickly. In college I majored in math and some of the classes I needed were offered through the engineering department. When I took those classes I was often the only female and found the guys didn't appreciate me being there. It was during that time I became acutely aware that people are often partial to others because of race, gender, or socio-economic standing. I think that is one of the reasons I came to love the gospel so much, it is not partial to any people groups. 

In church yesterday we studied Galatians 3:26- Galatians 4:7. I realized even though the Bible was written long ago, it addresses the issues of partiality I recognized in college. The passage says that when we come to Christ by faith, we are found in Him. That means God no longer sees us as people in bondage to sin,  He sees us as Christ! He goes on to say explicitly there is neither Jew nor Greek, which handles the issue of race. This statement was significant because Jews, who were to be a witness to the nations around them, had developed lots of contempt for different people groups like the Samaritans who were of a mixed race. God gave Israel instruction on how to treat strangers who came and lived among them and they didn't always follow his directions. It doesn't matter what ethnicity people are, what culture they grow up in, what borders they are born within, when they come to Christ by faith, they are joint heirs with Him. God does not choose to save us based on the color of our skin, the language we speak, or the culture we grew up portraying. God  doesn't bless one race over another. He blesses simply because He loves. 

Paul went on to say that in Christ there is neither slave nor free. The Jewish law provided a way for people who were poor and unable to provide for themselves by allowing them to indenture themselves with richer people so they didn't starve and could climb out of poverty. That contract was to last a specific amount of time and then it was to end and the people were set free of their obligations. But many masters abused their power and didn't release their servants, causing God tp bring judgment on Israel. What was to be a temporary situation designed to help the poor, became a way for the rich to abuse and take advantage of the poor. I love it that Paul is telling the people in God's economy there no difference between the rich and the poor. The poor are not second class citizens. They, like the rich, are joint heirs with Christ, Himself. They have the same rights, the same privileges, and the same spiritual gifts as richer people do.     

When we come to Christ, He no longer sees us as males or females, which deals with the issue of prejudice based on gender. I know some people believe the Bible is antiquated, but look at what it is saying and think about the time in which it was written. In those days, women did not have legal rights or economic stature. If they were unmarried, they lived with parents. If they were in an abusive marriage or their spouse was unfaithful, they could not get a divorce as that was a "right" only men had. If they were widowed, they were at the mercy of their husband's family members, who may or may not choose to provide or the husband's near kinsmen who may or may not choose to marry them to preserve the dead spouse's  inheritance. In addition, women were restricted to certain areas of the Jewish temple and never worshipped with the men. In the nations around Israel, women were even used and abused in the name of worship to appease false gods, as were children. Father's took young virgin daughters to the temples to be temple prostitutes and offered their babies as sacrifices to appease angry gods. There was an ugly imbalance of power between genders at the time and here Paul tells them that in God's eyes there is no male or female. That doesn't mean we all lose who we were created to be. God creates us. He assigns our gender. He places us in families in the countries of His choosing. I embrace that I was created as a woman and know as a believer I still am one. These verses make it clear that though I was born and raised a girl outside of the Bible belt, I am not a second class member of God's family. I and every other female are joint heirs with Christ, Himself. That means we have the same rights and responsibilities as our Christian brothers. 

I started going to church as a young kid. When I was in fifth or sixth grace I received a letter from the small  church I attended. It told me how much offering I had given and that it cost the church so much money to operate per person and I wasn't giving my share. I was filled with shame and felt like I was a second class person when I went to church because as a 10 year old I didn't make much money. After I got married, we moved to several different locations and became involved in several different churches. I found each church had their own ways of doing things. At one point I was trying to accomplish a task and was told by a woman I hadn't grown up in their church and just didn't understand how things were done. Those words caused those old feelings of inadequacy to resurface. I took her words to heart and tried to ask questions, only to find out later I had offended people, because they assumed my questions were either hidden statements of dissatisfaction for decisions they made or the way they did things.

Every time we moved or switched churches, I found myself feeling defective and inadequate because I didn't know how each new church operated. There were always unwritten rules, traditions, and ways of doing things that defined the culture of that particular church. At times I found it less painful and easier to just plaster a smile on my face and do what I could do to make myself somewhat invisible. That way my words, my questions, and my actions could not offend, wound, or look wrong.

So when I read, "...for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ Jesus have put on Christ." I felt free of those unwritten standards to which I was supposed to live up. When I read, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither, slave nor free, there is no male or female," I realize I was wrong to give other people the power to make me feel like a second class Christian, because there really is no such thing! It doesn't matter how much money our families have when we're growing up or how much we make or don't make now. It doesn't matter in if we grew up in a church family learning how to do church or not. It doesn't matter if we are male or female. We are all joint heirs with Christ and are given spiritual gifts, abilities, and passions to serve and all of us are needed to make the body of Christ function as Christ designed it to function.

Paul also made it clear that even our sin cannot make us second class Christians. He put the title, "The Worst Sinner," on himself. I believe God had him do that so you and I couldn't use it to live defeated because we falsely believe the sin we commit or the sin perpetrated against us makes us second class believers. Instead, we all get to rest and to bask equally in God's grace!

Can you imagine how Paul's messaged rocked the early church? Indentured servants were equal to their masters at church and a master might even have to even sit under a servant who was gifted as a teacher. The poor were just as important in the church as the wealthy were. In God's economy two coins given sacrificially might even be viewed as a more sacrificial, worship-filled act than a someone who gave a thousand coins out of their surplus. And the women who once had limited access to religion were now sitting in the pews with men all because Jesus, Himself, broke the barriers down and allowed women to sit at His feet to both learn and worship. Both men and women could view God as their Abba. I even love it that Jesus called us (women) sons. He is not excluding us or declaring us less than the men as some would have us believe. He is saying, "In my eyes, you are joint heirs with my Son!"   

About thirty years ago, we visited the Church of the Open Door on Easter weekend. Standing at the door talking to the pastor, I saw people of different races entering the church and greeting each other warmly by name. I saw people dressed in blue genes and tee shirts chatting with the people dressed in fancy clothing. I also noticed men and women were respectfully exchanging greetings with each other with heads held high, showing they saw each other as equals and I thought to myself, "This is what heaven will be like!" A good understanding of the gospel helps us realize that in God's family there are no second class citizens. 

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Importance of Voice

Several years ago, I was working as a volunteer with youth and loved it. Then hurtful things happened and I found my voice being silenced and my spiritual gifts being negated. I had a couple of people I trust ask me if maybe God was using those things to redirect me to a different ministry where I could use my voice, experiences, and gifts freely. I wrestled with their words and could not decide if leaving was a redirection or running from a difficult situation God wanted me to work through. One night I went to bed and dreamed I was walking down a busy street and every person I passed had empty eyes and no mouth. I woke up with tears pouring down my cheeks, begging the Lord to please give people their voices. God used the dream to develop a new passion in me--a passion to help people regain their voices, speak their stories and move past pain they have endured. It led me to start writing curriculum and to start a support group ministry in which women find safety and are encouraged to use their voices. In our groups they get to tell their stories, knowing their stories will be treated with respect and they will be heard and treated with compassion. In this ministry we get to walk along side of women as they connect to the Savior so deeply they find hope, healing, and freedom from their pasts.

Well-meaning parents sometimes say things that shame children into silence, causing them to quit using their voices to tell their stories and express their emotional pain. Sadly, that pain actually signals that something is wrong and needs to be corrected, leaving them unprotected. The kinds of words that silence kids are: "Don't feel that way!" "You must have misunderstood what they said (or did)." "Don't be a baby." "Don't let you sister know she hurt you and maybe she won't do it anymore." "Other kids don't feel (or cry) the way you do!" "Hush, we can't talk about that person that way. We will ruin his reputation. (hurt our church’s testimony)." "Tell them sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me." "Stop that crying!" "If you keep crying, I will give you something to cry about." "Put a smile on your face right now!" "We don't do anger in this house!" "Grow up!" Sometimes these messages given are silent or subtler. Maybe a child is only acknowledged or given attention when they smile and don’t complain. A lot of kids are never asked why they are sad, scared, or don't want to participate in activities. 

Believers' responses to emotional pain and hard stories are not always better. Take the issue of anger. We can forget there is an anger that is righteous. Christ demonstrated it several times. Yet, when I shared about the bullying my kids were experiencing on a daily basis, I was admonished by a believer for not forgiving. I honestly forgave daily, but it didn't stop the bullying or the pain we experienced as a family. Those who are hurting may first try to share anger over their mistreatment. They are often quickly silenced by admonitions to forgive, reminders that believers are supposed to be full of joy, or a Bible verse quoted in a condescending way. These things silence people, leaving them with their pain intensified by the secondary emotion of shame, causing people to deny and to bury both the story and the emotion deeper. What we need in those moments is for someone to acknowledge the pain underneath our anger. Sexual abuse victims' voices are silenced when they are asked what they were wearing, what they were drinking, and what they did to provoke the predator. They are also silenced when they are met with skepticism or told something that indicates they aren’t believed.

Take the issues associated with anxiety provoking events. Several years ago, one of our sons was in an ATV accident and his spleen ruptured. He when into surgery in serious condition and had complications that included fluid building up around his heart. I stayed with him in ICU for 12 days and then another six days in a regular room. During that time there was a lot of talk about another major surgery on a young man that had already had four units of blood given to him, severe pain caused by being cut from chest bone to pubic bone, who just wanted to be home. After we finally came home, I went to church and a woman asked how we were doing and I started telling her about everything we went through. Instead of letting me talk, she quickly put her hand on my arm and said, "Oh, he is fine, now isn't he?" She may have been uncomfortable with my story and emotions and just wanted me to be ok. Though she may have thought she was helping me, what she did was silence my voice, causing me to stuff emotions that were intensified by the shame behind the message that it was not okay to talk about what we had experienced. I am thankful for counselors and friends who let me use my voice to tell that story until I had drained all the emotions.

To be honest, I get frustrated by those who tell people facing anxiety provoking events that they are sinning for feeling what they feel and for sharing their concerns. Can we not just turn to the person and ask them in that moment if we could pray for them or what we could do to help instead of judging them? We could pray God would meet them in the middle of their hard, that He would give them the strength they need to face each day, that He would calm their fears, and give them insight into what He is doing. We could pray His love would overwhelm them as they journey through difficult times and that He would show them things about Him that they would not otherwise see.

We are friends with a family whose little boy had stage four liver cancer. The mom shared posts on Facebook that included their journey and the Bible art she was drawing that helped her get through those long days of hospital stays. Every year she shares the memories that come up on her page about that time. I have never once thought, "Oh, she should be over this by now.!" When she shares I am reminded of what God did with that sick little boy, with his parents, with his extended family, and with his church. I believe every time she shares those posts I am privileged to hear her voice and watch her continue to work through the medical trauma they all experienced. Some want the church to be a place where everyone is happy all the time, but it isn’t. While we pray for healing, God doesn't always choose to heal. Maybe there are lessons for us in how to love and show compassion in the hard-ongoing painful situations God is working in. Can we allow people to grieve when they need to and to express their concerns even if it is uncomfortable for us or makes us realize God doesn’t fit into a nice and neat little box?

Our God is a communicating God. His word contains stories about real people who had real emotions just like you and me and they had a need to share their stories, too. Think about Joseph who was sold into slavery and suffered so many injustices as he did his best to live well. When those brothers who had sold him showed up at his door needing food, he had a lot of emotions to work through. He cried, He wailed, and he tested them. Those tears and the working through the abuse he suffered was what enabled him to fully forgive his brothers and see God's redemptive plan fully unfold before him so that he, in his grace, preserved the nation of Israel.

When we read Paul's letters to the various churches we catch bits and pieces of his story written in them. I don't believe when he wrote and preached about his past history of trying to destroy the church that he didn't feel remnants of grief over the deaths he caused and the families he destroyed. At the same time, I believe he was overjoyed at the grace God showed him and it motivated him to write and preach the powerful things he did. When he talked about the suffering he endured relationally and physically as a missionary, he penned and preached those things with the same feelings we might experience in those situations. His voice has served generations of believers, including us. From him we learn about the depth of God's grace, and the richness that comes in persevering in the hard.

If we aren't willing to hear others' voices and the stories they tell and if we are not willing to walk through the emotions that arise in the telling, we are missing out on powerful redeeming stories that God is actively writing. We also miss out on the opportunity to witness God's lavish grace. As I watched the trial of Dr. Larry Nassar, who sexually abused hundreds of girls, I was infuriated by his predatorial attempts to manipulate the survivors into feeling sorry for him and the judge into silencing their voices in the court room. But the judge did not put up with it. She gave everyone who wanted to speak the chance to use their voice. In doing so, she validated their stories and the pain they suffered at his hands. We need to remember we do not have the right to silence other's voices either--not with platitudes, not with admonitions, not with pats on the arm followed by, "Now, now everything is ok.!" Neither do we have the right to silence others' hard questions about where God was, where God is, or where God will be in their painful stories. We are called to show the same compassion Jesus showed and that includes allowing people to use their voices. Giving importance to another’s voice is giving value to the person and their story.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

It's Always Been about Grace

As a child I usually walked to church alone. When I came home there were no discussions about what I was learning or what I thought about God. I remember being confused and scared because it seemed like there was one God revealed in the Old Testament who was strict and harsh and a very different God revealed in the New Testament who was gracious and kind. I loved the God presented in the New Testament, but my fear of the God from the Old Testament, and trauma I had experienced, made it difficult for me to fully trust Him.

Some of the fear I had was healthy fear that the Holy Spirit used to draw me to the Savior. But, some of the fear was toxic and was formed through misunderstandings of God's Word. These misunderstandings came from not having conversations with adults who could have clarified what I believed, correcting misconceptions I had formed about God. Some fear was caused by good people who left out details they thought we were too young to hear, making God's judgments seem unreasonably harsh and out of control. Some of the misunderstanding came from simply being young and not grasping how sinful humans can be when they choose to live life apart from God. I was scared and literally expected God to strike me dead when I made mistakes or sinned. As a child, I laid in bed at the end of the day worried and replaying my day in my head, hoping every word spoken was true, that I had respected my parents adequately, and that I was loving enough to get to wake up the next day. One time, when the wind blew the front door shut on my hand, it hurt so bad that I screamed a curse word and immediately began trembling, not from pain, but from the fear that God was going to strike me dead for the word I had said.

Fortunately, God took me and my husband to a small Bible teaching church where I studied the Bible under a great teacher and for seven years I could ask questions and explore my views of God in depth. The pastor and the elders believed in a gospel filled with grace and I began to grasp more and more of the love of Christ. I had forgotten which books of the Bible alleviated my unreasonable fears until yesterday when one of our pastors was teaching on Galatians 3, which was the same book that had radically changed my view of God and the Bible.

Verses 17-18 say, "The Law introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in His grace gave it to Abraham through a promise." The law was given because of sin and it remained in place until Jesus came. The law is beautiful because it describes God and His holiness. It describes His love and shows His grace through the temporary sacrifices that pointed to the grace that would be shown us through Jesus who would be the Lamb, without blemish or spot, sacrificed for our sin. The law was also God's protection for us and the suffering we inflict upon each other and upon ourselves because sin always causes spiritual, physical, emotional, or relational death.

It is important to understand that when the law was given it was not a replacement for grace and it did not nullify God's promise to Abraham. Neither can the law give us life, because we are incapable of keeping it. The law, when it is obeyed, only puts a stay to the sin in man's heart, preventing some of the wounding and the damage caused by it. Without the law, sex is a free-for-all that spreads disease and death. It also destroys the hearts of those involved because we were not made for sin that binds us into a one flesh relationship with multiple people. Without the law, alcohol and drug abuse destroys bodies and families as users seek their next hit. Without the law rageaholics rage at those around them, breaking hearts and bones, and either killing others or themselves from the stress rage puts on their bodies. Without the law, our selfish hearts tend to love poorly, putting ourselves first, neglecting the hearts and needs of spouses, families, and friends. Sin is serious, serious business. When we don't deal with it and when we don't call the evil deeds we do or the ugly attitudes we display sin, we are prone to take it to levels we never thought we would. This is because it can't fill the needs that were written on our hearts by our Creator leaving us starving for what will fulfill us, and then we lose sight of the truth that only He can fulfill those needs.

The law was a guardian showing us God's character and our need for a Savior and our need to be justified by faith. Now that Jesus has come, we no longer need the law. When we believed in Christ we were sealed by the Holy Spirit who came to dwell in us. We are now children of God, Abraham's seed, and joint heirs with Christ. As believers, we now have the ability to love as Jesus loves. Because of this we don't need the law. That statement will cause some people great angst when they read it. But, if we are walking closely with Christ and spending time with Him, His Spirit in us gives us discernment and godly desires. His Spirit leads us to speak loving words of encouragement that build others up and offer sacrifices of thanksgiving and praise. His Spirit enables us to extend grace when it is needed and to set godly boundaries with those who refuse to repent, and to speak the truth in love in such a way that pride is melted and others are drawn back to the Savior.

Non-believers still need the law and its protection as it shows them what sin is, but we don't. We are to focus on love, not sin. As we focus on loving God and others we will automatically show honor and respect to those around us. As we focus on loving, we won't do things from a selfish motive and we won't sin in ways that deeply wounds others. We won't hold on to grudges and we won't speak wounding words intentionally. Those who love well don't abuse or murder others physically or emotionally, they offer life to them. Even in the heat of arguments, Spirit led people can find themselves asking, "What can I do to love you better right now?"

The law does serve a purpose, but its purpose was never about Salvation. That has always been, still is, and always will be about grace.            

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Power of Love

I love to read the interactions that Jesus had with people in the gospels. One that intrigues me is often called the story of the Good Samaritan and is found in Luke 10. In Jesus’ day, it was not unusual for rabbis to hold theological discussions in public places. In this account, a scribe who would have studied the Jewish law, asked Jesus the question, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" This question was most likely a commonly debated question, but Jesus perceived the Scribe to be testing Him rather than seeking truth, so He simply turned the question back on the scribe. The scribe, knowing the law, answered his own question by quoting two commandments, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind;" and "Love your neighbor as yourself." Jesus tells him he is right and that if he did these things he would live.

I don't know about you, but when I read those commandments, I can't even get past the first one without feeling strong conviction. I've wrestled long and hard with what it means to love the Lord with all that I am, and I fall short. When I compare my love for the Father to the love Jesus had for Him, my mind gravitates to the scene of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane as He wrestles in prayer over His impending crucifixion where our shame and sin would be placed on Him, leaving Him to bear His Father's wrath for it. The Bible tells us that the struggle Christ experienced there, as He begged the Father to remove the cup of suffering from Him while desperately longing to do His will, caused Him so much angst that sweat tinged with blood poured from His pores. To be honest, I have never resisted sin to the point that I was shedding blood through my pores. 

The scribe, on the other hand, glossed over the first commandment, asking for clarification of the second. Did he think he loved God so much he was above reproach? Or, did this indicate that in his heart of hearts he knew he was failing to love God well and deflected to the second command that seemed a bit more tangible? As he tried to engage Jesus in philosophical general discussion about who one's neighbors are, Jesus skillfully turned the discussion to a specific, practical discussion by telling him a parable.

The parable was about a man who was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho who was attacked by robbers who stripped him of his clothing, who beat him severely, and then left him dying on the side of the road. A priest walking down the same road saw him lying there and he crossed to the other side of the road so he would not have to see him up close and personal. Then, a Levite came by and did exactly the same thing. They may have been afraid for their own lives, they may have been on time schedules, they may have thought him too far gone to help, or they may have just been self-absorbed people who didn't want to be bothered.  Soon, a Samaritan came by and took pity on the dying man and cleansed and bandaged his wounds. He then put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn and gave the innkeeper two days’ worth of his wages to pay for the man to stay, promising to reimburse the innkeeper for anything else the man might need. Jesus ended the parable by asking the scribe, who was a neighbor to the man in need? The scribe concluded that the one who had mercy on the dying man showed himself to be a neighbor and Christ, in agreement, told him to go and do likewise. 

Our Jesus was not one to waste the words He spoke. He was intentional when He chose to make a Samaritan the hero of this parable. He knew, as a student of the law, the scribe would know that God required Jews to show mercy to both strangers and enemies (Ex. 23:4-5; Lev. 19:33-34; Micah 6:8). Yet, the Jews were known for their hatred of the Samaritans. This meant that the Samaritan in the parable was one who loved those who hated him. He was the one willing to sacrificially spend to provide for the welfare of a stranger without any hint that he expected to be repaid or even recognized for his good deeds. He was the one Jesus used to show us that one doesn't love because one is a neighbor, one becomes a neighbor because we love. 

This parable definitely gives us a good picture of the love to which Jesus is calling us. But even more important, it describes the love Jesus has shown us. Before we believed, we were just like that man. We were broken and dying with no hope of saving ourselves. I love the words Paul penned to the Colossians that describe this, "Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight without blemish and free from accusation." (Col. 1:21-22)  

God has called us to love because there is power in love! It was love that compelled Christ to lay down His life for us. It was love that raised us from spiritual death to new life full of hope. It was love that reconciled us with our Creator, fulfilling our deepest longings to belong to a loving family. It was love that freed us from sin and its power over us. It was love that translated us from the dark kingdom ruled by sin and hate into a glorious kingdom ruled by love and holiness. Our love, whether demonstrated through words, actions, compassion or even restraint, also has the power to draw broken, dying people to the Savior who can transform, restore, and heal. There is power in love that is like no other power, because it can soften the hardest heart, making it tender and compassionate. It can change the stone-cold heart into a heart that beats with fierce passion. And it can take a fractured heart and suture the pieces back together in such a way that hope and joy and love flow with every beat of the heart. That is the power of love.   

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

This is Christmas

When we think of Christmas, we think of an angel visiting a young girl to reveal she would bear the Son of God and the beautiful words she penned in response. We think about the virgin bride and the man betrothed to her traveling far just to pay their taxes. We think about the young virgin, heavy with child, being turned away from the inn and giving birth in the dark of night. We think about the newborn babe lying in a manger, wrapped snugly in swaddling clothes. We think about the shepherds surprised by an angel announcing the birth of the Lamb and their trek to Bethlehem to the beat of the angel Choir singing God's praises. We think about the Magi from far away who followed the Star all the way to Bethlehem so they could offer their gifts to the young King. But in truth, these are just part of the beautiful story we call Christmas. We tend to think of God stories as individual stories that stand alone, but they aren't. They are apart of a epic redemption saga much like chapters in a book--each chapter needed to fully grasp God's story.

Christmas is also about God fulfilling the promise He made in the Garden of Eden to destroy His Enemy. This is the enemy we all are so familiar with. The one who tempts and taunts each of us with his lies. This is the one seeking to destroy lives with addictions, pornography, and strongholds of sin that run deep. This is the one trying to devour us by drawing our attention away from the one who loves us purely and sacrificially. 

Christmas is also about God being a covenant-keeping God. It is about Him keeping His covenant with Noah and his offspring, promising He would never again destroy all life with flood waters because of man's sin. It is about God keeping his covenant with Abraham, promising to give him a land to call his own. It was about Him fulfilling His promise of a son through whom a great nation would rise to bless all the families of the earth. It is also about God graciously restating His promises to Abraham's offsprin and fulfilling the dream of Jacob's ladder, providing mankind with the gate of heaven.

Christmas is also about preserving the life of Joseph while he lived in Egypt to provide for Israel during a famine. It is also about freeing Israel from slavery in Egypt and taking them back to their promised land via Red Sea, and drowning the army of Pharaoh that was in hot pursuit. Christmas is about Rahab being saved as she clung to the hope promised in the scarlet cord hung from her window as the walls of Jericho came crumbling down.

Christmas is also about Ruth finding grace in her mother-in-laws family to give birth to the grandfather of David and about the covenant God made with David, promising David through him a King would come whose throne would be eternal--a King who would reign in righteousness, love, power, truth  and grace.

Christmas is also about the fulfillment of prophesies given by God who wants us to know His Son. He told us He would be born to a virgin in Bethlehem, be from the tribe of Judah, and from the family line of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob. He told us Jesus would spend time in Egypt and Nazareth and that many children would die as the enemy sought to kill Him. He told us Jesus would be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty Prince, and Emmanuel. He told us Jesus would be a prophet like Moses and King like David. He told us He would be tempted by Satan and not give in. He told us He would be rejected by His own people and  speak in parables and heal the brokenhearted. He told us He would be betrayed for 30 pieces of silver. He told us Jesus would be falsely accused, illegally tried, spat upon, struck, mocked, ridiculed, and hated without cause. He said Jesus would be crucified between criminals, having his hands, feet, and side pierced and though forsaken that He would pray for His enemies. He told us He would die as a sacrificial Lamb--a literal sin offering, taking the wrath of God for us so we could be made righteous.

Christmas is also about future prophesies concerning Jesus. He will return for His bride, the church, but not as a the Lamb. He will return as the Lion of Judah. He will come on a white horse and will be called Faithful and True, making war as He judges in righteousness and truth. His eyes will be like flames of fire and on his head will be many crowns. He will be clothed in a robed dipped in blood and He will be called The Word of God, the King of kings, and the Lord of Lords. From His mouth will come a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations and He will rule them with a rod of iron. And He will make all things new and there will be no more sickness, no more death, and He will wipe every tear from our eyes. And the righteous will rule and reign with Him for ever and ever. And this is Christmas.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Daughters of the King

When I used to read the Bible as a teenager, I was often confused by the actions of men towards women in the Bible. There was Sarah whose husband said she was his sister, putting her at risk of being raped or taken as another man's wife. There was Tamar, who was raped by her half-brother Amnon, who desperately needed her father, King David, to comfort, protect, and defend her honor as she struggled with the deep shame that follows rape and incest. But he, with his loud silence, betrayed her as well. Then there were many women in Israel who had entered covenant marriages, hoping to be companions to the young men they married. But, instead they were betrayed by their faithless husbands. 

In my confusion, I began to pray that God would show me how He views women because I wasn't sure I wanted to follow after Him, if he didn't view women any better than the men whose stories filled the pages of His Word. Then I came across Malachi 2:14-15,"But you say, ‘Why does he not?’ Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So, guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth." I began to see that God cares about women and the treatment they receive and over time, I saw other things from His Word that revealed how He loved, rescued, healed, and redeemed women broken by both life's circumstances and the hurtful and abusive actions of others. 

One of the things I saw from God’s Word was His inclusions of women in Christ’s genealogy. Right, smack, in the middle of it there are three women closely related. One was Rahab, who was a prostitute from Jericho. She saved the lives of Israel's spies by hiding them and then helping them escape. She had heard of their God and asked to be spared. So, they told her to hang a scarlet cord in her window when the battle began and she would be spared. She, by faith in the one true living God, hung that scarlet cord in her window and was saved. An Israelite named Salmon took her as his bride and they gave birth to a baby boy named Boaz. 

There was Naomi, who had moved to a foreign land, whose sons married Gentile women. Naomi's husband died and then her sons, leaving them all to grieve. Naomi became bitter and longed to return home and Ruth, her daughter-in-law, loved her and refused to stay behind. They traveled to Naomi's home town--the town where Boaz lived and he became a kinsmen redeemer, taking Ruth as his bride and they bore Obed, who became the father of Jesse, who became the father of King David, who was in the lineage of Jesus. I'm sure there was great joy in the grandma shaped hearts of Rahab and Naomi the day Obed was born. 

Those women are in the family line of Jesus by God's design. It is a long line of broken, sinful, weak and needy people. I love how God put Rahab who, as a prostitute, asked to be saved and trusted God enough to hang a simple cord in her window--an act that made no sense apart from God. I love how the Gentile, Ruth, even in her pain chose to love a bitter mother-in-law all the way home, trusting the God who holds life and death in His hands for something bigger. 

I found it comforting that God called a young woman to bear His son, Jesus, when Jesus could have entered the world in an infinite number of ways. I found it comforting that He tenderly cared for the mom pregnant with Hope by giving her many validations that the Child she carried and birthed was the Promised One--through Elizabeth's baby leaping in the womb, through the Shepherds seeking to worship the Babe, through Simeon and Anna proclaiming Him in the temple, and the Magi who came from afar to worship the King He gave her big grace for her Mama's heart to hold onto as she watched her Son, her Savior die on the cross.

I also found it comforting that Christ crushed social barriers that had made women second class worshipers. He even went out of His way to meet a Samaritan woman publicly rejected by men five times, offering her Living Water. She accepted Him and got to bring the community that judged her so harshly to sit at His feet.

He taught men that the woman who could only give two mites had performed a mighty and acceptable act of worship that meant more than the all giving that wasn't sacrificial.

He healed a woman who had been bleeding for twelve long years, fully reconciling her to Himself and restoring her to her community.

He stood up for a woman thrust at His feet by an angry mob of men who claimed they caught her in the act of adultery. In the face of His righteousness the men one by one dropped their stones and He, the only one who had a right to judge, graciously dealt with her sin.

He stayed in the home of Mary and Martha, allowing Mary to sit at his feet, learning with all His disciples. He also revealed Himself to these sisters as the God who has power over life and death by calling their brother from the grave helping them understand He was laying down His life.

He silenced the men who criticized the woman whose pure worship was displayed by her anointment of his feet with expensive oil and her own tears, allowing her to dry His feet with her hair. And, after the resurrection, He chose a woman to be the first to see His face.   

The Scriptures show us that women have been victimized for long time, but they also show us that God has a tender heart towards us and does not view us as second-class citizens. I believe the public outcry going on right now is exposing the depth of the sin of gender contempt, harassment, and abuse in this world and it is proof that the Lion of Judah is moving on our behalf. We need to remember abusers' actions do not reflect the heart of our God, they reflect only the hearts of the abusers. 

We can trust a God who places broken, hurting women in the lineage of Christ. We can trust a God who uses a woman to give birth to His Son. We can trust a God who let women sit at His feet, and listen to his teaching. We can trust a God who revealed Himself as the God over life and death to a woman. We can trust a God who defended a woman caught in adultery and a woman worshiping with her tears and her oil. And, we can trust a God who reveals Himself in resurrected form to women first. We can trust a Savior that left the glories of heaven and bore God's wrath for our sin when He died in our place on the cross. We can trust a God who sealed us with His Spirit and gifted us with spiritual gifts, declaring that we are as valuable to the body as our Christian brothers. We are not second-class citizens. We are the beloved daughters of the King of kings.   

Friday, December 1, 2017

Home for Christmas

The last eleven years I have had the privilege of serving in a support group ministry and have met some amazing and courageous ladies. One year I was leading a large group and there were several young gals who had grown up in extremely dysfunctional and abusive homes. They quickly formed a great friendship, partly because of their ages and partly because they all had difficult stories. They could identify with the pain each had endured, the struggle to find freedom from their pasts, and the hard work they would have to do to find healing and become the women God had created them to be. Diana and Tanna were two of the women that both left their childhood homes early in life. Amazingly they were wise enough to set some strict, healthy boundaries with their families of origin. The boundaries were very needed, but sometimes they felt hard. As Christmas was approaching, Diana remarked to Tanna that she was really missing her family. Tanna sighed and responded wistfully, "Yeah, I miss the family I made up, too!" They looked at each other and they both laughed because of the profound words Tanna had spoken were true. They gave me permission to share this part of their story, because it isn't just true for them, it is true for most of us. 

Holidays can be difficult to navigate. They can be difficult because we have had to separate ourselves from families that were abusive and they tend to surface grief of what was longed for but never fulfilled. It can be because the anxiety that arises with holiday preparations gets coupled with dread of the conflicts that often ignite as our extended families rub shoulders with its history and the dysfunction that arises as we push each other's buttons. It can be because tongues are loosed when alcohol flows and cutting words get said that pierce hearts to the core. It can be because of grief we feel over the loss of loved ones who made holidays special--the child, the soldier, the mom, the dad, the grandparents, or the friend gone too soon. It can be because of grief due to unfulfilled dreams being exposed by being around those whose dreams were fulfilled--dreams of a baby longed for but never had, dreams of a specific job that went to someone else, dreams of a spouse that hasn't materialized or the one who walked out, or the dream house we can't afford due to economy or mounting medical bills. It can be because of illness that can't be healed and pain that makes it hard to be around people we don't want to burden. It can be because of mental illness and the unpredictability of another's actions or even our own depression that is a fog crowding out joy. It can be because of eating disorders that trigger anxiety as holidays are planned around food. It can be because of the fear of giving presents that don't please or because we fear we can't react to a gift the way others need us to. And for some it can be the pressure family puts on us do away with boundaries we put in place to protect our families and ourselves.    

So, how do we navigate the holidays? First, we begin by going into the season with our eyes wide open. There are no perfect families and their will never be a perfect Christmas. We will enjoy Christmas more when we let go of expectations and the made-up families that live in our minds, accepting our families as they are. We can commit to treating others with respect and practicing good self-care by getting plenty of rest, drinking water, eating somewhat healthy, and using our voice to request what we desire and what we need. We can refuse to take every word, action, or attitude personally because those things are about others' hearts not ours. We can take quiet moments alone to breathe, grieve, or regroup as we needed. We can give thanks for the good moments and learn from the bad, knowing that one doesn't cancel the other out. We can make sure we extend grace to others as well as ourselves. We can own our mistakes, apologizing and making amends when needed. We can keep short accounts and forgive quickly. Us overwhelmed introverts can refuse to compare ourselves to extroverts and focus on one person at a time and have meaningful conversations, maybe looking for the one who looks as lost as we feel.   

Second, we can remember we have a Savior who cares and wants us to take our grief, our fear, our hurt, and our dreams to Him. If anyone understands dysfunctional families He does. Just look at the people who were in His family line. Abraham who was commended for his faith lied about Sarah being his wife. Jacob weaved a mighty mess with his wives and concubines and the favoritism he showed one son over eleven others. Naomi--she became so bitter after the loss of her husband that she changed her name to Mara. David, the man after God's own heart messed up his family by abusing Bathsheba and murdering her husband. He ended up with a son who raped his daughter and chose to do nothing about it. Every family in his family line had its sin, its secrets, and its dysfunction. So, I believe He gets ours. This was proved by the way He treated those around Him. He was full of compassion for the woman caught in adultery, who was thrust at his feet without her partner. He was full of compassion for the woman at the well who had been dragged to the center of town five times and declared an unfit wife. He was full of compassion for the ill, the blind, the deaf, and the crippled. He fed both those who were physically hungry and those who were spiritually hungry. He allowed Mary and Martha to vent their grief and stood at the grave of Lazarus and wept with them before He called him out. Jesus cares. Jesus understands.

Third, we can go into the holidays fully confident we have been given a new Heritage through Christ. The pain of our past, the dysfunction of our families, the failure of our Christmases to be perfect don't define us. Jesus, His love and His sacrifice, do. We are called beloved, chosen, blessed, forgiven, children, and friends. As I reflect on Christmases past, I think one of my most pleasant Christmases was when my children were teenagers. They got up early as they always had and then after they opened gifts they all fell asleep as they waited for Christmas dinner to be cooked. After I got the turkey on, I looked around at my sleeping teens and picked up my Bible and read the Christmas story again, feeling overwhelmed by His love and felt a heart connection with Him that gave me such peace. I felt a sense of belonging and realized that because of Jesus I was truly home for Christmas. That sweet moment prepared me for the losses of my parents and my kids leaving the nest who can't always make it home. It also fulfilled one of my deepest longings--to feel at home somewhere--the somewhere just happened to be a Someone and that Someone is Jesus. 


Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!