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
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
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!