Tuesday, November 30, 2021

As Advent Begins, Let's Remember

 This last Sunday was the beginning of the Advent Season; the season in which we all begin to anticipate Christmas. It is so easy to get focused on planning holiday meals, and decorating the house, shopping and gift wrapping. It is also easy to get focused on both the good and the hard of getting extended families together as we deal with different personalities, values, and dysfunction. And as we repeatedly hear the phrase, "Jesus is the reason for the season," we all try to contemplate the  meaning of Christmas. 

We find ourselves thinking about the angel telling a young girl she would bear the Son of God and the beautiful words she penned in response: 

 "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked on the humble estate of His servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to His offspring."

We find ourselves thinking about the virgin bride and the man betrothed to her, traveling far to pay their taxes. We think think about the virgin, heavy with child, being turned away and directed to rest where animals rest, giving birth in the dark of night. We think about the newborn babe lying in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes. We think about the irony of shepherds being surprised by an angel announcing the birth of the Lamb of God and their trek to Bethlehem to the beat of the angel Choir singing praises to God and we can envision those shepherds kneeling before the Lamb in the manger bed. 

We think about the star-gazing Magi who believed in prophecies, recognizing the Christmas Star and following it all the way to Bethlehem, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh worshiping at the feet of the young King. 

But the truth is, these are just part of the beautiful story we call Christmas. There are many other stories in the Bible which are just as much a part of the epic redemptive saga. The stories are like chapters in a book where each individual chapter is needed to grasp the fullness and the richness of the story.

Christmas is also about God fulfilling the promise He made in Eden to destroy the Enemy. We all know the Enemy for he is the one tempting and taunting us with blatant, ugly lies. He is the one seeking to destroy us through addictions, pornography, and other strongholds of sin that never satisfy and have a deep grip on the soul. He is the one trying to destroy our relationship with our Creator by drawing our attention away from the One who loves us completely, purely, and sacrificially. He is also the one trying to cast doubt on God's goodness by twisting His truth so it looks like rules of deprivation rather than the carefully crafted protection. He is trying to cast doubt on God's faithfulness by by convincing people that the hard we face in this life is proof of God's lack of care. He is trying to cast doubt on God's grace by adding all sorts of legalistic man-made rules to the gospel of grace.    

Christmas is also about God being a keeper of covenants. It is about Him keeping His covenant with Noah, promising to never again destroy all life with flood waters. It is also about God keeping his covenant with Abraham, promising to give him a son, land to call his own, and enough descendants to make a great nation through which all families of the earth would be blessed. Christmas is about God revealing and then fulfilling the dream of Jacob's ladder, providing mankind a gateway to the courts of heaven. It is about Him changing Jacob from being a deceiver and manipulator to one who wanted nothing more than to be blessed by God.   

Christmas is about preserving the life of Joseph while he was living in Egypt so that He could preserve Israel through a famine. It is also about God then freeing Israel from the slavery that they were forced into. It is also about God walking them all the way back to the promised home land, drowning Pharaoh's army that was in hot pursuit.

Christmas is about the prostitute Rahab being saved as she clung to the hope promised in a scarlet cord hanging from her window as the walls of Jericho came crumbling down around her. It is about her being taken from the life of prostitution and being placed into the family line of the Savior.  

Christmas is about Ruth finding grace in her mother-in-law's family, enabling her to give birth to the grandfather of David.

Christmas is about the covenant God made with David, promising that through David a King would come whose throne would never end. It is about the King who would reign in righteousness, love, power, truth  and grace unlike David who, though passionate in his pursuit of God, stumbled and fell. 

Christmas is about the fulfillment of prophesies given by the God who wants us to know His Son. He told us Jesus would be born to a virgin in Bethlehem. He told us He would be from the tribe of Judah. He told us He would be from the family of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David, which in all honesty is a family as messy and dysfunctional as any one of ours. He told us Jesus would spend time in Egypt and Nazareth, while the enemy would slaughter many children in an attempt to kill Him. He told us Jesus would be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty Prince, and Emmanuel. 

The Father told us Jesus would be tempted by Satan and not give in. He told us Jesus would be rejected by His own country and He was as they accused Him of being crazy, the Spawn of Satan, and a liar. He told us Jesus would speak to crowds through parables and would heal the brokenhearted--the lady at the well, the woman with a bleeding issue, the adulteress cast at His feet, the lepers, the lame, the blind, the deaf, the demon possessed, the harlots--all people separated and marginalized by sin, deformities, or illnesses were made whole and brought into His fold. He told us Jesus would be betrayed for 30 pieces of silver, falsely accused, illegally tried, spat upon, hand-slapped, mocked, hated without cause, and crucified between criminals. His hands and feet were pierced and His side stabbed just as God said it would be. God also told us Jesus, the forsaken One who prays for His enemies, would be a sin offering and bear the wrath of God for each of us so by faith we could be imputed with His righteous.
    Christmas is also about future prophesies. Our Jesus will return for His bride, the church--not as a the Lamb--but as the Lion of Judah. He will come on a white horse and be called Faithful and True. He will make war on evil as He judges in righteousness and truth. His eyes will be like flames of fire. On his head will be many crowns. He will be clothed in a robed that is 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. As He reigns, He will make all things new and there will be no more sickness, no more death. He will be the ultimate Comforter as He wipes away every tear from our eyes. Things that are evil will no longer be called good, lies will not longer be viewed as truth, love will overcome hate. Those made righteous by the blood of the Lamb will rule and reign with Him forever and ever. Death will be nor more. Sin will cease. Relationships will be ruled by love, not power and abuse. And addictions will be nor more. 

    And, this, all of this and so much more is Christmas. 

    Wednesday, November 10, 2021

    Craving a Father's Blessing

    Our church has been going through the book of Genesis and I love it. It is full of people's stories--people just like you and me. They displayed both strengths and weaknesses. They had moments in which their faith shone bright and moments when their their unbelief is on display for all to see. Their lives were a mixture of good deeds and moral failures. And in all of that are some very valuable lessons for us. 

    One of the stories I have meditated on is Jacob's story. The name Jacob means supplanter, which has been interpreted as one who deceives, seizes, circumvents, or usurps. When Rebekah became pregnant her tummy was so active that she asked the Lord what was happening and He told her she was carrying twins and the older would serve the younger. Jacob was given the name supplanter because when Esau was born, Jacob had a hold of his heal as if he were trying to supplant his brother's position as the first born. Esau was favored by his father because he was a man's man who loved to hunt and provided game. Jacob on the other hand was favored by his mom as he liked to work around the tents. 

    There came a day when Jacob was cooking stew and Esau came in from the countryside famished. He  demanded Jacob give him some of the stew he was cooking. Jacob saw an opportunity and told him he could have some of his stew if he would sell him his birthright. Esau who gave into his catastrophic thinking said, "Look, I am about to die, what good is the birthright to me?" He then swore an oath to Jacob granting him the right of the first born--all for a bowl of lentil stew. 

    Several years later when Isaac was old and his eyes were weak, he called Esau to him and told him that because of his age he didn't know when his death would occur. He instructed him to go hunting and to make him a tasty stew from the game so that he could give him his blessing before he died. Little did he know that Rebekah was listening. She devised a plan and instructed Jacob to bring her two goats so she could prepare a tasty stew for Isaac to eat so Jacob could receive the blessing. She helped him dress so  Isaac would think Jacob would was Esau. A lot of people think that just Rebekah and Jacob were wrong because they were deceptive. But I also think Isaac was culpable too for being deceptive. I can't imagine Rebekah not telling him what the Lord had told her about the twins she was carry and I can't imagine that the family hadn't at some point discussed the fact that Esau had sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew. Another question that troubles me is how Isaac lived twenty more years after claiming he was on his deathbed. 

    Jacob takes the food into his father, claiming to be Esau. When his father questions how he was able to find the game and cook it so quickly, Jacob told lies, telling him God gave him success in hunting. Isaac asked him to come close so he could feel for the hair on Esau's hands because he knew the voice sounded like Jacob's. When he felt the hair Rebekah had applied to his hand and arms he asked him if he was really Esau and Jacob claimed that he was. After eating the stew Isaac spoke the blessing of the first born over his second born son. 

    When Esau returns he is enraged to find Jacob had received the blessing and threatens to kill him as soon as his dad dies. So Jacob flees to his mother's family and there he experiences deceit and manipulation for twenty years at the hand of Laban, who had become his father-in-law. Eventually he leaves with his wives and children and livestock he had accumulated to return home. Fearing his brother's reaction, he sends gifts ahead and puts his family where he thinks they will be safe. All alone he enters a wrestling match with a Man. They wrestle all night and as day was about to break the Man touched the socket of Jacob's hip and displaced it. That touch revealed that the power in the Man had been held back with restraint until the Jacob was at the end of himself. The Man tells him to let him go and Jacob tells Him that he won't let Him go unless He blesses him. The Man asked Jacob his name and Jacob has to admit aloud that his name is supplanter, deceiver, seizer, circumventer, or usurper. I can't help but believe that as he experienced Laban's treatment, he realized how he lived up to his name and how his actions had impacted others. 

    The Man ascribed a new name to Jacob, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome." When Israel asked The Man his name, The Man simply asked him why he asked, indicating that Israel already knew who He was. Then He blessed him and through that blessing Jacob realized he was face to face with God and that God had chosen to spare his life even though he, like all of us, deserved death.        

    In our culture we don't often talk about a father's blessing, but I think most of us can relate to wanting a parent's approval or favor. In our support groups women often share the deep pain they have experienced when they have perceived that either one or both parents has failed to meet their physical, emotional, or spiritual needs. Some of them became extreme perfectionists trying to earn their parent's love and words of approval. Some of them hid horrible secrets of abuse, hoping that someday the parent abusing them would begin to love them love, approve of them, or favor them over a job, a sibling, a step family. Some of them acted out in all sorts of ways believing the negative attention they got was better than no attention at all. Others have shared that they were bullied in school and that they so longed for acceptance and approval from friends.

    Even though we know our women by their given names, we know there are other names they are hearing in their heads. Some of our women have shared the negative nick names they received from bullies, harsh parents, cruel siblings, unkind teachers, or neighborhood kids. All of them eventually share the negative words, messages,  or negative beliefs they have ascribed to themselves in response to early childhood neglect, harsh words spoken to them, abuses of all kinds they have endured, bullies actions and attitudes towards them. Oh, those words are heartbreaking in light of the beauty we see in the women sitting in front of us--words like dirty, ugly, stupid, inadequate, invisible, dumb, not good enough, too much and too little, trash, and unworthy. Some of them also carry shame because they, like Jacob, did all sorts of things they are not proud of to gain love and approval from anyone who would give it. 

    Over time, our women begin to understand, like Israel did, that the blessing of an earthy flawed and deeply wounded parent could never heal the deep wounds or satisfy what their heart craves like the blessing of the Savior who suffered in the ways they have suffered and who has died for their sin in their place. They begin to grasp that they are healed by Jesus stripes and that it is by faith that they have been given the Father's blessing and they, too, have had new names ascribed to them--names like Cherished, Beloved, Beautiful, Redeemed, Restored, Empowered, Gifted, Rescued, Qualified to receive His Inheritance, Sealed, Without Blemish, and Reconciled, Seen, Heard,  And, there are so many more names to be discovered in His Word. 

    It is funny that as many times as I have read Jacob's story and as many times as I have heard sermons on his life, it was not until now that I really grasped that the father's blessing Jacob thought he craved did not satisfy his heart like he thought it would. It was only in the wrestling he did with God to reconcile what he saw in front of him and what He knew God had promised his mama long before that He realized the blessing He truly craved all along was the blessing that only God Himself could give. That's true for you and it is true for me. We don't have to manipulate, lie, supplant, to get what the heart really needs...for all all it really needs 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!