Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Why Shame Isn't Final



circa 1729 B.C. 

She stares at the ground as she walks, face aflame. The baby bump is becoming unmistakable, and she's heard the whispers.

With a stealthy glance, she looks at him and her face hardens as she takes in his glare of self-righteous disdain.

Her grip tightens around her aces: the three personal items she's kept that belong to him - these will prove she wasn't alone in her sin.

*** 
hundreds of years later, circa 1451 B.C. 

She watches as the two men cautiously check both ways and then, seeing the coast is clear, dash away from her home before they are spotted. Although she is accustomed to men not wanting to be seen leaving her door, this time it's different.

This time, instead of the dull ache of shame that has shrouded her for so long, she feels a sense of hope. Instead of selling her body to those who would enslave her, she has given protection to those who could promise her freedom. As she watches the men disappear into the shadows, she wonders if change is really possible for someone as far gone as she is.


 *** 
circa 1322 B.C. 

She's a newcomer to a land where people view her ancestors as scum. With a lineage that's steeped in incest and filth, she knows perfectly well that she isn't like the other women she meets in this new land of strange laws and moral rigidity.

 Although she has chosen to adopt the righteous faith of her new homeland as her own, she wonders if anyone will ever see past her past.

 *** 
circa 1035 B.C.

She strokes the lifeless form of her child, the physical reminder of her faithlessness. She glances over at her new husband, who married her hastily after failing to hide their adultery and frame the pregnancy on her former husband - who conveniently lies dead on some distant battlefield, and she feels alone despite her new husband's nearness.

 As he wipes his eyes and picks up the stricken child, she wonders if she'll ever feel happy again.


 *** 
circa 4 B.C. 

She thinks back for the thousandth time to the story of dejected Naomi, who told people to call her "bitter," and she wonders why anyone would choose such a name for themselves, or even worse, as a name for an innocent baby, especially when a name can so inextricably chart a person's destiny. She wonders afresh why she was given such an unpleasant name as just a child.

 Having answered to the name "bitter" all her life, she wonders if God sees her favorably, even when people don't. Instead of becoming as bitter as her name implies, she decides to accept her lot and smiles as the hope of a sweet future begins to unfold. 

  What is it these five women have in common? Yes, each of their stories were real. Each of them lived through days of sadness and pain. Still, when everything was said and done, these five women would share an honor far beyond that of all other women in history. 


 ***
 circa 2008 A.D.

She had never been here before, but she needed an answer NOW. She pulled me aside and asked if she could speak to me privately. We went into a classroom where she told me a heartbreaking story of shame and asked me, with empty yet searching eyes, if there was any hope. 

Let me tell you, it was a sad story. My mind drew a blank. I also wondered, Is there any hope? As I silently breathed a desperate prayer for wisdom, a chapter of the Bible flashed across my memory. 

I gasped, grabbed my Bible, and tore through the pages in search of that first chapter of Matthew, the genealogy section that is so easy to skip when searching for the Christmas story. Sure enough, there it was. 

In awe, I read her each of the hard-to-pronounce names. Like glittering threads of scarlet woven among names of chosen men stood out the names of five - and only five - women. Instead of stellar, upright wives and mothers, the women named in the lineage of the Son of God each shared a legacy of shame of some kind. First, there was Thamar, the first woman in our story who clung to the proof that she wasn't the only one in the wrong.
And Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar...
Tamar's story of how she tricked her father-in-law into giving her children is written in Genesis 38

Next, there is Rahab.
And Salmon begat Boaz of Rahab...
Rahab the Harlot saved the Hebrew spies who searched Jericho before invading it. Although she probably was never considered as worthy as the upstanding Hebrew mothers, Rahab was the one named in the first chapter of the new Testament. You can read her story in the second chapter of Joshua.

 Next, there was Ruth.
...and Boaz begat Obed of Ruth...
Ruth was a Moabitess who moved to the land of Israel. Her people were the product of the incestuous relationship of Lot and his daughters after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. As a result of the nation of Moab's wickedness, the entire nation of Moab was viewed by God's people as a bunch of filthy perverts. Ruth chose to leave her land and move to a land where she knew she would be viewed with disgust. You can read about her in the book of Ruth.

 Next we find Bathsheba.
And David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias...
Gorgeous Bathsheba, named here as Mrs. Uriah rather than Bathsheba, has been the poster child for indiscretion and adultery for millennia. Still, out of all the women that could've made the list, Bathsheba was given the honor of bearing Solomon and getting named in the lineage of the Messiah. You can read that story starting in II Samuel 11.

 Finally, there was sweet Mary, whose name means "bitter."
And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.
Mary, who grew up being called "bitter," rejoiced when the angel told her she had found favor with God, knowing that from then on people would call her "blessed." You can read her story in Luke 1-2.

What That Says About You

If you, like the girl who sat across from me that day - whom I've never seen again to my knowledge - wonder if there's any hope for someone like you, let this "begat" chapter illustrate just how much God wants to bless you.

 If you wonder if God has a plan for someone who's already messed up as much as you, go back and read how messed up some of these women were.

 God loves you.

Jesus came to redeem every ignored, abused, deserted woman who feels her life is over.

His plan for you is already signed and sealed with the blood of Jesus Christ, who became sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.

All that remains between you and victory is the decision to stop condemning yourself and trust the love of the One who said, "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more."

 When we tear our eyes off the mess that is us and cast our eyes on Jesus, the shame dissolves and we become women worth remembering, just like the sinful woman who broke her box of perfume and worshipped Jesus with it, washing his feet with her tears and wiping them with her loose, cascading hair.

 Forget yourself. Look to Jesus Christ and live. Shame is over and done.

 Cheers for grace!

Monday, March 30, 2015

As Sarah Obeyed Abraham

Abraham was a good guy. A really good guy. After all, he's the patriarch that started the whole ball rolling. The father of Isaac and Jacob and all the chosen of God, his belief in God was the reason that "all the families of the earth" would be blessed.

Abraham's wife, Sarah, was a princess, even though she sometimes struggled almost as much as I do to trust God. Although she is often remembered as the woman who encouraged her husband to take another woman, Sarah is remembered by God for something else.

It's wonderful how in the New Testament, God remembers the saints for their faith, not their faults. Even as Abraham trusted God and it was counted to him for righteousness, God illustrates to us by the way He describes these heroes that when we believe in Jesus Christ, our sins are removed as the east is from the west, never to be remembered against us. Whew! What freedom!

For Sarah, that's really good news. No longer does she have to wallow under the distinction of being the woman who sparked all the conflicts in the Middle East.

Instead, God uses Sarah as an illustration - the one and only illustration - for how a woman is to obey her husband. He says, "Ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives...Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement."

Wow! So what was it that Sarah did to make God so impressed? Is there any instance where Sarah obeyed Abraham in Scripture?

There is. One. It might surprise you, though.

It's actually a part of the story that makes everyone think less of Abraham.

Abraham, according to the custom of the day, married his half-sister, Sarah. She was gorgeous; so gorgeous, in fact, that he made her promise that wherever they traveled, she wouldn't let people know she was his wife. She'd just say she was his sister.

Imagine! Your husband takes you on vacation, sees a gang of bikers, and looks at you and says, "Take off your ring. You're so hot that those guys will want you, and if they think I'm just your brother they'll treat me good. If they know I'm your husband they'll be sizing me up and wondering how I got you, and I'm dead."

Ha! And to top it off, Abraham had told Sarah to do this wherever they went. It happened twice, and both times, Sarah was convincing enough to get taken by the king into his harem. Both times, she avoided disaster. And both times, Abraham got away with it.

Can you imagine?!

How unloved would Sarah feel? Yet instead of rising up in righteous indignation, she just went along with it. You'd think Sarah would get reproached for such a thing; instead, God tells women if they want to win their husbands, the way to do it is to obey "even as Sarah obeyed Abraham."

Just another example of how God's ways are not our ways.

Take a few minutes to read the story for yourself! You can find it in Genesis 12 and Genesis 20. As you do, here are a couple questions to ask yourself.

1. Did Sarah get in trouble for going along with Abraham's rude plan?
2. Did any harm come to either of them?
3. What did the king say about Sarah? Was he happy with her obedience to her husband?
4. What did the King of kings say about Sarah? Was he happy with her obedience to her husband?
5. What does that say about how God and men will agree about our obedience to our husbands?

Even if people think we are crazy, God can and will bless obedience so much that people will wonder how in the world God would bless someone as imperfect as we are. God blesses trust. When we trust, we can obey. Then He does what we can't.

"And the Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did unto Sarah as he had spoken."

God bless you as you trust Him today!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Right Thing at the Right Time


"It's very lonely," she admitted as she straightened her napkin. "My children are good to me, but it's not the same since my husband died fourteen years ago.  You're never the same without your soul mate."  I looked into the eyes of the widow who looked so much younger than seventy-one, and discovered a sadness I had never noticed before.  In that one offhand remark, the wisdom of experience spoke to me powerfully, just as it had the day before when another widow in her eighties had confided that no marriage is going to be a fairy tale romance all the time, but when it gets hard, you pray and stay.  "God is faithful!" she had urgently declared.  The power of their words was underscored by their lined faces and decades of experience.  

Most girls dream of the day we will meet "The One," who will always love us, overlook our faults, and live with us happily ever after.  When the dream collides with reality, we wonder where we went wrong.  I remember a lady who came and spoke to my high school Home Ec class about how the love of her life turned out to be an abusive, vengeful wife-beater, and I sat there, horrified and hoping desperately to avoid her fate.  This brave lady probably spared several of us untold heartache by warning us of the dangers ahead.  I don't even remember her name but I wish I could thank her for baring her soul in front of a roomful of teenage strangers.  God used her to give me the motivation to wait until I finally met my amazing husband.

It is a terrifying thing to open your soul in front of a younger audience whom you know may take every word the wrong way and hate you thoroughly.  I have procrastinated writing this post for this reason.  The verse of Scripture that was used so powerfully in my life to teach me The Right Thing at the Right Time is not always met with open arms.  In fact, the first time I read it I...did NOT like it.  It took heartbreak to show me that my ways were not guaranteed to succeed.  Finally I decided that if I could trust God when He says "He that believeth in Jesus hath everlasting life," I could also trust Him and accept that this verse is also truth.  Honestly, it wasn't until I began to believe this verse just as much as I believe John 3:16 that I discovered the perfect plan of God and why so many relationships have so much trouble.  

This post is directed to girls who are not married or possibly VERY young newlyweds.  With only twelve years of married life under my belt I am in no position to teach anybody close to my age.  I am in as much need of instruction as the next person. But for the young girls, I hope this post is a drop in the bucket of wisdom that God gives you from many older women to help you find your way.  And truly, all I'm telling you is the verse God used in my life to direct my paths.  For others He may have used another verse.  Listen to older people, watch the outcomes of the choices of the people around you, but above all, search the Bible for yourself.  God has your love story all planned out but the instructions to get you there are hidden in His word.

So, what is the mystery verse?  The verse that details what God's plan is at what time and why?  The verse that in my youthful naivete I fled? It is I Corinthians 7:34.  

"There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband."

That's it.  I could go into a long speech about what all this means, but if you are like I was when I didn't want to hear it, you won't read it.  If you are at the point where you are interested and open to God's plan for your love life, then I would hate for you to base your understanding on my words alone.  So let me ask you the questions, and let you come to the conclusions.  I will repost the verse after each question so you don't have to keep scrolling back up.  

Q:  What are the two groups of women mentioned in the verse?

There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband.

Q:  What is the plan for the unmarried woman?

There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband.

Q:  What is the plan for the married woman?

There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband.

Q:  Why should the unmarried woman care for the things of the Lord?

There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband.

Q:  Why is the married woman to care for the things of the world?

There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband.

Q:  What does "holy in body" mean?  {By the way, the word HOLY means "hale," healthy, whole; the same root we get the word "holistic."  It means complete, not broken, distorted, or diminished.}

Q: What does "holy in spirit" mean? Think about it carefully.  It's easy when reading a blog to gloss over things and not really THINK, but I didn't answer the question for you on purpose.  

Q:  What are the things of the Lord?  

Q: What are the things of the world?

Q: Which category does God expect you to care for?

Q: Which category does God not  expect you to care for at this season in your life?

Why is it so hard for me to share this verse with you?  Maybe because I love it so much now, and it is hard when I see girls react to it the way I did at first.  Only God can answer the last few questions for you specifically.  I still beg Him to teach me how to care for the things of the world that I may please my husband.  I'll need Him to keep teaching me when I too am past my seventies. If you have read to the end of this post, thank you for reading.  May God bless your love life and may you trust Him with every aspect of it.  I love you! (Or I wouldn't have bared my soul just now....)



Friday, August 8, 2014

Red or yellow, black or white...God made us all of one blood


"God that made the world and all things therein...and hath made of one blood all nations of men..."
--Acts 17

She plays peekaboo with the dimply, happy baby in the next table at the restaurant. 

"Enjoy every moment; it goes by so fast!" she admonishes the young mother.  

Then the young woman's husband approaches the table and smiles at the lady.  The older woman looks him over and her congenial smile stiffens, then disappears.  She averts her gaze from him to study the child once more, and now an eyebrow raises.  The young couple pretends not to care as every glimmer of kindness evaporates in her understanding that this baby is...you know. 

She sips her coffee and studies her manicured nails, uncomfortably trying to ignore the quiet family. "Of course, some people think love is blind," she concedes to herself, "But the CHILDREN!  Biracial couples are bringing children into a world where people can be so cruel. It's just not right."  At the next table, the baby happily plays, while the parents try to force their food down, knowing all too well how cruel people can be.

Race in America is over-discussed yet still it remains an elephant in the room.  Each culture silently observes the other over the fence, yet despite often identical values (both good and bad) on both sides of the fence, each side considers the other inherently evil.  

It was the year before Hitler came to power.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer was visiting the United States from Berlin.  He was struck by how mainstream American society excluded black people as though their skin tone made them less than clean. In a chilling moment of foresight, he declared that in the distant future, if black America became godless, the blame could be placed squarely on the steps of the white churches who prevented them from entering.

Ouch.

Here's the excruciatingly painful truth.  I deserve that blame.  I was one of the most racist little freckled faced hypocrites in Junior High.  I told the jokes. Oh yes, I would qualify myself, all the black people I knew personally were fine people, but, you know, in general...

I was disgusted by Martin Luther King Jr., not because I had ever heard his speech, but because at some point in time after his speech, the lines of war were drawn by both sides and I knew exactly which side I was on.  Why, of course!  Why would I side with people that were born with two strikes against them? People like that had to do something pretty terrific if they expected to be on the same level as any average one of us.

When did my mind change? It was at some point after I had realized that God made me exactly the right way, that He has a plan for me, and that I actually will be happy in that plan.  When I began to relax and enjoy Jesus and the life He has given me, I slowly began to love the people He loves.

And Jesus loves everybody.  Red and yellow, black and white.

We can look at racism scientifically or historically, trying to figure out how society got where it is, but what good will that really do? Yes, we know about the slave days. They ended in 1865. I know about Jim Crow. It ended with Affirmative Action. There really isn't any point rehashing dusty arguments, because there's always blame on both sides. You can always point to ridiculous Affirmative Action mandates, Malcolm X and Black Power, and on and on. Looking back can raise so many questions we forget what we were asking.

I can't control what the rest of the world does. All I can do is know Jesus loves me SO MUCH He took my sin, my blame, and my punishment. He took it just as willingly for Malcolm X, Adolf Hitler, and Barack Obama. The same blood was provided for every person.  When I realize that, I can suddenly see my hypocrisy as it is. SIN.

So I am tired of being part of the problem. I have contributed to the lie that there is somehow difference that extends beyond the color of a person's skin tone or background. We are all pretty much the same stripped naked on the North Pole. If I have been given advantages, God expects me to be thankful and use them to bless those He loves. Not sigh with relief that I was born a certain way.

It is not easy to confess your faults one to another. Please forgive me for contributing to the problem. And join with me in asking God to bring us to the place where we love everyone as He first loved us.

Matthew 25:40
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.