Friday, December 31, 2010

Isaac: A Poem

I asked the year its name:
“Laughter.   He shall be called Laughter.”
But laughter must be marched to Moriah,
Bound to kindling,
Relinquished in offering,
Before it can dance back to the valley

When I wrote the above in January 2010, I had no idea of the twists and turns life would take over the next 12 months.  That's probably a good thing, because if I had known how much time would be spent at Moriah and how hard-won the laughter, I might have hidden under the covers and not come out.

God has once again proven Himself good and faithful through all the unexpected events of this year.  Family have  served as His hands and feet.  My patient husband is my hero.  That man is a prize, but you can't have him; he's mine.

All the same, I can't say I'm sorry to see 2010 go tonight.  Whatever 2010 has held for you, dear reader, whatever your thoughts and goals for 2011,
“‘“The LORD bless you
   and keep you;
 the LORD make his face shine on you
   and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face toward you
   and give you peace.”’

P.S. The dominant word in my thoughts and reading right now regarding 2011 is "delight."  Of course it would be, since the year called "Laughter" was so much fun.  Or maybe I'm just that slow to learn what my Father wants to teach me.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Book Review: On This Day in Christian History by Robert J. Morgan

Robert J. Morgan's devotional book, On This Day in Christian History, comprises 365 vignettes of people and events with some link to the given calendar date.  As the subtitle suggests, Morgan writes engagingly of "saints, martyrs, and heroes," but moreover of anti-heroes, heretics, and the nearly invisible saints most history books would overlook.

These stories vividly capture the adventure, courage, violence, romance, and conflict of the two millennia of Christian history so far.  I was surprised at how entertaining the stories proved.  Anyone who feels a duty to learn something more of the history of the church but has been deterred by expectations of the dryness of such study would enjoy and benefit from this book.  The author tells tightly woven stories with the skill of a seasoned sermon illustrator.

My favorite stories unveiled unknown heroes, like the college dean who put campus prankster William Graham in the pulpit for the first time, or Hudson Taylor's great-grandfather committing his family and future generations to the Lord's service.  The most difficult reads told of corruption in the highest offices of the church or of horribly inventive torture and death perpetrated by Christians against other dissenting believers.

Two overall applications also struck me and inspired worship: first, the truly amazing diversity within the body of Christ, from the perspectives of culture, chronology, temperament, theological bias, and gifting; and second, God's consistent ability to "strike a straight lick with a crooked stick."  The most heroic of heroes in the book are still flawed, and great good sometimes comes through the actions of great sinners.

A skeletal timeline or previous knowledge of key benchmarks in church history would be useful in placing each day's reading in context.  Otherwise, I positively recommend this book to Christians seeking an enjoyable, accessible introduction to the lives and examples of those who have preceded us.  It may also be beneficial in a family reading context, especially with older children and parental previews.

I review for BookSneeze
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the  book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255  : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Gift of Christmas

Wherever you are this Christmas;
however you celebrate and
with whomever you spend the day:
surrounded by family,
working hard,
in a hospital,
far away from home and loved ones,
or in solitude;
may the Lord make you especially aware of His presence and activity in your life today
and grant you joy.

Family and friends, gift exchanges, special foods, twinkle lights and decorations are all special, enjoyable parts of a Christmas celebration.  Not even the best of them, however, is essential to the day.  One precept the Lord seems to have been drumming into me this year is that none of these pleasures are my entitlement or to be taken for granted. At the same time, though, real joy in Christ is available even when they are pruned away.

No matter our circumstances this Christmas, Jesus has still come.  The eternal Word made flesh has invaded our humanity and redeemed it for His kingdom.  That is the true gift of Christmas and all we need for a celebration.

Let us worship and adore Him today!  May the Lord bless you this Christmas and always.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God. The Word was with God in the beginning.  All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind.  And the light shines on in the darkness, but the darkness has not mastered it.

A man came, sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify about the light, so that everyone might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify about the light. The true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was created by him, but the world did not recognize him.  He came to what was his own, but his own people did not receive him.  But to all who have received him – those who believe in his name – he has given the right to become God’s children  – children not born by human parents or by human desire or a husband’s decision, but by God.

Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory – the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father.
John 1:1-14, NET

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Fairy-Tale Gospel

Due to the length of this essay, my Christmas gift to you, the actual post provides only the first section for you to taste-test.  Please click on the link below to access the PDF document if you would like to read or print the full piece.  May the Lord bless you at Christmas and always!

     Once upon a time – actually, even before time began – there was a King, a perfectly good and wise and just King.  This good King created a kingdom and brought order to its lands, providing trees yielding delicious fruit, rivers to water the fertile garden, and all manner of other delights.  To inhabit and rule over this small kingdom, He created a prince and princess and gave them freedom to enjoy the beautiful land He had prepared for them.  Only one limit did He place on their liberty, so that by honoring this law they could express their love and loyalty to Him as their King.  If they should disobey this one law, death would be the consequence.
    Alas, a usurper had arisen among the King’s servants in another part of His realm.  Knowing he could not destroy the King, he sought to destroy the kingdom.  Taking the disguise of a serpent, this traitor persuaded the prince and princess to doubt the goodness of their King.  They broke His one law and cast their allegiance with the adversary.  Grieved over their disloyalty, the King cast them out of the little kingdom He had prepared for them.
    Because He was a just King, He fulfilled His word and sentenced them to death, the penalty for traitors throughout the ages.  However, because He still loved them even in their rebellion, He allowed the death of an innocent substitute in their places.  Even better, He promised that one day a Deliverer would be born to a princess, and although this Deliverer himself would be wounded, he would crush, once and for all, the usurper who had tempted them.

Click here if you would like to read the rest of the story...

Monday, December 20, 2010

Gratitude 17: Advent

The Good News of Advent:

Jesus came~

“God With Us” born a baby in Bethlehem;

He comes~

“God With Us” now who have believed in His saving name;

He is coming~

“God With Us” in salvation of His own out of this present fallen world, and judgment of those who reject Him.

May He find us watching and ready!

With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12).

Today I'm thanking the Father for (#2918-2933 of gratitude list)
~Jesus' coming and coming again
~singing Christmas carols
~the sacrifices of our nephew and the many, many others spending Christmas away from home because of military service
~Christmas card from one of our sponsored children
~Ebony's leg injury last week (while chasing a cat out of the garden) did not even require a vet visit
~blood pressure responding well to medication
~gifts under the tree
~gifts sent out to loved ones we cannot visit for this holiday
~opportunities to share the Lord's bountiful gifts to meet even a few small needs
~increasing strength to tolerate a bit more housework and driving
~good news from lupus labwork
~husband's help with errands and vacuuming
~gift of a cleaning helper who cared more last week about protecting me from her cold germs than receiving her fee for our house
~a plan in place to bring my grandmother to visit Christmas Eve, if the Lord wills
~hugs from my dad
~prayers with my mom

Friday, December 17, 2010

Roses from Thorns: Jesus' Family Tree, Part 5

Today we conclude our consideration of the stories behind the female names in Matthew's genealogy of Christ.  So far in this series we have considered Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba, each with her particular baggage of brokenness.

Mary – Broken Heart

Let's skip ahead once more, about a thousand years this time, and we come to the last portrait in the gallery, and the last woman.  Mary the mother of Jesus is probably the most familiar of the list to you, but let’s sum up her story anyway.

The angel Gabriel appears to a small-town girl, probably in her teens.  As if that were not astonishing enough, the angel tells her she is going to be the mother of God’s Son.  The catch?  She has never been married or slept with a man.  Theologically, this “virgin birth” ensures that the baby is God’s Child, holy and without sin.  Humanly, it puts Mary and her family at the center of the town gossip for years to come.  Even her fiancĂ© Joseph believes she has been immoral until an angel in a dream tells him otherwise.  Thus, the first cost of the honor of bearing the Christ in her womb was the loss of her reputation before people.

Forty days after Jesus’ birth, Mary and Joseph take him to Jerusalem to offer a required sacrifice for her purification after childbirth.  While there, the aged prophet Simeon recognizes the baby Jesus as the promised Deliverer of Israel.  Among other things, he tells Mary that through this Child a sword would pierce her own soul.  In fact, 33 years later, this surely came to pass as she watched Jesus beaten, scourged, put to death on the cross, and even pierced through the heart to prove that He had died.

Mary, then, while “blessed among women,” was also thoroughly broken, first in reputation enduring the shame of an unwed pregnancy, and ultimately in heart as she watched her beloved Son, God’s Son, suffer and die in agony.  Her brokenness, however, has borne the fruit of blessing to all those who have since put their trust in the Son she bore and raised to adulthood.

Do you identify with Mary?  Have you been broken by false criticism, gossip, rumors?  Has your heart been broken by one you love dearly or even the loss of a child?  God wants to touch you in the place of your brokenness and transform that into blessings for others; I pray that you would find the comfort only He can give today. 

If you share Mary's wounds, the Scriptures have encouragement for you, too, from 2 Corinthians 1:3-4:
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 
the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 
who comforts us in all our troubles, 
so that we can comfort those in any trouble 
with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”


Have we answered our question, then?  What unites these women and would make Matthew want to include them in Jesus’ family gallery?  Feel free to add other suggestions in the comments, but the primary commonality I notice is their experiences of profound brokenness in one way or another and God’s blessing come out of that sorrow or sin.

To recap, Tamar faced broken promises. . .
    Rahab had a broken past. . .
        Ruth had broken dreams. . .
            Bathsheba a broken marriage. . .
                And Mary both a broken reputation and a broken heart.

Matthew mentions these women to prepare the way for Jesus, whose very name means “The Lord shall save.”  He didn’t come and die for the whole people, for the people who had it all together.  He came for the broken people.  God became man in the person of Jesus so that He could enter into the brokenness we face because of sin.  He died on the cross and rose again so that through His brokenness on our behalf, we could be made whole.  In this life that is a slow process, but for those who put their trust in Jesus there is a day coming when God shall wipe away all tears from our eyes and sorrow and sighing – and brokenness – will flee away.

If you have already believed that Jesus died for you, rejoice!

If you have not yet done so and would like to, thank God for Jesus and for His death for you.  Tell Him you want to turn away from your sins and receive Jesus as your Savior.  Accept the life He offers you and offer yours in thanksgiving back to Him.  Feel free to contact your local church, a Christian friend, or me if you have accepted the eternal life He offers today.  Need Him Ministries also has Web and phone resources available for any with further questions about Jesus and why He died and rose again.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Roses from Thorns: Jesus' Family Tree, Part 4

In spring 2009, a house in our neighborhood burned to a brick shell from a fire that began in its backyard.  Walking past a few days later with Ebony, I observed that the pink rosebush against the front wall of the house had burst into bloom.  The blossoms made a spectacular and dramatic display.  To me, they also spoke of God's promise to give His people beauty for ashes.  This image reminds me of the story under consideration today, that of the fourth woman listed in Matthew's genealogy of Christ in chapter one of his gospel.

So far we have examined the stories of Tamar and her father-in-law's broken promises; Rahab and her morally broken past; and Ruth, with her broken dreams of happiness in her homeland with the husband of her youth.

Bathsheba – Broken Marriage

Fast-forward 3 more generations from Ruth, and we come to Bathsheba.  Matthew identifies her not even by name, but as “the wife of Uriah.”  However, the man beside her in the portrait gallery is not Uriah, but . . . Oops!  I’m getting ahead of myself.  We read her history in 2 Samuel 11 and 12.

David, the great-grandson of Ruth and Boaz, is now on the throne of Israel.  One spring, he sends his top general into battle but opts to stay home in luxury himself.  After a late afternoon nap, he takes a stroll on the rooftop and sees a beautiful woman bathing.  Upon inquiry he learns that she is the wife of Uriah, one of his leading soldiers, but that doesn’t stop him.  Since he knows Uriah is away fighting, he sends for Bathsheba, she comes, they sleep together, and she conceives a child.  When a hasty attempt to cover their tracks fails, David has Uriah killed and marries Bathsheba himself.

God sends a prophet to confront David about his sin, and he repents.  His sorrow is recorded for us in Psalm 51.  The child of their one-night stand dies, but soon Bathsheba gets pregnant a second time.  Out of all David’s sons from all his wives, God chooses this one to succeed David on the throne and names the child, “the Lord’s Beloved.”  History knows him better as the wise king Solomon.

In a nutshell, then, Bathsheba cheated on her husband, and her lover then had him murdered to conceal the affair.  Even this marriage, broken at her own hands,  did not disqualify her from receiving God’s grace and being used of Him.  On the contrary, she became the mother of Israel’s wisest king and a foremother of Jesus.  Truly, God brought grace and beauty out of the ashes of her first marriage.

Perhaps you see yourself in this portrait.  Have you blown it so badly that you don’t think God could possibly use you?  Sinned so horribly that you think God couldn’t love you anymore?  Think again!  Failure is never final with God.  The blood of Christ is pure enough to cleanse the worst of sins, even mine, even yours.  Friend, here’s good news and a prayer for you from David’s Psalm 51:

“The gifts on an altar that God wants are a broken spirit.
O God, You will not hate a broken heart and a heart with no pride”
(Ps 51:17, NLV).

Monday, December 13, 2010

Roses from Thorns: Jesus' Family Tree, Part 3

Previously in our exploration of the five women Matthew mentions in Jesus' genealogy, we have looked at Tamar, who experienced God's grace for her father-in-law's broken promises, and Rahab, who found grace for her broken past.  The third named woman appears in the very next generation, and her name is Ruth.

Ruth – Broken Dreams

Through Rahab’s help but mostly the power of God, Israel does conquer Jericho and the land promised to Abraham.  Sadly, as soon as Joshua dies they fall into sin, idol worship, and economic recession.  The family of a man named Elimelech crosses the border into Moab (historically an enemy of Israel), hoping for better prospects.  On the contrary, Elimelech dies in Moab; his sons grow up to marry Moabite women, and then they, too, die . . . childless.

Elimelech’s widow Naomi packs up to return to Israel.  She is too old to hope for more children to provide for herself or her daughters-in-law, but one of them, named Ruth, nevertheless insists on following Naomi back to Israel.  Even in Naomi’s sad state, Ruth has glimpsed enough to take Naomi’s God, the God of Israel, as her own.  Like Rahab, she decides to trust her security to God and His people.

Once back in the land of promise, the only survival option for penniless widows  was to follow the harvesters in the fields and gather whatever grain the workers left behind.  This doesn’t sound very promising, but God had commanded the people of Israel not to harvest every bit of the grain, but purposely to leave the corners of the fields for the poor.  Since Naomi is too old for such hard labor, Ruth proves her mettle by going out herself to work wherever she finds opportunity.

As God would have it, she finds opportunity in the fields of Boaz, who apparently is Rahab’s son and also just happens to be a close relative of Naomi . . . eligible to marry Ruth and raise up children to carry on Elimelech’s family name.  Through Ruth’s work in Boaz’s fields, they meet and observe each other’s good character.  Eventually the family connection is discovered, Boaz marries Ruth, and they have a son together who becomes the grandfather of King David and one of the ancestors of Christ.

No matter how shattered her dreams, no matter how hopeless her prospects, Ruth “seeks protection under God’s wings” and obeys Him by working hard within the options available to her.    God then opens further doors for her into a future far beyond her first broken dreams.

Have you ever been where Ruth was, or are you there now?  Are your dreams for the future scattered on the floor in a million pieces?  This is not the end of your story, beloved.  God wants to replace those broken dreams with new and better ones.  He is able to make you whole if you give Him all the pieces.  Trust Him like Ruth did and obey Him with whatever duty lies before you today.   His promise for you, beloved, is Jeremiah 29:11:
“For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, 
"plans to prosper you and not to harm you, 
plans to give you hope and a future.”

And since it's Monday, thanks be to God for (endless gift list #2777-2790)
~His grace to broken people (like me)
~a week without doctor's appointments
~setting out the nativity scene my grandparents gave us when we married
~white twinkle lights in green branches
~quiet evening working a puzzle together
~driving myself for coffee
~wrapping gifts for people I love
~mailing calendars to our sponsored children
~Christmas photo from the family I babysat more than a decade ago (??!!)
~Christmas piano books down from the attic
~listening to A Christmas Carol, excellently read
~the possibility of real, lasting change for good
~candles on the table
~contented dog snoring on the sofa on a chilly morning
~this remarkable tribute to my father-in-law, or rather to the way God used him on the mission field and in the pastorate

Friday, December 10, 2010

Roses from Thorns: Jesus' Family Tree, Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, we compared the genealogy of Christ in Matthew 1 to a family portrait gallery in a home.  We discovered the implied mystery of the inclusion of five women in this otherwise all-male list and began exploring what may distinguish these ladies and why Matthew might have regarded them as important branches of Jesus' family tree.

The first woman in the list is Tamar, who experienced God's grace in providing for her after a broken promise.

Rahab – Broken Past

The next woman in the portrait gallery is Rahab.  If we were making a movie about her, we might portray her as the classic “harlot with the heart of gold.”  We have to fast-forward through about 600 years of Israel’s history to get to her story, found in Joshua 2 and 6.

A man named Joshua is leading the nation now – and it is a true nation, numbering in the millions – and they are about to begin conquering the land that God has promised to their forefathers.  The gateway to this promised land is a walled city called Jericho.  Like many a good military leader, Joshua sends two scouts ahead of the people to check out the city’s defenses.

They end up at the house of a prostitute named Rahab.  The king of Jericho hears rumors of their presence and sends men to look for them, but Rahab hides them and lies to the authorities to send them off on a wild goose chase so that the spies can escape.  Why on earth would she risk her life for a couple of strangers?!

In her own words, “I know that the LORD has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you.  We have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to ... the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed.  When we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone's courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below” (Joshua 2:9-11).

She pledges her allegiance to this God and asks only that the army of Israel spare her and her family when they come to destroy the city.  The spies arrange the signal of a red rope in her window so that all those inside will be spared.  When “Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, and the walls come a tumblin’ down,” her family indeed is spared.  They live just outside the camp of the Israelites, and eventually Rahab marries into the nation.

While Tamar suffered from broken promises, Rahab has a broken past.  She has made her living by selling her body (and was apparently good at it, from the prime location of her house).  However, she has come to fear the one true God and wants to trust her security to Him and His people.  Perhaps surprisingly to us, God honors that.  Her immoral lifestyle does not disqualify her from relationship with Him.

What about you?  Do you have a broken past?  Let Rahab’s story give you hope.  It’s never too late for you to turn to God, the one true God, to receive mercy and find cleansing and a fresh start.  A scarlet cord in the window was Rahab’s salvation; the scarlet blood of Christ is yours.  He died to give you forgiveness, if you will accept it.  His promise for you is Micah 7:18-19:
"Who is a God like you,
who pardons sin and forgives the transgression
of the remnant of his inheritance?
You do not stay angry forever
but delight to show mercy.
You will again have compassion on us;
you will tread our sins underfoot
and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Roses from Thorns: Jesus' Family Tree, Part 1

In my family home growing up, the main hall displayed a family portrait gallery of my parents' wedding photo, family group pictures, and the visual growth chart of our school photos through the years.  My husband's parents still have such a gallery in their home.

To a new visitor, such photo walls are simply images, faces captured on paper.  To the family, though, those faces are the gateways to stories and personalities.  The toddler photo of me holding Pooh's nose is not just a humorous glimpse of childhood in general, but a visual representation of the day I first demonstrated a dislike of sitting in front of the camera and the way an overactive imagination could be harnessed for good with the right cue.  My sisters each had school photos capturing the stunning results of games of beauty parlor gone bad.  In all three cases, the photo serves as an icon for a story.

In the Bible, when Jesus’ friend Matthew leads us on a guided tour through Jesus’ life, he begins at just such a family portrait gallery.  In this case, of course, it is Jesus’ family.  Imagine, if you will, that you walk with Matthew and me into a grand hallway, as of some lordly family's vast estate.  On the walls are 42 portraits of Jesus’ ancestors.  Immediately we notice that all of the portraits are of men—all, that is, except 5.  Those 5 each feature a man and a woman.

If you’re like me, questions will immediately spring to mind:
First, why are there almost all men?  Why so few women?
Second, why these women?  What distinguishes them from all the others who were left out?

The first question is relatively easy to answer.  You see, this is not actually a gallery of photos, but a written genealogy of names.  In the ancient world, a genealogy typically traced only the male line of a family.  The more appropriate question, therefore, is not, “Why so few women?” but, “Why any women?”

The second question, friends, is what we will ask and seek to answer in this post series.  In the Gospel according to Matthew, the introduction to the Christmas story consists of a genealogy of the prior 42 generations of Jesus’ family.  In those 42 generations, Matthew selects 5 women to include.  Why bother?  What distinguishes and unites these women that would make them a fitting prelude to the story of Jesus’ birth?

If it were my family tree, the most outstanding women would be my choice:
A movie star. . .
    An author. . .
        A daughter of the American Revolution. . .
            An heiress. . .
                A humanitarian. . .
(None of which actually exists in my family tree, mind you!)

Matthew, however, spotlights
A widow who disguises herself as a prostitute in order to get pregnant. . .
    An actual prostitute. . .
        A penniless migrant worker. . .
            An adulteress. . .
                And a teenage unwed mother.
What’re you thinking Matthew?  This is your selection for our first impression of Jesus’ family?

Clearly, to answer this question we must look at their stories more closely.  In chronological order, their names are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and finally Jesus’ mother Mary.

Tamar – Broken Promise

Tamar’s story is told in the book of Genesis, chapter 38.  The nation of Israel is in its earliest days.  In fact, Tamar knows Israel not as a nation but as a man, a wealthy shepherd, in fact.  Israel (also called Jacob) has 12 sons.  One son, Judah, wanders away from the rest of the family and settles with another tribe called the Canaanites.  He marries a woman from that tribe, and they have 3 sons.  His eldest son marries Tamar but dies before giving her children.  At this time in history, not to have a son is considered such a tragedy that it becomes the responsibility of the next brother in the family to marry the widow and raise up a son to carry on his dead brother’s name.

Consequently, according to custom, Judah gives his second son to be Tamar’s husband.  Selfishly, this son refuses to do his duty, since there wouldn’t be any direct benefit to himself.  This displeases God so much that he takes the man’s life.

One son still remains, but by this time Judah is getting suspicious about Tamar.  Two marriages, two dead sons. . .  Hoping she’ll get impatient and marry someone else, he tells her his youngest isn’t old enough for marriage yet, so she’ll have to wait.

She faithfully does, staying in her widow’s weeds to broadcast to the community that she is not available to any other man.  Years pass, the youngest son grows up, and it becomes clear that Judah has no intention of fulfilling his promise to Tamar.

What’s a girl to do?  She’s living with her father now, but he won’t be around forever.  She needs a husband or a son, or both, for financial security.  What’s more, there’s still the issue of someone to carry on her dead husband’s name (and Judah’s, for that matter).

What's a girl to do? Tamar decides to dress up as a prostitute on a day when she knows her father-in-law will be in her father’s town.  She lies in wait for him along the road. . . and does what prostitutes do.  Basically, she entraps him into keeping his promise to her.  As a guarantee that he will send payment (since he thinks she’s a prostitute), she takes his seal and his staff, which identify him as clearly as a driver’s license would today.

Three months later, when she turns up pregnant and he accuses her of immorality, she produces his ID and turns the accusation back on him.  He not only drops the charges but confesses his broken promise of not giving her his last son.

Through one of the twin boys born from this liaison, Tamar becomes part of Jesus’ family tree.

To sum up, Tamar is the victim of a gross injustice, a broken promise of the worst kind.  In her day, she had no legal recourse for the redress of this grievance, so she resorts to deception to obtain what was rightfully hers.  God graciously – in spite of her deception – meets her at the point of her brokenness and gives her two sons, one of whom becomes a forefather of the King to come.

Does this story connect at all with your life?  The details don’t match, of course, but perhaps you yourself are the victim of a broken promise.  Entrust your “Judah” and your rights to God.  Ask Him to meet you in your helplessness and turn the brokenness into blessing, for you and for others.  The promise He gives you and will not break is Psalm 146:9:
“The LORD watches over the alien 
and sustains the fatherless and the widow, 
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.”

Monday, December 6, 2010

Gratitude 16: Chronic Illness

This week brought mixed news on my health journey.  The report from my lupus doctor was very positive, and my sinus doctor approved the request to continue the prescription irrigation regimen another month.  At the same time, I discovered providentially that my blood pressure has risen dangerously in the last month; I say, "providentially," because as someone with previously normal blood pressure I had not been in the habit of checking it at home.  My weight, cholesterol levels, and diet are healthy, and I exercise as much and regularly as I am able.  Once again, following the rules set by the health professionals is no guarantee of the desired outcome.

To be honest, this newest diagnosis embarrasses me a bit.  It feels like failure, a sign that I have not been a faithful steward of this dust-body where God's Spirit dwells.  My first inclination was toward image management, withholding specifics that might make you think less of me.  That's just pride talking, though, which is reason enough to come clean.  

Moreover, someone reading this might be in the same situation, trusting that everything is normal because there are no visible signs of a problem.  If that is the case, if one of you Crumbles does not know his or her blood pressure and cholesterol numbers, please, let my story encourage you to obtain the necessary tests.  Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for both genders and often goes undetected until a crisis occurs.  Hypertension, in particular, is known as "the silent killer."

For the last few days of living with this latest development, I have been working through the discouragement of yet another chronic illness to manage and another prescription to add to the list.  By God's grace, I give thanks by faith that because my Father has allowed this, it is good for me.

Lupus and my other ailments have certainly brought good to me already: frequently my limitations are means of guidance in matters big and small; they have strengthened my relationship with my husband in the last six months more than I would ever have expected; they have loosened my grip on the steering wheel of life and whittled away at my pride; and they have often quickened awareness of my dependence on God.

Trust in Him is the foundation of spiritual life and an area I always need growth.  Affliction is often the classroom where such trust is learned.

Deeply felt need also enriches my experience of God's Word.  A hunger only God's promises can satisfy transforms the Scriptures from words on a page into daily bread necessary for survival.  This week alone, my reading in Isaiah 40 through 44 has been a lifeline and comfort.  Without anxiety, I might not have noticed the frequent repetition of the command, "Fear not," nine times in this small section.  Without my body letting me down, God's self-identification in those same chapters as the one who formed (seven times) and created me (four times) would not be half so reassuring.  Furthermore, He not only created me but did so for His glory (Isaiah 43:7); He not only formed me but did so for Himself, that I might declare His praise (Isaiah 43:21).

Finally, chronic illness has taught me the importance of looking past the seen to the unseen.  Isn't this part of the message of Christmas, after all?  If we dwell on the seen, we see a baby with a feeding trough for a cradle, surrounded by rumors of illegitimacy, born to a poor, blue-collar, redneck Hebrew family.  The glory lies beyond the veil of the visible in the truth revealed by God's Word and received by faith.  The invisible, eternal things teach that this baby in the manger beneath the star is Himself "God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God," "God with us," "come to save His people from their sins."

Whatever seen things may be troubling and discouraging us today, let us lay them at the manger and look beyond them to the good they can give us.  Come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!

Thank You, Lord, for
2170. Chronic illnesses
2171. Discovering blood pressure problem before serious consequences
2172. Good report from lupus doctor
2173. Supportive, loving husband
2174. Mom's company and transportation help with doctor's visits this week
2175. Best asthma week since July
2176. Christmas music
2177. Corporate worship attendance
2178. Salmon and roasted vegetables for Sunday lunch
2179. Husband and Dad working together on soffit repair on Saturday
2180. Phone conversations with both sisters this week
2181. Early Christmas present to play with
2182. Christmas card in the mail from a longtime friend
2183. Isaiah's encouragement and prophecies of Messiah
2184. One surviving caterpillar in the parsley
2185. Ebony patrolling the backyard for stray cats

Friday, December 3, 2010

Prayers for Marriages

News of the pending divorce of a prominent couple in a neighborhood church has reminded me that every Christian marriage has an enemy (and I do not mean one's spouse). The accuser of the brethren opposes healthy faith and healthy marriages, seeking to desecrate and vandalize the icon of Christ's love which God intends marriage to be.  This sad news reminded me that no marriage becomes so secure that the husband and wife can coast on the momentum of the past; therefore, we are to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God.  The Scriptures remind me that God cares for us and is able to lift up the downcast and stumbling; therefore, we can cast our anxieties on Him in confidence that where He is, is hope.  The prowling of our hungry enemy reminds me to be sober, watchful, prayerful for the marriages around me and my own.

To this end, I have been praying specifically, though still not as consistently as needed, for God's will and glory in the marriages around me and in my own.  The wise, thoughtful words below, from the Episcopal wedding liturgy, have proven most helpful in guiding my requests and desires.

If you, dear reader, are married, I pray these things for you.  If you are not, perhaps you can lift up the rest of us, and may the Lord bring you a Christ-following mate in His good time if that is good for you.

For all of us, "May the Lord direct [our] hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ" (2 Thess. 3:5, NASB).

Eternal God, creator and preserver of all life, author of
salvation, and giver of all grace: Look with favor upon the
world you have made, and for which your Son gave his life,
and especially upon this man and this woman whom you
[have made] one flesh in Holy Matrimony. Amen.

Give them wisdom and devotion in the ordering of their
common life, that each may be to the other a strength in need, a counselor in perplexity, a comfort in sorrow, and a companion in joy.  Amen.

Grant that their wills may be so knit together in your will,
and their spirits in your Spirit, that they may grow in love
and peace with you and one another all the days of their life.

Give them grace, when they hurt each other, to recognize and
acknowledge their fault, and to seek each other’s forgiveness
and yours.  Amen.

Make their life together a sign of Christ’s love to this sinful
and broken world, that unity may overcome estrangement, forgiveness heal guilt, and joy conquer despair.  Amen.

Give them such fulfillment of their mutual affection that they
may reach out in love and concern for others.  Amen.

This post linked up to Ann's Wednesday community on 26 January 2011.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Draw Near: A Poem

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:15-16, ESV).

Draw near.
No fear of lash; My grace will thee adorn.
I bid thee come, My golden scepter touch.
The great High Priest has died, the Door for such
As thee to enter in.  The veil is torn:
Draw near.

Draw near.
With boldness come, of thine acceptance sure,
And linger here awhile, no haste to leave.
Abide, and let My strength thy fears relieve.
Trust cares and burdens in My hands secure.
Draw near.