Ultimate Gift: His new life leads to ours

As we celebrate the Christmas season, I am reminded of the reason Christ came into the world. Indeed

He came to die on a cross.

He came to love us.

He came to redeem us.

He came to heal us.

To restore our relationship with the Father.

To be our everything.

A celebration of His birth reminds us that His birth has led to our own birth in Him, the ultimate gift.

May our relationship with Him grow immeasurably in this time.

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Driving cattle or leading sheep. Psalm 23

I’ve been preparing the lessons for the coming Sunday School weeks and am struck by the symbolism of the shepherds being the first to receive the announcement of the Savior’s birth. What I am drawn to this year is that Jesus is our Good Shepherd and surely that is why these men were the first to hear this joyous announcement.

I have heard diverse theories on who these shepherds were: were they simple men in the fields or were they the priests charged with swaddling the unblemished lambs at the moment of their birth in preparation for the Passover? I’m not sure it matters if they were educated priests or poor men of the fields. Today I am struck by this strong indicator toward the Shepherd of our lives.

Anyway, in preparation of these Sunday School lessons, I’ve been researching the job of a shepherd, long lost in today’s modern world – at least to me. Many I knew and understood from studies of Psalm 23, but this time I see a stark contrast between the shepherd who knows the animals personally, with rod he defends and protects, with staff he leads and keeps from harm, anointing head with oil to keep healthy and parasites off the skin – doctoring. The emotion with which I view this work stems from the love that I know Jesus has for me, otherwise it seems like dirty, lonely work. Recently I have had the image of cattle versus the image of sheep, more specifically the movement. Cattle are driven from behind while sheep are led from the front. Jesus goes before us. It is the relationship that draws forth the sheep while it is the noise and drive that moves the cows.

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So, I have been challenged to consider if I drive or go before in my leading. Do I show the way, or do I say to go without me? Do I see the pitfalls and go around, or do I hope that others do? This kind of leading requires me to know where I am going to end up. I suppose this ties in with a new start of the new year, too. It is a time to ask God for that kind of vision and to trust that He leads me as I, in turn, lead others. Admittedly, I do not have a formal leadership role – but I have come to understand that as a Christian, I am always an example and conduit of Christ and therefore leading others to Him.

The challenge remains to seek to be more like Jesus in every way – today it is in leading.

Widow of a fool. 1 Samuel 25

Abigail has always been an interesting character (1 Samuel 25). She seems to fulfill all the descriptions in Proverbs 31 for a wife of noble character, and she is beautiful and intelligent (1 Samuel 25:3). It is all the more perplexing that she has married a fool, this man named Nabal.

Abigail must have known who this man was, and surely her family knew as well. Given the times, she likely would not have had all that much to say about who she married, but I would expect that some attempt at a decent match was made. I wonder if Nabal changed after they married or perhaps riches had gone to his head.

Considering the ‘Proverbs 31 woman’, it would seem that verse 11 did not apply in this case: her husband did not have full confidence in her and lacked plenty of value (all he lacked will have to be set aside for this post. It would get a bit long!). Nabal would not have sent Abigail as an envoy to a king. I doubt anyone at the time would have sent a woman as an envoy. Yet, we find a very capable and considerate envoy.

Abigail provides a nice formula for the approach: providing unflattering information about the enemy, her husband; then proceeding to offer a gift of food; and ends with flattery and praise of David’s work the Lord. I doubt I would have thought so quickly and prepared so well for the encounter, not in my haste to prepare the food and race out to find the gentleman intent on destroying my family. Indeed, the words and the speech that she delivers marks her as one who is close to God, only one who has gained the wisdom of God could have done so well.

Drawing near to Him, we take on His character. Abigail was level-headed in conflict, direct and truthful in her words, and had the goodwill of all on her heart. She clearly carried herself in a way that was remarkable for David to then call on her and ask her to be his wife. What a change from the wife of a fool to the wife of a king and man after God’s own heart!

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He calls on us all. John 4

Until recently, I’m not sure that I truly appreciated the story of the woman at the well, the Samaritan woman, in John 4. But I read it now and see how many traditions Jesus ignored and how many dividing walls the Samaritan woman jumped over. Both of them had much to gain and much to lose.

Jesus was expected to maintain his place, such as not talk to women in private conversation, limit dealings with Samaritans, not drink from an unclean vessel (that of a Samaritan).

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The woman was also expected to maintain distance from a stranger, was an outcast of her own people, was excluded from access to God by Jewish tradition.

I see here that Jesus calls on a Gentile, a woman, an adulterer. She converts and preaches to her neighbors. Perhaps this woman should be known as the first apostle! Paul follows in her footsteps, bringing Jesus to the Gentiles.

Jesus was so radical in His acceptance of everyone, His forgiveness for all and in His vision of we can be. He continues to offer the same to us today. He embraces you! He calls on you and can use you as you are.

Delilah – Woman of God...? Judges 16

I think that might get anyone’s attention if you know the story of Delilah and Samson found in Judges 16. When a person is so vengeful and deceitful, surely they are not one of God’s own. I guess in the traditional sense, I would concede. Hers the rub: God created Delilah and God used her to bring about His purposes.

This story brings to mind the people that we have such a hard time getting along with. The ones that don’t seem to be completely forthcoming, the ones who find gain in all the bad, the ones who seem to come out on top every time, the ones who don’t seem to care much about others. My husband was in just such a situation with not one, but two people. Looking back on it now, it wasn’t just people God put there to test and try us, but I am certain that my husband was there to protect and support others who were in their path. As imperfect as we are, God may not put these people in our path just to challenge or develop us and make us grow. In tough times, we often see only the our own tough spot, but here, at least in hindsight, I can see that God may also have us there to alleviate the troubles of others.

So, was Delilah a woman of God. Not by most standards, but God still used her for His purposes. It just might take time to see that purpose when we face our own Delilahs.

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Murderer and coward. Hebrews 11:24-28

We often ignore the ‘bad’ in Bible heroes. Perhaps instead, we need to remember who they are as a whole person and how God used them despite our sinful-nature.

We remember Moses as a (the?) leader of the Israelites. He is a great man of faith (Hebrews 11:24-28). It seems so convenient to forget that he was a murderer. We forget that he was such a coward, that even with all his faith, God had to make another man the spokesperson of Israel. Moses denied God of His desire for Moses to be His mouthpiece.

God forgave Moses his sins, murder being the chief that we mention here. God saw beyond his upbringing in Pharaoh’s home. God told Moses that He was bigger than any impediment.

Moses understood people: he ran from judgement after the murder, he anticipated that the Israelites would question him as God’s choice. The people had a memory like an elephant and Moses anticipated an uphill battle. We recall the past, the person we knew or heard about, back then. God called Moses into the present and future – into the person that God knew he could be. God saw the heart of Moses.

How often have I ignored or minimized changes in a person? How many people am I ‘friends’ with on social media, but really the image I have of them is of a person in another time. We have all hopefully grown. I know I have. Moses certainly had, but I wonder how many at that time who recalled better what Moses had done instead of what he was doing. I’d like to open myself to the possibility that God has changed us all, into different and better, that is, more Christ-like people. God saw the heart, and I don’t want to be any different; with Him I’ll try.

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To advent or not to advent

Advent begins on Sunday. Having attended both a liturgical church and an anti-liturgical (yep, I said anti) church, I have an internal see-saw on how I feel about the season.

I think it is a great thing to have a time of expectation and waiting for Christ. It can be a time of peace and hope. It can be a time of development and appreciation for the gift of Christ. It can certainly be a time of focusing on Him and not consumerism. Advent traditions in family can bond and heal us. God is where we invite Him, and advent activities will do that too.

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I think too though that by focusing on the Christ child, there is too much time when we don’t allow the child to grow into the man, friend, savior, and redeemer that He is today. We leave him as a helpless babe in the manger. And this time lasts almost one month every year. It is a disproportionate amount of time to spend thinking of the child. When we celebrate birthdays, we may reflect on the birth, but we usually consider the year past and look to the year coming.

Christ has already come into the world. Birthdays are celebrated in most of the world today, and Christ is so important to us and lives today – so I embrace celebrating his birth annually. But I think we need to remember that even on December 3rd or 15th or 20th, our Christ is still the God-and-man who lives. He lives in us and through us.

Christ’s birth changed the world as we now it today; not just 2000 years ago. Let’s focus on His impact for today while recalling the gift we have received in Him.

God Changes our Perspective – Saul and Goliath Part 3. 1 Samuel 17

The other things I noticed in reading about Saul, Goliath and David (1 Samuel 17)

I realized the phycological impact that Goliath must have had, not just by his size and the challenge that he made. In fact, I think the challenge was made in order to spare an annihilation of life on the battle field. Clearly Goliath was an impressive guy, absolutely huge. But this too takes away from the fact that when David arrives to provide refreshments for his brothers, Goliath has made this declaration already 80 times. 1 Sam 17:16: For forty days the Philistine came forward and took his stand, morning and evening. Forty days, twice a day this was yelled in their faces and no one had responded. I wonder how long it was before Saul offered the reward. And what was he thinking- would a reward guarantee them victory, or merely push them into certain slavery? I see such a lack of leadership here in Saul that it is not surprise that from here he begins to lose his throne. We are never told that he sought the Lord or even asked the prophets and priests to intervene. God can bring about the change in perspective that Saul required. He could have taken David’s faith as a beacon to change what he was doing or at least how he was doing it.

Then of course there is the image that Malcolm Gladwell provided about how David essentially ignored the rules of war that were in place at the time, thereby offering the idea that David cheated by not approaching with a sword and shield. The rebel in me wants to point out that the challenge never stated any limits other than to chose one man to fight him – no comment on the time, weapons, style, etc. But I know that we are in fact bound by all kinds of limitations in our minds that culture and circumstance have placed there. For truly, I do not see any cheating here, what I see is an alternate perspective. God’s perspective. For man was thinking in confines, but God was not. Isaiah 55:8 ‘"My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts," says the LORD. "And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.’ (Isn’t the NLT version just fantastic at the end phrase?) His ways were in David’s mind, not human thoughts: not fear and not despair. We can imagine that fear and despair dominated Saul and all his army. But God can change our perspective – He is the Living God and the God of Angel Armies. How could we not win?!?

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Little Shepherd Boy – Saul and Goliath Part 2. 1 Samuel 17

What else stuck out to me? We always think of David as a small shepherd boy in this scene. But look at what next unfolds, verses 38-39:

Then Saul clothed David with his armor. He put a helmet of bronze on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail, and David strapped his sword over his armor. And he tried in vain to go, for he had not tested them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.” So David put them off. 

David has put off the armor because he is not accustomed to it. We always, well maybe it is just me, please comment and let me know, imagine this scene as David being swallowed up by Saul’s armor – but this is not accurate. It says that he has not had time to test out the armor: surely the weight changes how one can move, limiting and off-balancing one. We know Saul is tall, quite tall. 1 Samuel 9:2 says of Saul, ‘…From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people.’ Yet, we do not find that Saul’s armor was too large and could not be strapped on David. On the contrary, David had no trouble strapping on the armor – he was clearly already much older than so many children’s stories imply, and very well likely fully grown.

David was apparently in his early twenties at this point. This fact reminds me that so often we read the Bible and picture only flat informational scenes. We don’t (or is it me?) always consider the feelings and thoughts behind the character and their own experiences which brought them to this scene. It requires more of us to stop and ask about age, developmental experiences and feelings of those that we read about. But what a perspective we have if we do!

David may have been the youngest of his brothers, but he had the life experiences that lead him to a strong faith in God, the living God. So, we need to let David grow up from the little shepherd boy to a strong opponent of Goliath. I wonder how the brothers responded after the death of Goliath. How did that relationship change when they were forced to see that David was a capable man?

How old have you always imagined David to be when he killed Goliath?

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Where is God? Saul and Goliath – Part 1. 1 Samuel 17

Several months ago, in reading the story of David and Goliath, I was struck by several things that I never noticed before. Perhaps, I had simply never spent enough time of careful study of the old testament traditions and the kings and all they did wrong. But I was particularly struck by the fact that Saul is there at the battlefield and in I Samuel 17:19 we find the situation:

Now Saul and they and all the men of Israel were in the Valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines.

So, all the men of Israel are there. Preparations for battle, campfires and tents, cooking and roasting to feed all these men. I can only image a rather large temporary city has sprung up. But this time when I read, there was something missing, a glaring oversight. How had I not noticed before? How had Saul not included the priests? Why were there not hourly sacrifices to God, requesting His favor? Where was Israel’s God? Truly, did not one person ask and finally bring this to Saul’s attention?

It is not until verses 36-37 when David draws God into the battle:

“…he [Goliath] has defied the armies of the living God.” And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!”

And Saul replies with this short encouragement to David. Yet, Saul still doesn’t think about asking God to go with him, or the Israelites or to pave the road to victory. He hands everything over to this ‘boy’ David. Where is God? We know He is present and very aware of the situation at hand, yet He has not been invited to participate or go before the Israelites. These are the same people who drove out so many in the promised land, with God; but they do not invite intervention at this so pivotal a battle.

I also really love that David has such an intimate relationship with God that He is ‘the living God.’ Our God is living and cares and wants to be involved in everything. This statement screams to me that David knew God: a shepherd and now-warrior. He has the firm belief that God is with him and on his side.

Have we invited God to our side? Asked Him to join us today? Sacrificed at the altar of prayer?

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Why everyone should wear shorts in church. Ephesians 4:1-6

Recently a couple that has only occasionally visited our church came, accompanied by their daughter. I found after the service that another member of our church had apparently found something for the daughter to cover her legs with and insisted that she was wearing something inappropriate. Apparently the same was done (covering found) for a young member of our congregation as well. The girls were wearing shorts, which one person found to be ‘too’ short. I was appalled. I cannot imagine that this behavior and words would ever come from our savior’s mouth. He accepted everyone where they were in their station and walk with him.

Various reasons have been given for this kind of expectation of ‘modest’ dress in church. I have heard the argument that men are tempted by such exposure; and I have heard that we enter the King’s presence and should therefore dress appropriately. I have heard that we women should cover our heads, not wear our hair short.

I cannot agree with any of these. Or perhaps it is simply that I believe more strongly in welcoming all much more than ensuring we follow set human expectations.

I see Christ’s mission as that of reconciliation of the Father with us and indeed I cannot find a single verse in which Jesus turned someone away. Oh yes, on many occasions, given the challenge of following Him, people walked away; but he never turned anyone away.

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A church, the church, has a mission of making disciples. By nature, a disciple is one who will learn under another and in turn teach others. Churches take on personalities and disciples seek to find a place where they are most comfortable – but make no mistake, God does not call us to be comfortable. The personality of a church simply allows us each of us to freely worship our Lord and King in a way that most closely reflects our own needs and desires to be with him. And as disciples, we join together in this broken imperfect group called church. As members of this greater body of Christ, we are called, as in Ephesians 4

1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

We are tasked with being humble, gentle, patient, and bearing one another in love, putting forth effort to keep unity of the Spirit through bonds of peace. The challenge here is much the same as that which we regularly face in society – where is the line at which my own personal expressions and liberties are infringed upon by others and where is that for me in return. Do I turn the other cheek and permit this one person to put me into a box in my expression of self by wearing shorts? I think the way I word the question tells you that it doesn’t sit well with me.

The unity that we strive for, work for, make efforts toward, does not lead to uniformity. God’s creation doesn’t give the least impression that we are to be uniform in anything. In unity, we will all be different. Our unity is made complete only through the Spirit. The Spirit who convicts us, cleanses us, changes us, heals us, challenges us, is the one who can open our eyes to others, revealing to us the needs and hurts of others, leading us to personal and congregational life. Life is messy, we struggle and fight a lot of it, but in the peace given us, we can also turn these petty issues into a cause of unity.

I’m not sure how He will succeed in this case to bring us closer to His perfect unity and peace, but He will. Our imperfect, broken, stubborn ideals will yield to His ultimate purposes. I, for one, have taken the opportunity to question myself on why shorts are or are not acceptable in church. I have regarded the reasons given above and find that my position stands; so I think I will continue to wear shorts in church. Will you at least consider it?