Archive for the ‘December 2011’ Category

Love, and the lack of

What do you want most in life? I was asked the other day. The question got my soul’s attention, and it didn’t take me too long to respond… “To matter.”

Thinking about it later, I want not only to matter, but to matter specifically by making a good difference.

I thought of those who have mattered to me. There was a simple truth underneath. All of those who have mattered to me have either made a good difference in my life, or a bad one. And it has all come down to love, or the lack of.

There are those I wish didn’t matter so much to me, because they’ve made a bad difference in my life. Is it because they haven’t achieved their goals in life? Is it their field of work that makes a difference? Is it who they are? No. It is only their lack of love.

I’ve known a strong leader whose weak love led me quicker to defeat than to victory. I’ve known great doctors whose careless hands healed my body but wounded my soul. I’ve known good shepherds who by their words gather sheep while they scatter the flock by their deeds. Their instruction soon means nothing to me.

I know the most gifted musicians, even anointed worship leaders, whose angel voices I would less like to hear than a tone deaf friend singing in my ear. Their lovely yet loveless songs knock pointlessly on a long locked door of my heart. Write down their lyrics and project them on the walls, but I can’t see them and I can’t feel them past my wounds left by their lack of love.

If it weren’t for Love himself, the truth in 1 Corinthians 13 would have me crushed.

Whatever you do in life, whether it is writing, singing, speaking, mothering, fathering. Whatever your field of work, whether inventing, engineering, teaching, managing, nursing, building, programming. Whoever you are, whether son, daughter, student, teacher, sister, brother, employee, boss, friend, mentor. Whatever you do, in whatever field, as whoever you are, you do nothing and go nowhere and matter not if you live without love.

Authors, your words have no message without love. Singers, your voice has no power without love. Teachers, your lessons hold no meaning without love. Pastors, your sermons make no difference without love. People, you’re wasting your time without love. Love for God, proving itself in love for others.

You can write better than Shakespeare and direct better than Steven Spielberg. You can dance better than Michael Jackson and sing better than Mariah Carey. You can invent more than Thomas Edison and give more than Mother Teresa. You can teach better than Eistein and preach better than Spurgeon. But when all is said and done, without love, you do nothing for God, for yourself, or for those around you. You don’t mean much to the world, or to your own little world, unless you love much.

No matter what we do, if we do not love, we make no good difference at all. Only love makes a real difference. Only love makes us truly great. It’s better to be a janitor who loves than a king who doesn’t. It’s better to reach just one person in love than to leave a thousand untouched. The greater our position of influence, the greater our responsibility to love, and the greater the damage when we don’t.

‘If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.’ (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

If this new year I make one resolution, it is to know Love, and to love much.

Read Full Post »

My Titus

‘In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy. For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn – fighting without and fear within.’ (2 Cor. 7:5)

I wonder how common it is to experience little rest during the holidays. You can gaze out of your window at a silent night, yet sense the glass between the silence and yourself. You see life outside as if through a lens. If only it were as thin as glass to shatter.

We find conflict outside, and fear within. Affliction at every turn. There is fighting in our social circles, and striving in ourselves. Our bodies are tired. We are like a window shopper who gazes longingly in at what we can’t buy… Peace. Joy. Love. Jesus.

What hurts worse than going without, is having the time and having the place, but having no experience. Maybe it would be better if it were an ordinary, rainy day, but during the holidays?

God seems to come not where we most predict him, but where we hardly imagine. Why can’t we see him eating at our table during Christmas dinner, even though we’ve all gathered there for him? Maybe he didn’t come because we forgot to invite him, even though he was the reason we came together. Maybe he came in such humility that he just slipped through the seams. Maybe we didn’t really seek him, so we didn’t even see him.

‘But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus…’ (v.6) I may have missed Jesus on Christmas, but I found him sitting across from me at lunch today, comforting me by the coming of a friend. He spoke into our conversation. He spoke, and we both listened. Where there were two, three were present. My Titus, me, and Jesus.

And now ‘In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy.’

Read Full Post »

Ordinary, unlikely me

Inspired by Francine River’s novella about Mary, entitled “Unafraid.”

If I had the time, I would like to sit with each of you individually and convince you that no matter how ordinary your life may seem, no matter how unlikely you might feel, God has an extraordinary purpose for your life. He chooses the weak to lead the strong, and the foolish to teach the wise. The more lowly you are, the higher he can lift you up.

I would like to look each of you in the eye and assure you that your situation is not hopeless, though it may appear so. When you feel helpless, you have not come to the end. When you come to face death itself, you have reason for courage. For God always keeps his promises.

Why do I have such confidence? Maybe after I tell you a bit of my story, you will understand. I’m sure you’ve heard it before, how a young peasant girl from Nazareth became the most blessed of women. How a virgin betrothed to a carpenter named Joseph would bear the Savior of the world. I’m sure you’ve heard before how we were unexpectedly visited by an angel of the Lord. How the King of kings was born in a manger in Bethlehem and worshiped by shepherds and wise men. How we fled to Egypt upon the Lord’s leading, come to find that King Herod had issued a decree to murder every boy ages two and under in Bethlehem because the birth of Jesus threatened his kingdom.

I love how often our story is told and retold, but it would be tragic if it seemed like some old tale. I can only hope time has not turned our family into mere characters, instead of real people. That’s why I wanted to pick up our story when the Lord led us from Egypt back to Nazareth, after the death of King Herod. We wondered how we would be welcomed, especially given our reputation, which the unexpected pregnancy had called into question.

But we continued an ordinary life back in Nazareth. I didn’t speak of Jesus as the Son of God because I knew his time would soon come to be King, but in my heart I pondered his life. When would everyone know who he was? More importantly, when would he know who he was?

From the moment I first saw him, I adored him. Every time I held him, I knew it was he who really held me. Every time I sang him a lullaby, I imagined all the angels standing by, peering through the stars at God’s beloved child. When he looked up at me with his big brown eyes, I was overcome by awe and love. Sometimes I’d cry and I didn’t even know why. I just couldn’t believe he’d chosen me. Ordinary, unlikely me.

Joseph’s carpentry kept him busy, but every morning and evening he made plenty of time to read the scrolls to us – the Torah, the prophets, the Psalms, and the story of King David. I loved to watch Joseph teach Jesus carpentry as he grew into a boy. I brought them bread and water just to spend more time with them. When Jesus was six years old, we brought him to the synagogue so he could be properly educated.

Soon after, our second son James was born. Having James taught me that Jesus turning out so perfectly wasn’t to my credit at all! Jesus wanted God’s will, but James always wanted his own. Jesus was a good older brother to James, always teaching him to obey. He would often ask me questions I didn’t know. All I knew of the Law was what my mother and father had taught me, but he wanted to know the reasons behind the Law. Sometimes, when he was asking me questions, I got the feeling he knew the answers and was actually trying to teach me.

Our third son was born and we named him Joseph after his father, and then came Anne who we named after my mother. Anne especially loved Jesus and sat on his lap as he told her stories about Noah and the ark, Jonah and the whale, and Daniel in the lion’s den. He sang psalms to the children, and we joined in. It was hard every day to let Jesus go with the other boys to study the Torah. He was growing up so fast. And then when he came home, he would work with Joseph in the shop.

As time went by, deep inside of me I questioned how Jesus could be the Messiah when his life seemed so ordinary. Yet I could tell he was different. He was a peacemaker, while my other sons loved to fight. They seemed to be bent on war. They would play the Jew and the Roman soldier. They made swords out of sticks and would strike down the Roman soldier. Their pretending expressed every Jew’s dream to break the chains of Rome, but I wondered how Jesus was going to do it, and if he would do it in the way anyone expected.

I could tell Jesus carried secret burdens. He’d wake up shaking from nightmares. He’d come home from the synagogue, troubled. There would be sweat on his brow as he sat with the prayer shawl over his head. I wanted to ask him so many questions, but I wondered whether he knew the answers yet himself.

I remember once when Anne got sick. After a few days she fell unconscious. Joseph and Jesus returned home from work and I ran her to them. Jesus immediately took Anne in his arms and whispered her name. Suddenly light came to her eyes and she was revived. She jumped up and hugged Jesus with her arms tightly around his neck, like she never wanted to let him go. I knew the feeling well.

I couldn’t believe why anyone wouldn’t see who Jesus was and love him so much, but I remember the first time he offended a rabbi at the synagogue. “You must explain to your son that I am a teacher of the law, and he is a student,” the rabbi scolded us. “How dare he imply by his questioning that I of all people am self-righteous!” He yelled. I was going to ask Jesus all that happened, but he left with tears in his eyes. I knew he hadn’t meant any disrespect.

The time came for Jesus to read the Torah in the synagogue. I wondered if he would finally announce himself as the Anointed One. Would people finally see that he was the Messiah? I prayed… “oh Lord, even David was anointed king as a boy!”

Jesus recited a passage from Malachi, “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts. Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” (Malachi 4:1-6)

My heart burned in my chest at the words Jesus spoke, “But for you who fear my name…” Would the congregation come to fear the name of Jesus?

I grew eager to see the great day of the Lord. I knew God’s timing was perfect and his ways were higher, but I wondered if I would live to see Jesus come into his kingdom. I had many conversations with Joseph and he helped me understand the Old Testament prophesies. Joseph seemed more troubled to consider Jesus’ future than I was. He recited Isaiah 53. I still couldn’t understand how anyone could despise and reject Jesus. He was so good, so completely perfect. How could people not rejoice once he revealed himself? Still, I remembered the words of Simeon, “And a sword will pierce your very soul.”

I also considered how even my own relatives thought I lied about Jesus’ miraculous conception. How people from my own town would have stoned me. If I had to suffer because of God’s will concerning Jesus, what about Jesus himself? Joseph admitted that he still did not understand God’s will, but that whatever happened, however things seemed, we must trust and obey God just like Jesus.

Every year our family would celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem, remembering how God had passed over the Jewish people but did not spare the Egyptian firstborns from death. It was a celebration of Israel’s liberation from captivity. I thought back to when my relative Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, had told me that when the time was right, John would announce the coming of the Messiah. Since then, Elizabeth had passed away and John had not been seen or heard of for years. But every year at Passover I hoped for his appearance and his announcement of Jesus as Messiah. But year after year, there was no sign of him, and Jesus sat unrecognized at the Passover feast.

Our family continued to grow as I gave birth to Sarah. And eighteen months later we had twins, Simon and Jude. As time passed and Jesus grew older, I wondered more and more about his future. Late one night I found Jesus reclining on the steps outside our house, sitting alone under the stars. I could only imagine what he was thinking as he gazed at them. Was he counting them, calling each one by name? I watched him for a while before I broke the silence. “Jesus,” I approached him with a renewed sense of wonder at how small I was. He wasn’t surprised by my voice, like he knew I was there all along. “My son, do you know who you are?” I asked. My heart leapt in my chest when he looked up at me. The stars were reflected in his eyes. “I am my father’s son,” he said, but I didn’t know if he meant Joseph, or God… “Jesus,” I paused, then decided to ask him directly, “Jesus, when will you make yourself known to the world?” Then he looked away from my face, but I still saw his smile fade. Suddenly I understood that there were things he would not, or could not, say. It seemed to cause him pain. “When my time has come,” he finally answered, and he looked back at me with such deep compassion that I didn’t have the heart to press him further.

Though Jesus was my son, he was not mine. Though I was his mother, I was not his authority. I felt this truth the heaviest when my husband Joseph put his hand on his chest one night and fell to the ground. Jesus was right there with us, holding him, crying. Though he desperately wanted to help his earthly father, he had to trust and obey his heavenly father above all. Joseph understood, and wanted to be alone with Jesus in his final hour. Through the crack in the door I fell to the ground and wept when I heard Jesus say to Joseph, “You have been a good and faithful servant.”

I was forced to accept that I could not understand God’s plan, even though I was looking God in the face every day. I had so many unanswered questions, even though I talked with him all the time. Though he couldn’t help my emotions to a certain extent, I knew he could feel them. He sympathized with my confusion and his eyes were always so full of compassion. When I was tempted to doubt his love, I saw how well he provided for our family, always. I saw how hard he worked to keep us safe. How he taught his brothers and sisters God’s ways. I wondered how long it would take for them to realize he was more than just their brother.

Years passed, and finally I heard news of a new prophet named John baptizing people in the Jordan River. I had to see him for myself! Could this be Elizabeth’s son, who would announce Jesus as the Messiah? The banks of the Jordan were full of onlookers when my sons and I arrived. Despite the crowd, John immediately recognized Jesus. Jesus went into the water to meet and be baptized by John, and as John baptized him, he looked toward heaven as if he saw it opening up. But I didn’t see anything. My other sons and I followed Jesus into the water and were baptized, but afterwards we lost Jesus in the crowd. I was worried when Jesus did not return home. Time after time, I had to remind myself that Jesus was not my own.

“As was his custom, Jesus went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’.” (Luke 4:16-21)

My heart was about to burst with joy! Finally Jesus was making himself known as the Anointed One! But my excitement turned to terror in a moment. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” asked a man, but his question sounded more like an accusation. “No prophet is acceptable in his hometown,” Jesus responded. “Even in his own family,” he thought as his brothers looked away in shame and disbelief. “Blasphemous words!” a man shouted back at Jesus. Suddenly there was an uproar. The people grabbed Jesus and drove him out of the synagogue, even attempting to throw him down a nearby cliff. Jesus was forced to flee the town, and only his disciples followed him. I wept as I watch him leave our hometown, not knowing when or if he would ever return. After all this time of anticipating his announcement as Messiah, I could hardly bare how suddenly he was rejected by his hometown, even his own family.

The time of the Passover arrived, and I traveled to Jerusalem with my sons, daughters, and their families to celebrate. I overheard strangers talking about Jesus. They mostly spoke of his miracles, and I was grieved by the thought that all they cared about was what he could do for them, not who he was or why he came. What if he didn’t do as they asked or expected? Would they love him then?

Upon our arrival in Jerusalem, we heard shouting getting louder and louder: “Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.” (Matt. 21:9) There was a crowd before Jesus and behind him, spreading out their garments and tree branches in the road. I couldn’t believe my eyes! The people were all praising him! Finally he was going to be lifted up as Israel’s true King! Finally he would set his people free!

All we could do was keep up with the crowd. My sons James, Joseph, Simon, and Jude helped the rest of us to walk, and we were led to the entrance of the Temple. “Jesus must be going there to declare himself!” I thought, exhilarated. But a silence fell over the crowd as soon as we heard banging and clanging from inside the Temple. Suddenly I heard a familiar voice echo from the Temple with a tone of great authority and anger, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” (Matt. 21:13)

The crowd gasped as Jesus emerged from the Temple. He was only feet away from where we were standing when he stopped to behold the city, tears streaming down his face, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes…” He fell to his knees and wept, but I couldn’t get close enough to hold him. It broke my heart that the same son I used to comfort every time he cried was now out of my reach. I couldn’t sing him to sleep. I couldn’t dry his tears or ease his fears. He was no longer a boy, but a man, and I couldn’t rescue him.

How could I have imagined the events that were taking place. The things that God had planned. How could I understand? I soon found myself in the midst of another crowd that was shouting for Jesus. But this time they were screaming, “Crucify! Crucify!” And I couldn’t fathom why. “No!” I cried. Couldn’t everyone see what I saw in his eyes? The innocence? compassion? And love? The very Spirit of God? But now they cried out for his blood! How could this be happening? They would kill our Savior King! They would kill my baby!

No matter how many had denied him, I would stay by his side. I followed him outside the walls of Jerusalem to a place called Golgotha, the place of death. Would this be how he was lifted up as the King of the Jews? In mockery rather than honor? In hate rather than praise? I could barely breathe as I fell to my knees. I couldn’t believe God could bleed. I felt the death of all my hopes and dreams. I watched as our future was nailed to the cross and all I loved and had longed for was lost. I felt as though I would die with the Son of God – how could I carry on?

Though my heart was distraught, I knew that God was still God. Though for thirty three years I called him my son, though he was my own flesh and blood, I had the feeling I barely knew him at all. You can only imagine my relief once I had eyes to see what I could barely believe in my grief. Mary Magdalene came bursting into the upper room, saying, “I have seen the Lord! He is alive!” Though others thought she was out of her mind, I immediately started to cry. In the midst of the commotion she caused I heard a familiar voice, “Peace to you!” Silence and wonder filled the room. It was too good to be true!

Standing before us was Jesus! I fell before him and kissed his wounded hands and feet. “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:45-47) Everything became so clear to me as he spoke. Not only was Jesus the Messiah for Israel, but he was the Savior to every nation! The hopes and dreams I thought were lost were far exceeded! God’s plan was better than I could have ever imagined!

Suddenly I remembered back to when I cried out for God to save Jesus from the cross, but I couldn’t see that the one he was really saving was me. Ordinary, unlikely me.

That’s why I tell you with confidence that no matter how ordinary your life may seem, no matter how unlikely you might feel, God has extraordinary purposes for you. And he always keeps his promises.

Read Full Post »


When we see other people getting something we’ve begged God for, we can be more upset for ourselves than happy for them. We smile at them with pain in our heart. Sometimes we can’t even force a smile and then just avoid them altogether. We are jealous, conflicted, and disappointed. We know it’s unfair to them to be upset. We know it’s faithlessness in God. We know in our head he loves us, but our heart is not convinced that he loves us just as much.

Witnessing God bless someone else month after month, especially when it’s with the very thing we feel desperate for, can be torture. We usually fail to realize that the person, even the situation, is not the ultimate source of our pain. The real problem is how it causes us to question God’s goodness – not his general goodness, but his goodness to me personally. It tempts me to believe the lie that God must have favorites, and I’m not one of them.

We’d probably all admit to having favorites. We like some people better than others, and it’s easy to treat them better too. Our affections and actions tend to be conditional to what people are doing for us. Because of this, we fear God is the same way, and we might be the unlucky one. Maybe we aren’t doing as much for God as someone else, so maybe that’s why he doesn’t do as much for us. But that usually leaves us feeling helpless. How can we make God like us? When we think that way, we make God in our own image, rather than realizing we are being conformed into his image.

The truth is that the God’s own Word rebukes partiality. God actually calls favoritism evil. ‘My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?’ (James 2:1-4)

God condemns favoritism because it is not part of his character. Whether he gives or takes away, he is equally full of grace. God has never liked anyone more than you, and has never liked anyone less. He is just as happy to hear your voice, to hug you, and to give you good things. He is just as good and accessible to you as he is to his own mother Mary, to his beloved disciple John, to the thief on the cross, and to the one you’re jealous of. For you he shed the same precious blood. He favors you just as much.

‘For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe’ (Deuteronomy 10:17).

‘For God does not show favoritism’ (Romans 2:11).

Before God, we see ourselves as the poor man in shabby clothes in the midst of a finely dressed congregation. But who else has he come for but the undeserving and the poor? Why do we wonder if we’ll even get the crumbs that fall from his table when he has promised we will no longer hunger and thirst? He has not only invited us to be honored guests at his wedding, but he has asked us to be his bride. His bride! The one seated right by his side! The one who is the apple of his eye. The one who is the love of his life. His chosen one. His beloved.

Jesus, I hope that even before I have eyes to see, I’ll have faith to believe that you love me just as much as anybody. That you love me as if I’m the only one to love. That you think of me as if there’s no one else to think of. Because you are God. Because you are love. Because you are good, so good to me.

Like Peter said, I say from experience, “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality.” (Acts 10:34)

Read Full Post »

Whatever, wherever

A few months ago I was between jobs. At church one Sunday the pastor brought up a man named Marty, who was going to Africa for a year on a missions trip, so we could pray for him and send him off. Marty said that if anyone wanted to go with him, he had an open spot and could get us involved with a ministry where he was going.

I’ve always wondered where God would send me if I was willing to go anywhere, to do anything, so I thought to myself.. maybe Africa with a man named Marty. Maybe I was only a plane ticket away from living the rest of my life completely dedicated to the will of God. I’ve always wanted to go overseas. I’ve always wanted to go on an adventure, especially an extreme missions trip. So I approached Marty and told him I would pray about it.

At the same time, I was offered a job to nanny an 8-month-old baby girl for a single mom who needed my help. It seemed like I had two options: change the world, or change diapers.

When I actually did sit down to pray about it, I told God that I wanted to serve him with my whole life and I wanted him to change my whole heart. I asked him if Africa was the place it could happen. Immediately he reminded me that he is served first in my heart wherever I am, in whatever I do, and that he doesn’t need a specific person or place to change my life, because he is the God who teaches me through all things. So I chose to change diapers.

While my non-biological baby was napping the other day, I was reading a book about Mary by Francine Rivers. Here was a woman doing very similar tasks to mine, yet I thought to myself.. If only I could’ve been so honored to care for the Son of God. To change baby Jesus’ diapers and sing him to sleep and feed him, then I will have served him well. But here I am, caring for this baby that isn’t even mine. And then, just as immediately as he reminded me the last time I overlooked my position, he quoted Matthew 25:40, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these… you did for me.’

And might I add, whatever you did, and wherever you did it. Whether it be in a village in Africa, or a city here in America.

Read Full Post »