In So Many Words…

Question:  How does this apply?  What does it look like? 

For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power.

Over at Inspiration with an Attitude (which, by the way, I highly recommend checking out), one of my blogging buddies recently asked the above question, specifically calling on her “panel of experts” for their input.

My blog appeared in her list, so I fear we must question her mental health (or perhaps we can chalk it up to the contrast between my scribblings and her daily bombardment of middle school angst…)

Nevertheless, the question is a good one and coincided nicely with some other tidbits I’ve been pondering, including a conversation between Yeshua and some religious leaders as recorded in Matthew 22:23-32.

These fellows had approached the Lord with what they probably considered an insoluble conundrum based on Deuteronomy 25:5-10 – a law which provided for the continuation of a man’s family line in the event of his untimely death. The scenario they postulated is quite foreign to today’s way of thinking, but basically their question was an attempt to apply eternal significance to a matter of temporary import (as we all tend to do).

I love the way David H. Stern translates the Lord’s response in the Complete Jewish Bible:

Yeshua answered them, “The reason you go astray is that you are ignorant both of the power of the Tanakh [Scriptures] and the power of God.”  Matthew 22:29

And there it is in a nutshell – the actual problem lurking within the doors of every church and snatching the joy of salvation from the unwary heart.

Too often, we understand the Scriptures theoretically but not practically; or temporarily and not eternally. We talk about the Bible but somehow fail to put His Word into action in specific, mundane ways.

But not always.

As many of you know, this old dog has been slowly and painfully trying to learn a new trick: I’ve been studying Hebrew, and a couple of years in, I can probably read about as well as your below-average 4-year-old Jewish child.

One thing I have learned is that Hebrew is primarily a verbal language. Now there is a lengthy grammatical explanation behind that which I will avoid here. Suffice to say the language is rooted in verbs rather than nouns.

I admit I may be so far off base that I’m on the swim team with this thought, but one idea which has stubbornly taken root in my mind is this: perhaps in a verb-based language, there is a greater emphasis on doing rather than abstract ideas.

Maybe, just maybe, the concept of walking in trust is not merely verbalizing our trust but actually trusting God enough to do the crazy things He commands us to do.

Crazy things like my friend who recently learned her husband has continued in multiple acts of infidelity over the span of five or more years. Yet instead of stringing his character up for public castigation and gloating over his fall, she is prayerfully working on a solution. In the midst of it, she actively forgives him every single day – not because he is worthy of forgiveness, but because she knows none of us are, and yet God has forgiven us anyway.

And there are many more examples…

God’s power looks like another couple I know whose pasts are both haunted with horrendous abuse – abuse which has infiltrated their health and their marriage. Yet they have not given up but cling closer to God. They have learned to submit to Him, address their own sin and forgive the sin of the other, and they are providing a beautiful and loving environment for their children… all by the power of God.

It looks like Rachel Saint, her young nephew Steve, and Elizabeth Elliot going to live among the Waodani people in order to teach them about the Lord AFTER the tribe’s warriors speared Rachel’s brother and Elizabeth’s husband to death. Steve went on to continue his father’s mission work  into the present day.

Interestingly, at the time of first contact, the vengeance-based culture of the Waodani did not even have a word for forgiveness. How do you share the forgiveness of God with a people who do not even conceptualize it in their language? You show them… by the power of God.

The power of God looks like Betsie Ten Boom thanking God for the fleas in Ravensbruck concentration camp…

It looks like cleaning a sick neighbor’s house or mowing their yard when you can’t even keep up with your own; or doing what is needed in your church, home, or workplace rather than what you prefer

It looks like doing all of this and more as acts of worship rather than for acknowledgement or personal gain.

In fact, it looks like doing them despite being taken for granted or even insulted because you are doing them for God.

It looks like Yeshua in the Garden of Gethsemane – prepared to pay the price of crimes He did not commit on behalf, even, of those who would torture Him – praying, “Nevertheless, not as I will but as You will…”

The power of God looks a whole lot like staying involved in church or in family or in any relationship even when it hurts because by putting up with the crazy of others, you begin to understand why it is God continues to put up with you.

Hmm… it seems the power of God looks an awful lot like humility…

Where have you seen God’s power at work in large ways or in small? 

 

Advertisements

Broken and Restored

Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.
(Psalms 51:4)

Ah, the tale of David and Bathsheba. This story from 2 Samuel 11 and 12 is certainly not rated G…

But if you’re wondering why I bring it up after opening with a verse from Psalm 51, it’s because this unseemly saga is actually the back story of the psalm.

Here’s the nickel version:

At some point during David’s reign over Israel, his troops were off to war. For some reason, he was not with them but instead was walking on his rooftop (think of a structure more like a balcony, not peaked roofs or shingles). From this vantage point, he saw a beautiful woman bathing.

Though he knew she was the wife of one of his soldiers – a man who was out fighting for his king – David sent for her. And impregnated her.

Attempting to cover his indiscretion up, he brought her husband home from battle, got him drunk, and tried to entice him to go home and sleep with his wife. When the honorable man refused because his fellow warriors were still out in the field, David instead conspired to have him killed and make it look like he was merely a casualty of war.

Lovely story, isn’t it?

Eventually, David was confronted with his sin and he did repent. But there were consequences. Many people suffered for this one selfish act of lust – including King David himself.

And this is what I wanted to share from my reading of Psalm 51 today. Notice in verse 4, David cries out to God, “Against you and you only have I sinned…”

I don’t know about you, but at first glance, this claim seems a trifle insensitive. After all, adultery was committed (and possibly rape, though we aren’t told whether or not she went willingly), a man was murdered, a child died, and much later, a kingdom was torn apart by a prince’s rebellion.

The collateral damage from the king’s evil choices was enormous.

Nevertheless, he did write truth. His sin was primarily against his Creator.

Without fail, sin and its consequences wreak destruction, often bringing pain and devastation to our own lives and the lives of others. Despite this fact, the offence is first and foremost against the One who gave us life.

No matter who suffers for it, sin is ultimately between each one of us and our Creator.

When I began to first understand this concept, it was both the most freeing and the most frightening thing I had learned.

Freeing because it means that whoever may hurt me, no matter how close they are to me or how grievous the wound they inflict, it really has little to do with me at all. Each person’s sin is a matter which will be addressed by God – in His time and in His way. And since I know He is a just Judge, I do not have to worry about vengeance. I only have to manage my response – including making sure I do not repay sin with more sin.

Because of this – and because of the enormity of forgiveness I have received – this fact makes forgiveness much easier for me.

For the same reasons, it is also frightening because it means whatever sin I commit is between me and the Almighty Creator. And once again, because He is a just Judge, He will see justice done.

However…

The most amazing part is, God actually exacted the penalty for my sin – for all our sins – from His Son. Justice has been done, and in place of my well-earned destruction, I am instead offered forgiveness and eternal life. We all are.

No matter how horrendous our crimes have been, we can receive forgiveness. This fact, too, makes forgiving others much easier.

But first, there must be a true heart change which begins with a truly broken heart. It is called repentance. 

To be honest, if we truly see the gravity of what it is the Lord Yeshua (Jesus) did on our behalf; if we truly feel the loathsomeness of our rebellion against the One who created and loves us, our hearts will break. Like David, we will find out the truth behind these words:

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
(Psalms 51:17)

And once we feel honest sorrow and begin to despise our sin, longing to imitate our Father instead; once we understand the rift our crimes have created between us and the One who loves us so much, He offered Himself as ransom in order to purchase our freedom from sin –  well, David’s agonized plea pretty well sums up the appropriate result of this understanding:

Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
(Psalms 51:9-12)

Not a bad prayer to start our year with, eh?

 

Plunge – An Invitation For the New Year and Beyond

It’s true that I am immersing you in water so that you might turn from sin to God; but the one coming after me is more powerful than I — I’m not worthy even to carry his sandals — and he will immerse you in the Ruach HaKodesh  (Holy Spirit) and in fire. Matthew 3:11, CJB

Before I begin, allow me a brief(ish) disclaimer: This post is absolutely not a critique on the various denominational methods of baptism, nor is it a statement about what I believe to be correct. It is simply an observation based on my recent study of the ancient Jewish practice of mikveh and the literal translation of the Greek word commonly translated baptize in English.

It is never my desire to create division but only to share the breathtaking glimpses of glory given me in my journey with the Lord.

In a recent reading of The Complete Jewish Study Bible, Matthew 3:11 captured my attention and prompted a little word study of my own along with additional reading (in the CJB and other Jewish sources) about the Jewish mikveh or ritual bath.

Both the Greek word and the ancient Jewish practice refer to dipping or submerging, cleansing by immersion or submerging, or possibly even (according to Thayer’s), “to overwhelm.”

A brief summary of the note on Leviticus 14:1-9 in the Complete Jewish Study Bible relates:

Ceremonial washings are as old as the Torah itself…. The Bible draws a distinction between the holy and the profane. The waters of the mikveh teach the Jewish people a great deal concerning these truths. One Jewish interpretation of the mikveh relates it to an experience of death and resurrection, and also to reentry into the womb and reemergence…  To this day, men still immerse in the mikveh as a sign of their inward cleansing as they spiritually prepare for the Holy Days.

Here, I see a profound kinship and a symbolism behind the practices of mikveh and Christian baptism. And John the Baptist, according to Mark 1:4, was “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

For the moment, I am asking you to lay aside any personal preferences or traditions you hold dear and just think about the implications of being fully immersed in the forgiveness and Presence of God. Cleansed by this immersion. Renewed.

My friends, enemies, and anyone else who may stumble across this post, this is precisely what I am praying for in the year to come. I am praying that we will be immersed in repentance and in the forgiveness of sins offered through the life and work of Yeshua Messiah – Christ the Lord.

And if I may be a trifle blunt, I do not care what your baptismal methodology is, nor do I care whether you are hostile to God or ambivalent, whether you follow Him closely or have strayed, whether you love or despise Him, whether you accept Him or deny Him; in fact no matter where you are in relation to the Almighty, this invitation is for you.

In short, it is an invitation to go deeper with the Lord. To be immersed in Him. To take leave of dabbling in the shallows and plunge fully in or to submerge yourself even deeper into the infinite, unceasing Fountain of Living Water.

This invitation is for today, for tomorrow, forever.

As I sit today and look across the unknown expanse of 2018 – or even the uncharted territory of tomorrow – I cannot help but feel excited at the prospect of venturing even deeper into the wonder and majesty of the Most High God.

Again, whoever you are, I invite you to join me. Let’s not be afraid, for there are no depths beyond His reach nor heights beyond His measure.

Let’s not be overwhelmed by fear nor consumed by anger nor anything other than our Lord. May His Spirit overwhelm us as a torrent of life-giving Water; may His will consume us as utterly as fire consumes paper.

This year, if you have not yet begun to think of God, challenge Him to reveal Himself to you – and then watch for it.

If you know Him, ask to know Him better and to love Him more.

If you feel you have had enough of Him, I ask Him to flood your heart and spirit with His goodness and astonish you with His love until His joy and peace are yours.

And if you reject this invitation today, it remains open until the day you draw your final breath.

But as an old preacher once cautioned: Be wary of putting off doing business with God until the eleventh hour, for you might die at 10:30.

My prayer is for you to find Him – or to return to Him – today, tomorrow, and always.

…if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
(2 Chronicles 7:14)

If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.
(Isaiah 58:8-11)

 

 

 

All That Glitters…

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
(Luke 12:34)

Ah, Christmastime…

As I think back on the last 16 years of Christmas celebrations as a parent, I could fill a good many pages with items ardently desired by my children on December 1 and summarily forgotten by March 1 – or significantly earlier.

 

Take this rather gaudy tree topper, for example: 20171218_135503.jpg

When my middle daughter was 5 or 6, we were shopping for seasonal decor (which, by the way, is not precisely one of my strengths). She saw this garishly bedecked woman-thing and her eyes were dazzled with all the golden glitter. She and her sister made a fervent appeal to place this sparkly woman (who, to me, seems to bear no resemblance whatsoever to any of the angelic messengers described in the Bible) atop our tree. Since the thing was inexpensive and their mom is rather, shall we say, thrifty… the girls got their wish.

This year, the old tree topper was pulled from a box in a forgotten corner of our attic. A good portion of her glitter now dusts the furniture and floors, some of the fake flowers have gone missing, and her plastic hair has lost much of its original shimmer.

In many ways, she is a reminder of how like children we humans really are concerning spiritual matters.

Far too often, our heads are turned by whatever bedazzles our eyes at the moment. Our obsession with all that is fleeting is perhaps particularly obvious during the gigantic marketing extravaganza of December, but it is no less firmly in place year-round.

This Christmas, I am challenged by my perceptions of what makes up a good Christmas. Is it food, family, health, and comfort? Or is it the Christ?

In my circles, this December has brought with it a tidal wave of hurt, strife, difficulty, and loss for many who are dear to me. Marriages are foundering, families do their best to ignore empty seats, bitter feuds are barely contained. All around me, there is conflict and both physical and emotional pain. There is suffering. There is sorrow.

Yet even still, there is Christmas. Despite what we may be told or how we may feel, the gift of Christmas goes far beyond even the boon of family, friends, health, and prosperity. It is for rich and poor alike, for the happy and the sorrowful, for the healthy and the maimed.

The gift of Christmas is salvation from sin and the presence of the Almighty God forever and ever, and it remains a limitless treasure and an unending well of joy no matter what curveballs life may throw our way.

And it is not just for December. The gift of Christmas is eternal. The Lord really did come to bind up the broken-hearted, to set free those who are shackled by sin, and to comfort those who mourn. What’s more, He does this regardless of our circumstances.

He, Himself, is the Gift. He is the prize. He is the goal. And He is good – so, so good.

This Christmas, I am praying for all of the redeemed to catch hold of the breathtaking expanse of treasure we have in Him, no matter what else may happen.

I am praying for my Lord to find and rescue friends and loved ones who have wandered far and wide chasing after shiny trinkets, which when caught, are nothing more than gilded garbage.

I am praying that the disillusioned will see past the facade of our adversary’s cleverly enticing deceptions to the trap within, and for them to seek and find the life-giving Well of Living Water instead.

Finally, I am praying for all of God’s people to remember that Christmas does not consist in who we are with nor in what we give or get, but in what we already have in Christ.

May that reality give weight to our joy, defining every interaction we have with others and outshining any glitter-coated bauble so the world will know our hope is not in this world.

It is in the Glory of the Lord of Hosts.

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.
(Isaiah 61:1-3)

My friends, as much as I love reading all your thoughts here on the  blogosphere, I must take a bit of a break. It is time for me to spend some time focusing on my Lord and seeking His will for me in the new year. I may be around if time allows, but if not, I will see you next year. Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

 

Flavor

Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!
(Psalms 34:8a)

For a few months, I tried a ketogenic diet hoping the high fat content would prove useful in treating migraines. Sadly, it did not work for me.

However, I must say it was the most fun diet I have ever followed to date; particularly for the mischievous part of me which just had to say to at least one waiter, “I’m on a diet, so I’d like a double bacon cheeseburger with no bun but extra cheese and broccoli with extra butter for my side dish. Oh and coffee with heavy cream. Thanks!”

But after the first two weeks, the migraine frequency ramped up and I began to suspect all the cheese. As a result, a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving, I cut dairy out completely <sniff> and began slowly adding higher-carb veggies like sweet potatoes <smile> back in while still avoiding sweeteners, legumes, and grain.

With a very few slight deviations in the sweetener department during the holidays, my plan is to switch back to Whole 30-style paleo after Christmas – but this time for more than 30 days.

And I’m feeling pretty good, I’m happy to say. But that isn’t the point of this post.

By Thanksgiving, I had been a faithful paleo girl for almost 2 weeks and a devoted keto girl for 10-12 weeks before that, so I thought I would treat myself on the holiday and have coffee the way I love it – with honey and coconut milk.

Or rather, as it turned out, this was coffee the way I used to love it.

After three months sans sweeteners, my much-anticipated treat turned out to be unpalatable. It would seem my tastes have changed.

I still love coffee and tea but now take both either bare and unadorned or (for coffee) with a splash of full-fat coconut milk. Now I find that any added sweetness only dulls the tasty goodness of the beverage.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with the change, particularly since sugar is pretty horrible for me anyway.

And it got me thinking…

Back in the days before my soul was redeemed and still on auction to the highest bidder, there were several less wholesome entertainments I relished. In fact, if I had been an honest atheist (which I certainly was not), I would have admitted part of my problem with “religion” was the belief I would be required to give up too much of what brought me pleasure and enjoyment.

Oddly enough, the more I indulged in those very diversions, the less satisfaction they delivered. It was the Law of Diminishing Returns played out in dive bars and shallow relationships, and the more time and energy I spent in pursuing them, the more elusive pleasure became.

As it turned out, all God asked me to give up were the very things which masked the rich and complex flavor of life.

The truth is, God has never asked His people to abstain from pleasure; He asks us to experience it for the first time without interference. The exchange is not pleasure for dullness, but trash for treasure.

All the world can offer is cheap imitations and those at an ever-increasing cost: temporary, chemically-induced high spirits instead of a limitless well of joy; instant gratification instead of absolute satisfaction; greed instead of contentment.

Pain without purpose.

Today, if the obstacle preventing you from seeking the Lord is your lifestyle, may I share something with you? If you seek Him with all your heart, I assure you your tastes will change. And with or without Him, all the sweetness this world has to offer will become bitter over time.

Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
(Psalms 34:8)

The crazy thing is – we have nothing to offer God. Yet out of His love and mercy, He desires what is best for us anyway. And not just right this moment, but forever. Kind of like giving up sugar, but with eternally far-reaching consequences.

When we reject the Lord, we are not choosing to side with the spirit of fun as we may think, but merely joining our greatest adversary in eternal misery.

For misery is a being, and he does love company. But never forget, he is also a liar and would have you question the motives of God. And he exults when our indulgences become addictions.

Why?

I believe it is from pure spite. No angelic being has rebelled and then been redeemed by the very Creator Himself. So if this once magnificent being has made an irrevocable choice to abandon eternal bliss, he now delights in convincing mankind, the creatures who bear God’s favor, that the bitterness of his malice is actually oh, so delectable…

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.
(Romans 6:20-21)

And yet, we have been given this choice: the choice to pile increasing heaps of sweetener into a progressively caustic brew or to embrace the true flavor of life as God meant it to be, finding joy in His presence and pleasures forevermore. Truly. In short, we can choose to live for cheap thrills now or to be patient and savor the delightful richness of the presence of God forever.

All this because He gave His only Son as the blood sacrifice to pay the debt for our sin. That, my friends, is the real gift of Christmas.

For he says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
(2 Corinthians 6:2)

 

Obedient

When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him…” Matthew 1:18-21, 24a

To me, Joseph is the unsung hero of the Nativity story. The more I reflect on the Biblical passages describing those events, the more I find my thoughts turning to this man who is mentioned in the Scriptures only a handful of times.

But I do think those references deserve our attention.

Joseph’s obedience to God was nothing short of incredible. Think about this: if not for his total compliance with God, many of the events surrounding the birth of Christ would have taken a much different direction, although doubtlessly God would have accomplished His plans anyway.

After all, it was Joseph who complied with the Lord’s command to wed Mary despite  indisputable evidence indicating she was not the chaste young woman he had expected to take as his bride. However, he chose to believe the unbelievable and he took her in, caring for her and for the Child. If ever there was a couple well matched in faith that God can do the impossible, it was these two!

Still, I often wonder what the personal ramifications of his decision were… Was he ridiculed? Pitied? Scorned? Whatever his lot, he trusted God enough to accept the consequences willingly.

After the birth of Jesus, Joseph was visited once more in a dream by a heavenly messenger and told to flee to Egypt. Undoubtedly, this was no small feat with an infant in the days before electric lighting and minivans, yet he did not hesitate but woke his young family immediately and left by night.

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt.

(Matthew 2:13-14)

Imagine waking an infant and nursing mother, hurriedly packing and preparing for a journey in the dark of night with only an oil lamp to see by–if even that!

Once again, the command to Joseph seemed preposterous in light of the circumstances, but his unhesitating obedience spared his family the horror of witnessing the paranoid Herod’s ruthlessly executed infanticide (I am presuming, of course, God would have spared His Anointed in some other way had Joseph been a little lax in his obedience, but thankfully we will never know).

Beyond that, the Bible records two other dream messages to Joseph: one telling him it was safe to go back to Israel and another serving as a warning which caused him to settle his family in Nazareth. For each heavenly message, Joseph was simply and quietly obedient.

The ramifications of Joseph’s cooperation with God were tremendous, as each act of obedience served to provide for the life and welfare of the Lord Christ in His childhood – yet it is rare that Joseph’s name is mentioned at this time of year except as the husband of Mary.

Personally, I am amazed at the faith shown by his adherence to the will of God despite compelling reasons to do otherwise.

These ruminations on the life of Joseph began one year as I reflected on my own heart. The Spirit of God made me painfully aware of areas in which my obedience was somewhat lacking. I spent far too much time feeling discouraged, often allowing my attention to drift away from contemplation of my King.

In contrast to Joseph (who I am sure would have vastly preferred an uncomplicated betrothal or to even stay in bed that night in Bethlehem rather than beginning a nighttime trek toward Egypt) I found myself at times delaying obedience. At other times, I would choose a path that seemed (to me) more logical.

As this year draws to a close, once again I find myself humbled and repentant.  It is my prayer that the new year will see a far more obedient – and less discourageable – me. I pray to become in all ways, completely submissive to the will of God – even when it does not make sense.

Once I am gone from this world, I would love it to be said of me as it could be said of Joseph: “We don’t know much about her, but what we do know is that she lived in prompt obedience to the Lord.” 

 Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

You Keep Using That Word…

Among my (admittedly many) favorite quotes from the movie, The Princess Bride, the sword-wielding Spaniard’s response to the rotund little Sicilian’s exclamation, “Inconceivable!” ranks pretty near the top:

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. 

– Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

Which reminds me…

This coming Sunday marks the official beginning of Advent, which is probably my second favorite season in all of Christendom; surpassed only by the culmination of Lent on Resurrection Sunday. In many ways, the two seasons are inseparable to me.

Almost annually, I find myself saying something to the effect that I cannot gaze upon the Babe in the manger and fail to see the shadow of the Cross. Nor can I separate my thoughts from the helpless child of the First Advent without eagerly anticipating with fierce joy and dread reverence the future return of the King of kings.

One of my personal traditions during Advent is to reflect on the many Messianic prophesies of the Savior and upon the events and people recounted in the story of His birth.

Which brings me back to Inigo Montoya… sort of.

When I think of Mary, the mother of Jesus, I often wonder if she might respond similarly to our fictional fencing friend if she heard the ways we tend to use the word blessed in the Christian community.

What do I mean? In answer, let’s take a peek at an early portion of the Nativity from Scripture:

And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!
(Luke 1:41-42)

When Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, heard Mary, she exclaimed to her young relative, “Blessed are you among women…!”

And so Mary was, without a doubt, eternally blessed to be the mother of the Son of Man. And yet…

Take a moment and mull over the temporal implications of her blessing.

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.
(Matthew 1:18)

From a social standpoint, Mary’s obedience to God in this matter of motherhood was nothing short of annihilation for the reputations of both herself and her family.

An unmarried woman showing up pregnant was simply not acceptable in her culture. If no one believed her story about an angelic messenger and the Holy Spirit and the miraculous virginal conception (and honestly, would you believe your daughter or friend?), well then she was in serious danger of a grisly and uncomfortable death by stoning.

From a socially acceptable standpoint, her best bet was to appeal to her betrothed and ask him to claim the child as his own. Of course, she would be asking him to discredit himself as a Torah-observant Jew and a citizen in good standing, not to mention critically injuring both his reputation and his business… and his ability to care for her and the Child.

This scenario leaves only the ticklish business of convincing her future husband that the pregnancy is an actual miracle; a pregnancy without promiscuity, if you will.

Evidently, however, Joseph did not initially embrace the joyous news:

And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.
(Matthew 1:19)

Once Joseph received his own angelic visitor and was convinced that his bride-to-be was honest in her claims to virginity, the social stigma would have still remained and made life in their community less pleasant. I have to wonder if they were not somewhat relieved to take the journey to Bethlehem and so escape being the prime source of juicy gossip around the town well…

At any rate, we’ve only touched on the social ramifications of this blessing. There were many others.

Besides the likely scenario of being ostracized by her community, Mary, who was blessed among women, relaxed in the comfort of a well-stocked minivan as her husband drove the couple-hour trip to Bethlehem where they promptly checked into the region’s most renowned birthing center.

No, wait… actually, she endured a long and likely strenuous trek of approximately 150 km (96 miles) during the awkward third trimester of her pregnancy. Fun. Then she gave birth surrounded by the aroma of manure and livestock, laying her newborn Son in the animals’ feeding trough so she could recover from her labor. Many years later, she was blessed by watching her firstborn tortured, maimed, and crucified for crimes that He did not commit.

Nonetheless, she was blessed.

When we use the word, “blessed,” it bears reminding that not all blessings are comfortable or convenient in the short-term. In Christ, we are truly, eternally blessed, and because of this some of our blessings may temporarily seem more like curses.

Nonetheless, every blessing is a blessing because it is preparing us for eternity with the Lord we love.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven… ”
(Matthew 5:10-12a)

And so, in light of Monday’s public proclamation of my intention to honestly give thanks to God in all circumstances, I want to share one of my blessings with you.

I am blessed with chronic pain from both migraine and arthritis in various joints, though I am still in my 40s.

Naturally, I am not precisely excited and thrilled with this blessing, but I do know my God will use it for His glory… as long as I cooperate with Him. And I will.

I trust Him, even in pain. If nothing else, it certainly makes the “friendship with the world” James warns us against less appealing!

And besides, my Father really does know what is best.