Archive | suffering

A Stereotypical Scene

I carefully take each wooden figure out of the box and arrange them underneath the sloped stable frame. Wise men crowd in, shepherd accompany sheep and donkey. Every figure points to the tiniest among them. He is the center, the reason they all gather, the reason I take such care to recreate this birth scene in my own living room each year.

Others will unpack this same identical nativity set. They’ll haul it down from attics or pluck it off fully stocked shelves. Though cut from a pattern, it’s a beautiful scene.

I get to thinking about the process of cutting each block of wood, sanding and shaping each wise man, each shepherd, each baby Jesus in his manger. I consider the general mold that must be used. Cookie cutter stables. Familiar figures whose full stories remain unknown. This is the setting where divine Love intersected humanity. This is the site where a Savior was born.

Hardly a stereotypical scene.

Stereotype is reminiscent of the dated practice of printing by means of a metal plate. “Solid type” is its most literal meaning. Yet its negative connotations are the ones I’m considering as I arrange twinkle lights around this ordinary wooden nativity scene.

God reminds me through His word how the world crammed this story into unfair and untrue confines. Pregnant teen. Naïve fiancé. Illegitimate baby. Poor shepherds. Rich kings. Dirty stable. This one of a kind scene was perhaps one of the most misunderstood.

As people who’ve been assigned to our own share of stereotypes and burdened with painful misunderstanding, this nativity story offers much needed hope and a new beginning.

The world had never witnessed a birth story quite like this one and they would never see another. This nativity story was hand crafted by the Creator Himself and set in motion before time began. No mold was needed, no pattern to replicate necessary. This story doesn’t fit neatly into any tidy box, nor was it what anyone expected, but one thing was true then and is still true today:

On that holy night, God called this scene good.

God called Mary and Joseph into His plan. Mary fulfilled the bloodline and Joseph the legal lineage for the long-awaited Savior King. Both made an incredible sacrifice as they agreed with the words spoken by angels and stepped into God’s story. Their willingness to be used by God was more powerful than the constricting stereotypes thrust upon them.

No stereotype can prevent God’s plan to birth something beautiful in all of us.

“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 ESV

Found. Like a dirty secret kept hidden now precariously exposed. Except it wasn’t dirty, nor would it remain a secret for long. No, this was the greatest treasure to ever be discovered on earth.

Mary was not found out; she found her life in Him.

Joseph considered divorce, yet he knew that the punishment for women caught in adultery was death. Many would judge this birth as sinful and impure. The angel that visited Joseph assured him that what was conceived in Mary was from the Holy Spirit. Would Joseph risk dishonor and choose to believe God?

Mary’s reputation and her own life were on the line, and when Joseph agreed to stand by her, he placed his own reputation right there with hers. Over in Luke’s account we get to hear Mary’s response to her own personal angelic message.

And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word. Luke 1:38 ESV Then Mary responded with song, a sign her heart was fixed on one thing and one thing only: God’s glorious story unfolding.

What seemed like a curse in the world’s eyes was God’s most precious blessing.

Mary and Joseph were misunderstood, yet they understood God’s message. They were lonely, but they carried the Savior of the world with them. Just as unsure of the future as we are, they treasured the good news in their hearts. They were judged unfairly and rejected by man, but chosen and honored by God.

Jesus would put his reputation on the line as well. He would be misunderstood as a young boy with gifts and perspectives no one else held. Rumors of illegitimacy would follow Jesus all the way to the cross. (See John 8:19, 41) His own brothers, James and Jude, (who would go on to write the Spirit-inspired new testament books that bear their names) did not believe Jesus was the Son of God until after His death and resurrection.

God chose the most vulnerable, marginalized vessel to birth His salvation plan. Though the stereotypes were harsh and untrue, Mary wasn’t sinless and she certainly wasn’t fearless. Mary was human like the rest of us, but she made herself available to be used by God.

God chose you to birth something extraordinary, too.

Your vulnerability, mistakes, and doubts are the very things that qualify you. We all need saving and God chose to save us by giving us Jesus. Our minds can’t fathom it. Fear convinces us we’re the wrong choice. But the wonder and mystery draws us in, and we take a moment to consider it. How can this be?

How can this be… because of me?

Yet it’s true. We can’t come this close to glory and turn back. Our faces shine and our hearts understand this one thing: much is at stake. So, we say yes. Yes, let your word be unto me. Yes, Jesus, have your way. Use me as your vessel. Birth new life in this humble heart.

God invites us to release our reputation, our plans, and our entire lives to Him. How will it look? A lot like this simple nativity scene. Humble, vulnerable, inconvenient, and misunderstood. Yet when the life and death of Christ are applied to this unexpected story, we see what we couldn’t before. We see a brand-new scene that’s part of a bigger story.

A gorgeous, one of a kind nativity scene that shatters every stereotype ever conceived.

John, the one Jesus charged with watching over His mother as He hung from the cross, recorded these words in red: “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” John 12:26 ESV

May we all take our lead from Mary and boldly declare, I am the Lords servant. Let it be to me according to His plan. May we find courage to belt out our own praises to God as stereotypes, like Jericho walls, come tumbling down.

Merry Christmas from our home to yours.

Kelly

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{HER STORY} 08: Give Your Tears to God

My grandma is one of the strongest and most independent women I know. When I was eight, I wanted to run a lemonade stand. All I had to do was dream it up, and Grandma made it happen. Nothing seemed impossible for her. I cherish the independence she passed along to me, but through the years I’ve learned that my grandma’s strength comes from a deep dependence on God.

/ / This is her story. / /

Give Your Tears to God

I could not possibly convey in under one thousand words what my grandfather meant to my grandmother, but they had the kind of relationship everyone on this earth longs for. He was crazy about her, and she knew it. They married as teenagers, and the rest is history.

My Pop passed away just six short weeks before my twins were born. My boy is named for his great-grandpa with the big personality and uncanny ability to make people smile. When Grandma came to help me with the twins, I noticed a desire to serve others during a time no one would have faulted her for focusing on her own broken heart.

The source of her strength was her strong God.

Grandma has attended the same church for the last 50 years. God gifted her with selflessness and compassion for the most precious in all of God’s kingdom: the little children. She serves in areas hidden yet vital. For decades now, my grandma has loved on and prayed over babies, toddlers, and the littlest ones who’ve given their hearts to Jesus.

“The most rewarding part is to watch the kids go on with the Lord,” she told me.

She’s been there long enough to watch infants grow up to be worship leaders and missionaries in foreign countries. She’s watched them start families of their own. God has given her the joy of being a part of their stories from the very beginning.  Every baby she sang blessing over is a beautiful memory she treasures.

October 2015 / Grandma holding our youngest (one of her five great-grandchildren)

Grandma’s heart is just as much for young moms as it is the precious children she shepherds. In 2010, she brought her ministry to my front door. Those first three weeks flew by, and when it was time for Grandma to go home, I begged her to stay three more. Of course, she agreed.

At a time when she was grieving and missing her own Jake, she began each morning with my Jake, the child who still gets up before the sun even as a seven-year-old. My grandma used the gifts God gave her as if it weren’t up to her to decide how or when or where.

Blessing others seem to heal her heart in some small, mysterious way. It got her away from home, away from the painful memories. Serving her family gave her a way to continue ministering in the way she loved, yet God kept her hidden and gave her some much needed space to grieve.

I watched my grandma hand her tears to Jesus.

I’ve learned what it means to abide in Christ by watching my eighty-three-year-old grandmother lean heavily on Him during these last seven years of widowhood. When Grandma talks about my Pop, she speaks with the assurance that they will one day be reunited in the presence of the God.

She told me the other day that missing Pop gets harder as time goes on. I really can’t imagine the heartache, but I see the way she continues to love, serve, trust, and give. Her perseverance is rooted in a strong and vibrant faith, a faith that firmly believes God doesn’t waste tears.

When Grandma and I held babies together in a quiet house all those years ago, she told me how God comforted her through the Psalms. Tears rolled down her face as she described how His Word soothed her grieving heart in ways she had never known before. God’s Word became her lifeline on days she thought her pain was too much.

My oldest daughter and I began reading through the Psalms this fall. My grandma’s advice has been a gentle nudging in my heart:

“Don’t just read the words; dwell on them.”

Fill my heart with joy

God’s Word has strengthened Grandma’s faith, and it’s opened brand new doors of ministry. Her deepest pain in losing her soul mate has been transformed into a heart for widows. As she has drawn close to Jesus, He has placed a part of His own heart within hers. When I watch Grandma love on those God has placed in her life, I see the way God, too, cherishes the most vulnerable among us.

Jesus told his followers that the worst possible news would soon happen. He would die. They would be separated from Him, and their hearts would be overcome with sorrow. But they had no idea that He would also turn their sorrow into a precious gift, that His death was the beginning of really good news.

In John 16:20, Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.”  When Jesus spoke these mysterious words to His closest friends, He reminded them of something that’s relevant to every one of us, something I recognize in my grandma’s life:

No one will take your joy from you.

God is leading my grandma to new places far outside her comfort zone, to territory she’s never even considered before. In His Word, in her faith, and in a beautiful partnership with Jesus to further His kingdom here on earth.

May her story comfort those who grieve and encourage us to hand our tears over to God. We can trust Him to replace our deepest sorrow with abounding joy. These are Grandma’s words… for her great-grandchildren, but also for all of us.

“I love the Lord with all of my heart and have found Him faithful all of my years. Fall in love with Jesus. Love His Word and let Him lead and guide you. All your answers to life are found in God’s Word.” ~Joann Smith

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We Are One

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.  Ephesians 2:19-21

Hurricane Harvey left devastating loss in its wake. Yet according to Paul, individual loss does not exist. Every loss is collective loss because we are one. To those who’ve lost everything: Your loss is our loss; your grief is our grief.

We are together in the tragedy and recovery.

As the Church, we are not members of a country club or social club; we are members of God’s household, each with specific roles moving forward from this storm. Paul calls us fellow citizens with rights and privileges because Jesus has given the Church the keys to His kingdom.

We Are One

Ephesus was the hub for worship of the fertility goddess, Artemis. The temple of Artemis was about one mile from the city of Ephesus and eventually became one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

In a class of its own, made entirely of marble, it boasted more than 100 columns over 55 feet high and a platform area that covered over two acres. Paul holds up this well-known icon of elegance to a greater temple, one unlike anything they’ve ever imagined.

Made of living stones, the Church is a holy temple that lives and breathes and acts as one.

Ephesus was a wealthy city no different than many cities here in the United States. The people learned to build on lots of different foundations other than the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul’s original audience was extremely familiar with ritualistic worship; their decision to follow Jesus had only recently removed them from its grip.

To counteract the prevalent influence of Artemis, Paul repeats himself over and over throughout his letter. Ephesians 1:3-14 is one long sentence in the original Greek. Our English translations divide it up into 12 verses to make it more readable. Ten times in one breath Paul repeats the phrase in Him or in Christ.

In Christ is everything, and apart from Him is nothing.

More than ever, we need the God who grieves with us in our heartbreak; we need to hear the stories of those who have lost everything yet still have it all. In the wake of this devastating disaster where what many thought would secure them has failed, the Church tells this story.

In Paul’s day, the cornerstone—that perfectly shaped stone—acted as a modern blueprint. It served as a model for every other stone in the structure. Stones, whose edges didn’t quite align, had their rough edges smoothed so that they became one seamless whole.

Paul uses the phrase “grows into” (or in another translation, “rises to become”) to stress that together we are stronger. This is the Greek word auxano. We get our English word augment from this word, meaning to enlarge in size, number, strength, or extent.

God joins us to strengthen us.

This is happening in our community. Denomination lines blur and agendas lose their value. Nothing matters more than moving forward together. God is using tragedy and suffering to smooth out our jagged edges so that the Church can act as one to meet needs, love our neighbors, and reflect Jesus.

Everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Matthew 7:24-25

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

If you are in need of help or if you are looking for a way to get involved in the local recovery effort, please click here for some excellent resources.

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