The Favor of God

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It seemed to be an ordinary Sabbath—filled with ordinary Sabbath ritual. Each man and woman expected a reading from the scroll, prayer, and perhaps an admonition.

God brought dynamite instead—upending their expectations and challenging them to believe an impossible thing—the Messiah had come and was present as a man they knew well. He was the son of Mary and Joseph, a humble carpenter with a questionable birth story, a boy who had played with their children, the person who had repaired their doors, fixed their carts, and mended their yokes. Kind? Yes. Helpful and skillful? Absolutely! Messiah? Blasphemy!

Jesus left the family workshop in Nazareth several weeks earlier to be baptized by John. After that, He went into the wilderness for a forty-day fast and a furious fight with evil. Then, He went back home, perhaps for a home-cooked meal and to spend time with His family before His public ministry officially began. Perhaps He needed to attend a wedding. For whatever reason, the Sabbath came while He was there. Then, as was His habit, He went to the synagogue. Providentially, someone handed Him the parchment; Jesus took it and slowly and patiently unrolled the scroll until He found Isaiah 61. He began to read. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are oppressed, To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”

Jesus closed the scroll and sat down. “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 4:18-21 NASB)

Those who heard Him were confused. At first they thought the words were “gracious.” Could this be? But…reason took over. “This is the carpenter’s son. He is claiming to be a prophet and accusing us of being like those evil men who reject their hometown prophets.” Their irritation grew to fury as they accused Jesus of blasphemy, and then they shoved and pushed Him forcibly out of town to the edge of a precipice where they tried to throw Him to his death.

It was no ordinary Sabbath.

Favor. Isaiah 61 and Luke 4 speak of favor—a favorable year—the year of the Lord’s favor. The idea that God would bring favor in this particular package provoked them. It was peculiar. Unexpected. Preposterous. The Messiah was to be glorious and kingly; this humble man was no king.

The deity and humanity of Christ still provoke people to anger. It is absolute foolishness to those who don’t believe, but to us who do, it speaks of an incomprehensible humility and grace unseen in other faiths.

Moslems, for instance, consider our claims to be insulting to God. God, in their minds, would never go to such humiliating extremes to let mankind know of His love and mercy—of His grace and favor. Man should bow to Allah and seek him, not the other way around. God loses face to come in search of man—but that’s exactly what God does in Christ. He chases us down so that He can bestow favor on us.

With these verses, Jesus introduced a 3-½ year ministry that would change the face of faith. He introduced intimacy with the Father. Kinship with God. A brotherly relationship with His people.

These startling words in Luke 4, the subsequent ministry of Christ, the Gospels, the Old Testament references to Messiah, and the Epistles explain the nature of God’s favor.

We are no longer his enemy; we are His friends.

He has torn down the veil between us, and we have bold access to His throne.

We no longer fear punishment, but are loved by the Father like Jesus was loved.

extended hands-ElderlyCareWe are also empowered by the same Spirit to do those things He commands us to do. By God’s grace and with his approval and delight, we get to walk into a broken world in God’s strength, and in the midst of the world’s heartache and sin, demonstrate outrageous love, mercy, goodness and grace. We have the privilege of extending God’s hands of favor to others, just as he extended that favor to us.

 

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Barney and the Midnight-Blue Blanket: the Power of Shame

IMG_1314Recently my extraordinarily active (and almost-brilliant) dog, Barnabus, chewed a giant hole in my husband’s blanket. Yes, my husband has a blanket. It’s not a security blanket, but it’s a perfect weight. Every night he pulls it over himself before he goes to sleep. It works.

Barney loves blankets. He has some sort of blanket fetish. He nurses them like a baby, chews on them nervously like a chew toy, and occasionally he tries to make a blanket his woman—digging with his paws as he attempts to push it into a good-size heap; then he attempts to mount it.

Yes. He’s a dog. He has chewed multiple holes in a long list of blankets, quilts, sheets, and coverlets of all shapes and sizes.

When Raymond discovered the fifteen-inch hole in the center of his deliciously soft blanket, he held it up and glared at Barney through it.

What is this? O my goodness, Barney, what is this? How could you? This is Papa’s blanket!” His tone was not kind. It was accusatory and angry. Disappointed even.

“No, Barney, no,” he spoke plaintively. “You can’t chew holes in Papa’s blanket. See what IMG_1217you’ve done?” He, lifted, once again, the evidence of Barney’s sin—this gaping hole in the middle of this beautiful midnight blue coverlet. Barney got the message and slunk off—ears back and his curled tail tucked beneath his body. With his head down, he looked back over his right shoulder and glanced at his master and his mess as he crept from the room. He skulked to the living room and into his shame hole—a place between a table and chair in our living room. It’s somewhat hidden from everyone else. In a little while, after a recovery nap, he came out. He seemed fine.

When Raymond was ready for bed, he got out his blanket, and pulled the holey coverlet up and over himself—the hole leaving bare a part of his back. Barney eyed the blanket and the hole he’d made and hopped off the bed. I watched as he slid from the room, glancing over his shoulder at Raymond as he left to hide in his shame hole, once again. When I went to bed, I found him still huddled there.

“It’s okay. Come here, Buddy,” I said as I reached out to caress his head and scratch behind his ears. I urged him to come, and he did, but he didn’t sleep curled up beside Raymond—his usual position—he snuggled with me instead.

The next night the same thing happened. The blanket came out, and Barney left the room. Only this time, he went to the spare bedroom to sleep.

He rejoined us sometime during the night—but once again—he stayed away from Raymond and the offensive reminder of his sin.

The next day I told Raymond what I’d observed. “Oh, my poor puppy,” he oozed, as he glanced at his beloved pet. It wasn’t long before he got out a needle and thread and began to sew up the hole.

Version 2You’ve got to understand something about my husband’s relationship with his dog. He LOVES this animal. He takes him everywhere he can, buys him cheeseburgers, plays with him while he works in the yard, shares ALL his food, and even lets this 75 pound animal sit in his lap. It hurt his soul to think Barney felt shame, and that this thoughtless and impulsive act had literally created a hole between them.

After he repaired the giant gap, he held the blanket up for Barney to see. “Look Barney, I fixed it. See. No hole.”

That evening, when Raymond headed to bed, got out the blanket, and pulled it over himself, Barney drew near and curled up beside his master. The hole was gone—so was the shame. Relationship was restored.

The blanket has a long ugly scar now. I don’t think Barney notices it. I think he sees a seamless blanket because Raymond said there was no hole. It’s repaired, and beautiful, and whole once again. It’s as if he’d never sinned. He’s free to snuggle at will.

 

 

* The events that took place are true. I don’t know what Barney felt and thought, but I do know what he did.

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I Saw the Queen

34678752_UnknownRecently, I went to the Braemar Gathering in Scotland. It is the most famous of the Scottish highland games. Supposedly, one member of the royal family attends each year. We expected someone royal but were astonished and thrilled when we discovered Queen Elizabeth was coming.

She rode onto the field in a dark limousine. The crowd began to clap and cheer as the royals were led by tartan-clothed pipers and drummers playing “Scotland the Brave.” As she exited the vehicle, I held my breath and stood—waiting for a first glimpse. The Queen arose. She wore a beautiful turquoise blue suit trimmed in black and coat to match. A rimmed hat rested neatly on her head. The crowd clapped and cheered. It took a few minutes for the family to settle onto the covered dais. Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles and Princess Anne were all present. Wow! Unexpected!

The finals began, and we watched as brawny men heaved on ropes in a tug of war battle for first place. Some flipped cabers that were 19’6” feet long and weighed 175 pounds; other men flung 50+ pound weights over poles or went round in circles then threw them for distance. Some ran sprints or long distance. Others hurled themselves over poles in high jumps. Young girls and women did Scottish dances on a raised stage in front of the Royal Family.

The weather was perfect. What an unforeseen experience! As the family left, Queen Elizabeth looked our way, waved and smiled. (I’m sure it wasn’t at us-but…) We laughed and teased about being invited to tea, but being too busy to accept. And we joked about it in a Scottish accent. The family probably went to Balmoral Castle located near Braemar.

Later, when we passed by the turnoff to Balmoral, we continued our silly banter about going to visit the Queen.

If we had tried to go to the castle for tea, we would have been denied entrance. We don’t possess the right lineage or position in society—or an invitation.

It was a joy to see Queen Elizabeth—but later, when I reflected on that privilege, I couldn’t help but compare the brief glimpse of the Queen with the daily invitation and the honor of getting face-to-face with the King of Kings.

I can have coffee, tea, and a meal in the presence of God. I can talk with him on walks and laugh with him over funny things. I can weep and get snotty nosed and messy in his presence, and though he is the most Royal of all Royals, he has condescended to call me his child.

Our daily entrance into his presence should excite us just a bit—maybe like the thrill I felt upon seeing the Queen.

God has provided through Jesus Christ this incredible, glorious honor. But we are flawed, human, and emotional and don’t always experience pleasure in his company. That’s okay. He gets it. He knows our frame. Sometimes we’re tired, tried, or tied up in knots over something.

What don’t want to do is to perceive prayer or communion with God as common and humdrum. Prayer is so much more than words, sentences, and lists tossed into the heavens. God has granted us union with Christ and entrance to his presence IN CHRIST. It’s a provision of communion that is so utterly mind-blowing that I can’t truly comprehend its glory and am wonderfully humbled by the gift.

I saw the Queen. One day I’ll see Jesus face to face. But today I see him by faith, and it’s more real and thrilling to me than seeing the Queen of England briefly at the highland games in Braemar, Scotland.

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An Altared Course

I wrote this several years ago but did not post it. I though I would today for all of you who face unexpected sorrows in your altered life. 

One of my favorite books is Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. The book features an unlikely heroine, Much-Afraid. She wants to go to the High Places—a place free from her Fearing relatives and the troubles she finds in the Valley of Humiliation where she lives.  The Shepherd agrees. He gives her two unwelcome traveling companions: Sorrow and Suffering. Because she is crippled, she must trust them and let them help her through the rocky valleys and precipices in the mountains.

As she travels the difficult paths, she frequently faces crises of faith. At those moments, she cries out to the Shepherd. He offers wisdom and love to help her endure the struggles. She faces consistent disappointment over the paths chosen by her Shepherd and guides. At those pivotal intersections, she must make an altar and sacrifice her expectations—usually with a broken and contrite heart. The offerings are consumed in fire and become beautiful stones. With each sacrifice, she matures. With each surrender, she grabs onto the hands of Sorrow and Suffering a little more firmly.

Today I went to the nursing home to visit my mom. She didn’t speak for a long time; the conversation is always one-way. As I fed her (she can no longer feed herself), she began to respond a little to me. “Yes,” she said, as I asked her if she liked the potatoes. She smiled, too, when I fumed about the bad language on “Bridezillas” and found another station to watch instead. I am grateful for every small thing with her. I stared at her as she fell asleep, and I wondered how God gets glory from this. Yet he does, somehow. How God blends his sovereign purposes (which I don’t always like) with his infinite mercy and love is a mystery I can’t comprehend. I know it’s true, and I will try to rest in the unknown wonder of it all, but trusting is difficult when life brings sorrow or suffering.

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For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it;
You are not pleased with burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and a contrite heart,
O God, You will not despise. Psalm 51:16-17 (NASB)

Like Much-Afraid, I place things on the altar. Today I place my happiness, her health and a sense of “normalcy” in our relationship on the altar. I give thanks for the small things, and I attempt to rest in his sovereign purposes and love. And like many paths we plan for ourselves, this is one he has altered for his glory. I take the hands of Sorrow and Suffering and walk the path in front of me. This is the road he has selected for my mother and my family. This is not a journey I would have chosen; it is not one she, my family, or I expected, either. But God intends to get glory from it, and he will. Somehow.

It is, after all, an altared course.

 

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Thoughts on Colossians 3

O God, how I love your word! Colossians 3:1-17 has deeply convicted me while reminding me of this glorious position and place I have in YOU.

Your gentle reminder to set my mind on things that are above not on things that are on the earth encourages and convicts me.

I am encouraged because I am living in heaven with you–seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. That should be the focus. You and your glory. You and your people. Seeing you in your beauty urges me to think about what you want. It enables me to let some things go, too.

I am convicted because I’ve been tied up in knots over the party at the end of this month. This wedding celebration is not—or should not be the focus of my every action. I am busy fretting about what others will think. Will it be enough? Will everything be okay? How can I make it perfect? And I’m missing the mark.

The mark is, “How can I glorify you and give you pleasure in this celebration? How can I
love? How can I show compassion, kindness, meekness and patience through this?” The mark is to seek the things above. I’ve been angry. My heart has been in an uproar, but in you I need to bear with others and forgive—lavishly and repeatedly. I can still hold others accountable, but only because of love.

A few words from your scripture and I see afresh. But I am also told why these things should be abandoned and released.

I’m dead.

pexels-photo-533833I’m dead to this world (even if I don’t feel it most of the time.) If I’m dead, then my life is already in heaven with God. I’ve been given a new self. The old self is truly gone. This new self is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator—you Lord Jesus. You heavenly Father. You dear Holy Spirit. I am such a ninny. How quickly I forget and get caught up in the cyclone of human existence. After all, we do live here. But always, even in the storm of busyness, I need to keep my eyes on you.

I’m reminded, too, that the word of Christ needs to dwell in me–richly. I need to teach and admonish, sing hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs—with thankfulness. I need to quit dabbling in your word and live in it—like a home—like a tabernacle of love and peace.

And of course, lastly, I am to do all things, in word or deed, to the glory of God the Father and in the name of Jesus Christ. I’m to give thanks. Lately, I’ve been too full of complaint to be thankful.

Why do I seek to find meaning and purpose from the things I do—when I need YOU more than all things on earth? You make me complete. The other stuff is just going to burn. If it isn’t done in love and out of the heart of God—out of your Spirit, it’s rubbish.

Thank you for these moments of silence in your word. I needed them. I love you more than words can say. I want to live like it is truly so!

 

 

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Annunciation–Be Born in Me

Recently, in the Church calendar, we were reminded of the annunciation. The angel Gabriel enters into the world to declare something that should cause our breath to be taken from us.

God was entering the earth. He would be called Jesus; he would be the Son of the Most High God. He would establish a kingdom that would not end.

DT5656Many women of Mary’s age and era wanted to be chosen to bear the Messiah, but Mary was visited. An angel. A big, Gabriel angel found her and spoke. This was a day of awe in heaven and on earth. I don’t know what it might have looked like as angels peeped over the edge of the heavens to see what God was doing, but I can imagine. Gabriel was on assignment. It had to be really BIG!

God was becoming a man. Did it rock the heavens when they saw that God Almighty, whom they worshiped in holy awe, choose in Christ to become a man to lead mankind into a restored relationship with himself? Did the angels scratch their halos? Did they gather to ponder this wonder?

I love the picture of the annunciation—for in that announcement there was great promise. Christ would be conceived in Mary—in some ways as a picture of him being formed in us. The Holy Spirit conceives Christ in her. The Holy Spirit hovers over her—according to Luke 1.

In another way, the Holy Spirit hovers over us and conceives God in us—places Christ in us. At that moment, we are born again. I don’t know the exact process, even though I’ve heard what people THINK it is. Whatever it is, it is supernatural. Beautiful. He places himself in us so that we can be in him.

But it all began with humility—a humility that we can’t comprehend. A willingness to suffer the daily difficult distance between mankind and God—stubbed toes, splinters, and bloody wounds—and ultimately the horrendous cross. God wanted so much for us. He wanted us to experience union with himself—and there was no other way.

The Annunciation says, “Hold on! I’m coming. I’m here to change you from the inside out by my holy presence growing in you. I’m coming as God among men so that I might leave my children to be lights in the world. I leave them behind to glorify me in the wake of my sacrifice.

Who acts like that? Only our God!

Be born in me, O Lord. Be born in us.

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Noise

There is too much noise in this world. Try getting away from it if you live with others or go anywhere. Television, radio, Internet, and Facebook hammer at my soul. Constant chatter and banter grieve.

While writing this, I got a text that popped up on my computer. I replied, and a whole series of texts and remarks followed. It was a hilarious chain of comments. I was belly laughing through it. But that just shows how my desire for silence can be so easily impeded by the pleasant banter of wonderful friends.

Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy all those things. But I’m in a season where I CRAVE silence and solitude. All the noise creates an atmosphere of chaos. I can’t think or get beyond my head, and I really want to. I want to worship from deep inside my heart.

 

Have you ever felt that words just aren’t enough? When it comes to worship and praise, I sense that deeply.

I have the same problem, when I experience something so profound that language fails—the birth of a child, the sacrifice of a friend, vistas so wide and deep that I gasp at the immensity. Vocabulary also breaks down when I experience a growing awareness of all that God has done for me through Jesus Christ. “Wow!” just isn’t adequate.

When I draw close to God, I often do it with language. Worship, praise, and Scripture all serve me well as I try to place an accurate “image” of God before me with biblical pictures, promises, and poetry. These words fight the unbelief and mistrust in my own sin nature; they are a response to the temptation to doubt God and his goodness.

But, when I’m in deep communion with God, silence seems to say more than words. At those times, talk seems like a poorly played tin whistle. Un-intelligible. Insufficient. Twangy.

With unuttered words, I bend my silent, needy, and hungry heart before a Holy Triune God who has welcomed me into his presence. There are no words. I experience his love and union with him in quiet worship.

All the chatter and banter of texts and Internet, phone and television remind us that we are connected to the world and to people. We are hooked—in more ways than one. And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We need people. But for now—for this brief moment in my life, that’s not the only thing I want.

IMG_1018I want communion with God in holy wonder, love, and awe-filled silence.

 

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