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Weeping and Sleeping

Shepherds weep, but they also sleep.

I am wrapping up a study of 1 Peter, a letter written by an aging Peter to a scattered flock of Asian believers undergoing intense persecution under the emperor Nero. Throughout the entire letter,  an attentive reader can hear echoes of Peter’s own three year experiences with Christ.

Even the motive to write such a tender, thoughtful letter must have stemmed from that indelible, delectable breakfast of fish Peter shared with the risen Christ by Sea of Galilee. There, over a charcoal-fired breakfast Peter, who had thrice denied Christ beside a charcoal fire, Peter was thrice forgiven and thrice called. Three times Christ commissioned Peter to live the rest of his life as a shepherd to God’s people. Feed my lambs. Take care of my sheep. Feed my sheep. (John  21).

Many years later, a matured Peter writes a gentle plea to tired and suffering believers, nourishing them on the truths of the gospel, protecting them from the Adversary, and stirring up their hope for the subsequent glories to follow such stubborn seasons of trial. Peter, the shepherd, leaned into his call until the day he was crucified upside down.

In the conclusion of his first letter, Peter addresses the elders who were similarly charged with the all-encompassing task of shepherding the flock of God placed under their care.

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Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care,  watching over them- not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve, not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock (1 Peter 5:2-3).

Shepherding souls can be heavy, hearty work. Peter shared from deep wells experience, as did Paul when he gave his last charge to the Ephesian elders whom he had discipled and trained.

Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock…So be on your guard! Remember that  for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears (Acts 20:28-29 &31). 

Though they had very different flocks, Peter and Paul both share similar words to fellow soul shepherds. Both talk of the heavy weight and increasing anxiety, even the tender tears, of caring for souls. Both give sober warnings to be watchful of our own souls and the condition of our flock in light of the fierce reality of an Enemy.

But in the midst of all the charges and warnings, Peter offers a pressure release in the mention of the Chief Shepherd. Oh how that simple title changes everything!

And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade…Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:4 &7). 

In the midst of feeding and tending wounds and night watches for wolves, the shepherds themselves are shepherded. The Chief Shepherd carries the weight, bears the responsibility, informs and enables the service.  He does not sit in a cozy office chair looking at performance reports; rather, He is actively and intimately involved in His flocks and under-shepherds day-to-day and night-by-night operations.

Yes, shepherds weep.  But they can also sleep,  trusting in the character of the Chief Shepherd. And beyond that, they look forward to the day when He himself will restore, confirm, strengthen and establish them. The Chief Shepherd, who wore a plaited crown of pain for His sheep, will one day place an unfading crown of glory on their heads.

The shepherds need shepherding;
Alone I am not up to the task.
Lead us to graze in your presence,
In your sovereign grace to bask.

Though another mere sheep I am,
Yet I shall closely follow your lead.
I’ll guide them where you guide me,
Together your Word we shall heed.

Forgive me for forgetting Your Spirit
Who qualifies and equips the called.
I must run on in trusting obedience,
For far too long, in fear, I’ve stalled.

Keep them from looking at me,
As I’m a crooked pointer at best.
Through me, back to the Father,
May they spy Him and be blessed.

Wrap me up tightly in your shadow,
Encompass me with your strength,
That I may declare your vast love,
Height, breadth, width and length.

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Two Thirds

Alas, I am not smarter than a fourth grader.  I have been subbing in a fourth grade class of late, and fractions are breaking me into bits. Percent over a hundred equals is over of. I can say the right things, but some of those word problems are doozies. My AP Calculus teacher would be ashamed of me.

Perhaps because of the re-immersion into fourth grade math, I have had fractions on my heart and mind. Actually, one fraction in particular is haunting me.

Two thirds.

You see, my oldest son turns twelve in a few months. And, rusty though I may be, I can still do some simple math. Twelve is two-thirds of the way to sending him off to college,  if the Lord would have it.

Two thirds. More than halfway there. I swear I just taught him to write the numbers two and three by counting candy corn and gummy bears at our kitchen table.

We have approximately six years left before he can legally join the army or vote. Six years of trusting the Lord for deeply significant things in his rapidly running life.

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Six years of begging the Lord for deepening insight into his personality, including his shadow side and glimpses of his glory self. Six more years to carefully and relationally come alongside him to interpret disappointment, risk, failure, victory and defeat. Six more years to climb a bunk bed to lay and pray for and with him, listening for hints at what is going on in his heart and mind.

It does not happen often that I am stopped dead in my tracks at the beauty and weight of this calling of motherhood. I am usually too busy stocking the pantry, schlepping kids to practices, and helping with dioramas to see that I need to take off my shoes… because this motherhood season is holy ground. But this week, I have been struck with wonder and urgency anew.

What a privilege and responsibility to be entrusted with his rapidly growing heart, mind and body.  What a sacred and strange portion God gives parents.  He asks parents to become experts on their children and the best-educated-guessers as to how to shape and guide them to live out what God has laced into them already.

Did we pick the right school? Did we seek to discipline to get to his heart rather than merely trimming his behaviors, as if he were a topiary? Did we speak over him what we saw coming out of him? Did we catch him doing not only broken things, but also beautiful things? Did we give him space enough to fail? 

Without the Spirit’s intercession and a gospel buoyancy, the weight would be crushing. But with the triple-strength help of our Triune God, these questions become goads to press on in prayer, to present and re-present and re-re-present our children before the One who calls them twice His, once by creation and again by salvation.

For the past year, I have been praying that God would cultivate in our older boys passions beyond their own pleasure.  As I’ve been expectantly looking for tiny sprouts of future-trajectories to grow,  I have been so tempted to plant my own dream seeds or the easy-to-come-by stock seeds of the culture in them.  Yet, I want to leave space enough for God to grow what He has perfectly planned for them.

This last third of our in-house parenting seems to be more about responding and praying, watching and waiting, course-correcting and vision-casting than controlling and knowing.

I am so thankful that Jesus has opened up a way of access for me (1 Peter 3:18) to come boldly into His throne room (Hebrews 4:16) and lay down daily the burdens and blessings, the failures and victories, the questions and tensions of motherhood. For I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that He is able to guard all that I entrust to Him until the Day of Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 1:12).

He is the brilliant mathematician, the perfect gardener, the life coach par excellence. He is my hope in parenting not only these next six years, but also for as long as I and they live until the fullness of His presence becomes our true home.

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Lessons from a Maccabean Mother

I still remember exactly where I was sitting when I first heard the story of the Maccabean mother.  While I’ve listened to countless sermons and sermon illustrations, there are only a few that I think about at least weekly, if not more.  The account of one  resurrection-hoping momma from a stormy season in Ancient Jewish history is one of them.

If ever there was an ideal time for raising seven sons, the time of the Maccabees was most assuredly not it. God’s chosen people were up against intense persecution if they  chose the path of obedience to the Torah.

Although the First and Second Book of Maccabees are considered apocryphal or deuterocanonical by Protestants, they are trusted sources of Jewish history which give account for the challenging years of Jewish existence under the reigns of Antiochus Epiphanes. As such, they offer a unique perspective on the notion of resurrection and life after death in the Jewish faith.

In the Second Book of Maccabees, the writer chronicles a harrowing account of a momma made brave and bold through great faith and hope in her God.

In adherence to the dietary laws of the Torah, her seven sons refused to taste pork. Their stand enraged Antiochus and his cronies. One by one, publicly, the sons were tortured with cruelties unimaginable as the mother and brothers watched. Yet, as each son was horribly mutilated, the mother shouted encouragements to them.

“The Lord God is watching and certainly feels sorry for us, as Moses declared in his song, which clearly states that ‘he will take pity on his servants’.”

As she watched her last remaining son experience torture, the distraught mother only further proved her faith that God would make things right in a coming day of mercy, in a life after death.

She said to him, “I implore you, my child, look at the earth  and sky and everything in them, and consider how God made them out of what did not exist, and that human beings come into being the same way. Do not fear this executioner, but prove yourself worthy of your brothers and accept death, so that I may receive you back with them in the day of mercy.”

Then, she had the honor of following her sons directly into the presence of God.

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Even in the early Christian churches, the Maccabean mother was remembered and celebrated as a model of martyrdom. One can easily understand why. For, on the timeline of redemptive history, she stood to the left of the life, death and resurrection of Christ. Yet, even with the fuzziest of knowledge of an after life, this mother was utterly convinced that Yahweh would take care of His people, bringing justice and mercy, if not clearly in this life, in the life to come.

This is not the stuff of Hallmark cards. It is hard to even type such atrocities. My eyes literally tear up every time I think about this mother speaking truth to her sons who stood strong in their faith in Yahweh under the worst imaginable situation. I could not even look when one my little guys had to get stitches. Watching him hurt nearly killed me.

Yet, when I think of motherhood, I think of her.

We stand on the right side (directionally speaking, of course) of the timeline of redemptive history. In Christ, we see clearly what the Maccabean mother only saw as a nebulous hope. We have prophetic words made more certain (2 Peter 1:19).

Considering this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.
1 Peter 1: 10-12. 

If she had hope to give completely the children she loved most completely, then how much more should our living hope in the living Christ embolden our faith and our motherhood?

When I pray for my sons and my mothering of them, I pray (with great trembling) that we would be Maccabean-momma-certain of our Christ and the glory that is to be revealed in the New Heavens and the New Earth.

As we approach Mother’s Day, I long for my mothering to have a speck or a sliver of her confidence in God. I long that my mothering would be informed by the Man of Sorrows now sitting in glory.

(Story as retold by Thomas Cahill in The Desire of the Everlasting Hills).

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An Ode to Spiritual Mothers

Some of the very best mothers I know don’t have children, at least not physically. Two of them are young, single women raising siblings with special needs or foster children. Two more married later in life, beyond child-bearing years; yet they have more children whom they feed and nurture and protect and guide than the Duggers. Still others, well past their own mothering years and well into their grandmothering years, continue to invest intentionally in the lives of younger women.

They probably don’t get invited to special Mother’s teas and Muffins for Moms.  They likely don’t receive tender trinkets presented by eager little hands; however, they are every bit as much mothers as those who have raised physical children.

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Spiritual mothers deserve to be showered with our thanks and affection. While it may not be appropriate for us to make play-dough bowls or paper flowers to present to them, we are called to honor them for the ways they have invested their lives.

In his letter to the Jewish believers, the writer of Hebrews encourages us to remember, to study and to imitate spiritual parents.

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith (Hebrews 13:7).

Remember Spiritual Mothers
The Greek word for remember is mnémoneuó, which aside from being a mouthful, means to call to mind, to hold in remembrance, to recollect or even to rehearse. Fittingly, it is from this root word that we derive our phrase mnemonic devices (like My very excellent mother just served noodles to remember the order of the planets in our Solar System).

The writer challenged the Church to continually call to mind and to remember those who had invested in them and others. We are asked to rehearse, to go over and over, the ways in which they have served the spiritual family.

Study Spiritual Mothers
First we are called to remember and to notice them.  Then we are called to look intently at the ways they have lived their lives.

The Greek word  anatheóreó, translated consider above, means to gaze upon, to look intently at, or even to dote upon.  While we are commanded to study their lives, we also have every reason to be compelled to study them, their practices, their priorities and the outcomes they have shaped. And we are not limited to those we know in time and space.

While I have never met Amy Carmichael or Elisabeth Elliot or Corrie Ten Boom, these women have nurtured me. I hear phrases they have written and mottoes by which they have lived regularly in my daily life with both my physical children and my spiritual stock. I have gazed long at their lives through biographies and sermons, and I am seeking to glean every ounce of wisdom I can from these spiritual matriarchs.

Imitate Spiritual Mothers
Lastly, the writer of Hebrews bids us imitate these spiritual mothers. The Greek Word  mimeiomai means to follow, to emulate. Just the reading of the word calls to mind our modern words mimic and mimeograph (the forefather of the copy machine). Interestingly enough, this word is always in the middle voice in the Greek. While we don’t use the middle voice often in English, the middle voice implies a high level of self-involvement. It assumes that we are highly motivated to mimic and follow the lives of our beloved leaders.

Thankfully, this last step flows naturally out of the first two. Once one has noticed the women who have spiritually mothered others and looked long and hard at the harvest of their long investments, it is almost impossible to not want to emulate their lives.

I wish it was a simple cut and paste project, this attempt to imitate the lives of the spiritual mothers who have gone before us. I  have tried that to no avail, as apparently I am not wired like Amy or Corrie or Betsy (my spiritual mothers on paper) or the handful of women who have faithfully invested in my life with their actual flesh and blood lives. No one else is in my exact situation or place with my exact personality and my calling; yet, I can distill principles from their lives that can applied to my context in nuanced ways.

This Sunday, as you receive a flower at your Church or get ready to be fed a homemade breakfast like the Queen of Sheba, remember those who have spiritually mothered you. Notice them. Dote on them. And then spend the rest of your life seeking to imitate them as they imitate Christ.

 

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A Prayerful Provoking

Provoke is on a short list of words used daily, sometimes hourly, in our home.

Our two oldest are 15 months apart, so they have always shared close proximity of life, interests, and space.  As such, it was not uncommon to hear an endearing dialogue from the playroom that went something like the following.

“Mom, he is proboking me,” screamed child one.
“I proboked him cubies he proboked me first,” retorted child two. 

I was less surprised that they consistently provoked one another and more shocked that they learned so early to use the term appropriately.

From those early years up to the present, provoke remains part of our vernacular.

While studying Scriptures concerning Christian community this week, I was shocked to find the concept of provoking playing a prominent role in one commonly used verse.

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10: 23-25.

In the preceding part of the letter to the Hebrew’s, the writer has providing compelling Scriptural evidence that the sacrifice of Christ, once for all, is sufficient to allow us to come near to God with confidence, no matter the state of our hearts or our lives.  Having completed his theological argument, he moves into practical application for his audience.

Because the blood of Christ, unlike the blood of bulls and goats, is able to take away our guilt and the penalty of our sin, believers are urged to draw near with what is honestly in and on their hearts (Hebrews 10:22). They are also called to grip onto, to hold fast, to the common confession that we are forgiven, loved and freed in Christ (Hebrews 10:23). Lastly, they are called to carefully consider and take note of ways that they might stir one another up to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24-25).

The Greek word paroxusmos, commonly translated as stir up, is literally translated as provoke, stimulate, irritate, or agitate. Interesting, isn’t it?

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As a mother, I never had to make my children think of ways to agitate or rouse one another. They provoked quite naturally; yet, here, the writer of Hebrews is asking this community of believers to carefully consider doing just that to one another’s hearts.

The Greek word katanoeo, translated as consider in Hebrews 10:24, is the same word used by Christ in Luke’s account of the Sermon on the Mount. Consider the ravens, consider the lilies. Look carefully at them, study them, take note.

Think deeply about how to prayerfully provoke one another’s hearts towards love and good deeds.

This side of glory, even redeemed hearts tend toward entropy. Without proper provocation, human hearts settle into comfort, ease, selfishness, and short-mindedness. Thus, the writer of Hebrews charges the church to continue meeting together to jab one another, prod one another, lovingly but firmly poke one another on towards the Lord and the ways of His kingdom.

This prayerful provocation is not to happen incidentally, but is rather to be an intentional act of continually gathering together with genuine hearts (which means raw and real).

It’s as if the writer is saying, “Drag your heart, in whatever condition it is in, confidently into the presence of God and the presence of other believers. Help one another hang on to the gospel hope that you are welcomed in the presence of God even though you are wayward and worn. Think deeply about to agitate one another toward adoration. Stir each other’s settled hearts. Remind one another that the day of Christ’s return is coming soon, any day now. Provoke each other to press on.”

I love that the writer pairs two very different words in reference to intentional, regular Christian communities:  provoke and encourage.

Our hearts need both. Some days we need a good gospel jab that gets us out of ourselves and back into the throes of communal living. Some days we need to be gently helped up and held up while others restore courage to our cowardly hearts.

If the gospel is true, and it is, then Christ calls us to prayerfully provoke and encourage one another towards the finish line. I pray that you have such a group of people in your  life. If you don’t, seek one out or create one for the others around you. If you do, keep on keeping on. Don’t stop. The day is drawing near, and we are desperately needy of prayerful provoking.

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Sobs for the Synagogue

Real time news headlines take real time to sink into my soul. As the shock at the Poway Synagogue shooting has receded, my soul is finally catching up. One human heart cannot hold every tragedy, every shooting, every diagnosis. It is entirely too much. Yet,  the heart of God is more spacious than we dare dream.

After a busy week of treading water, I finally had a little corner in my heart clear enough to hold a drop of the heaviness of what occurred this past week in an incredibly  peaceful portion of San Diego.

The tragedy is made more atrocious by the fact that the shooter claimed some religious motivation in carrying out this terrible and chaotic deed. Anti-semitism breaks the heart of God. After all, God chose the Jewish people and set them apart as His own people. Jesus Himself was a Jew who wept over the nation of Israel.

In her book, Christianity is Jewish, Edith Schaeffer beautifully explains a right view of Judaism from within Christianity.

“People act as if Christianity  is a new religion, which just sprang up two thousand years ago, but it is not new, it is simply a continuation. It is a fulfillment. It is a next step. It is the proof that the covenant with Abraham was true. It is Jewish. It goes back to the promise given after Adam and Eve fell – the seed of the woman will bruise the head of the serpent – and it turned out to be Mary’s seed.”

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The Apostle Paul, though he spent the majority of his adult life on mission to spread the Good News to the Gentiles, wept for his own Jewish family, saying, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1).  He speaks extensively about his heart for Jews in Romans 11, calling them the natural branches of God’s family.

“But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although  a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in’.” Romans 11:17-19. 

Paul even goes further than simply honoring and admiring the Jewish roots of Christianity. Divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit, he writes a promise concerning the Jewish people.

And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree? Romans 11:24.

There is no place for anti-Semitism within the Christian church. Rather, there is a place for pleading, with great respect and admiration, that the natural branches might believe in Christ and become completed Jews.

Paul, a Jew opened the way for Gentile believers. And now, we, as Gentile believers, are called to pray for a way to be opened for the remnant of the Jews. Edith Schaeffer writes the following of this privileged role we have as a kingdom of priests.

“So now all who believe and have therefore been born again, are in the place of ‘priests,’ and have a responsibility to pray for the rest of the people. It is a terrible thing to run  away from this responsibility – it is a cruelty to those for whom we are the only priests.”

May we sob over the synagogue shooting. May we refute anti-Semitism in all its forms, be they subtle or overt.  May we cry over the pride in our hearts that have forgotten that Christianity is Jewish.

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The Fear of Being Forgotten

I sat across the table from my littlest man over our favorite Saturday meal: bagels. We talked of Little League and Avengers, until suddenly,  he threw me a curve ball question.

“Mom, when I get bigger, can you please save one of my baby books  (Joseph-speak for the photo albums I make for each of them each year of their lives)?”

Surprised by the sudden dive in depth,  I asked why he asked that question.

“Because I never want you to forget me.”

Cue the tears. I lifted my sunglasses and looked in his darting little eyes and said, with full confidence, “I could never, never, never forget you. You are my child.” 

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I love when God surprises me with these moments, when in the midst of chronos (chronological time), deep time (kairos) seems to bubble up.

You see, I have been thinking lately, sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly, about the fear of being forgotten.

At least ten times a day, I hear the phrase, “Mom,  look at ____,” in reference to a drawing, a comic, a Lego creation, a pitch, a soccer juke, or any other number of things. It took my half a decade to realize that their need to be affirmed in their actions is a deep heart cry to be seen and noticed and enjoyed.

Kids are so obvious with their fears of being forgotten and their nagging needs to be known and noticed.  When I am being honest with myself, I am able to see that I am no different than my children in their need for affirmation, attention and assurance. I cry out a thousand times a week in more subtle ways for people to look at me.  Like my photo so I know that I am not forgotten in the trenches of motherhood. Notice the bathroom I scrubbed so that I know my contribution as a wife is significant. Read my blog post so that I know that gifts are not being wasted.

I have been peering into Henri Nouwen’s piercingly honest private thoughts by reading The Genesee Diary, his meditations from seven months spent in a Trappist monastery.  Throughout his time there, Nouwen intermittently faced his fear of being forgotten by his students and friends from back home. Away from all the busyness of teaching, traveling and speaking, Nouwen was still enough to realize the deep, aching need in him to be see and known and remembered.

While there is nothing wrong with our innate desires to be remembered, known and seen, God longs that we know that more than any human being, He is the God who sees and hears and knows.

Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget you, yet I will not forget you” (Isaiah 49: 15-16). 

My favorite name attributed to the Lord in all the Old Testament comes from a scared single mother.

Hagar had the unfortunate role of being a strange tug-of-war rope between Abram and Sarai.  In her lack of faith in God’s ability and impatience at His timing, Sarai forced her maid to sleep with her husband, which resulted in the conception of Ishmael, a son born from and for great consternation.

After being harshly treated by Sarai, Hagar fled into the desert. The angel of the Lord, (considered by many to signal an appearance of Christ in the Old Testament) found her in her fleeing. He named her, recognized the prickly situation in which she found herself positioned, and promised to protect her and provide for her and her son.

So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly, here I have seen him who looks after me” (Genesis 16:13). 

 

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From Flimsy to Firm: Theological Ossification

Babies are born with 350 soft bones, which explains not only their arrivals from such tight beginnings, but also their talent for eating their own toes. Through the natural though no less miraculous process of ossification, these bones fuse and harden into the 206 bones of the human skeleton.  Babies could not begin life with the sturdy, rigid structures we know as bones; likewise, humans would not survive if their bones remained pliable beyond those early days.  It turns out that God knows what He is doing.

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Our God is a brilliant biologist and an incredible artist, and as such, He often allows for beautiful parallels between the physical and spiritual realms. Bone ossification is no exception.

Paul Brand, the famous missionary doctor who spent his life working with leprosy patients, draws a fascinating parallel between bone ossification and the process by which his theological views were slowly firmed into skeletal bones over time.

“As I watch bone ossifying, or becoming hard, in x-rays, I am reminded of my own skeleton of faith. As a newborn Christian my faith was soft and pliable, consisting of vaguely understood beliefs about God and my need for Him. Over time God has used the Bible and other Christians to help ossify the framework of my faith. In the same way that osteoblasts lay down firm new minerals in a bone, the substance of my faith has become harder and more dependable. The Lord has become my Lord; doctrines that were cold and formal have become an integral part of me.”

One of the most important things to note about ossification, whether biological or theological, is that it is a process. Processes don’t happen overnight; they cannot and must not be rushed. Additionally, organic processes are usually imperceptible and subtle. Those undergoing bone ossification, either initially as infants or later as those whose bones are healing, are not aware of what is happening below their skin; however, the process is doing its intended work all the while.

When I was drawn into the faith as an unchurched teenager, I was a disjointed mixture of heresies and half-truths. Not only did I not know what I thought about the Bible, baptism, the sacraments, Calvinism and the like, I did not even know that I was supposed to be thinking about them. All I knew was that I was desperately needy and that the gospel had awoken a part of me that I never knew existed.

My exhaustive knowledge of Christianity consisted of two things: I knew God loved me and I knew that I wanted to follow Him.

Rather than shaming me for being flimsy and cartilaginous, the Church and the community of faith surrounding me made space for the process of ossification. They welcomed a new believer with little to no sound theological framework into their family of faith. They modeled for me a hunger for the things of God. Long before I could define the sovereignty of God, I caught the concept from those who lived their lives under it. People had me praying for lost loved ones long before I had a theological framework for evangelism or prayer.

While they longed for me to have a firm theological framework that could stand up under suffering and opposition, they did not try to force a whole skeleton of bones into me in an unnatural or hurried way. Conversation by conversation, church service by church service, Bible study by Bible study,  God, through His Word and His body, strengthened my theological skeleton.

I am truly indebted to those who loved me enough to allow me to be theologically flimsy for a season but would not let me remain as such.

Are we making space in our lives, both individually and communally, for those with flimsy theological skeletons, or are we merely pointing out the flaws in their thinking? Do we expect new believers, especially the unchurched, to simply be born with healthy skeletons intact? Are we willing to be instruments by which God relationally and patiently strengthens their theological bones bit by bit? As Churches, are we doing our part to strengthen the theological skeletons of the covenant children in our midst?

May God continue to strengthen the theological bones of His bride that she might be able to stand firm beside Him.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1: 6.

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He Gave Him A Stone

Today, while I scooted around town to pick up a few little special gifts for my boys (and my man), I thought about the joy in gift-giving. It is my great delight (too great a delight, if you consult our blown budget) to buy special little things for those I love.

Every time I wonder about the heart of the Father when He seems to be withholding little wants or even what I perceive to be needs, the Spirit brings Matthew 7 to mind.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives,  and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Matthew 7: 7-11. 

Jesus draws a comparison between the holy and whole heart of God and our broken and battered hearts. If we, tainted and tiny though we are, delight to give good things to our children, to meet their needs and go well beyond to baskets and stockings, how much more does the pure heart of God delight to give His children good things?

Today, as we sit in the silence of Saturday, I realized that the Son was refused the gift-giving heart of God so we could become its recipients.

He asked for another way in the garden, but it was not given to Him. 

He sought the face of the Father, but found only absence. 

He knocked on the door to the Trinity, but found no welcome. 

The Father whose will He always sought gave Him a stone indeed. A heavy stone that sealed the borrowed cave in which His battered body was placed.  

The One who came to fish for men was given over to the whims of the serpent who began the whole saga. 

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Sometimes it may feels like you are asking, seeking and knocking to no avail. If you have asked for provision only to receive what appear to be stones and serpents, remember this: the Father gave the perfect Son a stone so we could have a Savior.

When His hands seems confusing, we know His heart.

He Gave Him a Stone

The obedient Son, 
The favored One
       Begged for some other way.
But after bleeding  
And after pleading,
      Trembling trust won the day.

The heart that never turned
For His Father’s face yearned.
       God did not hear the groan.
The perfect, spotless Son,
For sin became undone.
       God gave  him a stone.

The Father let him lack.
Protection He held back.
       Now adopted are we.
Drinking wrath in our stead,
He who got a stone is our bread.
      A loving Father is He!

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A Disproportionate Delight

If sin is largely about a disproportionate delight in lesser lovers, then redemption follows suit.

The Greek word epithumia is used 38 times in the New Testament. Technically, it is a neutral term that can be used to describe strong feelings and urges stemming from deep-set passions and loves. It quite literally means passionate desire focused on something or someone. While most of the time it is used in a negative context referring to sinful over-desires for something or someone, interestingly enough it is also used to describe the feelings of Christ for his disciples and Paul’s desire to depart and be with Christ and also to see his beloved church plants once again.  As such, we see that sin is less about the strength of the desire and far more about the object upon which it is fixed and the heart from which it originates.

In Luke 22, we find Christ and his disciples, along with the buzzing Jewish crowds in Jerusalem, eagerly preparing for the coming Passover celebration.  After securing the equivalent of an Air B & B for the night, the supper begins.

And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. I tell you that I will  not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God. Luke 22: 14-16 

Here we find Jesus vulnerable and honest about His deep love for His often-erring, yet earnest soul-fishing apprentices. On this, the night before his death, His heart is passionately desiring to be with His dear friends one last time before the harrowing gauntlet He must endure that they might enjoy grace.

A disproportional delight, indeed.

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Because the Son had an appropriate delight and trust in the Father, He attached His unconditional love to undeserving people. Having loved those that God had given them in the world, He loved them to the uttermost limit, all the way to the end (John 13:1).

He did this because the Father had done this from the beginning, and the Son only did what the Father modeled and ordained (John 8:28).

The Scriptures tell us about this seemingly disproportionate delight the Father attached to an undeserving people.

For you are a people holy the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a  people for his treasured possession, out of all the people who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore  to your fathers, that the Lord brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery. Deuteronomy 7: 6-8. 

Later, Asaph, one of the psalm-writers, captures a similar sentiment when talking about God’s seemingly disproportionate delight in an undeserving people.

When they were few in number, of little account, and sojourners in it, wandering from nation to nation, from one kingdom to another people, he allowed no one to oppress them; he rebuked kings on their account, saying, “Touch not my anointed ones, do my prophets no harm.” Psalm 105: 12-15.

As I read these Scriptures this week, I was blown away at three re-discoveries: God’s disproportionate love for me, my disproportionate love for sin and self, and the One through whom these two irreconcilable realities made peace.

Christ, the only begotten Son of the Father and the One who deserved all His daddy’s delight, submitted Himself to be oppressed on our behalf. The Anointed One, the one who was more than a prophet (the very Word of God), had human hands violently laid on Him and chose to be harmed that we might be healed.

This week, may we fall on our faces in unequaled worship before the God who loves us with a disproportionate love.