Archive for the ‘Bible Grace’ Category

God’s Love Letters #6: Why Tamar?   Leave a comment

Matthew 1:3 Judah fathered Perez and Zerah by Tamar

Art from Trash

Perez and Zerah are named together because they are twins, but why Tamar was mentioned is a quandry.  None of the honorable women before her in the genealogy are noted, but when we hit a scandal, Matthew has to dredge it up.  Well, he didn’t really have to go digging because the Old Testament itself was quite blatant about the whole sordid affair.  Tamar was Judah’s widowed daughter-in-law, and she prostituted herself to get pregnant by Judah.  Anyone proud of their genealogy would surely have skipped past this crooked branch, but Matthew, for some reason, calls attention to it, as though reminding his readers that their glory was not from their ancestors, but from their gracious God who could use the worst to bring the best.  It is not to God’s discredit that he used such flawed materials to construct his kingdom, but it shows the incomparable power of his redemption.

God is in the salvage and reclamation business, and he is so creative that he makes the results better than if they had come from perfect materials.  His second creation far surpasses his first, not just restoring innocence, but infusing us and our relationships with a far greater life force.  The glories of forgiveness, mercy, patience, sacrifice, in short of grace, were unrevealed in Genesis one.  It is natural for beautiful things to be appreciated and enjoyed, but that is such a meager understanding of love compared to that revealed by one who treasures the broken and ugly, so much as to sacrifice himself for our sake.  Without the Fall, we could not have experienced the depths, lengths, and heights of God’s unconditional love.

WHO IS LOVED?

Being loved for only what is good in us is a direct building block of legalism–be good and you will be loved.  If we are loved only in our beauty, then we are unloved as ourselves.  How astonishing to discover God saying–be bad and I will love you every bit as much.  Unshakeable security only rests in an unchangeable love… for, as Paul tells us, “if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.”  He cannot stop being a love-filled God, even though it breaks his heart.  It seems to me that we have a far greater awareness and experience of God’s love than Adam and Eve who literally walked with God daily.  Who can express the deep peace and intense bond that comes from being loved wholly, being embraced with our every defect?

Posted June 14, 2012 by janathangrace in Bible Grace

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God’s Love Letters #5   Leave a comment

Matthew 1:2 Abraham fathered Isaac, Isaac fathered Jacob, Jacob fathered Judah and his brothers. 

Finally brothers!  Until now this family, chosen to be a great nation, barely survived with one child of promise per generation.  The world must wait until Abraham’s great-grandchildren before the redemptive family tree grows more than one branch.  I know that feeling well—-waiting.  When God’s promises to redeem my situation seem long overdue, I begin to doubt God’s love.  Why is he taking so long to respond?  Doesn’t he care?  For instance, why is God taking so long to fix my depression?

Peter throws out an intriguing idea, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you.”   God is not distracted, uncaring, or negligent about my needs.  It is not we who are waiting for God to act, but God who is waiting for us to be ready, who watches our progress with sympathy, not disappointment.  His patience is not a bridled impatience, but genuine good will.  He knows it takes time.  He is okay with it taking time.  In fact he plans for it to take time.  He is patient.  In my urgency to reach the resolution, I want to hurry the process, but God’s focus is on the journey, his grace is at work in the process itself.  Too often I miss his grace for today in my anxiety for the bigger deliverance that is farther down the road.  My impatience is really towards myself rather than God.  I blame myself for not growing faster, for bungling his stream-lined plans for me.  But should we suppose that if Abram had had greater faith and faithfulness, he would have had a dozen sons at 39 instead of one at 99?  Why have I always thought that God was in a rush?

I think I have long been under the impression that God’s attributes are somehow in competition with each other.  In this instance, his righteousness is at odds with his sympathy.  He wants to hurry me into holiness, but he is being “patient” with me, which basically means he is holding himself back from chiding or nagging or otherwise showing his frustration at my slow growth.  He is impatient, but hiding it.  I guess that is how I have always pictured his so-called patience, and why I am so prone to agree with “God’s” condemnation of me.  I need a new God, a good God, a God who is truly patient, not just pretending to be patient.

Posted April 14, 2012 by janathangrace in Bible Grace

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God’s Love Letters #4   1 comment

Matthew 1:2 “And Isaac the father of Jacob”

No, that was not Isaac’s choice.  He wanted to be known as “Isaac the father of Esau.”  Esau was the first born, a macho man, and his favorite son.  For those familiar with the Bible stories, “Jacob and Esau” rolls easily off the tongue, but for Isaac it was “Esau and Jacob.”  Everyone knew Esau was heir apparent, standing in the wings for his call onto the stage as head of the family and forefather of the covenant people.  And I expect most folks approved.  Esau was clearly the one who commanded respect, the one with courage and boldness, the natural born leader.  Jacob was a mama’s boy, always running away, always cowering behind some trickery.  In the hard-scrabble land of the Middle East, Jacob was a Loser.

When Isaac was old and blind and felt death approaching, he prepared for Esau’s coronation, only to have Jacob filch the throne by deceit.  Oddly enough, Jacob was God’s pick from the beginning.  What did God see in him that made him the obvious choice?  Even children know who to pick for their team—the one with the most abilities—and through that lens we read Scripture.  We suppose that God chose Mary to be the mother of his Son because she was pure and good and obedient, so good as to be sinless according to some theologians.  But the angel of God in Luke clearly tells us why she was chosen—it was based on God’s grace he says twice over, not on Mary’s virtue.  The Greek word for grace, Charis (in KJV “highly favored”), is not a reference to how deserving Mary was.  She was picked by grace, not merit.  “How Lucky!” would be a closer rendering than “How worthy!” 

All through history God chooses those who don’t deserve him, who know they don’t deserve him, who are convinced they will never deserve him, and have at last opened to his welcoming embrace.  It is the strong, talented, and self-sufficent who find grace, full grace, undeserved grace, hard to swallow.  I am so grateful that our God is “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” yes, even Jacob…  especially Jacob.  God loves me with all the strength and intensity of his great heart.  How lucky am I?!

Posted April 12, 2012 by janathangrace in Bible Grace

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God’s Love Letters #3   Leave a comment

Matthew 1:2

“To Abraham was born Isaac.”

Those five words are packed with dramatic history.  The first seed in the family tree of salvation was barren.  I think I would have written it, “To Abraham….  was……. born…………….Isaac.  Abram had reached the end of a century with no son by his wife.  He is known as the Father of faith, the Father of the nation of Israel.  His very name meant father, from the Hebrew Ab, and if this were not enough, God renamed him Abraham, father of a multitude!   No wonder he and Sarah laughed, though it was a bitter chuckle I’m sure.

God does not set his watch by the earth’s revolutions.  He is unhurried, sometimes maddeningly slow.  “Patience” is one of the major Old Testament virtues, and it is not primarily an exhortation to longsuffering with our fellow men, but with our God!  That is why it is often used as a synonym for faith.  We usually think of faith as the courage to confront great odds, when in fact, it refers more often to doing nothing at all, to simply waiting on God to act.  For most of us the second takes far more faith than the first, and far longer faith.  It is not God who is impatient with our progress, but we who are impatient with His.  We cry, “How long, O Lord?!” and he says, “Trust Me. Wait.”  Especially in our hurried day, slow is a 4-letter word.  I wonder if we have lost our peace because it couldn’t keep up with our quick pace.

This is a wonderful word of grace to those of us who fear that God is disappointed, tapping his foot in impatience till we get it right.  It is the direction we are going rather than the length of our stride which keeps us in step with God.  He is not waiting for us to catch up, running after him with our little legs.  He is here for the relationship, not for the performance.  He wants the journey to be full rather than the destination to be reached quickly.  Slow is a word rich with peace, wisdom, and power.

Posted April 11, 2012 by janathangrace in Bible Grace

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God’s Love Letters #2   6 comments

Matthew 1:1  The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:

 Both Abraham and David understood God’s plan as universal rather than solely Jewish (as the calling of each clearly states).  Therefore, this is the history, salvation history, of the world, not just of one small nation.  Both men are seen here primarily as avenues of salvation rather than centers of political control.  Jesus, being the denouement, becomes the lens of interpretation for all of history.  He gives to both Abraham and David their historical and spiritual meaning, so, as the first verse states, this family tree is about Jesus, not just (for example) a rehearsing of Jewish history.  The history of the world (and of Israel) can only be understood by seeing all through the person and work of Jesus.  He is the defining point of history.

 Even though the focus is entirely on Jesus, it is not “the record of Jesus,” unconnected to history, as though God let the world wander on its own and then finally sent a Savior.  The whole history is part of a closely laid plan from the beginning of time, the beginning of man and his fall, the beginning of Israel.  It is the record of the genealogy of Jesus.  History—factual events that really occurred—is fundamental to the Christian faith.  Existentialism, much as I like it, tries to de-contextualize Jesus and personal faith, but faith must always be firmly rooted in our reality and past.  Theology, as much as each individual life, cannot begin in the middle in dismissal of the past. 

IF ONLY

We are not controlled by our past, but we are at every point a direct outgrowth of our past (though every present moment is an opportunity for re-directing our future history).  Every step of a journey takes you to a very specific location.  You can change direction at any point, even radically, but you cannot change the previous steps taken which have brought you to this place.  If you have walked to Central Park, you cannot take your next step from Times Square, you can only take your next step in that direction.  Even the greatest redirection in life, spiritual regeneration, does not suddenly change your personality, biology, total sum of a lifetime of thoughts, family and friends, skills and talents, likes and dislikes, or even your character.  It gives the power to change in ways never before possible, and it begins to change everything, but we all start that journey with the first step.

It is because every present moment is so weighted by our past that it takes a lifetime and more to be restored to the persons we are meant to be.  You cannot wake up tomorrow and live as though you had no past or precedent… even if you had amnesia.  Who you are is a continuous flow, not disconnected states of being.  Some truths can have profound impact on the flow of our lives, but being transformed by a given truth is a process.  This is very frustrating for many of us.  It all seems to take so long, especially when the embedded lies are still wounding us and our relationships.  But this forces us to fall back on grace for ourselves as well as for one another.  The quality of our relationships is not determined by our goodness (thankfully), or even our maturity, but by grace to us, in us, through us.  And the source of this grace is Jesus who is just as much a part of our life’s history as he was of Jewish history.

Posted March 22, 2012 by janathangrace in Bible Grace

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God’s Love Letters #1   3 comments

I have so often misconstrued Scripture, oblivious to the grace that created each thought, that I found I could not read the Bible without feeling condemned.  My legalistic filter poisoned the Bible for me.  I studied it so diligently and thoroughly from this skewed perspective, that every re-reading of its pages undermined my hold on grace.  I have gone several years now without any regular reading of Scripture.  It has been just me and God (with Kimberly’s help) working to free me from this darkness.  I think I have gotten enough grounding in grace that I can return to the Word to discover freshly its life-giving power.  I’d like to share with others the grace I discover in these pages.

Matthew 1:1  This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:

Matthew’s genealogy was written for the Jews, and so we assume he wrote it as he did (beginning with Abraham instead of Adam, for instance) to tap into the Jewish sense of identity and even pride in their ancestry.  I was beguiled by Jewish veneration of David and Abraham into forgetting their great failures, which the Bible intimately describes.  When Matthew highlights the marred women in Jesus’ ancestry, I see a wink from God, as though he took as much pleasure with the seedy side of his Son’s family line as the royal side.  Israeli ancestry was passed down through the father, so Matthew carefully traces Jesus genealogy from Abraham through David straight down to Joseph… but at the last moment seems to dismiss its relevance by remarking that Joseph was not Jesus’ father anyway (biologically speaking).  Even the greatest heroes, anointed prophets and kings, passed on nothing of their character, authority, power, or greatness through their bloodlines to Jesus. Rather all flowed the other way, from Christ to them. Jesus is not presented here as the greatest of a long line of great men. He is juxtaposed against all others—all others are sinners and he the only Savior; all others receive grace, he alone is the source of grace.

So when Matthew begins by calling Jesus the Son of David and of Abraham, he does not only want us to call to mind their greatness, but also their failures.  THEY TOO needed a Savior.  The story of God’s grace is so profound in both these men’s lives.  Abraham, as Paul repeatedly reminds us, was declared righteous not by his goodness, but by faith.  This justification and life he received was not the reward of faith, as though faith is such a wonderful thing that it calls for the reward of eternal life.  Faith was merely the access point for grace, like a receiver for radio signals or a solar panel to absorb the sunrays, or an open hand to accept a gift offered.  Abraham did not earn anything by some virtue of faith, for faith itself is a gift.  In his natural self he was rather characterized by unbelief, not only regarding Ishmael, but even Isaac’s birth.

David was also deeply flawed,  a murderer and adulterer (both capital crimes).  The Psalms pour out his acknowledgment of his sinfulness and need for God’s grace.  I have seen David as a hero to emulate, a man responsible for his own goodness and greatness, as though his title, “man after God’s own heart,” was about David replicating God’s virtues rather than God’s own heart being infused into David.  Abraham and David were two of our greatest, but both knew they needed a Savior–that is what I want to emulate: a conviction of my neediness.  I am on spiritual par with the holiest and greatest saints in history:  the ground is all level at the foot of the cross, and we not only start our spiritual journey there but end it there as well.  We all come from the gutter and end up in the palace, crowned as royalty, and the only bridge from that beginning to that ending is grace.

God built the bridge; we walk over it.

Posted January 5, 2012 by janathangrace in Bible Grace

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