Archive for the ‘Bible Grace’ Category

Light in the Dark [God’s Love Letters]   5 comments

Matthew 1:4 And Nahshon fathered Salmon.

The name Salmon appears only once in the Old Testament, at the end of Ruth in a four-verse genealogy.  (He appears one other time as Salma in a mirror genealogy of Chronicles). 

In the town of Bethlehem, Salmon’s son Boaz plays supporting actor in the romance play Ruth.  As a historical introduction to Ruth, the book of Judges tells of the steep moral decline in Israel, ending with a 3-day civil war in which tens of thousands of Israelis are killed.  Bethlehem was at the epicenter of this huge national crisis for it all began with one of their own daughters being brutally gang-raped and dismembered.  Without a timeline we do not know whether Salmon was a soldier in this battle, but he certainly struggled against the corruption that engulfed his country.

Salmon lived in the days of the Judges, and that book finishes ominously, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”  But springing up from this maelstrom of evil is Ruth, a book of hope, whose last verse reads: “To Boaz was born Obed, and to Obed, Jesse, and to Jesse was born David.”  That is to say, King David, forefather of the promised Messiah.  Yet Salmon had no glimpse of this hope.  He died in the night that swallowed his nation.

In spite of this, Salmon (according to Matthew’s genealogy) was in the center of the world’s great channel of redemption.  Without knowing it, he was the father from whom the Christ was to be born.  His life and history and progeny were surrounded by God’s richest outpouring of grace, the giving of His very Self to the world.  How might this realization have lit up his darkness with hope, his trials with patience, his life with purpose?   And amazingly, we are each in that very place of Salmon… in a far better place, actually.  

We are not simply in a long line of succession through whom God’s grace will eventually come, but we are today channels of God’s grace to the world.  The Messiah has come.  He is here.   If Christ is in us, then He is shining out from us to the world, despite how troubled and confused and pointless our lives may seem or how foreboding the shadows. I am his candlestick, and it is mine to burn, however feebly.  It is His to shine that light where He sees fit, and He always makes the best use of every flicker.  I am His vital partner in this bedraggled world’s salvation.

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Posted November 12, 2012 by janathangrace in Bible Grace

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Under the Shadow [God’s Love Letter #8]   Leave a comment

Matthew 1:4 Ram fathered Amminadab and Amminadab fathered Nahshon

Wouldn’t it be great to be Billy Graham’s brother?  I’m not so sure.  How would you be introduced at parties?  Whose exploits would your children talk about around the dinner table?  In public, whose reputation would you be most concerned to protect?  CNN, Time, NBC would all contact you… with only questions about Billy.  Imagine your whole life and personhood defined by someone else.

Amminadab knew that feeling.  His name appears nine times before the gospel of Matthew, in four separate books of the Bible, and we know nothing about him.  But we know about his son Nahshon.  Even in the middle of a genealogical listing, the registrar pauses to trumpet Nahshon: “Ram was the father of Amminadab, Amminadab was the father of Nahshon, the leader of the people of Judah.”  The only reason Amminadab’s name crops up at all is to note his relationship to Nahshon… except for his first appearance, when he is footnoted as the father-in-law of Aaron, the high priest of Israel.

We all live in someone else’s shadow that is cast by the spotlight on their better performance in cooking or speaking, patience or punctuality.  As I do life with others, it is naturally hard to feel good about myself, hard to avoid competing with Jennifer’s achievements, hard to resist comparing Jason’s friendliness to my own.  But when our culture also constantly rates us against our fellow, noting how we fall short, it becomes nearly impossible.  I can either sign up for this game where I must be a winner (in everything) to feel adequate, or I can opt out and be labeled a loser.  That is, I can constantly chase after the adequacy that is just beyond my grasp or I can give up in despair and accept my own worthlessness… or I can stumble into grace.

When you consider Amminadab, Nahshon, Aaron and Moses in the light of their descendant at the culmination of Matthew’s genealogy, they all rank shoulder to shoulder.  We all stand equally shadowed by Jesus’ glory.  But here the simile breaks down, for Jesus does not diminish us by his greatness, but transforms us by it.  We stand not in his shadow, but in his glory, and this comes not as the borrowed, vicarious glory of a famous relative, but in his fulfilling in us all he designed us to be.  Jesus being all he is makes me all I am and can be.  May we be such life-givers to one another.

Posted July 22, 2012 by janathangrace in Bible Grace

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Being a Nobody: God’s Love Letters #7   5 comments

Matthew 1:3 Perez fathered Hezron and Hezron fathered Ram.

Hezron and Ram have no stories, no histories, no parts to play.  They are nobodies, appearing in the Old Testament simply as names in lists of genealogies.  The vast majority of Israelites who lived then are not mentioned at all.  They plowed and played; they held one another as their crops failed and laughed with delight at their grandchild’s  first words; many worshipped God faithfully and walked with him daily but are completely unknown to us, very much like Hezron and Ram.

Since the Jewish Bible is primarily about the nation of Israel, the leaders of the nation and events that directed its course are inevitably featured.  Still, it seems that God considers the “movers and shakers” as the important ones, the ones to write home about, the role-models to recommend.  Compare how much we know of David in contrast to his brother Eliab, the firstborn.  If you want to be on God’s A-list, you have to make a big impact in the world, make a name for yourself in his kingdom.  And to do that, all you need is faith.

This view of the Bible seems oddly familiar to me.  When I was growing up, the heroes were folks like Lincoln, rising from an obscure log cabin to the White House, or like Einstein, stepping out from behind a clerk’s desk to become the foremost scientist of his time.  I grew up believing that I could be anything I wanted if I had enough self-confidence and commitment to the vision.  This is the American dream, and ours is the land of opportunity where the only limitations are our faith and determination.  This take on life provides a value system, a goal, and a means to that end, and without realizing it, I bring all of this to my reading of Scripture.

I measure the strength of my faith by the greatness of my deeds—am I like David?  The completeness of my commitment will make me a Daniel.  The weight of my godliness will get my name written down next to Job’s.  I can be one of God’s role-models for my generation.  If I simply make myself wholly available to God, he will make something great of me.  But what if I give it everything I’ve got and never make it out of the log cabin or clerk’s office?  Do I lack faith, is my commitment faulty, am I unusable?  Does God find me of little value?

Perhaps something is wrong with my perspective of what God wants, what is important, and what I should value and aim for in life.  I don’t think God was less pleased with the unnamed in Israel who sincerely followed him.  But this culture runs in my blood—I invariably measure the value of my contribution, for instance, by how many folks read and find benefit from my blog.  The engine is not more valuable than the engine mount bolt… without the bolt, the engine will fall off and the airplane crash.  Every role in God’s kingdom is vital, irreplaceable.  If that’s my theology, why do I so often feel like a loser?

It seems a still deeper issue clouds my view of what really matters to God.  Does he care more about what I do or who I am?  Why do I find myself so obsessed with doing rather than becoming or relating?  Why does accomplishment determine my value–“I may be only a bolt, but I’ll be the best bolt ever made”?  How drastically would my outlook and life change if my focus were rather on who I am and how I relate to others?  How would it impact my understanding and application of Scripture?  If it is David’s faith rather than his triumphs, skills, and leadership that is to inspire us, what would that faith look like in the life of a farmer, a seamstress, or a store clerk, in Hezron and Ram and me?  Rabbi Zusya said, “In the coming world, they will not ask me, ‘Why were you not more like Moses?’ They will ask me: ‘Why were you not Zusya?’”  Considering how God filled the earth with “nobodies” instead of “somebodies,” he must value us a lot!  Or to put it differently, everyone is a very big “somebody” to someone else, even if that someone else is only God.  Did I say, “only God”?!

Posted July 8, 2012 by janathangrace in Bible Grace, Personal

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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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