How God Looks At Black Sheep

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Matthew 1:1

While I might think that the genealogy of Jesus in the first chapter of Matthew is boring, it was anything but that to the Jewish people. They saw Matthew’s opening as a legal and biological proof of Jesus’ authenticity.

Not every genealogy of Jesus is presented the same way. Luke’s version and Matthew’s version only share a few of the same names. They each highlight different parts of Jesus’ lineage. Luke, in his condensed list, provides the legal proof as he traces back to Joseph and the paternal fathers. Matthew, though, includes women in his listing. And, not women of respect like Rachel and Sarah but those whom society would call black sheep.

  • Tamar, who had twins by her father-in-law.
  • Rahab, a prostitute in Jericho who helped the Israelite spies.
  • Ruth, an Arab who moved to Jewish land and became King David’s great grandmother.
  • Bathsheba, the one who had the affair with King David.

Matthew hopes we’ll read between the lines to understand that God uses the most unlikely of people for kingdom endeavors. Matthew, himself, was a black sheep. A tax collector was known for being corrupt. They were not admired nor were they trusted. Throughout his ministry as Jesus’ disciple and apostle, he must have thanked Jesus over and over for mercy and a fresh start.

I can often believe that good people find Jesus more appealing while black sheep find Him repelling. That’s not always true on either account. Good people are often offended by the suggestion that they are sinners and need a Savior. Black sheep see their sinfulness but must surmount the challenge of trusting a love as pure as Jesus’ love. God is no respecter of persons. He does not bestow blessing because someone has a good pedigree, has lived a good life, and has a track record for making wise choices. Nor does he shun a black sheep because of his sinfulness. He goes where a man or woman admits they need Him. He is a Physician to the sick.

Perhaps you have lived a lifetime hiding from God’s face. You can’t dare trust His exclamations of love. Decades of discrimination, even in the church, have made you skittish. But Jesus is like no other man, no other priest, and no other king. The more broken your past, the more glorious your salvation. The darker your history, the brighter your future. If people have referred to you as someone ‘too needy’, consider this the best news as it just might qualify you to move to the front of the line where Jesus waits. The more any of us need Him, the more He likes it. Our future is ahead of us and in the annals of kingdom history, redeemed black sheep will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

I’m thinking of those who shield their face from the Light today. Go looking for them, Jesus. You will find just the right words to heal their shame. Amen

When Promises Become Mine

Your promise is well tried, and your servant loves it.  Psalm 119:140

The Word is not some new Word that has no track record.  When I stake my life on God’s promises, I am doing so with full knowledge of the ways it has been tried and tested down through the centuries.  No one ever reached the end of their life and said they were sorry they trusted God because it had been in vain.  In fact, just the opposite.  The longer God’s children walk with Him, the more grand their endorsement.  Most will pay with their lives to honor the One who has never failed them, never lied to them, and always kept His promises.  With humility, they admit that such love was undeserved.

Since all that is true, I ask myself why I’m not living more confidently at times.  I find myself kept up at night by things I fear.  I preach to myself at 3:00 a.m. and say, “You know God will be faithful to take care of this!  Why are you churning about it?” I know His promises are true, yet fear can still get the best of me.

I do believe that the answer to that question is that the severity of my faith tests escalate as I mature.  God allows a trial, then I’m called by the Spirit to press in and stand in the Word and its promises.  If I pass the test, the trial eases, and should that particular trial come again, I’ll know how to handle it.  The problem is, it probably won’t come again just like the first time.  What comes will be a new challenge that will test the fabric of my faith at the next level.

God is all about growing my faith.  It won’t grow without customized testing in the areas where I faint, not where someone else faints.  Each of us wears armor with chinks in places specific to us and our story.  I may know His promises intellectually but they really aren’t mine until I’ve stood in them and clung to them for dear life through the graduated stages of life’s problems.  I can know that Abraham found God’s promises to be true but that doesn’t make them true for me until I also push through fear and uncertainty to stand in them.

No guilt today for where I faint.  Fainting provides the doorway for faith.

I can be so hard on myself.  Abraham battled his thoughts and fears all the way up the mountain with Isaac.  I battle my fear, at every stage, with Your Word.  Amen

He Saw Him ~ But Only With Faith

Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad.  John 8:56 

This quote by Jesus was not meant to convey that he roamed the earth when Abraham lived.  This is a statement about faith.  When might Abraham have seen Jesus?  Perhaps it was when he took Isaac to Mt. Moriah and waited for the provision of a lamb.  Though God ultimately provided a physical lamb to sacrifice in place of Isaac, when Abraham’s arm was poised to come down on his son, clutching the knife,  perhaps the eyes of Abraham’s spirit saw Jesus, the ultimate sacrificial lamb.  Jesus said that Abraham saw him and believed.

Abraham didn’t see Jesus on the way up the mountain.  He didn’t even see him as he built the altar upon which Isaac would be sacrificed.  He had to see obedience through to the end, to come to the moment where there was no turning back, in order for the lamb to come into view.

Over what do I feel desperate today?  I may be stressed, momentarily pressed to the limit, but perhaps I’m only making my way up Mt. Moriah.  I’ve not reached the top yet.  I’ve not yet built the altar and taken the knife in my hand.

One thing is sure.  For the one who lives by faith, the provision of salvation is sure.  Just like Abraham, I can live with spiritual eyesight, one that looks ahead and sees a Savior who promises deliverance.  I can listen in that still small place inside and hear the promises of the One who is faithful, even when our own flesh and blood are on the line.  The end of my rope is the beginning of God’s.

Help me see with the eyes of faith.  Amen

Preserve The Stories

Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart.  Psalm 119:2

    How many, and how powerful, are the testimonies of God’s people through the ages.  Blessed are those who preserve them.  To ‘keep’ is to guard something and preserve it with dignity.

    I can be more preoccupied with preserving a family recipe, a family tradition, a family story of heroism than I am preserving the stories of my spiritual family which give God the glory He deserves.  Do I make much of the song of praise the children of Israel sang on the other side of the Red Sea?  Am I amazed by the first version of the Magnificat that Hannah (barely a young woman) wrote after she was delivered from barrenness?  Do I feel the deep gratitude of David when God repeatedly spared his life and ushered him to his day of coronation safely?  Does my spirit feel the thrill when I read about the walls of Jericho coming down after a seven day march and a trumpet blast?  If these stories make my heart pound, I will preserve them and guard their veracity with a vengeance.  If I hear them ridiculed or minimized in public, I will rise to defend them.  If I am engaged with the characters beyond mere interest, I will count the days until I can tell them to my children and grandchildren.

    I am ashamed to say that I can be more emotionally engaged with stories where people I know are the heroes rather than those where God is the center of attention.  I can sit in church, hear the text about to be preached, and think…”Oh, that story!”   Thinking I know the plot well, I sit back, doodle, and coast through the service.

    To be changed by scripture is to emotionally engage with it.  To read in order to study is of little benefit.  To read in order to walk in another’s shoes and feel the dust of Capernaum between my toes, that is another thing.    Ten years ago, I took a year to live inside the skin of the characters from the book of John.  It got so that I couldn’t talk about Peter without crying.  I couldn’t tell the story of Mary taking hold of Jesus feet after her brother died without feeling her broken heart.  That kind of heart engagement with my spiritual ancestors changed me.  Each one interacted with Jesus, saw His glory, and had a visceral reaction.

    God promises that those who guard the testimonies of the saints will be happy.  I can most assuredly promise you that it’s true.  When I get to stand up before a group of women and tell the Shunamite woman’s story from II Kings, I am chomping at the bit until the time comes.  I can hardly sleep the night before for the anticipation of it.  Every time a decoration committee of some event offers me a stool to sit on to teach, I never take them up on it.  I’m always way too excited to sit down.

So many more stories.  As I learn them, I will guard them, and then tell them.  Amen

The Truth Of Jeremiah 29:11

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11 

My life is measured by minutes as well as years. If you asked me how I was at 2:30 last Saturday, my answer might be different than if you asked me what this month has been like. Devastation can characterize one moment in time while joy describes the month surrounding it.

Never is this truer than when thinking about God’s sovereignty. God is able to zero in with a bird’s eye view to share a single event of my life. When He does, He is a High Priest who is touched by what moves me. If I’m sad, His tears mingle with mine. But when He backs away to see my life in full panoramic view, His response is altogether different than mine. He sees redemption’s story and how my life begins and ends gloriously within His divine goodness. What causes me to weep today is only a blip in the fullness of time. While I must wait to see my entire life in the rear view mirror, God already sees it. The hands of time move at a snail’s pace for me, not for God.

Jeremiah 29:11 is a lifeline to so many children of God today, including me. It is the sound of hope ringing in my ears. It is the overarching banner of faith that carries me beyond agonizing moments. I know that if I define my life by the momentary, I will be as unstable as shifting sand. I can’t depend on my self-interpretation of today’s events.

For every prayer that has yet to be answered, for every injustice that is awaiting God’s vindication, for every hope yet to be fulfilled, for every disease waiting healing, the truth of God’s panoramic view bolsters my momentary faithlessness. I know that my eyes are dim where perspective is concerned while God eyes are sharp and all encompassing. He not only sees the beginning from the end, He’s Alpha and Omega. He has authored the beginning and the end!

There are no mysteries with the One who holds my life so securely. I can say, despite the moments that threaten to undo me, that His plans for me are good. I have a future and a hope that will culminate in celebration.

Grace for the moment. Faith for the future. I need both, Lord. You know. Amen

Can God Use Discord?

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.” Matthew 23:13

Are you living around someone contentious? If so, you’re probably dreaming of deliverance – either for them or for you. You crave peace and harmony.   Perhaps the argumentative person is in your small group or in your Sunday school class. God’s grace is a stumbling block to them. That person sows discord by the many arguments he presents in favor of the letter of the law and God’s judgment. As a teacher, you wonder if he is hurting other’s faith. When class is over, you feel that he ruined everything that God was trying to do.

While I do believe that dissenters like this are under the influence of religious spirits, I am encouraged that they can cause many to think and study for themselves. People who experienced the tension are able to compare the appearance of a God who was presented as angry and unreasonable with the real God who shows mercy through Christ and forgives extravagantly. The discord was really more productive than destructive. The beauty of the Gospel was on full display against the backdrop of dead religion.

In this scripture, Jesus was rebuking the Pharisees for misrepresenting what was required to enter the kingdom. They were all about keeping the law, which in and of itself, wasn’t a bad thing. It’s just that they did it void of a relationship with God. They promoted self-serving obedience. They also added thing after thing to the existing law to make the whole package burdensome. Jesus’ words were strong and all who heard it felt the dissonance.

Was the discord productive? I imagine so. Suppose you were a bystander and you wondered who Jesus was. You had labored under the law and were tired of going through the motions of Judaism. Jesus’ rebuke would have shaken you to the core — a shaking that might have resulted in new faith and a new paradigm. Jesus’ scolding reinforced what you had already felt deep in your spirit. At that moment, in Jesus, you tasted something that made your heart feel alive.

If you are frustrated by the presence of one who promotes something other than the Gospel of grace, consider that God might have that person around for the purpose of providing comparisons. Sometimes, people learn what they want by seeing, firsthand, what it is they don’t want. For those in sincere search for Jesus, discord might propel them faster to the arms of the Grace-giver.

This just shows that I never know what you will use for Your glory. Open my eyes to see You at work, even in this. Amen

Stop Fighting Me!

Be still and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10

The focus of our church this summer is Psalm 46. Our pastor has strongly encouraged all of us to memorize it ~ even to the smallest child. He has not required something of us that he is not willing to do either. This past Sunday, he recited it at the front end of his sermon. He didn’t make a big deal out of it. It was a quiet, thoughtful delivery. We all knew that he was moved by what came out of his mouth.

He made some extensive comments on the famous verse, ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ My view of that scripture changed. He first recited it as if it were coming from a God intending to soothe and lull His child to sleep, like whispering in a child’s ear. He admitted that this is what he always believed to be the context; like comfort for the fearful. But in studying, he discovered it was not meant to be a whisper to soothe the soul.  Rather, it was a rebuke. What?

So, I went digging for myself. Sure enough. In the chaos and confusion, in the heat of battle, in the striving and fury of activity, God is telling His children to stop fighting Him. They are playing God. They are trying to control what He controls. The cry for them is to be still, to surrender, and to remember who is God. Now, that changes everything, doesn’t it?

Surrender is the hardest thing to do until I’m out of strength. Before I’m willing to lay down my arms and trust God, I have this need to fix things myself. I want to put everything in place so I can feel secure. Only when I’m spent and out of options do I turn to God. Oh, that my initial response would always be surrender! When I acknowledge God at the beginning of my day, at the beginning of my crisis, and when I remember who has the power, then I will be confident and peaceful.

I put my whole trust today in a God who so easily moves things around with His finger and a puff of air.

Many of us are hearing you say today, ‘Stop what you’re doing! Surrender!’ We lay down our arms and relinquish control. Amen