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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Pedigree of a Savior

My mother was exceedingly proud of her ancestry, which boasted two aristocratic English families whose roots went back to the Mayflower. My father, less than impressed with her credentials, once wryly referred to Mom's genealogy as her "family twig."

I received as a Christmas gift a calendar Bible, and as I ingest my daily helpings of God's Word, I've been struck by His choice of flawed vessels to bring His Son into the world. For example...

Did you know that Jesus's distinguished lineage included Jacob, who connived his way through life, lying to his ailing father and alienating his only brother? Also among our Savior's illustrious ancestors was Perez, the illegitimate offspring of Jacob's son Judah, whom he conceived with his widowed daughter-in-law when she was posing as a temple prostitute.

Peyton Place, anyone?

And let's not forget David, the man after God's own heart, whose illicit union with Bathsheba resulted in the murder of an innocent man in one of the most shocking cover-ups recorded in Scripture. These two adulterers later produced Christ's ancestor Solomon, whose liaisons with foreign women led the wisest king who ever lived into idolatry and compromise that besmirched his throne and ultimately divided his kingdom.

These are the some of the juicier tidbits in Jesus's history. From a humble beginnings standpoint, Christ descended from Leah, Jacob's unloved wife, who played second fiddle to her beautiful sister Rachel, and had to be pawned off on unsuspecting Jacob through her father's trickery. God's Son could also claim among His relatives Rahab, a member of the world's oldest profession, and her daughter-in-law Ruth, whose widowed status forced her to beg scraps and marital protection from a stranger.

Truth really is stranger than fiction.

I can only conclude that Philippians 2:8 is the understatement of the century - no, the millennium. Better yet, the entire stage of human history. Christ's heritage, culminating in His birth to an unmarried teenager who just barely escaped being left at the altar on the strength of a dream given her disgraced fiancĂ©, better qualified Him to land a role in As the World Turns than to head up the divine church.

And yet, this family tree was carefully, painstakingly constructed by none other than God Himself to serve as the vehicle by which He would introduce freedom to handcuffed humanity.

How fitting that the Son of God, who descended from such “colorful” ancestors, chose to grow up in an obscure town which His peers held in contempt. John 1:46 states that the thinking of Jesus’ day was “Can anything good come out of [Jesus’ home town] Nazareth?” Apparently, something good could – and did – come out of this humble, despised city.

Kind of gives you hope for the rest of us, doesn't it?

For more like this, check out: Morsels for Meditation...: Pedigree of a Savior 2

For a similar perspective, check out Chad Ashby's
Brothers and Sisters, Unwed Pregnancy is Not a Sin 

One disclaimer about the above article: I don't necessarily concur with Ashby's urging us to "throw extravagant baby showers" for unwed mothers. Should they be supported? Absolutely. Do we want to celebrate the behavior? Not so much. I'm more comfortable coming alongside struggling single moms in a less showy way, so as not to reinforce the idea that this situation is ideal or to be considered the norm. Our support needs to lie somewhere between the outcasting in days gone by and today's "anything goes" celebration of single parenthood. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Seeking Peace and Perfect Justice

My friend and prayer partner, Tina Simon, has been at it again. Feast on her bittersweet herbs:
Last Words of Karla Faye Tucker, convicted murderer (right), who was executed after trusting Christ in prison:

“Yes sir, I would like to say to all of you — the Thornton family and Jerry Dean’s family — that I am so sorry. I hope God will give you peace with this. Baby, I love you. Ron, give Peggy a hug for me. Everybody has been so good to me. I love all of you very much. I am going to be face to face with Jesus now. Warden Baggett, thank all of you so much. You have been so good to me. I love all of you very much. I will see you all when you get there. I will wait for you.”

As a Christian, how do I view justice? Are we to be the avenger of blood? Or are we to bring that “mercy that endures forever?” If mercy trumps justice, then what do we owe the victim?

If we had never sinned, we would never know of mercy. Mercy requires an offense. Jesus suffered the ultimate death penalty in the place of all those sinners who would come to believe in Him and accept His offer (perhaps our greatest sin is the arrogance to think we don’t need a savior and, therefore, we don’t need to accept this offer; we need not “bend the knee").

There are times when I wish I could keep it simple in my mind and heart; either I am enraged for the rights of the victim, or pity the offender. I am often in sympathy with both, and don’t know how to come to a satisfactory answer for either.

I know that if things had been different, I could be standing in the dock. If my life had been different, if God hadn’t saved me. Still, I’m kind of tired of the refrain, "I’m depraved because I was deprived."  While that is often the case, I know as a sinner I’m also responsible for my own behavior, that the state doesn’t wield the sword for nothing.

It is much harder to feel compassion for both the offender and the victim, but I know it is right. Yet, there needs to also be some way of protecting society. We must do our best to serve both.

I suppose what is saddest is that we can’t seem to reach people early enough. Perhaps that is part of what makes me feel uncomfortable - the thought that we have somehow failed, too. With each prisoner, as well as every victim, society in some measure has taken part in the offense. We fail both the offended and the offender when our culture refuses to acknowledge the elephant that sits so prominently in every American living room. It is disguised as the American dream, which demands the sacrifice of our children to abortion and day care and latch key living. This is at best. At worst, our offspring go to bed hungry, abused and terrified -and no one is listening.

I know that every believer - no matter how vile his crime - is with Christ in heaven, and I will one day share heaven with that person, but that does not answer for the crime here on earth. Perhaps in this sinful world, our criminal justice system represents flawed and fallen humans' best attempt at justice. It's the best we can do.

I wonder what kind of results there would be if someone did a study to find out just how much help or closure there has been for the victims or their families five to fifteen years after the offender has been convicted. Does it ease the rage any? Is there peace or resolution? Have we done our utmost for the victims and their loved ones?

Maybe my dissatisfaction with the answers we currently have to all these questions stems from the fact that there is no really adequate solution. Only Christ provides the ultimate answer as He changes hearts, one person at a time.

I constantly remember the phrase, there but for the grace of God go I. I am both victim and perpetrator, sinner and sinned against.  I feel myself in the body of both and want to minister to both sets of needs. I know forgiveness lies with Christ, but there must still be a penalty paid down here.

Thank you, Father, that in Christ, Psalm 85:10-11 is made whole:

Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven.

Happy New Year!

Two short anecdotes from this past Sunday at church, just perfect for the New Year:

Shared by Pastor Rob Eyre, who filled Bethany Evangelical Presbyterian Church's pulpit on December 30th:

Pastor Eyre was at one time involved in a community organization/public policy class with Princeton University. The students took a field trip to a somewhat depressed area in New Jersey, where a garden had been planted in a formerly barren field. Unbeknownst to the well-meaning horticulturalists, the section of ground they had beautified was filled with lead; the group was much dismayed to receive notice that they were being fined for their toil, pending the removal of the toxic element. The extraction process would be complicated and expensive.

To everyone's delight, research concluded that a certain plant could be used to leach out lead from contaminated areas. The plant in question actually thrives on lead. Once harvested, the element could be put to practical use, turning a profit, and leaving previously noxious ground safe for planting. It was a win-win situation for all, and the gardeners found themselves in the lovely position of being paid for their efforts!

The auspicious plant that turned crushing failure into shining success? The mustard seed.

Imagine something as tiny and unassuming as a mustard seed having the power to swap disaster with victory.

"'Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.'" Matthew 17:20


Shared by Megan DeHaven, Youth Director at Bethany Evangelical Presbyterian Church, at Bethany's Sunday night praise service:

Meg, who has the heart of an evangelist, befriends local children as she and her dog stroll around their neighborhood. So far her efforts to reach out have resulted in Meg and her husband, Mike, hauling home a trunkful of pumpkins they hoped to carve with community kids who didn't show up for the Halloween festivities.

Lately, though, things have been looking up. Meg was pleased to be invited this past holiday season to a Christmas concert by one young lady she has gotten to know. On the appointed day, she was feted at an outdoor "concert" chirped by two little girls with rhyming names, whose repertoire consisted of a monster song, one Christmas carol, and a couple of miscellaneous tunes. The cherubs apologized for their dearth of material by explaining that, while they had been inviting people to their concerts for years, Meg was the first person who ever showed up!

The little ones excitedly produced Meg's "all access backstage pass," which entitled their guest to post-concert goodies and fellowship. Upon learning, however, that the promised cocoa and snacks had been gobbled up by hungry siblings, Meg hosted the singers at her home for holiday movies and treats.

The grin on Meg's face as she related this story underscored the message she derived from it -  how we as God's children so often invite Him to our "show," but deny Him access to our behind-the-scenes doings.

Maybe if we reversed this process, our "show" would be less of a show, and more a way of life.

"We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ." 1 John 1:3

Check out Keith Green's "To Obey is Better than Sacrifice"