Saturday, December 19, 2020

nuts in the family tree

 Most families have a few names they would prefer be left out of the family tree. You know the ones--the relatives who aren't really talked about without a knowing look and a slight disapproving shake of the head. When you talk about your ancestors, the people who have made your family what it is, these are the people you leave out of the story--the scoundrels, the trouble makers, the ones people aren't proud of.

But God.

There's a family tree in Matthew that doesn't look like we would expect it to. It's easy to skip over all the "begat"s in the Scriptures, but they're in there for a reason. In this case, the genealogy of Yeshua shows us a lot about God.

Lots of the names are ones you would expect in the lineage of the Jewish Messiah: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, King David. Some of them, though, are the names of people most of us would leave out when telling about our ancestors.

  • Tamar dressed up as a prostitute to trick her father-in-law into getting her pregnant
  • Rahab was an actual prostitute in Jericho. She doesn't just show up here in Matthew, though. She is also mentioned in Hebrews in the "Faith Hall of Fame" for the faith she showed when she hid the spies, an action that saved her family when Jericho fell.
  • Ruth was a Moabite, the people group that started out of the incest between Lot and his oldest daughter. She was from a pagan family and was a widow in a strange land.
  • Solomon was a great king of Israel, but he had some messy ancestry of his own. He was the son of David and Bathsheba. He was their second son; their first had been born out of a one night stand between the king and the beautiful woman he had decided he wanted, despite the fact that she was already married. David had Bathsheba's husband killed when his plan to cover up the pregnancy didn't work, and their first son died.
  • Amon of Judah was a king who was most remembered for his idolatry, a man who "did evil in the eyes of the Lord" and was assassinated after just 2 years on the throne. He was replaced by his 8-year-old son.
  • Jeconiah was the king who lost the kingdom of Israel to Babylon and King Nebuchadnezzer, which led to Israel's captivity.

So often, we think that God only uses the perfect. We focus on the stories of the mighty men in the Bible, looking at the amazing feats they accomplished, the great faith they demonstrated. I think this lineage is here to remind us of something different--God uses people and situations we as humans think are worthless and impossible. He works through even our worst experiences to further His kingdom. He works through the repentant prostitute or the humbled king. He works through those seen as untouchable or those held in high esteem. His hand is over everything, and what the world means for evil He can change for good.


Sunday, December 13, 2020

waiting for a savior

 Israel was in a dark place. They were 1,000 years removed from King David. They had seen their kingdom divided, then absolutely crushed by the Assyrians. The ten tribes of the northern kingdom had been scattered and sent out as exiles. Almost 600 years had passed since they saw Jerusalem captured and Solomon's Temple destroyed by Babylon. They had seen their best and brightest carried off to Babylon to serve in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar.

They had been promised a savior, but instead they had seen one conqueror after another come in and crush Jerusalem under his heel. They had been mistreated and scattered. It had been centuries since they had been sent a prophet of God, and their last prophets--Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel...--hadn't had a whole lot of happy news for them.

Through it all, though, they had Isaiah's words to cling to. It was a message of a Savior, the One who would be called Mighty God, Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace. They were promised One who would rule a kingdom that would never end.

But He hadn't come.

For so long they had been waiting for someone to come and free them from oppression, someone to reestablish the throne of David in the land God had promised them. Instead, they found themselves in the dark, under Roman rule, with God silent. They found themselves questioning God's plan, wondering if He had forgotten His promises.

They were stuck in the waiting, lost in between the stories of a blessed nation in the past and the never-ending kingdom of the future.

But God...

Sometimes, I think God works most in the waiting. It's during the dark, hard times that He draws people to Himself, that He shows us just how much we need Him, just how little we can do on our own.

"Adonai, I call to you from the depths;
hear my cry, Adonai!
Let your ears pay attention
to the sound of my pleading.

Yah, if you kept a record of sins,
who, Adonai, could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,

so that you will be feared.

I wait longingly for Adonai;
I put my hope in his word.
Everything in me waits for Adonai

more than guards on watch wait for morning,
more than guards on watch wait for morning.

Isra’el, put your hope in Adonai!
For grace is found with Adonai,
and with him is unlimited redemption.
He will redeem Isra’el

from all their wrongdoings."
Psalm 130 (Complete Jewish Bible)


Monday, December 7, 2020

cherry cheesecake

 Grief is such a crazy, unexpected thing. It hit me Saturday while I was driving, headed into town. I was thinking of what I needed to pick up, wondering if I needed to take anything to church the next day for our annual Christmas decorating day. We stay after the service, put up decorations, and spend time hanging out together and eating. All of a sudden I realized what the date was--December 5th.

That meant the next day was the 6th, which meant it was my brother's birthday.

Not just any birthday, either. This year marked 40 years since the day my parents welcomed their first child into this world, a long and skinny baby boy.

In that moment, I realized that it was the day I should have been able to call my big brother and make fun of him for being "old" and turning 40. It was the day I should have been planning to make sure he got all sorts of "over the hill" memorabilia, the day I should have been poking fun at the fact that I still have a whopping 4 years before I hit that milestone myself.

Instead, the tears welled up so quickly in my eyes that I was afraid I might wreck.

I was almost to the cemetery, so I made the quick decision to stop. That's a really hard thing for me to do, and honestly I've only done it a handful of times in the 16 and a half years since Michael's been gone. My sister-in-law and I didn't see eye to eye on things, and seeing the headstone she chose stirs up a lot of stuff for me. It did this time, too, but I ignored the headstone and instead went to the foot of the grave, where the military stone is placed. I busied myself cleaning away the grass and leaves, trying to pull myself together, looking at his name and service record--oh, so short for the guy who was born to be a soldier--carved into the stone.

And then, I went to the grocery store and picked up the stuff to make a cheesecake to take to church the next day for dessert. I even picked up a can of that nasty goopy cherry stuff for people to put on top (not for me, though--can't do it), because that's always the dessert Michael asked for growing up.

It's okay for the tears to come. It's okay to grieve and mourn, even when it happens out of the blue almost 17 years later. But don't forget to remember the good stuff, too (like cheesecake, even with the nasty goopy cherry stuff), and live life.

fake fruit

Probably close to 20 years ago, my sister and I taught the preschool class for VBS. The theme that year was Creation, so our room was decora...

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