Shavuot and Pentecost

“He has revealed God to us.” John 1:18

Jesus is the revelation of God. He is the “‘Aha’ moment” within us concerning the substance of the invisible God.

Each of the Gospels argues a point about the nature of Jesus. That’s why there are four accounts all with only narrowly diverging details and inclusions. Matthew argues Jesus as the Jewish Messiah; Luke argues Jesus as the Savior of the whole world both Jew and Gentile; Mark argues Christ’s divinity as the Son of God; and John– John presents Jesus as the revelation of God to us.

Where Matthew and Luke tell us who Jesus is in relationship to us; Mark and John tell us who Jesus is in relationship to the other persons of the Trinity. Son of God the Father and the revelation of God: the Holy Spirit.

Jesus is the Father and He is the Holy Spirit. Jesus called God, “Father.” Romans 8:15 says that there is a spirit of adoption that allows us to cry out “Abba, Father” to God. Jesus is the Messiah, he is the Savior, and he is also the spirit of adoption. Jesus’s nature as the Spirit does something for us.

Embracing the Holy Spirit without fear, skepticism, or incredulity is not about emotional church services, manifestations, or spiritual gifts– it is about realizing that Jesus is the Holy Spirit. You can’t divide God.

And! The Holy Spirit gives us adoption! “The Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father,'” Romans 8:15.

People in the Old Testament rarely referred to God as “Father,” but the Spirit that Jesus had is the Spirit we have been given. We are not simply the Messiah-King’s grateful subjects, we are not just “freed men” saved by a Foreign Liberator, we are sons as he is Son.

“My desire is that you would be one as my Father and I are one.” Jesus desires that we as Christians would be indivisible. And what is that glue that holds together the Father and Son? It is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit united Jesus with His Father and the Holy Spirit unites the Body of Christ together.

 “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all,” Ephesians 4:4-6

I love that Ephesians points out “one baptism.” In the Gospel of John, right at the beginning, there is a story about John the Baptist’s disciples getting angry that Jesus is baptizing more people than they are.

Talk about missing the point. Here they are diligently working baptizing people to prepare them for Jesus, and then they get so caught up in the ministry that they become near-sighted to the point of blindness. They fall flat for two reasons:

  1. They view Jesus’ and John’s ministries as  divided, competing works.
  2. They view the two ministries as divided and competing because they don’t recognize the Spirit.

They didn’t recognize the Spirit in Jesus’ work and they didn’t recognize the Spirit in the person of Jesus either. They didn’t recognize that Jesus was the revelation of what they were doing by faith!

As we move away from the concluded Shavuot/Pentecost season, we will return to the Proverbs 31 Family series. In the series, we will be steering away from dysfunctional faith relationships and into highly effective faith relationships starting with Esther and Mordecai.

As we start to talk about effective faith relationships we will be talking A. L.O.T. about unity. Bear this in mind as we do: There is no unity outside of the Holy Spirit. If you desire God, you desire the Holy Spirit. If you desire Jesus, you desire the Holy Spirit. If you desire unity within the Body of Christ, you desire the Holy Spirit.

Let’s not covet the canonized ministries of remarkable biblical families without it dawning on us that we are a canonized remarkable biblical family! And we have ministries united and coordinated by the Holy Spirit of Adoption.

 

 

The Proverbs 31 Family

“Be careful never to take my son there.” Genesis 24:6

Isaac and Rebekah are mistake repeaters. They didn’t pay attention to the downfalls of the previous generation. They fell right into the same pitfalls as Abraham and Sarah, and so instead of spring boarding off the platform of faith Abraham and Sarah built for them, they had to start the course over.

Though Isaac and Rebekah make the same mistakes as Abraham and Sarah, their personalities are in fact different from their elders. Note– though we think shaping ourselves into people with ideals, hobbies, political beliefs, styles of worship, and theology that differ from our elders will save us from making their mistakes— Isaac and Rebekah show us that that just might not be true.

Isaac is a supporting actor, very different from his father. People tend to make decisions for him: his mom, his dad, his dad’s servant, his wife, his sons. Isaac is kinda pampered. He would not have been one to leave it all behind to follow a God he was unfamiliar with like his father did.

Isaac likes comfort. When Sarah dies, Rebekah comforts him. He loves Esau because Esau makes him yummy food. “Isaac loved Esau because he enjoyed eating the wild game Esau brought home, but Rebekah loved Jacob,” Genesis 25:27.

This love of feeling comfortable is detectable in a glaring omission in the book of Genesis— any mention of Isaac chastising Esau for giving away his birthright in exchange for a cup of lentils. Isaac, the miracle baby, the boy whose family is defined by his being favored above Ishmael, didn’t have anything to say about his eldest’s reproach for his inheritance. After all, we are told that Isaac inherited all of Abraham’s possessions, where his half brothers received only gifts at their fathers passing.

True to the pattern of people who have not experienced conflict—or those who refuse to experience conflict by ignoring it— comfort allows us a naiveté to the real consequences of disobedience and sin, as well as a neglect and mishandling of what is valuable.

Thus, Isaac repeats history in two ways. He makes grave mistakes that he had every bit of information needed to avoid. He gives Rebekah to Abimelech, just like Abraham did to Sarah. He also sends Jacob to Laban. Laban, who had tried to entrap Abraham’s servant through false hospitality (Genesis 24:28-61.) He sends Jacob to the place of which Abraham had said, “be careful never to send my son there.”

Isaac created opposition within his family when he betrayed Rebekah. Her response was to ally with Jacob.* She gained a lot of influence over the family by favoring the winning horse. God had told her while she was pregnant that Jacob would rule over Esau.

Isaac also reinforced opposition outside the family. Esau goes to live with Ishmael. Even the blessing Isaac gives Esau is meager— because Jacob took the blessing of which there is only one! Esau’s blessing is to live by his sword and serve his brother. Very similar to what was prophesied over Ishmael.

Isaac loses ground for the family. He sends Jacob into a trap that Abraham protected Isaac from. He sends Jacob to Laban. Laban keeps Jacob “captive” for fourteen years. Fourteen years that Jacob could have been journeying with the Lord, he was instead under the dictates of a deceitful man in the land of his family’s past rather than of the land of his family’s future.

Now, he did have help making this decision! Ever the eaves-dropper, Rebekah overhears Esau’s plan to kill Jacob. So in order to get Jacob out of dodge, she uses the dysfunctional family dynamic to manipulate Isaac. She complains about Esau’s foreign wives until Isaac agrees to send him to their relatives to find a wife. Isaac has Jacob go to Laban, something he should have known better than to do.

If in our faith, if in our family, if in our fellowships we protect our comfort we will find our legacy unprotected.

Individually and corporately, protecting comfort will produce a passivity that tolerates division, invites spiritual opposition, and yields to our natural inclination to go backward. We return to Laban and the false hospitality of the world. Or worse! We send our kids back to our old family curses and iniquity. We get the next generation stuck for “fourteen years” before they can move forward into God’s plan for them.

“Be careful to never…” When we are comfortable, grow up sheltered, or just are inexperienced with conflict, we end up without urgency. We lose track of what “careful” and “never” mean. We forget the saying “a little leaven.” Even just a little.

Think back to passover. God commands- “keep your shoes on during the meal!” Urgency! We have to have an urgency about obeying God.

The greatest temptation to sin is not intrapersonal but interpersonal.

 

*More on Rebekah’s brand of unforgiveness in the previous post about Sarah, called “This is your fault! Genesis  16:5” It is part 2/10 in The Proverbs 31 Family series.

 

Testimony

Purim to Passover. Exodus and Esther

Passover ends tomorrow. I can feel a season of my life passing with it. A wintery storm dominated the last four months of our family’s life. Beginning on my daughter’s birthday, December 7th to tomorrow, April 7th, one disaster followed another.

On Clementine’s birthday, she and I went to visit her great-grandmother, my husband’s grandmother. That day we found out that Grandma Pat was not doing well. At 89 years old she was living independently, paying her own bills, had only recently stopped driving, and had control of her mental and physical faculties. But she wasn’t getting around well. And she wasn’t thinking very clearly. And she was very uncomfortable with her medical care. She had a deeply entrenched depression, and she begged her daughter to put her into hospice.

Dave and I began to visit more often and tried to take on a more helpful role. We began visiting near daily. On the 40th day of our visits, Grandma Pat had passed away. Home hospice had come in. Grandma Pat had relaxed into the care of strangers and on into eternity.

I had a very difficult time accepting this. It was maddening to me to watch her let go of her hope—literally maddening, I was worried about my mental health during this time! Later a hospital chaplain at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital told me, “It sounds like it has been difficult for you to let go of your vision for her life. You had a vision of joy and longevity for her, and that is not what happened.” This helped let go of her life and release her death.

The hospital chaplain— that’s one other story. The night after Grandma Pat’s passing, Clementine was in the emergency room. She had been vomiting frequently. We’d be back in the emergency room a few weeks later. Clementine had a golf ball sized lump on the left side of her neck. After a week of Clemmie not taking her antibiotics, and diagnoses from swollen lymph nodes to cat scratch fever to hematoma floated, her lump was inflamed and her pediatrician instructed us to rush her to Stanford’s ER and told us to pack a bag because she’d need surgery and to be admitted for a few days.

Well, she was admitted for a few days, for eight days in fact. She had a 4cm abscess that the surgeons kept calling “impressive.” That is code for “scary.” She had to go under anesthesia twice. That reduced me to a puddle of crying mommy. She had to have four different IVs put in and underwent twice daily blood draws— all under the restraining talents of seven adults, two parents, and special ultrasound tools. Whenever the lab sent just one person with a tray of tubes, we’d ask, “they didn’t tell you about her?” A sort of “you’re gunna need a bigger boat.”

After a few days, we were probably going to get to go home. They had removed the drain that had been TWO inches in her neck. Clemmie was riding around the cardiovascular unit in a red wagon when I noticed a growth on the right side of her neck. We had known there were four smaller abscesses on her right side. One could not be “needle” aspirated because it was behind her carotid artery. So we had to let it grow.

It has been growing! Clementine’s “owie lump” has taken us back up to Stanford every week since we were discharged. It is still really red and leaky sometimes, but our wonderful doctor has been needling it in her clinic and doing everything in her power to keep Clemmie out of the hospital. Dr. Ahmad is aware that Dave was recently diagnosed with testicular cancer, so she has been doing her best to help us minimize the stress of Clementine’s treatment.

When I say that Dr. Ahmad is aware Dave was diagnosed recently, I mean that he was diagnosed with cancer while we were admitted at the children’s hospital. The week after we got home from Stanford, I was back in Palo Alto for Dave to have surgery to remove the tumor. The next day I made the trek again for Clementine’s abscess to be aspirated in clinic. This means she was strapped into a straight jacket on a table in what looks like an optometrist office and stuck with a syringe. Once pus begins to come up into the syringe, the doctor hand presses out an entire vial of infection and then some.

The medical procedures are barely half of it. We took the child life specialist’s advice and bought Clemmie medical toys for play therapy. From playing with her, it seems that the most trauma has been sustained in administering her antibiotics at home. I completely agree with her! That has been quite traumatic for me as well!!

Dave has been recovering emotional and physically from his surgery. We are waiting for his follow-up appointment to find out what the next steps in his treatment will be. We also will need to take steps to treat and accommodate the degenerative arthritis in his lower back that was revealed in a CT scan that was looking for more cancer.

Talk about the angel of death! I will be happy to see him pass over! The intensity of these past four months, and the fear of loss, has completely overhauled my stress coping skills. The only coping skill I have had, is to trust God. This is not trust-fall trust, this is like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon leaping into ether trust.

That day we first took Clementine to the emergency room in Monterey was February 28th. This year that was the date of Purim. Purim is the holiday established in the book of Esther. It commemorates the uncovering of an evil plot to destroy God’s people. The result of the plot being uncovered is that God’s people were able to be armed to defend themselves against the coming attack.

Purim is a major Jewish holiday. The next major holiday in the Biblical calendar is “Pesach” or Passover. Passover lasts a week with a feast on the first sabbath and a feast on the second sabbath within that week. Tomorrow is the “2nd Passover” feast. I felt very strongly in the weeks leading up to Purim that we were in a season of exposure true to the theme of Esther.

It was! Illness that was fomenting in the dark was brought to light during Purim. It is painful to face six weeks of hospitals, anesthesia, surgeries, wage losses, fear of death! But hidden threats are far worse than those exposed. Praise God that he revealed the threat!

Physically and spiritually we are constantly under threat. You know, like, wash your hands ’cause bacteria, viruses, and parasites are basically continually plotting against us;) Passover celebrates protection. It reminds us of salvation and deliverance. My hope is that with the end of Passover coming, that I will in fact see that salvation and deliverance of the Lord.

This season between Purim and Passover has been unreal. I wouldn’t trade it though. As with all our trials, the Lord doesn’t just give us resources in tough times, He gives us Himself.

 

 

The Proverbs 31 Family

“She went into seclusion.” Luke 1:24

The highlights of the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth are undoubtedly their visitors: the angel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary. With such spiritual mega-stars just dropping by, I hope Elizabeth kept her guest towels clean and pressed.

But of course, I want to look at the lowly and boring aspects of Elizabeth and Zechariah’s big moment in history– five months of seclusion and nine months of silence. Seclusion and silence.

I am a SAHM to a two year old child, so seclusion and silence are painfully familiar to me. Well– my house of course is not silent, but I do hear the deafening vacuum of my voice in the world getting sucked preemptively out of my lungs. Being at home without any agency to be in public, participate, contribute, and be measurably productive has been demoralizing for me.

The cabin fever I experience is due in part to a serious illness I suffered at age 23. It took about 7 years for me to recover. This brain illness– that I was diagnosed with just one year out of college– is scientifically studied as being triggered by “life goal achievement.” In other words, the closer I get to reaching what I’ve been working toward the more likely I am to relapse. This illness clipped my wings. It cooped me up and walled me in. Seclusion and silence have been persistent and painful themes in my adult life particularly in the areas of career and calling.

I have difficulty valuing my role as a mother and wife sometimes… or a lot of the time. There is a gap in my adult experience- working before the domesticated life- that gap aches. The heady, haughty accomplishments of a young woman in her twenties are just an imagination for me. I never got to be one of the obnoxious quasi-feminist marketing-freelance-event planning activists- from a 90’s RomCom, I guess. I often feel that I didn’t get to choose, and that as a mom my choices continue to be limited. I lack agency in my life. At least by perception, I do.

The story of Zechariah and Elizabeth is a story about how lacking agency, being secluded, and being silent can be the description of the prescription God has given you right now in preparation for what is upcoming in His kingdom and on His agenda. Luke 1-3 is the preparation period for Christ’s ministry. Those three chapters have a theme of preparation, and within that theme the atmosphere of preparation is lacking agency, being secluded, and being silent.

The first character we meet in the book of Luke is Zechariah. If there is anyone who should be prepared for a special assignment, it is Zechariah. He is a priest! We meet him in the Temple burning an incense offering on an altar. A righteous man, in ministry, ceremonially cleansed for special worship when the angel Gabriel tells him personally the assignment God has for Zechariah’s life. And he blows it. He speaks doubt. So he is put on mute until God’s work is done.

You’ll notice the other characters in this story do a lot of praising and prophesying. During this prep time for both John the Baptist and Jesus Christ negative speech was silenced and only praise and prophecy were allowed. Sometimes we need to be silenced for our own sake because if given a voice we would discredit and disqualify ourselves from the magnitude of service God is hiring us for.

Zechariah also had agency. He was the one who was given a command to do something. Elizabeth had no agency. Mary had no agency. Yet, they were able to quietly and calmly ponder what was happening, and be faithful in obedience. Sometimes having agency can be a stumbling block— particularly when the day’s mission is preparation.

That preparation was a calling unto itself. Jesus was about to be born! This was a delicate and simultaneously monumental moment. The web of political movement, spiritual warfare, and human rebellion was on a knife’s edge. There was no room for error. There was no room for disbelief. There was no room for Christians who feel the need to grandstand, or demand a well-lit platform for their spiritual giftings, or to be given a more interesting assignment in a more exotic locale. God did not need people of position for this job; or people who were eloquent, or opinionated, or understanding, wise, or insightfulful, nor did He need people who were talented, young or beautiful. He needed barren old Elizabeth because she was a believer. Sometimes it’s less about what we put out into the world and more about what we take in and “ponder in our heart” about God.

The call for that day was inaction. It was quiet receptiveness. It’s expression was praise, prayer, and prophecy. Elizabeth and Mary gathered together in seclusion to share their testimonies with each other. This built them up in faith and courage for what was to happen— their ministries would both end with the broken hearts of having martyred sons.

Now, I am definitely not proposing that the role of women in ministry is a silent, secluded submission. Zechariah was after all the one who had his speech taken away. Nor do I think “a woman’s ministry is her home, husband, and children.” I am saying, that if you feel that you do not have agency; if you feel isolated, shut down, blocked, frustrated; if you are a mom with young kids; if you are a person is who ill— or taking care of someone ill– a lack of human agency has never stopped God. You don’t need to be able-bodied for God to call you up for duty. You don’t need to build up your resume before God will call your name. If God wants you qualified, He’ll qualify you.

Women as a rule lack agency more than men do. Even powerful and wealthy women often lack agency both within and outside their homes. But in her lack of agency, Elizabeth, a faithful woman led her unbelieving husband into belief. He got in his own way—kind of like I do to myself! What he had didn’t help him. What Elizabeth didn’t have did help her, and preserved her family’s usefulness to the Lord in that appointed moment.

Our belief encourages others to believe. While we believe, the testimony we build inspires those in relationship with us to turn their eyes to the Lord also. In those moments where we feel completely imprisoned by our situation, our sickness, our disability, or our social disadvantage, we have to remember that our humble morsel of belief is the thing of value.

Our belief alone can be our gentle contribution for the colossal good of our community, our relationships, our partners, our family members, and as with Elizabeth, the world.

I don’t need to be able; I need to be willing (Luke 1:38.) Today, that willingness is honoring what I don’t have, and knowing that being busy for God is not as important as being ready for God.

 

The Proverbs 31 Family

“His mother taught him.” Proverbs 31:1

Proverbs 31 has to be the most detested passage of scripture for Christian women. It might be worse even than the passage that says women should be silent in church. Over and over, with the best intention, Proverbs 31 has been taught as a list of accomplishments for the most devoted women to achieve. The popular studies for women of Proverbs 31 completely diminish the idea that individual women would have individual personalities and aptitudes. 

The #lifegoals laid out in Proverbs 31 are so lofty that some teachers have said the Proverbs 31 woman is actually a personification of wisdom just to alleviate the pressure. I’m just gonna say now that that is possible except that all other personifications of wisdom in Proverbs, the woman being described is named “Wisdom.” So there’s that. Let’s not invalidate the Proverbs 31 women out of jealousy over her unique abilities. I fully believe she was real, or at least was expected to be found. King Lemuel’s mother obviously expected him to dig up this rare gem. Maybe rather than being a “personification” the Proverbs 31 woman is a severe case of “nobody’s good enough for my baby boy.”

Let’s expand the description of the Proverbs 31 woman.  The context of the rest of Proverbs 31 is one continuous piece of advice from a mother to her son, the young leader, a newly minted king.

The Proverbs 31 woman is actually the Proverbs 31:10-31 woman. There is a whole family described in the complete reading of the chapter, not just “a wife of noble character.” The Proverbs 31 woman is actually the Proverbs 31 queen married to the Proverbs 31 King Lemuel.  He is the Proverbs 31 son, which means The Proverbs 31 woman has a Proverbs 31 mother-in-law, as well as Proverbs 31 children. This passage is about not just one stellar woman, but a stellar family that is powered by interdependent, godly relationships.

The first 9 verses of Proverbs 31 are dedicated to a faithful son heeding the advice of his very wise mother— the Queen Mother. She does not start with advice about choosing a wife, but about avoiding sexual immorality, drunkenness, distraction, lawlessness, being derelict of his duties as king, submitting to a spirit of death and depression, and falling into poverty and misery.  He is instructed instead to pursue righteousness defined as truth, courage, honor, leadership, discernment, integrity, compassion, charity, and humility.

So let me just sum up the last half of the passage here, verses 10-31: the Proverbs 31 wife, that the Queen Mother instructed her son to find and cherish, possesses all of the qualities he is supposed to pursue. She is his help-meet. Her noble character enables, supports, and stokes his character. In fact, five of the verses describing the Proverbs 31 wife are about the king and the reputation he has because of her. He is able to act powerfully and purposefully as a righteous man in public because of his partner.

This passage describes a life of righteousness as being a community affair. We do not fulfill our purpose, or pursue our calling without the influence of our intimate relationships– we do not live lives of faith alone. We are placed in families, communities, and churches where our faith walk is interdependent on the relationships we are in. The Proverbs 31 Queen Mother knew this and so instructed her son to choose his wife wisely. She taught him and he listened, much like his own children would rise up and call his own wife blessed, virtuous, capable, and surpassing all other women (Prov 31:28-29.)

The honor King Lemuel gave his wife— he rewards her and praises her among his peers (v.31)— shows the purity of his character as matching the expectations of those held for the Proverbs 31 woman. There are some heavy expectations here for Christian men. Rightfully so. Why would we expect Christian women to cultivate the highest character just to marry slackers? Men of great faith require women of great faith, and women of great faith require men of great faith. 

This post is the intro to a series about men and women, their relationships, and the effect the individuals in these relationships have on each others’ faith, obedience to God, and receipt of God’s promises. This is not a series about marriage. It really is more a series about gender wars. Goody, right?! 

We will look at:

Elizabeth and Zechariah

Sarai, Abram, and Hagar

Isaac and Rebekah

Esther and Mordecai

Deborah, Barak, and Jael

Moses, Midwives, Mothers, and Miriam

Samson’s parents

Mary and Joseph

Job and his wife

Adam and Eve

Jezebel and Ahab

Stay tuned!