Thursday, May 21, 2015

Common Thread: Finding Jesus on every page

I spent last week studying for this week’s section of our current, ongoing study through the book of Hebrews. We’ve been studying Melchizedek, and quite honestly, his place in Scripture is about as difficult as his name.

I worked through a hard passage and ended at the same conclusion where I always end up. It’s happened so often that, if I don’t end there, then I go back and check my progression through the passage because I probably missed something.

Here it is – the conclusion I reach on virtually every Bible lesson I teach – God loves you and wants a relationship with you through His Son, Jesus.

That’s the whole message of God’s Word – from Genesis 1:1 through Revelation 22:21 – from the days of Adam about 6,000 years ago until the days of Messiah’s reign sometime in the future. The whole thing is the story of how He expressed that love and made that relationship possible. I reached that end this time and thought, “That’s the same conclusion I reach every time. Why keep studying? I know the point of the book… God loves me and wants a relationship with me through Jesus.” We can learn this truth reading John 3:16; why spend hours studying?

Let’s use a thread to represent this statement. We’ll call it our John 3:16 thread because you can simply read John 3:16 and know everything you ever need to know, “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” It’s simple and direct; with a few abbreviations we can even make it fit within the 140 character limit of Twitter.

Yes, this one statement has enough power to change the world. But it’s only a thread; it’s only a single strand of power and truth.

When I questioned why Jesus might possibly be troubled, I found it was because He loves us and wants a relationship with us.

When I wondered why Jesus had to go against all conventional wisdom, I learned it was because He loves us and wants a relationship with us.

When I struggled to understand Jesus’ parables, I found buried within them that God loves us and wants a relationship with us.

When I wondered what it meant to soar on wings like eagles, I realized we only can do so because God loves us and wants a relationship with us.

When I freaked out because a great cloud of witnesses surrounds me, I learned they are there because God loves us and wants a relationship with us.

When I was curious why the Bible sometimes calls Jesus the Rock, I discovered it’s because God loves us and wants a relationship with us.

When I wanted to know more about the name Immanuel, I learned it’s His name because He loves us and wants a relationship with us.

When I wondered why Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah had to suffer, I realized it’s because He loves us and wants a relationship with us.

Those are only the topics I’ve blogged about. More are in my books and many more sit on my shelves from old studies I’ve written and taught. Maybe someday I’ll get more of them posted here. Things like finding this message hidden in the garments of the priest in the Old Testament.

Or finding it in the complex person of the priest Melchizedek, which is where I found myself last week.

These topics all contain the common message of our John 3:16 thread. Each one is a powerful message of grace, love, and relationship restored. God wove each of these threads and countless more into an intricate and deep blanket that spans thousands of years and reaches every person of all time. We call that blanket the Bible.

The John 3:16 thread is enough but the whole design is so much more.

The world is a hard, cold place. When I need warmth and comfort, I’d rather wrap up in the whole blanket than try to curl up in a single thread.

The pits of inadequacy, despair, and depression can be deep, dark, foreboding places. I need the whole blanket to pull me up out of the pit. I may lose my grasp if I hold onto only a single thread.

The enemy’s attacks come at me from every direction. A single thread may not block every fiery dart but if the whole blanket covers me completely then the power of the Word can stop every attack.

Weaving it in to your life

The John 3:16 thread is all you need in your life. It’s simple and reveals God’s plan for our relationship. So much more awaits though when you start searching through the rest of Scripture’s pages to find that thread woven throughout the whole story, from beginning to end. I encourage you to open His Word, start studying it, and weaving His threads together into your own life so you’ll have the whole blanket when you need warmth and comfort, a pull out of despair, or defense from the enemy.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Priorities: My Children aren't that Important

You probably think my title is an attention grabber to pique your curiosity. Sorry, that’s not the case. My kids really aren’t that important.

Let me explain before you skip the rest of the article to leave me a nasty comment. But before I explain, I want to share some of this year’s Mother’s Day moments.

Fourth Child

My youngest is a pure expression of creativity. Her unique views of the world never cease to amaze. Many people create acrostic poems for Mother’s Day – even the well-known Proverbs 31 passage is an acrostic! Leave it to my youngest, however, to make an acrostic based on the second letter of each word. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think that’s kind of impressive for her age.

Third Child

My younger middle child thrives on the beauty of musical order. She mixes structure with creativity and rhythm with emotion to bring music to life. She’s had a song in her heart since the day she was born. No wonder that she shared her feelings in poetry.

Second Child

My older middle child gets it – whatever “it” is. Her quick mind, sharp wit, and logical comprehension not only make her hysterically entertaining but also provide a deep understanding of situations. She was the first to find me Mother’s Day morning to share her love. Also no surprise that she was the one that turned to social media to further share her feelings. Yeah, I know, I need to work on my "duck face."

First Child

My firstborn and I have something I’ll never have with my other daughters. For her first years, it was her and I each day. She’s always been a daddy’s girl but we made many memories those first years before my second daughter joined us. Her independence level will soon take a final giant leap as she branches out into God’s plan for her life. However, we still remember those first days together; they influenced her gift this year.

My Korean Daughter

She’s been with us for two years and, God willing, she’ll be with us two more. She’s part of our family, though. She’s the one to take care of what needs done – how else could her grades average 100% for all classes while learning in a second language? No surprise, then, that she found time and opportunity to buy a card. She’s also as sweet as she is smart as you’d see if you read her message inside the card which began, “Dear My American Mom.”

How can I say they aren’t that important?

They’re amazing – beautiful, creative, intelligent, compassionate, expressive, and all the things we hope for in children. I love each of them to the moon and back.

But they aren’t the most important.

God is. I love Him more.

I’ve been seeing these cute little graphics on social media recently. They say things like,
  • “Your children are the greatest gift God will give to you.”
  • “Children aren’t a distraction from the most important thing. They are the most important thing.”
  • “The most magical day of my life was the day I became a mom.”
They all seem pleasant and sweet on the surface but lies, failures, and disappointments hide in the details of each one.

Greatest Gift
My daughters are each a great gift, but they aren’t the greatest. My husband is a great gift, too. He ranks right up there with my girls. I won’t insult him by saying they are a better gift than he is. Even he’s not the greatest, though. Only one of God’s gifts is the greatest – that of His Son. That’s the only gift in my life that covers all my inadequacies, forgives all my mistakes, and keeps giving grace and love no matter what situations come.

Most Important
They are each so important. God created them unique to fulfill a role in His kingdom. I know He has an incredible plan for each of them – just like being their mom is part of His incredible plan for me. However, being Jimmy’s wife is also part of His plan for me and it’s every bit as important as them. Only God’s plan is the most important; I’m blessed that He chose to include them as part of that plan. His is the only plan that can meet the needs of a hurting world, bring salvation to the nations, and give us significance and importance through serving rather than exaltation.

Most Magical… or Amazing
God doesn’t work with magic, so let’s use the word “amazing” instead of “magical.” I think it still fits with the original intent. I clearly remember the moment each child lay in my arms for the first time. All four were absolutely amazing. They were incredible. But they weren’t the most amazing moments of my life. I remember standing at the front of a church, facing Jimmy as we promised our lives to each other. That was pretty amazing. I remember the moment each daughter accepted Jesus as her Savior. Those moments of spiritual birth were even more amazing than the ones of physical birth. My own personal moment of spiritual birth was amazing as well.

In fact, every time I consider God’s offer of grace and expression of sacrificial love through His Son, I experience the most amazing moment. I’m amazed that the Creator of the universe could love us so passionately that He couldn’t allow sin to separate us from Him. I’m amazed that God the Son lived in holy, perfect beauty with the Father and Spirit and yet chose to leave heaven to come to this dirt-clod we call earth. I’m amazed by His power that willingly laid down His own life and defeated death by resurrecting back to life. I’m amazed by His power to someday return to the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem with footsteps that will split the mountain in half. Jesus is the most amazing moment.

Finding Balance

I love my girls… they are a great gift, they’re important, and they’re amazing. However, only God is the greatest, most important, most amazing part of my life.

I base my identity on my position as a child of God, not on my position as someone’s mother. My success in life is loving and serving Him, not my ability to bear or raise children.

As women, we have seven different roles. We stay busy as wives, mothers, businesswomen, friends, servants, and homemakers. They’re all important but none of them is most important. Can we say an unmarried woman is less because being a wife isn’t part of her roles? Are women without children less because they’ve never birthed or raised a child? Are women who don’t engage in the workplace less because they don’t earn a paycheck? Are women with a messy home less because they don’t live in spotless perfection? Of course not!

Only the seventh role is the most important – our role as the beloved daughter of God Most High. It’s the umbrella that covers, protects, and sustains the other six. Then we can say, “Many women are capable, but you surpass them all! Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord will be praised” (Proverbs 31:29-30).

For more on finding balance and women's roles, please check out Seven Roles, One Woman: You Expect Me to do All That?

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Peace and Equality: Can they really be found?

150 years ago, almost to the day, our nation’s bloodiest war came to an end. On April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox Courthouse. Within a few days, President Lincoln was assassinated; by May 9, his presidential replacement, Andrew Johnson, declared an end to all hostilities.

In the midst of this 150 year anniversary, our nation once again struggles to remember that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” In one of the largest riots in decades, violence broke out on the streets of one of America’s oldest cities – Baltimore, Maryland. According to reports, by the end of the night police had arrested 235 people while 20 officers required medical care from assaults by rioters. Reports also indicated one person was in critical condition due to a building fire. Rioters burned more than a dozen buildings and over 100 cars. Looters destroyed even more businesses as they busted through doors and windows, clearing shelves of food, alcohol, and anything else they wanted.

During it all, I sat securely in my home watching news coverage throughout the evening. I prayed for my cousin and her husband who live within blocks of the riots. I asked myself, “Has our nation come to this? Civilians throwing rocks and bottles at those assigned to serve and protect? City officials blatantly lying on television so those behind them may break in to another man’s business and take whatever they want? When did our society become this?”

Like the Civil War, the tensions were attributed to unequal treatment of black individuals. I’m not sure how rioters rationalize that burning a neighbor’s vehicle or place of business will bring peace and equality to race relations. Seems to me, those rioters are more interested in an opportunity than a civil rights issue.

Peace and Equality

However, not everyone is taking illegal and violent advantage of an opportunity. Many want their voices heard as they non-violently engage in dialogue and peaceful activity. They desire to bring peace and equality to their local community.

Where do we find peace and equality?
I attended my daughter’s spring choir concert last night at her high school. The school’s different choirs performed throughout the evening; at one point, I did a little mental math as I watched. I determined that over 40% of the choir was of a non-white ethnicity. Together, they represented multiple countries across Asia and Africa.

I listened to the voices sing last night and thought, “Our school has made this work.” Throughout the school, all is peaceful and all are equal. I have to believe that’s mainly due to their goal to inspire kids to realize their God-given potential through Christian training. Their goals don’t specify racial equality; however, inherent in the belief in God-given potential and a call to Christian training is the philosophy that all are equal. Racial equality is a natural outcome for those who honestly seek to live according to the Christian teachings of God’s Word.

I know. All kinds of racial groups have used God’s Word to justify all kinds of racial hatred through the centuries. I acknowledge that sad reality.

But what does the Bible really say?

Our Humanity
We’re all made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). He made us all equal in His own creative image.

We’re all descended from Noah (Genesis 10:32).

The evil within us leads us to distinguish and discriminate between people groups (James 2:3-4).

All people need to be told the message of Jesus (Matthew 28:19-20).

Jesus' Death
God loves all of us – the entire world (John 3:16). His death makes salvation equally possible for every single person on the planet.

Jesus’ death united all ethnicities and brings them back to peace (Ephesians 2:13-15).

All are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).

God asks all of us to love others just as much as He loves them (John 13:34).

Those who harbor hatred toward anyone aren’t living as followers of Jesus (1 John 2:9-11).

God also calls us to be kind and compassionate with all people (Ephesians 4:32).

What I know and what I don’t

I don’t know how a black man living in downtown Baltimore is treated. I don’t know if racial discrimination is rampant throughout their city government. I don’t know how many people there are trying to find solutions to a serious issue and how many are taking advantage of a bad situation to spread violence and promote hatred.

I do know a few things, however. I know that we’re all messed up pieces of the human race. Our common ancestor, Adam, passed down to each of us a genetic bent to sin. And I know that regardless of how much we let that sin control our relationships with each other, Jesus still died to restore our relationships with each other and even more importantly, with Him.

I know that unity through Him is the only thing that will ever bring true peace and equality to the human race.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Martyr's Blood: Finding the nerve to speak out

I’m in a mood.

You’ve been warned.

Someone hit a nerve and I’m going to have to go off on it a little bit.

First, though, let me tell you about my day yesterday. I said good-bye to my husband and teenagers as they left in the morning. I started the day with my two youngest – breakfast, dressed, school lessons. We talked about converting improper fractions into mixed numbers, keeping a steady tempo on the piano while practicing scales, and Marconi’s invention of the radio over a hundred years ago.

Later in the day I sat down to write this week’s section in our current study through the book of Hebrews. Oddly enough, it’s a section on hope. Ironic, but you’ll understand that more in a little bit. Also ironic, it’s an article most will never read for a myriad of reasons.

And oh yeah, I watched men saw the heads off other men. Yes, I watched it – only a few seconds but it was enough. Here’s the link; it’s a short clip in the midst of a Glenn Beck report. Heed the graphic warning he gives but watch it if you can.

It was a surreal moment as my kids played happily in the background, trees budded and flowers bloomed outside, and I sat in my comfortable chair with a cup of coffee. My pond outside my window rippled in the breeze while the ocean waves in the video washed the blood out to sea.

Shift Gears

The Grow Barefoot team has been praying about upcoming service projects. Our vision is to serve missionaries so they may better serve their people groups. However, that’s a broad vision; knowing how to carry it out is more complex. We’ve also always had a desire to motivate the American church to, um, well, get out of their pews and do something. Although for some, maybe it’s more accurate to say get yourself out of bed and into a pew. Sorry if that sounds harsh. I’ve learned to control my words most of the time but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen today.

A GB team member sent me a follow-up link today. It was Matt Walsh’s article, “Here’s What You Can Do about the Persecution of Christians: Stop Being a Lazy Coward.” As always, Matt gets it and he’s not afraid to call it like it is. Read his article; it’s worth it. This was the scraping away of my last layer of protection to expose my raw nerve.

Matt gives three practical suggestions for how we can help the persecuted – pray, give, and get off your lazy backside and do something.

Matt writes, “We forget that prayer isn’t some kumbaya exercise in sending good vibes.”

It took a months-long study on prayer for me to finally start figuring this out. It took the discipline of starting each day alone on my knees for as long as it takes to get the job done, even knowing that sometimes tears will be involved. Sometimes yelling. Sometimes silence. Life-long church attendance didn’t teach me nor did my years in Christian school. Maybe someday I’ll get that study posted on here or available in a book but I remember three key points from it.
  • We need to pray all the time.
  • We need to pray for everyone.
  • We need to pray for everything.

We thank God for the day and the food in front of us but have we thanked Him for the testimony of those men whose blood still mingles in the Mediterranean Sea?

We pray for the sick and those in the hospital but have we prayed for the souls of those separated from God who risk an eternity in hell?

We pray so we find comfort from the stresses of life but have we realized our stresses would be someone else’s abundance of blessing?

Can we get out of bed a few minutes earlier to kneel in His presence? Can we stay up a little longer at night? Can we humble ourselves before Him rather than try to throw out a few words after our head hits the fluffy pillow and before the peaceful breathing of sleep falls upon us?

Read more on prayer:
Dear Lord: A prayer for today

Prayer Shouldn’t add Stress!
Life Sucks: What are we going to do about it?
The Hand of God

To quote Matt again, “We can also lend material support to organizations that are out there trying to help these people.”

Someone accused me of wanting to be Rambo after last week's article because I asked myself, “What would I have done if I had lived in Nazi Germany?” I laughed at the accusation. I was wondering if I would have been willing to open my home to protect the persecuted. Would I have helped move people to safe locations? I still don’t know the answer but I do know Rambo-type actions weren’t ones I considered. Likewise, Grow Barefoot doesn’t feel a call to enter Libya or Syria with guns blazing. That’s nowhere close to how we operate.

We do hope to partner with some groups on the ground if we can, though. This is a public forum so that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Do Something
This is where Matt hit me in the heart as he proclaimed the message I’ve been saying for years. “We can honor their courage and sacrifice by not being such lazy, selfish, apathetic cowards.”

Our road turns onto a major highway. Monday through Friday mornings, it’s a hard turn to make as traffic backs up with many people headed to work. It’s a hard turn on Friday evenings and Sunday evenings as lake traffic backs up the other direction. However, come Sunday morning as we head to church, we make the turn out onto the highway without a moment’s hesitation. I can look several miles in both directions; not a single car will be in sight. Sometimes I comment to my husband, "I wonder how many of us would make it to church if we had to walk ten miles to get there" or some other snarky observation.

I remember rural Haiti where people walked miles to go to church in a hot, crowded room lit only by a single bulb hanging from the ceiling. I remember the songs the people sang loud and powerful despite the fact they were completely off tune.

We gripe because the service starts too early, the thermostat is set a little high, and the praise team didn’t play our favorite song. And by the way, why is 9:00 or 10:00 too early on a Sunday but we can make it to work other mornings by 8:00 or even earlier?

My husband remembers northern Africa where a local man travels to twenty different areas every week so others can listen to the Word of God on his player. He does so despite high fuel prices but even more despite the risk of persecution. He’s already been kicked out of his tribe.

And we gripe because we moved closer to our job and church is too far away now. We complain because the pastor went a few minutes too long or talked about the meaning of too many Greek words.

I remember the countless stories we've heard through the years from missionary friends around the world. Everyone had stories of those who traveled far to hear the Word or find Christian friendship, those who labored endlessly to copy God's Word by hand so they could keep a copy, or those who lost all they had for the chance to know Jesus.

The Irony of Hope
Do you remember the beginning of this rant when I mentioned I was working on a Bible study when that video came across my desk? A Bible study many will never read?

Why do very few care to study His Word? “His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3). God’s given us everything we need if we know Him. How do we know Him? Through His Word! Yet it’s too hard, or we’re too busy, or it doesn’t matter, or it’s boring.

And yet, I found myself writing about a message of hope found only in the Word of God when this horror presented itself before my eyes.

Ok, my rant is over

I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do to help our brothers and sisters who are suffering around the world. I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do when persecution hits our land, our towns, even our local streets. I do know that I’m going to keep praying, I’m going to give of my time and my resources as much as I can, and I’m going to continue trying to know Him and make Him known. I’m going to walk in faith that God is mighty to work through my meager efforts and that in the end, maybe He'll choose to make a difference through me.

Read more at:
ISIS and Christians: Why do we care?
Good and Evil: Who we are in a world of evil
What's the Point: Living Hope in a Violent World
Religious Extremism: Why it's a good thing

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Faced with Evil: What would I have done in Nazi Germany?

I’ve often wondered what I would have done if I’d been alive during World War II and lived in Europe. Would I have known about the atrocities committed at the approximately 1,200 Nazi concentration camps? If I’d known, would I have done something?

Or, would the public atrocities have been sufficient to rise my sense of injustice? How many yellow stars would have had to walk down the street in front of me before I would have sympathized with the disgrace? How many friends would have had to board a train for mandatory encampment at a labor facility? When would I have realized those labor facilities were actually extermination camps?

Would I have been a Corrie ten Boom who defied the law to save Jewish lives before her own imprisonment? Would I be able to teach a message of grace and forgiveness after enduring Ravensbrueck Concentration Camp?

Or would I have lived in denial and fear? Would I have turned the other way? I don’t know.

I do know this…

I’ve read Night, The Diary of Anne Frank, The Hiding Place, and The Auschwitz Escape and thought “Never Again.”

I’ve watched Schindler’s List, The Pianist, Defiance, and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and thought “Never Again.”

I’ve walked the halls of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and Yad Vashem and thought “Never Again.”

I’ve stood before the ovens of Dachau concentration camp and thought “Never Again.”

And yet, I still don’t know what I would do if I lived then and there. You see, it’s much easier to care – to feel a heart tug of compassion – than it is to take action. It’s easier to think grandiose thoughts after the tragedy than it is to predict brave actions before.

Why all this pondering? A few reasons…

First, today is Holocaust Remembrance Day or Yom Ha’Shoah, a day to remember what happened, teach of it to a new generation, and pray history doesn’t repeat itself. After all, as Santayana said, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Second, I finished reading “The Auschwitz Escape” by Joel Rosenberg a few days ago. Although historical fiction, Joel based the story on the real-life actions of four men who dared to risk their lives, not only to save countless individuals but also to expose the Nazi’ atrocities to a world who would have rather stayed oblivious. The well-written and well-researched novel forces us to consider questions such as “What would I have done?”

Third, and most importantly, I’m pondering these questions because it may happen here and now; the outcome may be worse than it was then and there. I consider the question, “What would I have done?” because I may be forced to answer it by my actions.

Christian and Jewish persecution is increasing at an incredible rate. Headlines of horror come out of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Somalia, Nigeria, Kenya, Libya, and many more. It’s easy to ignore them because it’s the Middle East and northern Africa – isn’t something bad always going on over there?

But evil – left unchecked – spreads.

Headlines now come out of places like France and England… and the United States.

What I do Know

Like I said, I don’t know what I would have done if I lived in Europe during World War II. I also don’t know what I’ll do to help those suffering in the hands of evil today.

I do know one thing, however. I know God’s Word promises a lot of good things in the midst of evil persecution. I know it not by my own experience; I’ve never suffered persecution. I know it because God’s Word says it and His promises are a truer source of information than any personal anecdote could ever be.

I know that in the midst of persecution, God’s Word promises…
  • the advancement of His message (Philippians 1:12, 18)
  • encouragement and confidence (Philippians 1:14)
  • a reason to rejoice (Philippians 1:18, James 1:2)
  • the ability to endure (2 Corinthians 1:6)
  • comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
  • the ability to trust Him through prayer (2 Corinthians 1:9-11)
  • growth and maturity (James 1:4)

I wrote more in-depth about these in Everything We Need. They don’t seem logical or possible but they are our reality. What a hope in an unknown future! After all, as Corrie herself once said, "I've experienced His Presence in the deepest, darkest hell that men can create... I have tested the promises of the Bible, and believe me, you can count on them."

Thursday, April 9, 2015

A Place at the Table: How do I reserve a spot with Jesus?

Your table is ready… follow me. I’d be happy to show you to your seat.

Our church family celebrated Passover again this year. Every year, I make place cards to mark the seats of our guests. I know people don’t use place cards very often anymore but I include them for a few reasons. First, we only have a certain number of spots available. I want to make sure we don’t end up with an odd spot here or there which might require those who arrive later to sit separately. Also, I want family groups to sit together. Families are crumbling today; I feel this is a special opportunity for grandparents, parents, and children to come together in a significant way. Finally, I want to make sure I have candle centerpieces in the right places for each mom to light her candles.

It’s kind of a big job to make sure every guest has their own place card. I made a full set about five days before the dinner but all week I was pulling some out and making some new as guests either cancelled their reservations or signed up at the last minute. Even the morning of the dinner I pulled out my supplies and made 14 new cards. It’s also a lot of work to make sure the place cards are all set out in the correct spot to ensure the table is ready when guests arrive. This year, a team of four people spent about an hour making sure every guest had a spot, specially marked with their name. Only when we were confident everyone had a spot could another team go through to prepare all the elements of the Seder.

So much work went into such a small detail of our evening celebration. And yet, it’s nothing compared to the work required for you to have a place card hold your spot at another significant table.

Passover, the Seder, Last Supper, Communion; all link together to display God’s plan for our redemption. They all link together to show God’s plan to take us unto Himself as a groom does His bride.

Jesus’ last Passover meal with His disciples – the beginning of the fulfillment of Passover and the foundation of Christian communion – also held the signs of a Jewish betrothal. I can’t go into all of it now but I want to focus on one single aspect here.

A young Jewish man and woman were betrothed before they were married. A betrothal was similar but much more strict and binding than a modern day engagement. Two significant events mark a Jewish betrothal – the marriage contract and the drinking of a shared cup of wine. Jesus completed the signs of betrothal when He spoke over the third cup, specifically, the Cup of Redemption. “Then He took a cup, and after giving thanks, He gave it to them and said, ‘Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood that establishes the covenant; it is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins’” (Matthew 26:27-28).

You and I didn’t have the privilege of sitting at that table as did Peter, James, John, and the remaining disciples. We didn’t have the chance to look into Jesus’ eyes as we drank from the cup He passed thereby indicating our willingness to be His bride. But every time we participate in Communion, we spiritually join them at that table. Every drink of the cup of the Lord’s Supper is a reminder of our betrothal to Him.

A young Jewish man and woman completed their marriage in a second ceremony that occurred at an unknown time in the future. After a significant amount of time, the groom would return to the bride’s home to take her as his wife and be her husband. The wedding ceremony included a second cup of wine and the marriage feast.

Jesus offered the third cup to His disciples and they drank. However, that night He didn’t drink the fourth cup – the cup of Restoration. The fourth cup represented the promise to take us as His people and to be our God. Rather than drink the final cup, Jesus said, “I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink anew with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29).

Jesus completed the third cup but not the fourth. He fulfilled the process of redemption but He waits to take us as His bride and be our groom. He awaits a future table when the marriage betrothal is fulfilled over the final cup and the wedding feast.

We weren’t able to sit around the Last Supper table with the disciples but we can literally, physically sit at the table of the wedding feast. When we arrive, we can find a place card with our name on it. He will reserve a seat held only for us.

How does that happen?

We prepare.

“Hallelujah, because our Lord God, the Almighty has begun to reign! Let us be glad, rejoice, and give Him glory, because the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has prepared herself” (Revelation 19:7).

We don’t prepare by striving to do all the right things, say all the right words, or go all the right places. We prepare by drinking the cup of redemption He holds out to us. We prepare by participating in the New Covenant He cut for us.

To drink the cup and accept the covenant means we recognize Jesus as our…
  • Sacrifice who atoned for our sin
  • Redeemer who paid the price to purchase us from the clutch of death
  • Lamb whose blood made death to pass over us
  • Groom who provides for our needs

Click here to learn more about a relationship with Jesus and how to reserve your place at the table.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Next Generation: Considering dad's role at Passover

Now, in the presence of loved ones and friends,
before us the emblems of festive rejoicing,
we gather for our sacred celebration.

With the household of Israel – our elders and young ones –
linking and bonding the past with the future,
we heed once again the divine call to service.

Living our story that is told for all peoples,
whose shining conclusion is yet to unfold,
we gather to observe the Passover.* 

My husband was recently asked to speak to a group of Baptist men on the role of the father during the Passover celebration. First, it’s exciting to see the growing desire among Protestant groups to understand our Jewish religious heritage. Yes, it’s not across the board. Some denominations continue to pull away from Israel and the Jewish people. However, many Christians are about to burst with love for this ancient people and their homeland. It’s as if they’ve discovered a brother or sister they never knew existed!

Jimmy and I have never approached Passover from this particular perspective. For us, Passover is all about Jesus the Messiah. Every element points toward Him, His sacrifice, and His imminent return. (See 1 Corinthians 5:7-8).

After some thought, research, and discussion, he put together some great points on the significance of the father’s role during the Passover season. Passover begins this Friday night at sunset; in honor of the upcoming festival, I’d like to share his thoughts with you.

What does Dad do?

Judaism and Christianity are similar in that the father is the spiritual leader of the home. One author uses Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, as an example of a Jewish father and writes, “Although we know that Joseph was a craftsman, the primary responsibility of parents in his day was to train their children in the fundamentals of practical life and covenant relationship with God. The goal of the average Hebrew family man in the first century was not the acquisition of great wealth or the achievement of power. It was to live a life of covenant faithfulness to the Lord and teach his family to do the same” (Source).

God calls both Jewish and Christian fathers to lead and teach in the home. How do we see this in the celebration of Passover?

Prepare the Home
A Jewish home must be cleansed of all leaven, or yeast, prior to the celebration. The family removes all bread and bread products. On the evening before the first night of Passover, the father leads the family in a search through the entire home to make sure they have removed all leaven.

In Scripture, leaven represents sin. The unleavened bread of Passover points to Jesus the Messiah, the bread of life who knew no sin. Only He has lived a life entirely free from the corruption of sin, just as the unleavened bread is free from the corruption of yeast.

The father leads the family in removing leaven from the home. Likewise, fathers need to lead in removing sin from the life of the family. This world eagerly and slyly tries to penetrate our homes and families with corruptive influences. A myriad of electronic options, the influence of others, and false teaching would all love to bring destruction into our homes. It’s primarily the father’s responsibility to vigilantly guard and protect his home from their influence. He’s also quick to remove it when it does appear.

Prepare the Lamb
Jews don’t sacrifice a lamb on Passover anymore. However, God’s original design required them to do so. The father brought the lamb into the home three days prior to Passover. He then led the family in inspecting the lamb to make sure it was free from blemish or defect. In short, the lamb had to be perfect.

The lamb of Passover also points us to Jesus. “For Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7 NIV). And later, “For you know that you were redeemed from your empty way of life inherited from the fathers, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish” (1 Peter 1:18-19).

The father brings the lamb into the home. Likewise, the father should bring the Lamb of God into the home. Mom may teach the kids a lot of biblical lessons but dad has the responsibility to make sure the lessons are taught and the kids are learning. Of course, it’s still up to the child to respond and accept Jesus.

Blessing and Prayer
A Jewish Seder celebration contains many blessings – the four cups, the bitter herbs, the bread, the haroseth, and more all receive many blessings from the father throughout the meal. The light of the candles is the only exception. The mother recites the blessing at that time.

The blessings of Passover point to Christ as they acknowledge Him as our Provider, Lord, and Creator. The blessings point to Him as our Sustainer, the Giver of the law, the Redeemer of mankind, and the Savior whose return we await.

The father leads the family in blessing which plays a crucial role in the growth of a child. Think of how some of these ancient blessings have changed our modern day world… God’s promise to bless those who bless Israel, the blessing Melchizedek gave Abraham, the blessing Isaac gave Jacob instead of Esau, God’s blessing for Jacob when He changed His name to Israel, and Jacob’s blessing for Ephraim and Manasseh. And all these blessings are within only a few generations!

Pass it on to the next generation
The Jewish people thrive despite millennia of persecution. Primarily this is because of God’s plan and calling. Secondary, though, is the Jewish people’s commitment to teach the next generation which is an integral part of Passover each year. In my haggadah (book to guide through the Passover), right below the title, in a place of prominence, it reads, “As it is said: You shall tell your child on that day.”*

At each Passover celebration, the youngest asks the father a series of questions starting with, “How is this night different than other nights?” The father uses that opportunity to teach his child, and the rest of the family, the story of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. For that reason, Passover has become the oldest continually celebrated holiday in the world. If we don’t teach our children, then the stories are lost forever.

The story of the Exodus points to Christ as He is the One who brought us out from the world, freed us from slavery, redeemed us, and waits to take us as His people and be our God.

The father teaches the next generation. Without his regular and continuous teaching, the child will grow without hearing the stories of redemption and salvation. Eventually, his family line will forget the power of God’s working and the necessity of Him in our lives. “Hear this, you elders, listen, all you inhabitants of the land. Has anything like this ever happened in your days or in the days of your ancestors? Tell your children about it, and let your children tell their children, and their children the next generation” (Joel 1:2-3).


*Taken from "A Passover Haggadah" as prepared by the Central Conference of American Rabbis, © 1982