Once Upon A Time In Bethlehem: A Love Story

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Today’s post is about the little town of Bethlehem, an unlikely couple, a willing Redeemer and a heroic ransom – and the story never once mentions Jesus. And yet, He’s everywhere.

It’s the story of a sweet, young outsider named Ruth and a man willing to risk everything by being with her – even his own reputation.

Of the five women mentioned in Jesus Christ’s genealogy, one of the most revered is Ruth. Ruth was the great-grandmother of David…and Jesus, according to isaiah 11:1 is her greatest ‘descendant’.

The book bearing her name fits historically around the time of the judges. It has been suggested that the judge who graced Israel’s scene was Jair (Judges 10); some even point to an earlier time under Gideon. It was during Gideon’s time that the Midianites oppressed the people for seven years because of their disobedience, and a famine such as the one described in chapter one could have resulted.

The story of Ruth opens with the journey of Elimelech and Naomi, along with two sons, as they leave their hometown of Bethlehem for the hilly country of Moab, because the famine was so great.

Moab, you recall, found its origin in an incestuous partnership between Lot and his daughters. The result was twins, Ammon and Moab. The progenitors of their respected people-groups trained their offspring to do two things:

  • hate Israel
  • run after pagan deities

Enter Ruth.

Ruth was from Moab’s line who had been raised in the murky cesspool of spiritual darkness, not unlike women under the oppressive Taliban rule. She was raised to serve Chemosh, an impersonal, vindictive deity referred to as the ‘destroyer‘ or ‘subduer‘ and recognized as the fish-god.

Naomi’s husband – a Jewish man – died in Moab; soon thereafter, her two sons who were married to Moabite women also died. Naomi had to look upon the grave plots of the only three men in her life. Her sons’ marriages produced no children, thus Naomi faced life with two procured daughters-in-law from a foreign land.

News soon arrived that he famine was over in Palestine, and Naomi returned with the two girls in tow. On the highway out of Moab, she felt it best for her two childless in-laws to return to their mothers and to their gods, but each protested – one more loudly than the other.

It was Ruth who stayed with her mother-in-law while Orpah took a second look at Moab and went back. Without a doubt, what we’ve just covered and what’s to come in this story are some of the most shared yarns among the generations to follow among all the messianic stories.

• • • •

Ruth made the conscious choice to turn away from her gods, bloodlines and customs to embrace Naomi's God.

• • • •

Having taken place during the years of the judges, the story of Ruth transcends and contrasts with the inbred decay and moral corruption of Israel, a time when “every man did what was right in his own eyes“. Here is one from Moab – of all places – whose character stands in vivid contrast to the pathetic low-living of everyone else in Israel.

THE STORY OF RUTH IS ABOUT:

  1. Covenantal Love (Ruth 1:8-3:10)

  2. In Rth 1:8 Naomi uses a distinctively divine word to describe the love she felt from her daughters-in-law. The word is ‘chesed‘ which denotes the attitude God has toward any promises He has made. It speaks of loyalty and covenant and unmerited favor. She prays that God will extend His covenant love to these foreign women as well.

    One of the over-arching themes of Ruth is to emphasize that Yahweh loves ALL humanity and His plan all along was to include all ethnicities in the narrative we know as His eternal love story.

    In Rth 2:20, the word is used to describe the character of Boaz, the hero and archetypal Christ in the story.

    In Rth 3:10, Boaz uses the word to compliment Ruth, and in the next verse calls her “a woman of noble character“.

    • • • •

    The scenes shift swiftly in Ruth.

    Chapter 1 has the characters in the midst of a FAMINE.

    In chapter 2, the scene shifts to the FIELDS where Ruth “just happens” upon her kinsman redeemer.

    In chapter 3, we see Ruth at Boaz’ FEET.

    Finally, in chapter 4, we hold our breath at the drama of the transaction FEE (or, ‘bride price‘) for Ruth.

    • • • •

  3. Redemptive Love (Ruth 4:8-10)

  4. In Hebrew, Boaz is called “go-el” or kinsman redeemer. A kinsman redeemer was a close family relative who was called upon to right a wrong, so to speak, or to fulfill a covenant. For instance, if a woman’s husband died husband died, leaving her no male descendants, that husband’s brother would be called upon to marry her and be her “go-el” thus taking her and all her bills, property, children and possessions as his own, making himself responsible for her.

    Or, if a family member sold their land to pay off a debt, the nearest blood-relative would buy back the property from the creditor and return it to his debtor relative.

    And if a man was wrongfully murdered, the go-el would avenge the blood of the deceased.

    Now that Boaz’s “covenantal love” has been given to Ruth (Rth 3:9), there is nothing that will keep him from seeing it all the way through! There is no obstacle, no price so high that he will not be able and willing to meet the demand.

    He arranges a meeting with Ruth’s nearest living relative by marriage to her Jewish husband and offers him the first chance to redeem the land Naomi and Elimelech sold. The potential ‘go-el‘ says he will (Rth 4:4) – until Boaz reminds him that he must also take the widow Ruth to be his bride.

    • • • •

    Incidentally, I see in this section a parallel with how the law is good and willing but unable to redeem the lost. The very best it can do is pass the baton to the true Kinsman Redeemer.

    • • • •

    Her ‘go-el‘ reneges. If the story ends here, then Ruth is husbandless, childless, homeless and without hope for any future blessing. There would be no chesed for her. She would die in her condition, pitiful, unprotected. Since she was a Moabitess – an outsider, an alien – she would likely suffer cruelly at the hands of her adopted homeland.

    But this story has a “storybook” ending, a Christmassy feel-good conclusion. Boaz stands before the officials in Bethlehem and says,

    I will take Ruth, an alien, and all her baggage! I qualify as a near-relative, have the means, and the will to bring her to myself!”

    The custom in the earlier days if Israel’s history was for the go-el to take off one of his sandals and give it to the the true kinsman redeemer. The idea was transfer of ownership. In essence, before Boaz takes responsibility for her, Ruth was “owned” by someone who didn’t have the means – or the will – to see her redeemed from her situation, and was not going to change his demeanor or disposition.

    • • • •

    When Jesus came to Bethlehem, He came with the intent of taking back ownership of all humanity from its dysfunctional parent. “I came to seek and save (as our go-el) that which is lost,” He said.

    • • • •

    Think of it: when the Baby of Bethlehem came into the world, He came looking for a shoe.

    He met humanity’s evil overlord in the desert and, while the showdown produced no shoe, He chased him all the way to a hill outside Jerusalem, demanding the shoe.

    It was there that the world’s wicked father relinquished the shoe, for when Jesus cried, “It is finished!” He held, as it were, the shoe in His crimson hands and proclaimed to all creation that the transaction was a done deal and those who lie in the shadow of His wing belong to Him forever.

Bring Him Home

Sandy and I saw Colm’s signature performance as Jean Valjean in Les Misérables on Broadway for our 10th wedding anniversary in 1993. Our little boy would have been three years old at the time, and – we would never have guessed that this, one of Les Mis’s most-beloved ballads – would have deeper meaning for us by the time our little boy had become a man of 24 – just last year.

The song’s story is that Valjean has taken young Cosette into his care as a promise to Fantine, the child’s prostitute mother, now deceased. When Cosette grows into young womanhood, she falls for the handsome rebel, Marius. Valjean is unsuccessful in his attempts to keep the two separate and, in time, develops a fatherly love for Marius.

Bring Him Home is the prayer of Valjean, sung over the sleeping Marius who insists on fighting with the rebel army at the barricade. Valjean knows they are outmanned and outgunned and the battle will result in great loss. He begs God to spare Cosette’s young man – and his ‘son’ – offering himself to die, if necessary, in the place of Marius.

Its a ‘box of tissue’ type of ballad, emoting on multiple planes. For my wife and me, it bespeaks of our labor and loss with our only child, Graham.

A week before Christmas last year, Graham lost in his battle with his mean world but gained in the end, beating devil and damnation by the grace of God, and entered the bliss of his heavenly home. On the very day we were finding air fares for his imminent Christmas visit, we learned of his unnatural demise, and by the end of the same day, Sandy was touching down in the Twin Cities of Minnesota.

When the medical examiner finished his investigation and released Graham’s body, Sandy would not arrange for her return flight until she knew her boy was in flight and en route to his final resting place in Georgia. There was no way in God’s creation she was going to leave him behind!

Our son had spent the remaining months of his life with his biological family, but his ‘home’ was with us and the full life he had forged in Georgia. While his Minnesota family was gracious in their agreement with the arrangements, as we knew they would be, it was indelibly important to us…that we bring him home.

In the years God gave us with Graham – good and bad – our prayer, like Valjean’s for Marius, was always and ever that His grace would bring our child Home. Graham ran as far and fast as he could in the other direction at times, but in the end, hidden beneath tattoos and wounds and scars and self-hatred, was a soft place where God lived and latched onto our boy. And, because of it, our prayer was answered.

God brought him Home.

God on high
Hear my prayer
In my need
You have always been there.

He is young
He’s afraid
Let him rest
Heaven blessed.
Bring him home
Bring him home
Bring him home.

He’s like the son I might have known
If God had granted me a son;
The summers die
One by one,
How soon they fly
On and on
And I am old
And will be gone.

Bring him peace
Bring him joy
He is young,
He is only a boy.

You can take,
You can give
Let him be
Let him live.

If I die, let me die
Let him live, bring him home
Bring him home
Bring him home.

A Son To Pierce Her Heart


I lovingly dedicate this entry to Graham’s ‘mama’ – my Sandy – and her epic love for our sweet boy who left earth one year ago this day; though he pierced her soul and died too soon, he always knew he had a home in her heart.

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And the Child will pierce your heart also, Mary.
- Simeon, Luke 1:35

• • • •

The keen-eyed prophet looked up from his petitions when the young couple gingerly entered the temple grounds. Their eyes darted to and fro, nervously surveying the lay of the property. His own expression, however, told the full story of his mirth as a smile stretched and lit up his face like the gleam of a midday sun.

Their bundle which cooed and giggled and scuffled against its tight wrappings was the hope of his people but the pair appeared not to be aware. But the prophet was! He had lived to see this Day of Visitation after all! And here he was, within feet of Messiah in the guise of an eight-day old baby.

Not wanting to startle the couple, he could barely contain his adulation, but still carefully approached the young parents and when they simultaneously spied his approach, he smiled kindly.

The husband was more on edge but offered a respectful nod as the elderly man drew near. The new mother, quite young, looked shyly down upon her newborn and fiddled playfully with the child’s stubby fingers. The prophet paused, in awe of the scene before him: God Himself, accessible and interactive, gazing up at His mother, eyes alert and sparkling like the stars He had laid out in the night skies eons hence…

It was all too much – but joyfully so!

As Simeon drew up to the cautious pair, he kept bobbing his head in quick, successive and reverential bows and mimicked the quiet clapping and rubbing together of his bony hands. He had no idea, when he awakened this morning, that this day would provide the coda for his entire lifetime. He could fairly burst into song!

The new mother stole another quick glance at their visitor and smiled in return, ever so sweetly. He was struck by how young and innocent she was, little more than a child herself. Her attachment to this newborn was clearly evident, as if her baby boy was her universe.

Dare he ask to hold the Child?

Did she know Whom she was cradling against her breast?

Did he himself know for certain?

Indeed. So much, in very fact, his hands, veined with thin ropes, began shaking and his breaths became shallow in this high and holy moment. This time his bow came from the waist and he lingered in abeyance for a beat or two. The couple seemed uncomfortable with the gesture and eyed him warily.

You needn’t fear me, children,” Simeon offered in whispered tones.

He looked at the bundle in Mary’s arms with a look of reverential awe. “I know Whom you bring today.

They were suddenly alarmed. Mary pressed into her husband’s side for assurance of his handling the matter.

Your Child,” he indicated by tilting his head ever so slightly at the Baby, and continued, ” is our long-awaited One.”

Simeon’s smile broadened and glee spread out across his face, but Joseph quickly looked around, unsure, to see if anyone was listening. Mary looked instinctively at her fidgeting bundle.

The Child, only eight days, was now fixated on the old man who was now at Mary’s side. His round-as-marbles eyes seemed fascinated, taking in the moment, watching the kind man with interest. What could have been a smile – but surely wasn’t! – began to play at the corner of his tiny mouth.

Simeon held out his hands. Mary somehow felt the necessity that called instead of cautioned in the moment and gently released her Baby into the waiting arms of this righteous man. A startled gasp erupted from Simeon as he took Messiah into his palms. He looked down into the face of Deity and appeared to be listening, then looked up and then straight into the wide-eyed wonderment of the young girl before him.


“This Child is given for the salvation of many. But many will also reject Him and perish. He is God’s appointed One and will expose all that is in men’s hearts,” he declared aloud.

But then his eyes dampened as pity softened the edges of his prophecy. Simeon’s voice broke a bit as he added one more word for the sweet young mother of Messiah:


“And you, too, will have your heart pierced by Him…”

And the strangest thing…

Mary already seemed to know…

• • • •

In the fairy-est of tales, fraught with wonder and legend, my wife’s prayers for a child were answered in the fullest of ways. Our Graham came to us like a dream you never want to wake up from.

A year ago today we were looking at air fares for Graham, happily anticipating our son’s visit for Christmas. In mere hours, however, we were scrambling for a flight for Sandy – to be where he was. Well, his body. He wouldn’t make it after all. Death had intervened.

Rather than a festival we made plans for a funeral, and my wife, the mother of our only child, now deceased, was a sight to behold. Through it all – and since – her handling of it has been the stuff of fantasy. I’ve never known someone so deeply and consistently wounded and pierced through, and yet so marvelously forgiving and accepting … and so mythically and stunningly … content.

Mary – grander scale, we know; cosmic, to be sure – kept having more and more drama added to her narrative and yet kept quietly processing, finding sense in, and looking for God’s riches in it all (Luke 2:19,51). I’m watching my bride do this also and I’m fascinated to see Christ being formed in her in these tender days (Galatians 4:19).

Graham?

He’s missed -oh! – you’ve no idea!

Christmas is quiet. Joyeaux Noel is downplayed, though not in Minor key. We cry, but we don’t mourn (as much). We still talk about the could have beens, but without regrets tinged with bitterness. The motion of the world carries forward, but we still want to stay a few steps behind. Our choice. We’ll catch up, but not today. Today, my wife holds her hand over her pierced heart, hurting. And remembering. And treasuring.

And I? I hold my hand over hers.

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One of the last mother-son pics – it says everything

One Lion’s Roar

If you’ve followed my journey through the blog or in personal relationship, you are aware of the young men I’ve been blessed to mentor since 2011. God has not asked of me to shed my pastoral vestments – nor do I believe He ever will – and this fathering ministry has blessed me to no end!

Joshua is one of the Lord’s young “lions” for whom I’m taking responsibility and I’ve been his pastor since he was a young kid. Ask him and he’ll tell you he loves me but that I bored him to tears and death with my hour-long homilies on Sundays all those years ago. Thankfully, all that has changed. I’ve learned how to say more in less time and he’s learned not to fall asleep.

:)

Truly, Joshua is one of the most servant-hearted, respectful, and abandoned young men it’s been my pleasure to know. I’m having to accept the tough assignment of letting him go, however, but God has called and this lion is listening.

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I’m glad to share my brother with you in this post. Pray for him as he moves now into a more costly and defined season of his life. I could not be prouder of this young man if he were my own son.

• • • •

When did you first know that you were meant for the foreign mission field?

JV:As kids we dream about “what were going to be when we grow up”. Most kids say policeman or soldiers, but not me. When I was about four, I started telling everybody that I wanted to be an opera singing missionary. As time went on I dropped the opera singer part (Thank Goodness), and I eventually dropped the idea of being a missionary altogether. I became consumed by the “American Dream”. I wanted money, and an average life like everybody else instead of doing missions. I graduated high school and went to college with the goal to get a degree that will make me a lot of money.

After going to college I began smoking weed daily and became very complacent. I started skipping classes and eventually dropped out after a year. After dropping out, I realized that I was not where I needed to be with God and because of it my life was a mess. So I got a job doing septic work, and started to work on my relationship with God.

After working for the septic business I was presented with the opportunity to eventually take over the business. I thought my life was all planned, but God had other plans for me. After working for the septic company for a few months, I came in one morning as usual and just felt like I was doing something wrong. I couldn’t figure out what though. I prayed for about a week and finally I heard God. He told me I need to quit my job and go do mission work. It seemed so crazy at the time, but I felt like if I didn’t do it I was going to die. So I told God “ If my boss asks me how long I plan to work for him I’ll quit, right then and there”. And what do you think happened the very next morning? He asked that exact question.

So without even talking to a mission organization, I told him that in two months at the end of the year I was going to do mission work. Again, I quickly realized how crazy I was being. So I emailed the only mission group I knew: Frontline Missions. I got no reply for about a month; I started getting a little worried. Then about a week before Christmas I got a phone call saying they wanted to meet with me to talk. The interview went well and I started a one year internship.

Where have your mission exploits taken you?

JV: I spent one month in January/ February in Honduras; I spent a week in Honduras in April; I spent all of June and July in Honduras; and I spent two weeks in Guyana in November

You have been interning at Frontline for the past year. Tell us a little about Frontline and what this past year has meant to you personally.

JV: Oh goodness, this past year has been a learning experience! I have learned so much about different cultures, leadership, Spanish, people, and myself this year. I have learned what it means to be a servant. I learned what it looks like to live a life worthy of the calling. And most importantly, I learned a lot about God and who He is.

If you had your choice would you be a missionary permanently or as a part-time proposition? Could you picture yourself living full-time on a foreign field?

JV: If money was no problem I would do missions fulltime. I would go on trips all year round with Frontline Missions. I could even see myself living and serving in another culture, absolutely.

What has been the most difficult part of laboring on the foreign field?

JV: Learning how to help people without “American-izing” them. Often times when missions teams go into third world countries we try to do everything our own way, because we think it’s better. This past year has taught me how to respect the people we are working with. Instead of doing it our way we ask the people we’re working with how they do it. Often times it is more difficult but it helps us show the people respect, which helps build relationships.

How have you personally been challenged as you have taken the gospel to indigenous peoples?

JV: The most challenging part for me was learning to listen to God and his instruction. Usually my flesh argued with what God had to say. It was a real battle. There were times that God would tell me to do things that I didn’t want to do and it was tough to do them. But after I did what he said I felt such peace and joy.

In what ways have you personally witnessed the power of God as you have carried the gospel cross-culturally?

JV: Oh man, I have seen God show up this past year!!! I have seen a baby that had pneumonia so bad you could feel vibrations – like someone was scraping a wash board whenever she would breathe. We prayed and prayed and as soon as we were finished you couldn’t feel the vibrations anymore. I’ve seen the ‘shy and beaten down’ tribe of the Tolupan Indians rise up to the point where they were singing solos and preaching in their native language. There have been incredible things that couldn’t happen without God. I tend to be very skeptical about things, but I couldn’t argue with the things that happened.

What’s next for Joshua Vineyard? Going forward, where do you see yourself in the coming years?

JV:In the coming years I plan to do missions fulltime with Frontline Missions. I’m stepping out in faith and seeing what God does. If the Lord provides everything I need to keep doing mission work, then, that’s what I’m going to do. If he doesn’t provide, then I’ll brush the dust off my feet and seek where God wants me to be.

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Sunday Podcast: Advent Meditation #3: Mary, An ‘Amen’ Heart

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On this week’s Advent podcast:

Mary knew the score. She knew she’d be suspected of adultery, heresy, even mental illness; she knew she’d likely lose her Joseph over the whole ordeal; her parents might never trust her for anything ever again; her family might disown her; she knew she would suffer social indignity, shame and stigma; her rabbi would excommunicate her.

She knew.

And she still said “amen, Lord.”

If young Mary’s life teaches anything, it schools us with the truth that favor is often accompanied by challenge. It requires a submissive response, a costly sacrifice, an abiding amen…

• • • •

 

Luke 1:38, JBP
"I belong to the Lord, body and soul," replied Mary, "let it happen as you say." And at this the angel left her.

Running Time: 19m, 31s

Our Infinitely Accessible Jesus

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Some years back I attended a large conference featuring some of the rock star preachers of the reformed tradition. While I’m probably between three and a half and four points myself and not a fully vested Calvinist, I’m quite comfortable around their species. So much so that back in the day, each February (several years running), I gladly donned the lanyard and name tag and gate-crashed their convocation.

This particular year they featured a guest speaker from outside their tradition and I thought it’d be a scream to hear what he’d say to his audience. I hasten to add: to say this man is my hero understates his meaning in my life. His ministry in the Word is responsible for setting my course aright and giving me a love for the scriptures.

All of it was a set-up for supreme disappointment, however.

I’m choosing to keep him nameless and offering very few clues to his identity because, well, to judge a person on one isolated incident is unwise and plants another seed of pride in the soil of my heart, and Lord knows I don’t need that! I’m also trying hard to give him the benefit of the doubt. Very, very hard.

But, before I share with you what went down, I must interject here, for any readers who don’t know me well or at all:

I’m in a wheelchair. Have been for 33 years.

In rehab we were identified as either “quads” or “paras” depending on number of limbs affected by our paralysis. Shoulders (or neck) down paralysis meant four limbs were affected (quad) and waist down (or chest, as in my case) meant two lower limbs were incapacitated.

I’m a para. My “pair a” legs are useless, hence the wheelchair.

While the world of accessibility was still fairly prehistoric when I was injured, it was coming out of its dark ages well enough – but it was still a decade prior to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) which made it the law of the land to make public spaces disabled-friendly. It didn’t – or couldn’t – change everything, however. There are still two terrains I like the very least to roll on: carpet and slopes – uphill, of course.

Back to the story. The auditorium where this conference was hosted was huge, beautiful and up to code with all the convenient accoutrements of accessibility (it was the mid-90’s), except: there was the aforementioned thick-pile carpeting and theater-grade slope.

Gosh, I’m taking too long. Okay, let me get to the point.

The wheelchair-friendly area was wayyyy down front, and one could easily fly down one of the many aisles to the appointed section and park. Trouble was, it meant rolling yourself back uphill in plush carpet to the exits.

I chose to avoid it entirely by sitting wayyyy in the back, on an aisle, beside a pew. Ushers and hospitality folk kept asking if I wouldn’t rather sit down front but I kindly declined.

The man I was there to hear spoke in one of the main plenary sessions, and he didn’t disappoint. He was brilliant! When he was done I sat back in my shadowed canopy, beneath the balcony, debating on whether I would go down front and shake my hero’s hand. Was it worth the trek back up Everest? No? Yes? Okay…here goes…

There was a crowd around him and he spoke briefly only to several, perhaps ten minutes or so in all, but there was also another crowd around him – his handlers, or glorified bodyguards. There must have been 6 or 8 chisel-jawed, alert-eyed men standing close by, surveying the crowd. I was in the back of the pressing throng. I’d come this far so it became even more vital for me to tell this man how his ministry moved me. I was only fifteen feet away!

The crowd slowly dispersed, but I didn’t follow suit. I remained, hopeful. I figured he’d see me, know I had come down the aisle at some cost, and take some pity. Momentarily, he looked in my direction, expressionless, and whispered to one of his handlers. Hope rose within, imagining him saying he needed to get down the steps to where I was on the main floor. Not exactly what happened.

After eyeing me briefly, and whispering to the man on his right, he turned his heels away from me, and was summarily whisked off the stage and into another direction entirely. When I realized what happened, anger welled up. Not at him so much, but because I was left at the bottom of those steps, fifteen feet away, looking and feeling pitiful and pathetic. I quietly turned my chair and started the ascent.

Rest assured, there’s no bitterness in me; I’d forgiven him long ago. If I saw him in another context, I’d still want to shake his hand, bless him and never bring this up. Benefit of the doubt, right?

Then there’s Jesus.

We can safely assume He waited often until every last one of the thronging masses was personally greeted. Would He say “Come to Me” then leave you standing – or sitting – alone, in the cold? He was accessible, yes, whether Gentile, woman, child or invalid. If someone was desperate for an audience with Him, they were granted quarter, time, and His keen attention.

His entire gig was love. Jesus’ men sometimes wanted to act as His handlers, put the people at arm’s length, but He’d kindly rebuke them and say “I’ve come for this very reason. If they want to know Me, they can know Me.” Then He’d touch a leper, hug a toddler, engage a Samaritan woman by a well (“Where’ve You been, Jesus? With that woman? Are You crazy?“), or risk His Holy-man reputation by letting a saved harlot cling to His feet at a dinner party.

He was out there, in the open, accessible to all – even those who wanted to kill Him. Once, when He was accosted by those who sought Him harm, He ridiculed their sneaking and plotting, reminding them if they ever needed to know what He was up to, it wasn’t a secret; they should know where to find Him: with the people, loving and doing His Father’s work.

And none of that’s changed. You know right where He is. On His throne, in glory, beside the Father … accessible. You don’t need a name tag or insider credentials. It’s just you, and Him.

No carpet.

No slope.

No handlers.

May I tax your patience for one more – very quick – story? I just want you to know there’s some good guys out there also. Lots of ‘em. Like Joe Stowell. He deserves to be named. This guy is one of evangelical’s luminaries. A humble, kind, inspiring, rock star of a teacher. When he was still the president of one of our most respected Bible colleges, he was a main speaker at a coliseum event – yes, back in the 90’s (I hung out at a lot of conferences in the 90’s) – which I dutifully attended.

I was in the very front row, transfixed by the message he brought – such clarity and grace – and I thought: I’ll shake his hand.

Mmm-hmmm.

Not what you’re thinking.

Long story short: though I was already positioned near the stage, many stepped over and around me and made a beeline to where he was, cutting me off from any accessible angle. But sometime in the middle of that fray, from his vantage-point, he looked and saw me – somehow – and made a beeline toward me. Many who’d stepped over me started to speak to him, but Mr. Stowell smiled, passed by them, and kept his vision on me.

When he got to where I was, he did the most amazing thing: in one motion, he collapsed down to one knee, put his hand on my armrest (a gesture of affection and identifying) and looked me in the eye, then asked my name and all about me.

I think this is what those who felt cut off by religion must’ve felt like when Jesus by-passed all that, swooped down and planted Himself in their orbit.

Hi, Scott, I’m Jesus. I’m the Way…”

Then:

Follow Me. I’ve made it accessible…”

Well, now. That’s an invitation I can’t refuse. I can’t wait to shake His hand and tell Him how His ministry has moved me. And I bet He’ll give me all the time I need.

And you too.

Our Daily Bread

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If you visit the Mitchell home, you’ll invariably find devotional flip calendars all over the house – kitchen, bedrooms, even both bathrooms. They’re not there for decoration; no, no, Sandy hand-picks them because she wants the words of God to adorn our modest estate. She’s a big believer in affecting the atmosphere of the family lair by gracing the home with written, spoken and artfully displayed truth-words.

Time and again I’ll hear an exclamation from the opposite end of our home:

Oh wow. That is so good…!”

What is, honey?” I call out.

This verse on today’s calendar. It’s, just…wow. Right where I am.”

It’s not uncommon to hear a guest emerge from the hall bathroom commenting on the good instruction their heart received from that Rolo-dex of rhema.

So…prototypical of any ordinary weekday evening, I was snapped to attention from my reading with Sandy’s chime:

Oooh, babe, listen to this…”

I rolled into the kitchen area and found her stirring her famous green beans with one hand and holding the tri-fold calendar with the other.

She read:

ATTITUDES, PART 1
Pride asks: “How will it make me look?”
Greed asks: “What can I get out of it?”
Indifference asks: “Why should I bother?”
Selfishness asks: “What about me?”

The Cross of Jesus Christ puts to death the following attitudes:

SPITE: “See, I told you so.”
REBELLION: “I want my own way.”
CONTEMPT: “Who do you think you are!”
PRIDE: “You can’t treat me that way!”
REVENGE: “I’ll get even.”
DEFIANCE: “You can’t tell me what to do.”
SELFISHNESS: “I did it my way.”

ATTITUDES, PART 2
Heart Attitudes of the Kingdom:

“How may I serve you?”
“I will wait for God’s time.”
“I am not my own.”
“This job is not beneath me.”
“I extend mercy instead of judgment.”
“I honor you.”
“Will this please the Lord?”
“By the grace of God I am what I am.”
“Thy will be done.”
“I did it God’s way.”

There were moments of mmm, yeah, wow, amen, then letting the sacred moment just hang there in the air for a beat or two. Then I thanked Sandy and told her she just gave me Thursday’s blog.

Part of the good fight of fomenting and protecting harmony in the home requires a diligent moratorium on words that belittle others and bolster selfish pride. Every word, each and every response – even in the tough conversations – must pass through the filter of delicately taking care not to injure another.

If any corruptible speech bulls its way through such stopgaps, then repentance must be encouraged – and forgiveness readily offered. Quickly.

A word: nothing is more disheartening than for the penitent offender to be cut off with,

I don’t wanna hear it!”

…no matter how much they might ‘deserve’ it…

…Or,

You’re not sorry. You’re just saying it!”

And, equally, nothing is more frustrating than hearing the offender pathetically save face with,

I’m sorry…but you — “

If your home is more hell than haven, maybe put some calendars up around the house…and try reading the good words aloud to each other. Works for us.

We give thanks in our home for our daily bread, but we really live off of every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God – even when they’re printed on the flip page of a calendar.