Sunday, November 14, 2010


"And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!" Luke 1:41-42

During my most recent reading of the events leading up to the birth of the Christ, this passage lingered in my thoughts. I could not help but wonder wonder, did Mary always feel blessed? Did these words of Elizabeth's echo in her memory on the day when she had to reveal her pregnancy to her betrothed, who without a doubt believed that his Mary had been unfaithful, since he considered putting her aside? It was certainly a blessing that he did not divorce her, sparing her the shame and hardship of raising the baby alone at a time when there was no daycare and no part-time job for single mothers. But during the journey to Bethlehem, far into the least comfortable part of pregnancy, did she once again turn the word, "blessed" over and over in her mind as she trudged the weary miles? I even wonder what her thoughts were as she gave birth in a dank and musty stable, very likely without the help of a midwife or even any experienced woman. Did the words of Gabriel, "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" come to haunt her in those moments? I often think that, of all people on the earth, Mary must have some of the greatest reasons to wonder what it truly means to be blessed or favored of the Lord.

As I think of Mary's story in this light, I cannot help but recall the words of God as spoken through Isaiah: " 'For my thoughts are not your thoughts; neither are your ways my ways,' " It is easy for us to think of "blessings" in terms of wealth, health, ease, and material gain. However, this simply is not always the case. Mary was blessed among women, highly favored, and yet her life was marked with difficulty and hardship. There is no indication that she was a wealthy woman, nor was her Son's ministry one that lead to financial gain or elevation of status. Indeed, He even was quoted as saying He had no place to lay His head! However, she was in fact very blessed, as there is probably none on earth who had a bond to the King of Kings quite like hers. I have no doubts that all the trials and troubles of her life, all the sorrows that chased her as she watched her Son ridiculed and hated, and later beaten and brutally murdered, drew her ever closer to God. She began as a young woman saying, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord. May it be to me according to your word." It is worthy of note that she began her journey in humility and surrender.

While we celebrate Christmas this year, let us remember that the blessings of God are not always designed for our comfort and delight. They are often designed to hone our faith, to sharpen our desire for Him, to remove self-righteousness and other useless baggage, and to bring about a state of complete and total reliance on the Almighty. Blessings are not meant for here and now, but to bring about the refining of our character in preparation for Eternity with the Lord.

Another of Mary's sons, James, tells us many years later, "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness." It is likely that he had grown up hearing stories of faith tested by anxiety and affliction that produced a steadfastness beyond what many of us can imagine! So let us resolve to celebrate not only the ups, but the downs. Let us celebrate the trials that show our mighty God's power blazing through our frailty. Let us be willing to embrace whatever blessings God sends our way, even if they do not look like blessings at the time, and rejoice that He can turn our sorrow into joy. May we each have a truly blessed Christmas!

"I have said these things to you that in Me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." John 16:33

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Relationships in the Void

There have been several thoughts dogging my heels lately, and I cannot shake them. I know I am severely delinquent in my writing; perhaps this is the goad to get me back on track. And so, forgive my rustiness as I struggle to organize my thoughts....

It struck me several days ago during a casual conversation that it is quite impossible to live on this earth without having an impact on anyone else. In order to avoid having any effect on any other person, even a slight effect such as causing them to wonder briefly if you are in a bad mood, one would have to live in a relational void with absolutely no contact with another human being. To put it very bluntly, this simply means that it is impossible to hurt oneself without hurting others. There are no crimes perpetrated against self only; they all have repercussions to others.

For example, a drunk or a drug addict does not merely poison his body--he poisons his relationships. If he is married, he puts the bottle between himself and his wife. If a father, he adds an element of embarrassment and confusion to his children's view of him at best, if he is a placid drunk. If he is a more typical angry drunk, he brings in fear, suffering, and often condemns them to live and grow within the abuse cycle, either becoming abusers themselves or accepting abuse as normal. If he drives under the influence, he risks--and sometimes robs--the lives of others. No matter how self-contained he may seem, if he does not get help and kick the habit, he destroys himself and brings heartache to those who love him. He does not merely harm himself, he is an indiscriminate inflictor of harm.

Another common view I have heard is that any sexual act that happens between consenting adults is completely harmless. This is also bunk, unless the consenting adults in question happen to be permanently committed to one another. Otherwise, they inflict any emotional baggage from said act on any future partners without regard for that partner's feelings in the matter. If, by some flight of complete idiocy, one or both of the consenting adults is already married, they by their self-serving act bring an emotional wrecking ball into the marital relationship and, if children are present, ruthlessly batter them in the process. Sex, then, is also not merely a personal, private act unless it is, in fact, kept between two people. Otherwise, it is somewhat clownishly public.

I will confess that I have been either party to or vicitm of both of these points of view, and therefore I have no qualms in railing against them, for in doing so I rail against my own past and my own foolishness. I am the clown; I am the idiot of this story. There were many other ways in which I sought to destroy myself and ended up damaging others, but I shall not go into those at this time. However, I am delighted to say that this interconnectedness works in more pleasant ways, as well. Love, too, can trickle out from others and heal the destruction left behind. There may be scars, but the healing beneath can be complete.

I found this love in no other but the one the Jews called the Messiah, for I was far too damaged at the time I met Him to even see it in others. It was the stunning realization of His love and humility that caused me to see past my own pain to the harm I caused others by continuing to nurse it. Once enough healing had taken place that I could limp along a bit on my own, He began to show me the messy, imperfect, and glorious love found in the community of true believers. Now I find it is my duty to love others rather than to loathe myself. It is at this time my fervent prayer that love will be my whole motive, that selflessness will replace selfishness, and that those who were wounded by shrapnel in my battle with myself will find the same healing, the same peace... and the same shock of cold water waking them fully to the Absolute Truth.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.