This Is How…

Today’s Reading: Matthew 1:18-25

“Tell me the story of Jesus, Write on my heart every word;
Tell me the story most precious, Sweetest that ever was heard.
Tell how the angels in chorus, Sang as they welcomed His birth,
“Glory to God in the highest! Peace and good tidings to earth.”
Tell me the story of Jesus, Write on my heart every word;
Tell me the story most precious, Sweetest that ever was heard…”

Written in 1880 by Frances J. Crosby, these words still speak to me today. Do these song lyrics speak to the desire of your heart? As we read through the story of our Savior, do you want THAT kind of impact on your life? To have God write the story of Jesus on our heart would have a huge impact on the way we respond to His call on our life. Let’s submit to whatever the Spirit wants to do in us as we once more study the life of Jesus.

This is how… – Matthew 1:18

This is how… Everyone’s story can be started with these three words. This is how Sherry came to know Christ. This is how Scott and Sherry fell in love and married. This is how Sherry came to work for Living Alternatives Pregnancy Resource Center. This is how the Sherwood family came to live in Pekin, Illinois.

Jesus’ story in Matthew starts in this same way.
THIS IS HOW Jesus was born.
THIS IS HOW the virgin, Mary, came to be with child.
THIS IS HOW Joseph decided to marry her instead of divorcing her quietly.
THIS IS HOW Mary & Joseph were in Bethlehem when Jesus was born.
THIS IS HOW Jesus was born in a stable instead of an inn.
THIS IS HOW shepherds and wisemen came to visit the baby Jesus.
THIS IS HOW Herod came to know of the birth of King Jesus.
THIS IS HOW the prophecy of Isaiah came to be fulfilled in the birth of Jesus.

THIS IS HOW Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.

As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:

“Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,
which means ‘God is with us.’”

When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus. – Matthew 1:18-25

THIS IS HOW ______________________________________(fill in the blank)

So what is your story? How did you come to know Christ? What circumstances brought you to the place in life you are today? How would you finish this sentence: This is how…

In a trust exercise, our leadership team went around the table sharing a little about our backstory – Where were you born? How many siblings do you have and where are you in the birth order? What is something about your childhood that speaks loudly into the adult you are today? It was a moment of honesty and vulnerability – a moment when we trusted each other with new information and purposefully began a journey to increase our trust in one another for the sake of our effectiveness in ministry.

Knowing where we have been and how we arrived to where we are at today helps us gain focus of where we are going. As Paul Harvey would ask, what is the rest of the story? We have the opportunity to write the next chapter of our lives – our next “This is how…”

Heavenly Father, we bow before you this beautiful morning in May asking that you would see into our hearts. Lord, see the desire of our heart to live a life that pleases you. We thank you for our story, for the way you have been with us through the great times and through the difficult ones. We ask for a special touch this morning as we hear again how you gave your Son to us, to be born in a manger and to die on a cross. May our hearts be open to any new insights you have for us as we read through the gospels – your story! Lord, we bring to you the gift of our lives and we give you where our story goes from here. Father, take the pen out of my hand and write the rest of my story for me. I submit to your plan. Amen.

He Ate What?!!

Today’s Reading: Mark 1:1-8

Awe fell upon the whole neighborhood, and the news of what had happened spread throughout the Judean hills. Everyone who heard about it reflected on those events and asked, “What will this child turn out to be?” For the hand of the Lord was surely upon him in a special way. – Luke 1:65-67

WHAT WILL THIS CHILD TURN OUT TO BE?

As a mother, my heart is stirred by this question because it is a question I often ponder about my own girls. Don’t we all wonder what will become of our children and grandchildren when they grow up? Will they marry and, if so, who? What career will they have? Will they be successful? Will they be happy? Will they have children? I find myself wondering what God’s plans are for my girls and praying that today’s experiences will prepare them for tomorrow’s opportunities.

Zechariah spoke a blessing over his newborn son: “And you, my little son, will be called the prophet of the Most High, because you will prepare the way for the Lord. You will tell his people how to find salvation through forgiveness of their sins. Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.” – Luke 1:76-79

We can speak blessings over our children in the same way – teaching them at a very young age that God loves them and has a plan for their lives. I have quoted Jeremiah 29:11 to my daughters countless times: “I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Our youngest daughter, Brooke, played volleyball both years that she was at Edison Junior High in Pekin. It was a great experience watching her play and getting to know the other families. At each game, parents could be heard yelling out words of encouragement to all the girls. “Let’s go Red!” “You can do this!” “Stay strong Panthers!”

The team has a fun tradition when a player hits the ball and the other team is unable to return it. The player yells “Boom!” Then the other five girls on the court yell “Boom!” The six girls on the bench yell “Boom!”, which is followed by the rest of the team yelling the same. Then the fans and parents get in on the action with the next loud “Boom!” Hearing the voices of their teammates and families encourages the girls. You can see it on their face.

IT MAKES A DIFFERENCE WHEN OTHERS ACKNOWLEDGE OUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS.

The month of May seems like the time of year for saying – Good job! Well done! Social media is exploding with announcements of graduations, academic accomplishments, sports awards, report cards and more! It seems everyone is celebrating the completion of the school year or the receiving of a high school or college degree.

Daily we have the opportunity to speak blessings on our kids – whether they are small enough to crawl into our laps, old enough to ask for the keys to the car, or grown enough to be out of the house. Our children need to hear that we believe in them and in God’s plan for their lives. Our role as parents never ends. We can still be the one to pray over them, asking for God’s blessings and protection.

This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. It began just as the prophet Isaiah had written:

“Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, and he will prepare your way. He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming! Clear the road for him!’”
This messenger was John the Baptist. He was in the wilderness and preached that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven. All of Judea, including all the people of Jerusalem, went out to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River. His clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. For food he ate locusts and wild honey.

John announced: “Someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to stoop down like a slave and untie the straps of his sandals. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!” – Mark 1:1-8

HE ATE WHAT?!!

What happens when we struggle to understand the decisions our children are making or the road they are choosing? I wonder what Zechariah and Elizabeth’s reaction was to John when he was living in the wilderness. Did they worry? Were they surprised at the details of how his ministry was rolling out? I can easily see how parents could go from being the cheerleader to the voice of doubt. How easily we can get an idea in our head of what our children should do and then end up being a discouragement to them. That’s not who I want to be. I pray that I continually point them back to God with words like, “As long as you are doing what God has asked you to do” or “Just keep listening to God and following Him and I’ll be here no matter what.”

Perhaps we should look for an opportunity to gift our children with a letter of blessing, one they can read over and over again as a reminder that we have confidence in their future – a note that states how we believe God can use them in a powerful way wherever He places them and whatever He asks them to do. Maybe we should look for opportunities every day to essentially say…

“BOOM!” – YOU DID IT! GREAT JOB! I’M PROUD OF YOU.

Lord, give me wisdom. Parenting is not always easy but it is such an honor and a blessing. Thank you for the privilege of this responsibility. Heavenly Father, guide me and teach me what to say and when to say it. May I always be a source of encouragement and a positive voice in the heart of each of my daughters.

Do You Believe?

Today’s Reading: Luke 1:39-45

During his time of silence, Zechariah had plenty of time to consider what the angel had said. He had time to look over the Scriptures and remind himself of all God had promised to the people of Israel. He could take his new piece of the puzzle and fit it into the big picture. But how did all of this affect his wife, Elizabeth? How did more than nine months of silence change their daily life? Okay, get the jokes out of your system…we can laugh about how great it would be to silence your spouse for a few days but we all know we would be worried when it lasted for such a long time.

Zechariah described himself as an “old man” but he was wise in describing his wife as “also well along in years.” It is not clear what her age was but she was apparently past child-bearing years. Luke 1:24 says that Elizabeth went into seclusion for five months after she became pregnant. There is no evidence that this was an Old Testament custom or command so many theologians believe that Elizabeth took time to have a spiritual retreat of sorts to honor God for answering her prayer.

Elizabeth’s experience is one of my favorite stories in the Bible – so much so that I named my first baby girl after her, Elizabeth Kathryn Sherwood. I could relate to Elizabeth’s time of infertility – what she must have felt and how it probably affected her relationships with others in her community. I wonder if people said things to her that hurt her feelings, as was my experience. “Do you not like kids?” or “Just come over to my house, there must be something in the water because I don’t have any trouble getting pregnant.”

Elizabeth’s pain was probably even stronger than mine because now women can choose a career or ministry in place of motherhood. In those days, childbearing was considered the highest calling for a woman. Infertility was often paired with a social stigma or shame, often assuming God was not blessing a woman with a baby because of some kind of sin in her life. But Luke makes it clear that Elizabeth was found righteous in God’s sight.

If I had a quote wall, Elizabeth would be on it twice. Luke‘s interview with Mary, the mother of Jesus, reveals two very profound statements that come from Elizabeth. Let’s look at the first.

“How kind the Lord is!” she exclaimed. “He has taken away my disgrace of having no children.” – Luke 1:25

Stop. Slow down and consider with Elizabeth just how kind the Lord has been to you. God is so good and so compassionate and so loving. There is evidence of His kindness all over our lives. What has he taken away from you as an act of kindness?
Shame from a sin committed
Regret from a word spoken
Consequences that could have destroyed you
Loneliness that left you feeling unloved and alone
Pain from an unbearable loss
Sickness or disease that was taking away your life

The list could go on. He is so kind to us. Perhaps He is willing to take something away from you but you are holding on to it instead of clinging to His kindness. Perhaps it is time to offer everything to Him and let Him bless you with His kindness

A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.” – Luke 1:39-45

And now it is Elizabeth’s big day! Don’t pass too quickly over the statement that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. There are a few instances in the Old Testament when someone is described as being filled with the spirit of God, but there are only four people that I can find who were described in the gospels as being filled with the Holy Spirit, only one woman – John the Baptist (1:16), Elizabeth (1:41), Zechariah (1:67), and Jesus (4:14). Once more, God pours out His blessing on this very special woman.

Only a few days had passed since the angel came to Mary. Had she told anyone yet of what the angel had spoken? Did her family know yet? Did Joseph know? Now here she is, probably still trying to soak it all in, greeted by Elizabeth, who seems to already know the big news. This greeting was most likely more than Mary had even wished for. As far as we know, Elizabeth had not even been told, yet already knew, that Mary was with child. Mary was not going to be scolded or questioned or accused. Instead, Elizabeth greeted her with a blessing for Mary and for her baby.

And here is my second favorite quote. Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, spoke what I believe Mary needed to hear – what God Himself was saying to her through Elizabeth. “You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.”

In August of 1996, I received a promise from the Lord that I would have a baby in one year. Time passed between the promise and the pregnancy. I had a choice to believe God’s promise or spend time worrying whether or not God’s promise would come true.

So here’s a question for you – DO YOU BELIEVE? Is your faith strong enough to believe that God is going to do what He says He will do? Do you see this Prince of Peace, born in a manger, as being kind and faithful? That is what He is. The little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay, was born out of the kindness and generosity of our Creator and He loves us with that same kindness today. Will you let him take away what you have been holding on to and leave faith in its place – faith that He will do what He says He will do.

How Can I Be Sure?

Today’s Reading: Luke 1:5-25, 57-80

When Herod was king of Judea, there was a Jewish priest named Zechariah. He was a member of the priestly order of Abijah, and his wife, Elizabeth, was also from the priestly line of Aaron. Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old.

One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple, for his order was on duty that week. As was the custom of the priests, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. – Luke 1:5-9

What a privilege – what a big day for Zechariah!!! There were 24 orders of priests (1 Chronicles 24) and then a large number of priests in each order. On this day, his order was on duty and they cast lots to see who would have the honor of entering the sanctuary of the Lord and burning incense. It was possible that a priest may never be chosen or that this would be a once a lifetime opportunity for a priest. Today, the lot fell to Zechariah.

While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar. Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him. But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.”

Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.”

Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.” – Luke 1:11-20

Have you ever argued with God? Have you ever asked God for something but, when He gave it to you, you chose to ask more questions instead of going first to praise and thanksgiving? Have you ever heard God’s promise but lacked the faith to believe that He was really speaking to you or that He was really saying what you have been waiting to hear?

When Zechariah’s week of service in the Temple was over, he returned home. Soon afterward his wife, Elizabeth, became pregnant and went into seclusion for five months. “How kind the Lord is!” she exclaimed. “He has taken away my disgrace of having no children.” – Luke 1:23-25

When it was time for Elizabeth’s baby to be born, she gave birth to a son. And when her neighbors and relatives heard the Lord had been very merciful to her, everyone rejoiced with her.

When the baby was eight days old, they all came for the circumcision ceremony. They wanted to name him Zechariah, after his father. But Elizabeth said, “No! His name is John!”

“What?” they exclaimed. “There is no one in all your family by that name.” So they used gestures to ask the baby’s father what he wanted to name him. He motioned for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s surprise he wrote, “His name is John.” Instantly Zechariah could speak again, and he began praising God. – Luke 1:57-64

For Elizabeth’s entire pregnancy, up until their baby was eight days old, Zechariah was unable to speak. I wonder if God considers silencing us? A precious friend reminded me one day that sometimes God asks us to be silent. Perhaps God wants us to spend more time listening for His voice and less time making our own noise, which crowds out His gentle whispers. Perhaps God desires for us to hear His words without comment, without sarcasm, without questions, without cynicism or doubt.

What came of Zechariah’s period of silence? It seems like a new wisdom and understanding were his after this time of quiet. Zechariah had more than nine months to consider what God was telling him through the angel Gabriel. Just as his son was born filled with the Holy Spirit, Zechariah was then filled with the Holy Spirit and began to prophesy. His time of silence was a great time for him to empty himself of all that was Zechariah so that he could be filled with all that was God. The result…these powerful words:

“Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has visited and redeemed his people.
He has sent us a mighty Savior from the royal line of his servant David, just as he promised through his holy prophets long ago.
Now we will be saved from our enemies and from all who hate us.
He has been merciful to our ancestors by remembering his sacred covenant – the covenant he swore with an oath to our ancestor Abraham.
We have been rescued from our enemies so we can serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness for as long as we live.

“And you, my little son, will be called the prophet of the Most High, because you will prepare the way for the Lord.
You will tell his people how to find salvation through forgiveness of their sins.
Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.”
– Luke 1:68-79

I love the picture of Zechariah smiling down at his newborn son and speaking those tender words of purpose. Today could get pretty hectic, busy, chaotic and loud for us. Let’s refuse to make so much noise that we cannot hear God’s still small voice speaking of His purpose for our day. Let’s bow quietly before Him and pray for a new wisdom and understanding, a new and fresh in-filling of the Spirit. Then, when we hear from Him, let’s choose to remain quiet and ponder His words, allowing Him to guide us down the path of peace.

Mary’s Scarlet Love

Today’s Reading: Matthew 12:46-50; Mark 3:31-35; Luke 1:26-38, 46-56; 2:1-7, 21-38, 8:19-21

There are five women in the genealogy of Jesus – five women with stained reputations but also five women whom God chose to bless by placing them in this royal lineage. As Jesus was growing up, I am sure his parents taught him the stories of his ancestors.

What would Jesus have said regarding his precious mother, Mary, the fifth of the women in this genealogy recorded by Matthew? Let’s look at her story – a story of a young woman who was the object of gossip, speculation, condemnation and, best of all, the love of Jesus.

Mary – a simple young woman seen by God to be worthy of the task of raising God’s Son.
Mary – a virgin waiting for her upcoming marriage to the carpenter Joseph.
Mary – found to be with child before her wedding day.

Who would believe her when she said an angel appeared to her?
Who would be convinced she was still a virgin?
Who would be the first to call out for her stoning?

This is the story of how Mary came to be in the lineage of Jesus:

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”

Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!

Mary asked, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”

The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. What more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”

Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And the angel left her. – Luke 1:26-38

She could have panicked. She could have argued, “Why me?!!” She could have worried about her reputation or what her community might do to her. But Mary, precious Mary, responded in submission to God’s holy plan with a humility that is still highly respected today.

Mary – who sang a song of praise, “…Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed…” (1:47-48).

Mary – who traveled to Bethlehem in Judea, while far along in her pregnancy, only to arrive in labor with no place but a simple manger to give birth to the Christ child (2:4-7).

Mary – who listened to the shepherds’ story of what the angels had said to them and kept all these things in her heart, thinking about them often (2:16-19).

Mary – who presented her baby to the Lord in Jerusalem and was amazed by what Simeon had to say about the baby she held in her arms. Can you imagine what she was thinking when she heard his words: “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but he will be a joy to many others. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul” (2:34-35).

Mary – who, while talking to Simeon, was approached by the prophet Anna, who began talking to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem (2:36-38).

At what point do you think Mary began to feel a little overwhelmed? She was human and would have felt the same things we would feel if we thought we had lost our twelve year old in Jerusalem during the crowded Passover festival (2:48). She was his mother, no wonder she pushed him toward greatness at the wedding in Cana (John 2:3-5). She was his mother, no wonder she interrupted his ministry with the desire to talk with him and spend time with him (Matthew 12:46). He was her son, no wonder she wept as he hung on the cross dying (Matthew 27:56).

What would Jesus have to say about this fifth woman listed in his genealogy? She was his mother and he loved her.

Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, “Dear woman, here is your son.” And he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother,” and from then on this disciple took her into his home. – John 19:25-27

Jesus said very little while on the cross, but he took the time to respond to his mother’s breaking heart. His love for her must have been so great! Wouldn’t it be great to be loved by Jesus in that way? But wait, we are! Remember this conversation:

Jesus asked, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Then he pointed to his disciples and said, “Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother!” – Matthew 12:48-50

This fifth woman in the genealogy of Jesus was no doubt loved and cared for by her son, but that same love and care was poured out for us when Jesus gave His life on the cross so that we might spend eternity with Him. Let’s consider how much Jesus loves us as we finish our morning coffee…

Bathsheba’s Scarlet Letter

Today’s Reading: Luke 7:37-50, Psalm 90

There are five women in the genealogy of Jesus – five women with stained reputations but also five women whom God chose to bless by placing them in this royal lineage. As Jesus was growing up, I am sure his parents taught him the stories of his ancestors.

What would Jesus have said regarding Bathsheba, the fourth woman in his paternal genealogy? Let’s look at her story – a story that includes foolishness, adultery, intense grief and finally redemption – a second chance.

Salmon was the father of Boaz (whose mother was Rahab).
Boaz was the father of Obed (whose mother was Ruth).
Obed was the father of Jesse.
Jesse was the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon (whose mother was Bathsheba, the widow of Uriah)
. – Matthew 1:5-6

The fact that Bathsheba is described in the genealogy of Jesus as the widow of Uriah is a reminder of the sin that brought her into this family tree. Bathsheba made a foolish decision that led to a weak moment which led to a tragic death of an innocent man, her husband.

In the spring of the year, when kings normally go out to war, David sent Joab and the Israelite army to fight the Ammonites. They destroyed the Ammonite army and laid siege to the city of Rabbah. However, David stayed behind in Jerusalem.

Late one afternoon, after his midday rest, David got out of bed and was walking on the roof of the palace. As he looked out over the city, he noticed a woman of unusual beauty taking a bath. He sent someone to find out who she was, and he was told, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” Then David sent messengers to get her; and when she came to the palace, he slept with her. She had just completed the purification rites after having her menstrual period. Then she returned home. Later, when Bathsheba discovered that she was pregnant, she sent David a message, saying, “I’m pregnant.” – 2 Samuel 11:1-5

David’s first mistake is that he was not where he should have been. He should have been on the battlefield with the Israelite army but chose to send them out alone. Bathsheba’s first mistake was similar. She was not where she should have been. Even if the weather was warm and a bath on the roof was permissible, she should have set up a covering to prevent anyone from being able to see her. Bathsheba would have been fully aware that she could be seen from the roof of the palace.

Ladies, there is a strong warning in here for us. We know when our choice of clothing draws the eyes of men. When we wear something that reveals more than it should, we are no less foolish than Bathsheba was for bathing on the rooftop.

“Stay ever so close to me, and you will not deviate from the path I have prepared for you.” This is great advice from Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling devotional. This would have been good advice for David and Bathsheba. If they had stayed close to God, they would have been where they were supposed to be and would not have given into sexual immorality. Their union led to shame and an unplanned pregnancy, which led to a murder to cover up the transgression, which led to their grief when their son died seven days after birth.

David confessed his sin to the Lord and, although there were still some harsh consequences, God forgave David his sin (12:11-14). God blessed David and Bathsheba with another son and David named him Solomon. The Lord loved the child and sent word through Nathan the prophet that they should name him Jedidiah (which means “beloved of the Lord”), as the Lord had commanded. – 2 Samuel 12:24b-25

This is the story of how Bathsheba came to be in the lineage of Jesus. What would the young man, Jesus, have to say of this woman in his family story – the one with the “scarlet letter”?

When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them.

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!”
Then Jesus answered his thoughts. “Simon,” he said to the Pharisee, “I have something to say to you.”

“Go ahead, Teacher,” Simon replied.

Then Jesus told him this story: “A man loaned money to two people—500 pieces of silver to one and 50 pieces to the other. But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, canceling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?”

Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt.”

“That’s right,” Jesus said. Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume.

“I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven…Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” – Luke 7:37-50

If you can relate to Bathsheba’s foolish decisions and sinful behavior, if you understand the grief and regret she suffered, then perhaps these words are what you need to hear from the Prince of Peace himself, “Your sins are forgiven…Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” If you relate more to the Pharisees who stood in condemnation of the sinful woman who was kneeling at Jesus feet, if you have focused on the sins of another person instead of on their need for Jesus, then perhaps these words are also for you – “Your sins are forgiven…Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Ruth’s Scarlet Redeemer

Today’s Reading: Psalm 26, 49, 72 & 77

There are five women in the genealogy of Jesus – five women with stained reputations but also five women whom God chose to bless by placing them in this royal lineage. As Jesus was growing up, I am sure his parents taught him the stories of his ancestors.

What would Jesus have said regarding Ruth, the third of the women in his paternal genealogy? Let’s look at her story – a story that includes the loss of a husband and leaving everything she knows to go to a strange land, only to be treated as an outsider or foreigner. Ruth’s stained reputation had nothing to do with her actions and everything to do with the color of her skin and her ethnic heritage.

Just like Rahab, Ruth was a foreigner who took refuge under the wings of the God of Israel (Ruth 2:12). When given the opportunity to return to her family and their false gods, Ruth said to her mother-in-law, Naomi, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!” – Ruth 1:16-17

In those days, the nearest relative to the patriarch in the family was referred to as the “Family Redeemer.” They had three responsibilities:
If you became so poor that you were going to have to sell your land, the Family Redeemer was to pay off your debt so the land would remain in the family.
If you became so poor that you had to sell yourself into debt-slavery, the Family Redeemer was to purchase your debt and save you from slavery to a non-relative. You would then become a servant to the Family Redeemer to work off the debt.
If you were killed by another’s hand, the Family Redeemer was to pursue justice for you.

Boaz became the Family Redeemer for Naomi and Ruth when they returned to Israel from the country of Moab. Naomi returned to land that had been inactive in her husband’s absence. With no one there to plant the seed, there would be no harvest. Naomi sent Ruth out to gather what was left after the workers had harvested the fields. But God’s plan for Ruth was not for her to survive on leftovers, but that she would thrive in abundance. She had been faithfully devoted to both Naomi and to the Lord, and He was about to do something for her that was beyond her understanding.

Boaz was a wealthy and influential man and a close relative to Naomi’s deceased husband, Elimelech. Boaz was not the closest relative however, so he went on Ruth’s behalf and arranged to buy the land and take Ruth as his wife. I love the blessing of the elders and people who witnessed the generosity of Boaz:

“We are witnesses! May the Lord make this woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, from whom all the nation of Israel descended! May you prosper in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. And may the Lord give you descendants by this young woman who will be like those of our ancestor Perez, the son of Tamar and Judah.” – Ruth 4:11-12

Ruth was receiving a blessing similar to another young widow whom God blessed generously – Tamar. Like Tamar, Ruth was a widow who was left without children to carry on the family name. But God had a plan of redemption for Ruth, just as He had for Tamar. Not only would Ruth’s family be famous in Bethlehem, Bethlehem would become famous because of Ruth’s family.

The women in the town saw this union of Boaz and Ruth as Naomi’s redemption. She had lost her husband and both of her sons and was left alone with only her daughter-in-law to support her. Knowing that the Christ child who was to be born in this family lineage, consider the powerful words of these unsuspecting women as they speak a blessing on Naomi and her descendants.

“Praise the Lord, who has now provided a redeemer for your family! May this child be famous in Israel. May he restore your youth and care for you in your old age. For he is the son of your daughter-in-law who loves you and has been better to you than seven sons!”

Naomi took the baby and cuddled him to her breast. And she cared for him as if he were her own. The neighbor women said, “Now at last Naomi has a son again!” And they named him Obed. He became the father of Jesse and the grandfather of David. – Ruth 4:14-17

So Ruth was the great-grandmother to David, the first King of Israel and the one whose lineage would produce the Messiah. From the union of Boaz and Ruth, the ultimate Family Redeemer would be born. Because of our own sinful choices, we were slaves to our sin, but Jesus paid the debt for our sins and rescued us from slavery with the shedding of his scarlet blood.

“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:28

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. – Romans 3:23-25a

He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. – Ephesians 1:7

He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds. – Titus 2:14

This is the story of how Ruth came to be in the lineage of Jesus. Though others saw her as less because of where she came from, God saw her as more because He knew where she was going. God’s plan of redemption was not only for Tamar and for Rahab and for Ruth; God’s plan of redemption is for all of us. No matter who we are or what we have done, Jesus is our Family Redeemer. Though we are poor and have nothing of earthly value to offer him, He has paid our debt and delivered us from slavery to sin.

Let us worship our Family Redeemer – the One who was born and died to offer us eternal life. Let’s humbly bow down and offer to Him all that we are, along with all of our past regrets, so that we can walk into His future and thankfully accept His gift of salvation.

Rahab’s Scarlet Rope

Today’s Reading: John 8:1-11

There are five women in the genealogy of Jesus – five women with stained reputations but also five women whom God chose to bless by placing them in this royal lineage. As Jesus was growing up, I am sure his parents taught him the stories of his ancestors.

What would Jesus have said regarding Rahab, the second of the women in his paternal genealogy? Let’s look at her story – a story that includes prostitution, deceit, dishonesty and finally REDEMPTION and a new life.

Tamar had disguised herself and acted as a prostitute one time in an act of deceit but Rahab made a living from prostitution. Rahab opened her home up to strangers as an inn or hotel in the walled city of Jericho. It was common for women who owned this kind of business to also offer more than just a place to sleep for the night but to also offer their body to the strangers passing through town.

But this night was different. Her guests served the God she had heard so much about, the God who drew her to Himself in a way that perhaps made her feel loved and worthy for the first time. So when she received orders from the king of Jericho to bring out the spies, Rahab lied and said the spies were no longer there. To protect these godly men, she hid them beneath bundles of flax she had laid out on the roof and lied about their whereabouts in order to help them escape safely.

Before the spies went to sleep that night, Rahab went on the roof to talk with them. “I know the Lord has given you this land,” she told them. “We are all afraid of you. Everyone in the land is living in terror. For we have heard how the Lord made a dry path for you through the Red Sea when you left Egypt. And we know what you did to Sihon and Og, the two Amorite kings east of the Jordan River, whose people you completely destroyed. No wonder our hearts have melted in fear! No one has the courage to fight after hearing such things. For the Lord your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below.

“Now swear to me by the Lord that you will be kind to me and my family since I have helped you. Give me some guarantee that when Jericho is conquered, you will let me live, along with my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all their families.” – Joshua 2:8-13

Rahab’s desire was to live. But beyond the idea of escaping death, Rahab’s heart desired to REALLY live – to experience the kind of life the God of Israel could give her. She had heard the stories and her heart longed to be a part of what God was doing. This foreign prostitute had developed a faith in God in the midst of a pagan world.

So Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute and her relatives who were with her in the house, because she had hidden the spies Joshua sent to Jericho. And she lives among the Israelites to this day. – Joshua 6:25

This is the story of how Rahab came to be in the lineage of Jesus. In this story, Rahab risked her life in order to spare the life of two men of God. She walked away from everything she had ever known – the sin, the shame, the regret, the scarlet rope – and began worshipping the God who had always loved her.

A man named Salmon (a descendant of Tamar’s son Perez) looked beyond Rahab’s past and gave her a future as his wife. Perhaps Salmon remembered the redemption of Tamar when he looked at Rahab and was willing to offer her the same grace that had been extended to his ancestor. Together they had a son and they named him Boaz. All three of these names can be found in the genealogy of Jesus Christ.

What would the young man, Jesus, have to say of this woman in his family story? What would Jesus have to say of this woman with a history of sexual immorality? Perhaps Jesus’ thoughts went to Rahab when he knelt down and wrote in the sand:

Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.

“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”

They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned through the first stone!” Then he stooped down and wrote in the dust.

When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

“No, Lord,” she said.
And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”
– John 8:1-11

Perhaps there is a “scarlet rope” in your past that has kept you in bondage when God wants to use it for your escape. Just like Tamar and Rahab, God’s perfect plan for you includes redemption and forgiveness – new life in Christ.

Or maybe it is not YOU that you are using the “scarlet rope” against. Perhaps there is someone in your life for whom God intends redemption and forgiveness but you are using the “scarlet rope” to keep her in bondage, unwilling to forgive or forget the sinful decisions she has made.

Jesus is stooping down and writing something in the sand. Listen closely. He is saying something. “But let the one who has never sinned through the first stone!” Let’s put down the stone in our hand, unwrap the “scarlet rope” from around her reputation and offer her the same thing that God offers her – redemption and forgiveness; new life in Christ.

Tamar’s Scarlet String

Today’s Reading: John 4:1-42

There are five women in the genealogy of Jesus – five women with stained reputations but also five women whom God chose to bless by placing them in this royal lineage. As Jesus was growing up, I am sure his parents taught him the stories of his ancestors. We know that Jesus was well studied in the law and history of the Israelites. He would have known the stories of all those names in his genealogy – both the family lineage of the man who was known as his father, Joseph, and the family lineage of his mother, Mary.

What would Jesus have said regarding Tamar, the first of the women in his paternal genealogy? Let’s look at her story – a story that includes grief, abuse, rejection, abandonment, prostitution, deceit and finally redemption.

In the course of time, Judah arranged for his firstborn son, Er, to marry a young woman named Tamar. But Er was a wicked man in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord took his life. Then Judah said to Er’s brother Onan, “Go and marry Tamar, as our law requires of the brother of a man who has died. You must produce an heir for your brother.” But Onan was not willing to have a child who would not be his own heir…the Lord considered it evil for Onan to deny a child to his dead brother. So the Lord took Onan’s life, too.

Then Judah said to Tamar, his daughter-in-law, “Go back to your parents’ home and remain a widow until my son Shelah is old enough to marry you.” (But Judah didn’t really intend to do this because he was afraid Shelah would also die, like his two brothers.) So Tamar went back to live in her father’s home.

Some years later Judah’s wife died…Someone told Tamar, “Look, your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep.”

Tamar was aware that Shelah had grown up, but no arrangements had been made for her to come and marry him. So she changed out of her widow’s clothing and covered herself with a veil to disguise herself. Then she sat beside the road at the entrance of the village of Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. Judah noticed her and thought she was a prostitute, since she had covered her face. So he stopped and propositioned her…not realizing that she was his own daughter in law…

About three months later, Judah was told, “Tamar, your daughter-in-law, has acted like a prostitute. And now, because of this, she’s pregnant.”

“Bring her out, and let her be burned!” Judah demanded.

But as they were taking her out to kill her, she sent this message to her father-in-law: “The man who owns these things made me pregnant. Look closely. Whose seal and cord and walking stick are these?”

Judah recognized them immediately and said, “She is more righteous than I am, because I didn’t arrange for her to marry my son Shelah.” And Judah never slept with Tamar again.

When the time came for Tamar to give birth, it was discovered that she was carrying twins. While she was in labor, one of the babies reached out his hand. The midwife grabbed it and tied a scarlet string around the child’s wrist, announcing, “This one came out first.” But then he pulled back his hand, and out came his brother! “What!” the midwife exclaimed. “How did you break out first?” So he was named Perez. Then the baby with the scarlet string on his wrist was born, and he was named Zerah. – Genesis 38:6-16, 24-30

God had a plan – the Messiah would be a descendant of Abraham and a descendant of Judah and a descendant of Perez. But Judah married a Canaanite woman, whose influence on his sons caused them to be evil in the eyes of the Lord. In spite of all of this, God continued to work out his plan. In spite of Judah’s sins of selfishness, God took the unholy union of Judah and Tamar and made a beautiful thing. Tamar was pregnant with twin boys. Zerah began to come out first but God’s plan was for Perez so he caused Zerah to pull back and Perez to be born first.

This is the story of how Tamar came to be in the lineage of Jesus. In this story, Tamar is first a victim of the sinful choices of three men in the lineage of Jacob, but Tamar did not remain innocent in this story. Desperate for love, she devised a plan of deception that included sexual immorality. Instead of trusting God to take care of her, Tamar stepped out of His plan and created her own. What would the young man, Jesus, have to say of this woman in his family story? What would Jesus have to say of the man, Perez, whose birth was the result of a crisis pregnancy?

Perhaps Jesus’ thoughts went to Tamar when he met the Samaritan woman at the well – a well that was near the field that Jacob gave his son Joseph. Perhaps he was thinking of Jacob’s daughter-in-law who would have perhaps drawn water from this same well at one time.

The story of the Samaritan woman had some resemblance to the story of Tamar – multiple husbands and then union with a man who was not her husband. Her story might have included the same elements as Tamar’s – grief, abuse, rejection, abandonment, prostitution, and deceit. What we know is that her story included redemption.

If you have some of these same elements in your story, perhaps these words of Jesus are for you today: “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water…Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” – John 4:10, 13-14

God’s perfect plan for your life probably did not include a lot of the junk that makes up your story but His plan for you has always ended in redemption. He sent His son to be born of a woman pledged to be married to Joseph – whose family story was far from perfect. That same son died on a cross in order to complete your story – to be sure that it can include a story of redemption from sins and eternal life that can be found by accepting the living water that He offers you today. Let us worship the One who was born and died to offer us eternal life. Let’s humbly bow down and offer to Him our past so that we can walk into His future.

Our Family Tree

Today’s Reading: Matthew 1:1-17, Luke 1:1-4 and 3:23-38

My parents pastored on the Northwestern Illinois District of the Church of the Nazarene for 31 years. I love those moments when someone comes up and introduces themselves by adding their connection to my parents. “Your father was my Bible teacher at camp” or “Your mother was my camp counselor” or “I loved it when your parents were quizmasters at all the area quizzes” or “I was a student in several of the classes your father taught for the course of study” or “Your parents played a large role in where I am at today.” I love those moments because I am proud to be the daughter of Larry and Dora Fortado. I am grateful when people know WHO I am because they know WHOSE I am.

Two of the writers of the gospel – Matthew and Luke – saw the importance of their readers knowing where Jesus came from. Both genealogies showed that Jesus was a descendant of David, one more indicator that he truly was the Messiah. Matthew shows us the genealogy of Jesus from his paternal lineage. He starts with Abraham and lists all of the descendants until he lands at Joseph (Matthew 1:1-16)

“Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Mary gives birth to Jesus, who is called the Messiah. All those listed above include fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the Babylonian exile, and fourteen from the Babylonian exile to the Messiah.” – Matthew 1:16-17

I love verse 17 because I, like Matthew the tax collector, love numbers and playing with statistics. I find the pattern between generations intriguing (14+14+14), as it seems Matthew did.

Now Luke takes it from the perspective of the maternal lineage of Jesus. Mary, too, was a descendant of David and therefore a descendant of Abraham. Mary descended from David’s son Nathan while Joseph could trace his ancestors back to Solomon, the son of David and Bathsheba.

Matthew traced Jesus’ family back to Abraham, showing that Jesus was the promised Messiah of the Jewish people. Luke traced Jesus’ family even farther back to Adam, showing that Jesus came to be the Savior for ALL people everywhere (Luke 3:23-38). “And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Who will He save? HIS people. Who are His people? We ALL are His people because we have all descended from Adam. Salvation is for each and every one of us.

Consider your family on both sides. Take a moment to think of the influence the family on your mother’s side has had on your life. Now consider the impact of your father’s family on who you are and where you are at today.

When you look at the genealogy of Jesus, you will see a list of people who made mistakes. Almost each one has a story of how God in grace reached out to them and used them even after they had messed things up. We have spent the last four and a half months studying many of the people listed in these genealogies. You can probably look up at your family tree and see a lot of imperfections in those who have come before you. Yet the God of grace still chose them to give the world YOU!

Let us not take lightly the role God has played in our lives since before we were born. Each story that precedes us sets the backdrop for our story. God has known us, loved us and developed a plan for our lives in spite of our family tree – whether that tree is one of a strong spiritual heritage or a weak faith of our fathers. God had a purpose for the life of Jesus, His only Son – to save the world. In the same way, the genealogy of your fathers comes to you and leads to a moment in history when you carry out God’s plan for your life.

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous – how well I know it.
You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.
How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered!
I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up, you are still with me!
– Psalm 139:13-18

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11

Plans for your future – plans for you and for those who will follow you in your family tree. What story will be told of you? Will you submit to God’s plan – the plan for which He created you? Those coming after you are counting on you.

Lord, we thank you this morning for the heritage passed down to us from our parents and grandparents. Your workmanship in our lives is marvelous – how well we know it! We thank you for the love and investment of time into our lives that have made us who we are today. We pray that you will take our own imperfect attempts to love and allow us to positively influence the next generations. Help us to shine your light onto the path you have set before them – a path marked with hope for their future.