Of Clinging and Faith

faith

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 10:39-11:1

There is a tension that resides inside of me. During some seasons of life I feel it a little every day, some seasons when I feel it weekly, and other seasons when I feel it every moment of every day. The season I currently find myself in is the latter, and I tell you what.. I am tired. I am tired of trying to figure it all out.

The tension is made up of the ‘already and not yet’ place we live; in the redemption and sanctification cycle, and yet it’s more than that. It’s a tension between God’s will for my life and my own plans; of wanting my life to matter, wanting to get it right, and resting in God’s sovereignty in the midst of it all.

Some days, in some moments I feel as though my paths are laid out for me in a straight shot; I can clearly see where I’m going and what I need to do to get there. Other days, the path is overgrown and bends around corners and I can only see one step at a time. Sometimes I am walking my path in pitch darkness which causes me to trip and fall because I have no idea where I am or where I am going. The worst though is when I can see more than one path in front of me, and not everyone agrees with me on which to take.

Recently, I read a fiction book where God speaks to a quiet, unassuming church-going lady and tells her to do some crazy things she would have never considered on her own. Reluctantly, she follows these Holy Spirit leadings and her life turns upside down. Unfortunately, most of her church community does not understand and tries to talk her out of doing these things, but she chooses to do them anyway on her own. Have you ever had moments like that?  I have definitely heard the Holy Spirit whisper to me to go in a specific direction, or do a specific thing, and when I have followed, sometimes people don’t understand, or they don’t support the choice.

It’s hard to know what to do in that situation. On one hand, I believe strongly that God places community around us and those people speak for him at times. That’s part of being a Christian, and I have definitely benefitted from other people’s wisdom. But I also know that community doesn’t always get it right. Sometimes they respond out of misunderstanding, or their own fears. They do not always speak on behalf of God.

How does one know the difference? I wrestle with that. Ultimately I suppose, the answer is in the quiet voice who is faithful to answer when I ask, comfort when I cry, and give courage when I am weak. That quiet voice is enough.. But I wish for more sometimes.

When Jesus came, the Jewish leaders had been watching and waiting for him to come. They had longed for him for years. They expected a warrior, but instead they got a peacemaker. They expected someone to come and annihilate their enemies, but instead they got someone who showed them their enemy was the sin inside themselves. Their expectations caused them to miss Jesus because He wasn’t what they were looking for.

I don’t want to miss Jesus. I want my eyes to be open, so I see Him. I want my ears to be open, so I hear him. And I want my heart to be open, so I can feel him. It doesn’t always look like what I want. But it is always what I need.

It is that small, quiet voice inside that I cling to. That’s where Jesus is. He is often not what I expect, and if I’m honest not always what I want. But I cling to Him, because He is good. I cling to Him because He loves me so. I cling to Him because I know He will not drop me or let me go. I cling to Him because I trust Him. I cling to Him because my faith grows in the clinging.

 

 

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Mary, Jesus’ Mother

The story of Jesus’ mother Mary is both over-told and under-told. Or perhaps it is just not told in the correct way. On one hand, we have an entire religion that has raised her up to the level of God-like worship; prayers are sent up to her in heaven, and she is treated as worthy of our devotion and praise for her role in the coming savior of the world. On the other hand, other religions, while wanting to dispel the notion that Mary should be worshipped as God, have gone through the trouble of dismissing her and her example of faith.

Both tracks are wrong, and both lose sight of the larger story that Jesus tells with the details of his life and the people who surround it. When we elevate Mary to the level of God, we lose sight of her example of great faith and the courageous spirit that we are all given through the power of the Holy Spirit. If she was, in fact, God-like it is easy then to lower the standards of faith and obedience for ourselves. But when, in hopes of dispelling the idea of her divinity, we gloss over her story, we miss an important and relevant part of what God is telling us about the honor and glory he bestows on women, the importance of women in the spreading of the Gospel story and the picture of the Kingdom of God he gives us in the story of this seemingly insignificant woman.

Mary was a young, virgin girl, who lived in a small and insignificant town. Because of the culture at the time, it is easy to assume that, like most young women in her town, she was looked upon as an afterthought. Marrying, bearing children and keeping house was her lot in life, the highest honor given to any common woman. According to society, there wasn’t anything particularly special about Mary. Nothing that made her stand out. Nothing praiseworthy about her. A quiet and dutiful girl, she seemed ready to accept her role in society, as it was laid out before her.

Mary’s parents are not spoken of. Some have speculated that she may have been an orphan, but no one knows for sure. It is possible, and even likely that she was descended from King David, but since her parents are not mentioned, we can’t know for sure. The only thing we know about her is that she was a virgin, living in Bethlehem and betrothed to Joseph.

The story in Luke about Mary is interesting in the fact that her story follows immediately after the story of Zechariah the priest, a faithful man of God, who was told his wife would become pregnant with a prophet who would proclaim the coming of the Lord. Zechariah didn’t believe it could happen in their old age, and because of their inability to have children, and the angel rebuked him and rendered him speechless because of his unbelief. The story of Mary follows the story of Zechariah, and Mary’s faith is intended to show a stark contrast to Zechariah’s faithlessness.

When the angel comes to Mary to tell her that she will become pregnant as a virgin and give birth to the savior, she is utterly amazed, but fully submits herself to the will of the Lord. This was a bold and brave move for Mary. A young girl’s virginity was a value held higher than a young girl’s life. It would have been an easier thing for her to give up her life for her savior, but she is asked to give up her virginity- or at least her reputation.

Giving up her reputation in this way, could have lost Mary literally everything. She could have lost her fiance, any hope for a marriage in the future and thus her entire value in society. Not only that, but she could have literally lost her life- it was common to stone women to death who had engaged in unlawful sexual behavior. Mary indisputably puts everything on the line when she submits to the will of God. What a beautiful example and display of courage and faith.

One of the things we need to see in this story of Mary is the way in which Jesus’ life is heaven invading earth and bringing to us, the Kingdom of God. Not just on a large scale, where the savior comes for all of us, but in the details of the individual life of Mary. On earth, in her society, Mary was of little value, worth, and was marginally acceptable as a young woman. But when Jesus came, it was clear that this was not how God saw Mary. God sees Mary as precious, honored, worthy, brave, and He knew that she contained a vibrant faith and a warrior-like heart. No one else esteemed Mary like God did. And what a beautiful picture of how God feels about all of his daughters.

When you spend your whole life, as Mary did, hearing that you are lesser-than, that your value and worth is small, that you will never measure up, that you, because of who you are, will never amount to anything important, even if you begin to believe it because that is the message you have always heard, there is still something deep down inside of you that yearns to believe the truth. The truth that you are valuable and worthy and loved.

Perhaps this is why Mary reacted to the news the angel brought her in the way that she did. Maybe there was a longing in her heart to be valuable and to do big things for God. Maybe she was desperate to believe that she was worthy and loved. Maybe she clung to this news with all her might because it was the first time she had ever been told these things and she did not want to let it go. Maybe this is part of what she pondered to herself in her heart.

I think this is why Mary was so brave. She had heard the truth, maybe for the first time, that she was valuable to the Kingdom of God, and she was told, maybe for the first time that she was loved unconditionally and she responds with passion, gratefulness and bravery. Can’t you just feel it? Have you ever felt that way? 2 Timothy tells us that the Spirit of God does not make us fearful, but gives us power, love and self control. Mary understood that and was filled with a love and a power that made her brave.

Even after the birth of Jesus, Mary’s story is not over. She is not simply chosen as a holy birth canal, but she is also chosen to be the mother of the savior of the world, and with that role comes authority to which Jesus willingly submitted himself to during his growing up years. Jesus even performed his first public miracle because his mother told him to!

Mary’s life WAS significant. Not because she was ever a leader within her society, but because God raised her up and allowed her to teach and influence Jesus and the rest of the world as a result. Not only that, but Mary also contributed to the writing of the book of Luke!  The Gospel of Luke is the only gospel not written by a personal eyewitness to Jesus’ life and ministry- Luke spent years of travel and writing and research, interviewing eyewitnesses of Jesus in order to put together his gospel, in order to get a more complete picture of Jesus’ life, who he was and what he was about. One of those eyewitnesses was Mary, which is why Luke is the book where we see the most detail of Jesus’ birth and childhood.

Interestingly, Luke is the Gospel that speaks the most about the poor, the needy and the marginalized of society, and how Jesus comes, not just to care for them, but to save them, rescue them and give them value and worth in the Kingdom of God. It shows Jesus in the most compassionate light. It tells the highest number of stories about Jesus and women in general. This must be because Luke (and Paul as well, as they did a lot of ministry together) understood the importance of women to the story of Jesus and allowed them a place to tell their stories. He knew they were important and that they would tell us something about Jesus that we didn’t already know. I pray that, like Luke and Paul, we can all be moved towards that same understanding.

With his dying breath on the cross, some of Jesus’ last words are making sure that his mother is cared for after his death. He esteems her with his last breath. In the end, we see that Mary’s story is a beautiful picture of the Kingdom of God coming to earth, not just in a general way, but in a way that is deep and personal for each one of us, particularly the daughters of God who long to be treated with value and worth, and often aren’t. It is a story about how, regardless of society, God raises women up and puts them on the front lines of the spiritual battle, because that is where he always intended them to be.