Author: rebeccarich

Embracing our Story

We are about to enter a New Year. And there is a temptation to treat this as a blank page, completely re-writing our stories. We want to shed all that makes us ashamed and seek after that which might make us more confident. And while it is good to start fresh and new, and I am certainly planning on doing so, how can we enter into this year while embracing where we are and how we got here? 

I was asked to blog this weekend, and it ended up being the same weekend that my husband Tom was scheduled to preach. I started this post while on a retreat in July, and since it ties in to Tom’s message, I decided to edit and post it for the blog. Below is a snippet of our infertility and health journey. I pray that it helps you contemplate and feel more comfortable within your own story.

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It was 2008, and we were living in Pasadena, California. Our ministry in Texas had fallen apart, and we had moved to California so Tom could attend Fuller Seminary. Everything had fallen into place with our move, but I was still bitter. Bitter that our friends back in Texas were able to carry on with their lives while we had to start from scratch. They were able to settle down and buy houses within a familiar community, while half my paycheck was going toward the rent on our tiny lopsided home on Rio Grande Drive. This wasn’t supposed to be a part of our story; our dreams had foreseen something different. I now think back fondly to our precious little house on that sunny street, but it wasn’t the story I would have written for myself.

Rio Grande Drive, Pasadena, California

We were walking through the mall one day, and Tom said to me, “If I can’t lose this weight, I think I should have weight loss surgery.” This irritated me, because of course he would lose the weight. He was strong and disciplined and he was excelling at his classes at Fuller. Of course he could figure out a way to lose the weight! And so I responded with something I knew would affect him in the same way his statement had affected me: “I think we should see a fertility doctor.”

It worked. Tom was sure we didn’t have fertility problems. We hadn’t been trying very long, we weren’t even really trying– we were fine. But just like he knew that weight loss would require more than diet and exercise for him, I knew we weren’t going to get pregnant easily. Yet neither of us were willing to admit that this sort of medical intervention would be part of our story.

Tom and me in Santa Monica, 2011

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In February of 2015, we had our daughter, Abbie, the result of a year of fertility treatments. And the next month, Tom underwent gastric bypass surgery. As he was about to go under the knife, he wasn’t concerned about the fact that most of his stomach and about a foot of his large intestine would be cut away, he was just worried that it wouldn’t work. What if this was just like all the other diets, the diets that, despite our initial optimism, only got him so far in his weight loss journey?

Tom and Abbie

But 230 pounds later, Tom is now training for his second half marathon. In November, he ran the Monumental with team World Vision and actually enjoyed it. While he trained for it, we would load Abbie into the jogging stroller and go on a family jog (or GOG, as Abbie calls it). And as we jogged, I would think about how impossible this would be without the medical intervention we received. We are jogging with our daughter!

Monumental Half Marathon

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While we hope our stories will be more simplified and our miracles more instantaneous, they often aren’t. Tom and I have not entered many life stages with ease, and I am often jealous of those who seem to breeze through life, easily obtaining what we climb over mountains to find. And yet our story has made us who we are. We are very different people than we were in 2005 when we married, wiser and more refined, more hesitant to claim the answers to every problem. Our story has shaped us into more compassionate people, more attuned to the struggle and suffering around us.

Our stories never feel as refined or beautiful as those around us, but they are our story. A story meant to be lived and embraced and shared. And I want to wear my story well. I want to sit in it and know it and be comfortable in it. And I want to be able to hear other stories and receive them with joy and grace, without feeling the need to compare them to my own.

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It’s often not until we embrace our story that we can find our redemption. I pray that we would all embrace our place in life and strive to do our best with the tools we’ve been given. May we begin this new year in a state of willing receptivity to all He has prepared for us, embracing both our past and the possibilities for our future.  

The Importance of Intentionality

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My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back,  remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

James 5:19-20, NIV

One of the characteristics most lacking in our culture today is intentionality. Being intentional with another person means making space in our lives to notice, listen and respond to people in our life with care. These kinds of relationships clash with our individualistic, busy schedules. It is easier to say a quick “hello” at church or engage in a controlled dialogue on social media than it is to carve out time to sit with someone and listen to their heart.

Not only do intentional relationships take up time, but they can be messy and uncomfortable.

We are all a complex mix of sinner and saint, and at one point or another we live out of the junk inside of us, hurting those in our midst. And no matter how many times we encounter these behaviors, we still seem surprised when we witness them in our churches or small groups. We expect the Christian community to behave differently (usually while ignoring the planks in our own eye), and if they don’t, we feel justified in telling them so and then letting them go. We cite the other person’s sin as a good enough reason to cease being an intentional friend to them.

But is this truly the way of Jesus?

Our verse in James certainly doesn’t let us off the hook that easily. We often interpret this verse as meaning “if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should tell that person about their sin….”

But it does not say that.

It says to go get them and bring them back. But in order for them to be restored, a relationship has to be built on trust, faithfulness and sincerity. That person has to know it is not about who is “right or wrong” but is ultimately about whether you have their best interest in mind.

As Christians, we are called to pursue those who wander and lovingly call them back to a safe and welcoming community. In our Walking with Others curriculum, a subsequent course to The Journey, Rob Loane writes,

“If we are going to encourage the actual application and integration of the gospel into our everyday lives then we need supportive places to prayerfully, honestly and patiently sort out what we are hearing and what adults are wrestling with.”

It is not enough to tell people what they should be doing, and often telling them is the last thing we should do. In order to “bring people back”, we must create a sacred space for them, a space in which they are safe to work through their brokenness in the midst of other similarly broken people. 

When I think about the ways I’ve been brought back to Jesus, it has been through those who have sat with me, listened to me and loved me. They made space in their lives to love me as Jesus does, and this brought me back to the love of Jesus. It is this love that keeps “saving me from death and covering my multitude of sins”, and it is this love that I long to share with others who feel excluded and marginalized.

How can you be intentional with another person today? In what ways are you seeking to build intentional relationships within our church community?

Rebecca Rich

Knowing what we ought to do

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Remember, it is a sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.” James. 4:17

Every day, we are bombarded with information. One scroll through our Facebook news feed presents twenty different causes, most of which are worthy ones. The quantity of information about the multitude of injustices can be paralyzing, making a verse like this one in James seem daunting.

But in the midst of the chaos, there is a God who has called us to good works. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago (Eph. 2:10). It may not be any of the tasks you are presented with in social media, but there is something for you.

Do we know?

If you have been around WRCC for any length of time, chances are you’ve heard about The Journey and its subsequent courses, Way of Life and Walking with Others. These courses take us through the quesions: Who is God? Who am I? and What does God want to do through me? As you walk through these courses, you come to understand that Jesus is up to something good around us. He is always working, and we are called to join him in this work. But it can take time to discover the good works God has planned for you; we need to spend time in prayer, study and community to learn about God, ourselves and our calling.

If you are not involved in a community that challenges you to think deeper about these questions, I encourage you to do so. Without a safe place to wrestle with our God-given purpose, we can feel pulled in a multitude of directions and yet accomplish very little.

 

Do we care?

Some of us have discovered the good works God has prepared for us, but we avoid them. The way of Jesus is not one in which we get noticed or praised; most of the tasks we are called to do are done in service of others, and they rarely put us in the limelight. And so we balk at these tasks and choose to instead be on center stage. Here we can say we are about the work of God, and most importantly, people can see that we are about the work of God. But the reality is that we may not be about the work of God. When the disciples were arguing among themselves about who would be the greatest, Jesus responded with these words:

“In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’  But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant.  Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves.” Luke 22:25-26

Among us it will be different. The God who came to serve us asks us to serve others.  We might be called to serve a drug addict, a prison inmate, a special needs adult or a group of toddlers on Sunday morning. We probably won’t get much notice for these things, or if we do, the publicity we get may not be the kind we like. But it is this work that is essential to the Kingdom of God.

Often, we are called to minister from our wounds and failures rather than our successes. After years of infertility, my husband and I finally have a baby girl. She is everything we ever dreamed of. And yet, I still bear the scars of infertility, and I feel most in tune with my purpose when I am walking beside others still trudging through the murky waters of infertility. I felt very alone in my journey, but now the Lord keeps bringing beautiful women into my life who don’t have to be alone in theirs. It is a incredibly healing to walk alongside women who bear my same wounds and scars; he is healing me as he heals them.

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Today, as you scroll through your social media pages, think about the things God has called you to do. We can’t do it all, and if we try to do it all, we won’t do anything very well. But we can do some things; we can watch and ask and pray for God to make our daily purpose clear to us.

And remember that it is often the things that get us the least amount of notice that mean the most in this upside-down Kingdom. Changing diapers, cooking meals, holding the hand of a friend suffering a loss–it all matters. So go about your day with intentionality and confidence, knowing that Jesus is up to good things and is doing these good things through you.

 

~Rebecca Rich

 

 

 

For all the mothering hearts

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Last year, Mother’s Day began for me with a negative pregnancy test. After seven years of infertility, a year of fertility treatments, a traumatic miscarriage and two more rounds of treatment, getting a negative test on Mother’s Day was crushing. I couldn’t bear the thought of going to church, a place where it seemed women would be honored simply for their ability to turn a pregnancy test positive, so I stayed home and sat under our willow tree, doing my best to quiet my heart before Jesus.

I spent that Sunday reading The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. As I read about Corrie and her sister, both childless, unmarried women who devoted their lives to mothering and protecting those around them, I felt less alone. They reminded me that following Jesus meant much more than being honored on a particular day of the year, that suffering was commonplace in this upside-down Kingdom and that the gift of motherhood need not exclude the childless.

Willow Tree

Though I didn’t know it, this was my last Mother’s Day without a child. Exactly 38 weeks later, I was missing church again, but this time it was because our daughter was arriving. I spent that Sunday laboring, and early the next morning, our daughter was born. Abigail Elizabeth made me a mother in the conventional sense of the term. She is everything we have dreamed of, and we pinch ourselves daily to make sure we aren’t living a dream. Because of her, this Mother’s Day won’t feel like a punch in the gut. I can go to church this year holding my daughter and feel like I fit in, like I am a “normal” mother.

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And yet, I don’t feel any more motherly than I did last year. Was I less of a mother as I sat under that willow tree, longing for this child who is now in my arms? Sure, I spend my days changing diapers and calming a crying baby, and I admit that being celebrated for that feels nice. Motherhood is hard work, so carving out a day to appreciate the menial, thankless tasks done day in and out is important. But my heart sought to nurture just as much last year as it does now, it just did so in ways other than diaper changes and sleepless nights. A mother is one whose heart emulates the compassionate, sacrificial, mothering heart of God. And I longed to be that then, whether I had a child or not.

My own mother is a gift beyond all gifts to me, and I cherish any chance to honor her and the sacrifices she has made for me. I welcome this day for the opportunities it gives us to celebrate the women in our life who have sacrificed to make us who we are. But this need not be a day that excludes the childless or the motherless. It is a day to celebrate all women with mothering hearts, women of valor who emulate the heart of God to whomever crosses their path.

Our church is filled with an eclectic mix of women who mother in countless ways. By celebrating each of them, we are teaching our daughters to be strong and faithful women, whether they have children or not. So, this Mother’s Day, let us celebrate the mothering hearts around us, including the women who are do not fit the conventional definition of “mother”. These women are able to mother with just as much grace and strength as those who have a brood of biological children, and they, too, deserve to be celebrated.

Rebecca

Death and Resurrection

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I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

~Philippians 3:10-11

For followers of Jesus, we are called to participate in the resurrection as much as we are called to celebrate it. It’s not just a historical event for us, a day we celebrate once a year. It is the reality in which we live. Resurrection inhabits every moment of every day. New life is always emerging from our chaos.

But new life requires death. Rising with him comes only from suffering and dying with him. Yes, Jesus died for me. Yes, Jesus rose for me. And yes, he died and rose for you, too. But he didn’t do it so we would talk about it one day a year. He did it so we could participate in it, weaving death and resurrection into the fabric of our lives.

This week, this Holy Week, is about participating in Jesus’s journey toward death. Finding him as he prays in the garden, standing with him on trial, sitting before him on the cross. Or, like the disciples (and most likely us too), sleeping while he prays in the garden, denying him while he stands on trial, and fleeing from him on the cross.  

But even for us who sleep, deny and flee from him, he is waiting for us.

It is good news to me, this death and resurrection. Because it means that my suffering is not meaningless, that my dead ends can become new beginnings. It means that when my soul feels like death, I am close to new life. Resurrection is right around the corner.

[Resurrection says that] there is a new creation bursting forth
right here in the middle of this one
and there is a new heaven and a new earth coming together
and that this Jesus, in his resurrection insists that in the conquering of death
he has brought about something new
something you can trust
that whatever is holding you down
whatever feels like it’s drowning you
whatever feels like it’s a weight chained to your ankle
does not have the last word

That is resurrection

Sunday, The Liturgists

~Rebecca

Abiding in Wisdom

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Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.

John 15:4-5

Growing in wisdom takes a lot of work. A lot of discipline, effort, sweat and tears. The straight paths that result from trusting in the Lord are rarely easy ones, even if they are the right ones. It can be exhausting, but it is what wisdom requires.

And yet, before any work is done, wisdom requires rest. It requires the discipline to be quiet, the effort to be still. Jesus told his disciples to abide in him, as he abides in them. The fruit and effort and work comes after this, after we abide in the vine from which we have emerged. Without that life blood of the vine pumping through us, we will never gain true wisdom. We will always be working toward something beyond our reach.

We are invited to abide in Jesus, the embodiment of wisdom. As we learn about ways to act wisely this year, studying Proverbs and James and internalizing their message, may we remember that we can only bear the fruit of wisdom if we abide in Jesus.  He is already abiding in us, but will we abide in Him? Or will we restlessly move from one distraction to the next, ignoring the wealth within our grasp?

Some questions for discussion:

What activities keep your mind and body busy when you could be resting or abiding in Christ?

What does it mean to you that Christ is abiding in you? What sort of response does this evoke in your heart?

What steps could you take to make space for abiding in Christ this year?

 

~Rebecca

Chapter 28: New Beginnings

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In Chapter 28, we are reading from the book of Acts, “Part 2” of Luke’s gospel. Here we are told of the “next steps” of the post-resurrection people of God and the miraculous ways in which the church expanded. Forty days after the resurrection, the promised Holy Spirit is poured out upon the Jewish people at Pentecost. Though they have been scattered amongst the nations and speak in different languages, they are miraculously all able to understand each other when the unifying Spirit of God comes upon them. Amazed and perplexed, they listen as the apostle Peter stands up and begins to speak to them.

“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. 

Peter calls the Jewish people to account for the death of Jesus. They killed him, but God has raised him to life. And though the blood of the Messiah is on their hands, they are invited to repent and be baptized in to this new life. How are they to enter this new life? Peter tells them:

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

This promise is for them, the ones who put their Messiah to death. And it is also for all who are far off, all who the Lord will call. And we see at the end of this chapter just how far the call of God extends; it is always further than we would prefer Him to go.

Three thousand were added to the number of believers that day, and they devoted themselves to living in Christ’s footsteps. This meant practicing radical hospitality, dwelling in community and meeting together daily to worship God. They enjoyed the favor of all the people… all, except the religious leaders. As we saw in the Gospels, it is often the ones in power who are most resistant to the message of Christ. And these powerful men sought to destroy this movement with violence, locking up the apostles, flogging them, and even putting one of the faithful believers, Stephen, to death.

But God’s word prevails. And at the end of this chapter we see one of the most destructive opposing forces, a zealous Jew named Saul, brought to his knees before the One he has been persecuting. This man who cheered as Stephen was stoned to death is now brought into the Kingdom and given the mandate to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. Not only does Saul become a part of the movement he has sought to destroy, but he is a key participant in opening up this Gospel to “all who are far off”, both Jew and Gentile. 

It is important to note the tension between this movement of God and those in power. The gospel will always be on the opposite side of the power structures, but this has not and will not keep Christ-followers from attempting to unite the two. It does not take much study of church history to observe how miserably this has failed us, but it is still our temptation. As we read this chapter of The Story, we would do well to dwell upon this quote from Henri Nouwen, from his book In The Name of Jesus:

One of the greatest ironies of the history of Christianity is that its leaders constantly gave in to the temptation of power–political power, military power, economic power, or moral and spiritual power–even though they continued to speak in the name of Jesus, who did not cling to his divine power but emptied himself and became as we are. The temptation to consider power an apt instrument for the proclamation of the Gospel is the greatest of all.

The temptation to consider power an apt instrument for the proclamation of the Gospel is the greatest of all. May we hold this thought in our heart as we seek to live in a culture in which power is praised and even labeled as “Christian”. And may we remember how the gospel spread in the beginning among powerless men and women who trusted in a powerful, gracious God. 

~Rebecca Rich

Chapter 27: The Resurrection

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RISE and SHINE!

How often have we heard these three words used to rouse us from sleep and remind us to get up, get out, and get on with our day? Whether you are the recipient or the initiator of this sometimes annoying practice, we all have to wake up and face the day. For some of us, it’s not until after a shower and several cups of coffee that our body and mind actually seem to get focused. But, when we  have officially risen from the dark dream world of night and come into alignment with the light of day, it’s time for us, as an old Latin adage says, to Carpe Diem (Seize the Day).

So, you ask, what does this all have to do with the resurrection of Jesus? Glad you asked! Let me share some thoughts.

RISE and SHINE!

As Christians, this could be our Easter anthem; it is a rallying call that has implications about what Jesus did for us and now calls us to do as well. In conquering death and sin, Jesus extended his ability to “Rise and Shine” to us. The apostle John masterfully cast the struggle between good and evil, personified in Jesus and Satan, in terms of light and darkness, which further translates into salvation and grace vs. sin and death. Jesus claimed, “I am the light of the world.” (John 9:5). “I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25). He backed that up by rising from the dead and offering a new, transformed life to all who would claim and follow him as Lord and Savior. Paul writes at length in Chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians about the resurrection of Jesus and the resurrection of the dead. Paul states, “If Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost. And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead.” (1 Corinthians 15:17-20).

This singular, monumental event of Jesus’ resurrection validates everything about what Jesus had said and done and gives credence to our Christian faith. It is pivotal to our belief, and is the most significant and spiritual event in history. No one else can claim this in any other religion. Our faith is based on fact, not superstition or another person’s opinion. Hundreds of witnesses saw and interacted with the risen Lord; this changed their lives, and they became willing to die for their faith in Jesus – and, “Martyrs don’t die for myths.” Think about Peter and John speaking to the council of religious leaders in Jerusalem about the risen Savior in Acts 4. Even the council could see that something had happened to change and give courage to Jesus’ followers: “The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scripture.” (Acts 4:13).

RISE and SHINE!

 Jesus made it clear in his teachings to his disciples that his “light” and “transformed/resurrected state” that paid our debt of sin was to be passed on. The “Rise and Shine” of Jesus was available to all and his followers were to pay it forward: “Go and make disciples of all nations…Teach these new disciples…I am with you always…” (Matthew 28:18-20 – the Great Commission). “You are the light of the world…let your good deeds shine out for all to see so that everyone will praise your heavenly father.” (Matthew 5:14-16). In Chapter 6 of Romans Paul describes how this all becomes possible for us to die to ourselves by dying to sin and be baptized in Christ and rise to a new life. “Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. Since we have been united with him in death, we will also be raised to life as he was.” (Romans 6:2-5).

RISE and SHIINE!

So next time you hear “Rise and Shine,” maybe you might not only wake up, but also  remember to get up, get out, and get on with another day, another opportunity to go forth to others and “Rise and Shine” with the love of Jesus. Maybe even start singing the old children’s gospel hymn, “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.” (But only if you want to – maybe in the shower?)

Pat McQuillan

Chapter 23: Jesus’ Ministry Begins

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For God so loved the world, He sent his only son so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16

How do you think you might feel if the next person in line to be baptized was the Son of God, the Messiah? Wouldn’t there be many questions? Wouldn’t proof be required? Perhaps; but Jesus did not go to just anyone. In Chapter 23, we get to know John the Baptist a bit better. By no means was John an ordinary preacher; wearing camel fur and a leather belt around his waist, eating insects. A little kooky? Maybe, but he had a destiny and God’s approval.

So, John is spreading the word of the coming Messiah. Then that day comes – the one where the Lord is next in line asking to be baptized. John does not ask for proof or rebuke what others might consider blasphemous, he is immediately humbled and asks why it shouldn’t be the Lord baptizing him instead. John consents and witnesses the Spirit of God descend upon Jesus and hears God proclaim Him as His Son.

The Lord is then led to be tempted by Satan. In today’s lingo, Epic Fail. Jesus tires of his tempter and rebukes him. After this test, Jesus begins His public ministry…with John the Baptist being his PR, witness and defender.

Two of John’s disciples become Jesus’ first disciples of twelve. Andrew, Simon (Peter), James (son of Zebedee), John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James (son of Alphaeus), Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot become those chosen by Jesus. This seems to be around the time when John and Jesus went their separate ways and Jesus went about teaching. It is astonishing that word about Jesus traveled so fast, considering that word-of-mouth was all there was in those times. So, as Jesus and the disciples made their way around, flocks of people came from all over to hear and see Him; to be healed, touched, enlightened.

This was most certainly a trying and tiring time for Jesus. Despite healing all types of maladies, disease, rebuking demons and raising the dead, His persecution began immediately. His teaching was not what the leaders and even the religious lawyers thought it should be; His purpose not what they wanted. They weren’t looking to be “reborn” and for a Savior of the world. Even the good and faithful John the Baptist was a bit bewildered and disappointed in the Messiah’s work.

Do we, today, ask the same questions about Jesus as they did back then? We have our limits of understanding and naturally, as human beings, question most things. We have an innate desire to know how things work and “why.” This is why faith is our greatest asset. Salvation is a gift. It cannot be earned; it cannot be bought; and it is often misunderstood.

God has constantly and consistently shown His love, patience and desire to have a deep connection with His creation. In the coming chapters, we learn that Jesus’ sacrifice was the bridge to fill the immense gap between us and the Father. Though the mystery of God still remains, reading the Bible and prayer are two of the most important ways to learn about the heart of God and His purposes for us, His people. When confusion or despair sets in for us today, lets press in to the Bible and prayer so our hearts can remember this Jesus: who was, and is, and is to come!

Cheryl Grant

Chapter 22: The Birth of the King

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No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

John 1:18

From reading the Old Testament portion of The Story, what kind of Messiah do you think the Jews were expecting? We end Chapter 21 with the Jewish people slowly rebuilding their home in Jerusalem. After years in exile, they were finally free to rebuild their temple and the city walls. But now, hundreds of years later, we find them once again living under the oppression of a foreign empire. Through the prophets, they had been promised that a Messiah was coming to usher in this new kingdom. But here they are, still oppressed, in many ways no better than they were in exile. And so we find these Jewish people waiting in expectation, longing for a new warrior king like David to defeat Rome and establish them freely in their homeland.

But instead, we have a peasant girl birthing the Son of God in a manger, with only Shepherds to rejoice at his arrival. He is not born to royalty. He is not even born to affluent Jews. And yet this is how the God of Israel chooses to arrive on earth, in a dirty stable with nothing to announce his coming but a bright star in the sky.

How do people react to Jesus in this chapter? The humble are glad and rejoice, but the ones in power cower in fear and resort to violence. Mary praises God, and Simeon revels in the Messiah who will be a light to the Gentiles. But Herod kills all the children under the age of two in Bethlehem, causing Mary and Joseph to flee to Egypt to protect their son. Afraid to return to Judea, Joseph instead leads his family back to Nazareth. And there this child is raised, in a town of which was said that nothing good ever came.

All of this is God’s process of making known the fullness of who He is. The Old Testament is rich with diverse interpretations of God and experiences of His power and steadfast love. And yet, John declares that no one has seen God fully until now. It is not until the birth of a tiny baby in a dirty stable that we are able to see the fullness of who this God is.

What are you expecting from this Messiah? As you read the upcoming chapters, pay attention to the ways in which Jesus both fulfills the Jewish expectations as well as turns them upside down with the reality of who he is. Let’s pay attention to this Word from the God of Israel, as his fullness is revealed to a people patiently waiting and yet still wholly unprepared for His arrival.