Offering the Lastfruits

LEAH FARISH|GUEST Some New Year’s Eves, I have felt a frisson of nervousness as I readied for a party or fellowship event—did I forget to pay a bill that needed postmarking this year? Take all my tax deductions? Meet an annual work deadline? Prepare the kids and babysitter, whom I wouldn’t see till “next year”? This Eve will be a quieter one. But are there any missed opportunities or duties? Oh, yes, this year there was the vacation cancelled, rescheduled, cancelled again, the celebration delayed or job lost, the relationships starved of physical touch. Many things were not accomplished, but I improvised, regrouped, made do. Is there anything more I can do before 2020 is, thankfully, behind me? I often think of Richard Wilbur’s poem called “Year’s End,” where he broods on unfinished business, examining how an ancient disaster in Pompeii “found the people incomplete, the loose unready eyes/ Of men expecting yet another sun/ To do the shapely thing they had not done./ These sudden ends of time must give us pause./ We fray into the future, rarely wrought/ Save in the tapestries of afterthought./ More time, more time….” The prophet Abraham was given an opportunity late in his time on earth: he was challenged to sacrifice his son Isaac. Abraham didn’t just love his son, and didn’t just see him as a miraculously-provided boy, but probably also saw him as a last chance—at engendering and raising a son for establishing the covenanted legacy that Jehovah had promised. Last chances are always so poignant. So Abraham’s was a special offering—of lastfruits, as my husband calls it. We are familiar with offering firstfruits, described in verses such as Exodus 23:19, Leviticus 23:9, and Deut. 26:1 (not a bad devotional for January 1st). In Exodus 22:29, God even says “The firstborn of your sons you shall give to Me.” Abraham had had Ishmael, but that son, conceived with a concubine, was not the sacrifice God requested. He wanted the lastfruits—“the shapely thing that Abraham had not done,” as Richard Wilbur might say. What should be the lastfruits of this year?...

Offering the Lastfruits2022-05-04T23:44:30+00:00

The Red Carpet of God’s Faithfulness

BETHANY BELUE|GUEST My grandmother was a librarian. Each time I visited her little white house she would have a new book waiting for me. From a young age she gave me a love of story, a love of diving into someone else's thoughts and words bringing adventure to life. To this day, I love getting lost in someone else’s story. I love those beginning chapters that set up the plot, the page-turning chapters when you don’t know what’s going to happen, and then the best part: when it all comes together to a satisfying conclusion. Recently, I’ve been challenged to think about my own story. What do I see in the twist and turns, the moments of not knowing what is going to happen next, and the parts that could be considered an adventure but don’t always make sense?   A Red Carpet of Faithfulness At 29, I was a single girl living in New York City, on the cusp of a big life decision. I’ll never forget sitting in a downtown Manhattan office building with a sweet friend seeking her advice on what I should do. I wanted her to tell me exactly what to do (or maybe what not to do). She was the type of friend who could be honest with me, but in a gentle way. To my surprise, instead of telling me what I should do, she began asking questions about my life. She asked me to recount different seasons of my life when I was unsure of what to do and what led me to take the next step. She sat there quietly, just listening, and then she said something that changed my life in a significant way. In her soft voice she said, “Bethany when I hear your story, it makes me think about a red carpet. As you look back on your life, you see the red carpet being rolled out for you. However, that red carpet isn’t a carpet at all, but God’s faithfulness in your life...

The Red Carpet of God’s Faithfulness2022-05-04T23:45:19+00:00

That’s Why He Came

MEGAN JOHNSON|GUEST “We must lay before God what is in us, not what ought to be in us.” (C.S. Lewis) As we approach Christmas, I’m reminded of a situation I was in a couple of months ago. Now, this situation as we will call it, is not for the faint of heart, it is going to make you squirm, so be forewarned and proceed with caution…. My daughter, Maggie, had lice crawling on her scalp. She woke up in the middle of the night crying and clawing at her head and a vague recollection of a student at preschool having lice the week before buzzed in my brain, so I courageously pulled out the flashlight and checked. Yep. There they were, as clear as could be. I nearly dropped her. Here’s the thing: Just a few hours before, I was blow drying her hair for the first time, and we were all “ohhh-ing and ahhhhh-ing” over her smooth, soft, golden, beautiful hair – truly, all 5 of us encouraging her in how pretty her hair looked since she let mommy fix it…and yet, crawling not so far below the surface of all that shine, were bugs. Bugs that were immune to normal shampoo because, I read, they hold their breath. If you’re not itching at your head by now, you’re stronger than I. The spiritual implications stung me immediately. I remember Jesus’ proclamation to the Pharisee’s: “Woe to you! You clean the outside of the cup, but inside you are filthy – full of greed and self-indulgence” (Matt 23:25), or David crying out to God in Psalm 51:6, “you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.” How often do I ohhh and ahhh over my own outwardly apparent righteous works, or other's outward works, or long for recognition and approval for my “righteous” acts? And yet, there are bugs crawling beneath the surface. Daily, friends, yes daily. And yet, as we celebrate Advent, this is exactly why Jesus came. He came to cleanse us from the filth inside, from the “bugs” that are immune to all our forms of self-denial, discipline, and good works.  I’m reminded that God made a covenant with Abraham, swearing by Himself, that He would be His God. And God did this, while Abraham was asleep. Abraham was doing nothing to add to the promise of God. No works of his own to add to the covenant. And like that, Jesus comes – to a sin ridden, lice infested, broken world. Emmanuel! God with us!...

That’s Why He Came2022-05-04T23:46:10+00:00

On Possessions, Contentment, and Eternity

Early in the pandemic lockdown, I was determined to be productive. Like many of my friends, I used some of my new-found time to do deep house cleaning including purging things that tend to collect in every available closet, shelf, and drawer. Before long, my Tupperware was properly matched with lids and arranged by size. The junk drawer was decluttered. Clothes were tried on to see if they “sparked joy” a la Marie Kondo. Then came the big stuff. Stuff that has not been used in years but somehow, I haven’t wanted to let go. The waffle maker that would have to be dusted to be used. Shoes that once matched an outfit no longer in style. Books I enjoyed but will not reread. Finally, the attic! Holiday decorations so abundant that every year I have to decide which items I will display because they all can’t be used at the same time. It became clear that I am clinging to too much stuff! Not that I am not grateful. In fact, I am very thankful for the abundance that I enjoy. But during this period of self-quarantining, I am haunted by the role these possessions have in my life. This was on my mind when, during a morning devotion, I read Matt 6:19-21 through this new lens. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Ouch! Have I been busy “laying up treasures on earth?” I don’t want my mind and heart to be so obsessed with the physical things in my life that I lose sight of eternal treasures...

On Possessions, Contentment, and Eternity2022-05-04T23:46:58+00:00

Looking at the Cross Through the Lens of Christmas: Hope for Excruciating Moments

ELIZABETH TURNAGE|CONTRIBUTOR Mary’s pain must have been excruciating. For how could a mother watch her son, the supposed Savior of the world, be crucified without feeling that agony herself? In the most excruciating moment of her life, what did Mary remember of the first Christmas, and how did it give her hope? In the most excruciating moments of our lives, what can we remember, and how can those memories give us hope? As the frenzied crowd shouted around her, “Crucify him!” did she remember a night over thirty years ago? Into the quiet of that night, the bright and fearsome angel Gabriel had burst with a troubling announcement, “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus” (Luke 1:31). As Pilate sentenced Jesus to death by crucifixion, did she remember how she and her cousin Elizabeth had celebrated Gabriel’s announcement and the early days of their pregnancies together? As Pilate scrawled out the word “King of the Jews” on a makeshift sign, did she remember the angel’s words, “…and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:33)? As she watched the life leak out of Jesus, did she wonder how a dying king could reign forever? Did she remember Gabriel’s assurance, “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37)? Did she remember how easily she had surrendered to God’s plan, voicing her faith, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38)? As the Roman soldiers ripped her son’s clothes, did she remember swaddling Jesus in a soft cloth the night she gave birth to him in the stable, because there was “no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:27)? As Jesus called to her from the cross, “Woman, behold your son,” and pointed to his beloved disciple, John, did she remember gazing into the shining dark eyes of her newborn son, the Savior of the world? As she heard Jesus cry out, “It is finished,” did she remember the “impossible” beginning of Jesus’ life? Did that memory of the miraculous lead her to wonder if life could yet again emerge from death?...

Looking at the Cross Through the Lens of Christmas: Hope for Excruciating Moments2022-05-04T23:47:54+00:00

E-119 Gospel Friends Roundtable Edition Carols of Christmas with Vanessa Hawkins, Ronjanett Taylor, B.A. Snider, Robin Stevens, & Sherry Lanier

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E-119 Gospel Friends Roundtable Edition Carols of Christmas with Vanessa Hawkins, Ronjanett Taylor, B.A. Snider, Robin Stevens, & Sherry Lanier2020-10-20T17:27:10+00:00

The Light of the World

When each of my children was around 5 years old, we did a “Names of Jesus” unit together during our Advent homeschool time. Each day we would focus on a different name that Jesus is called in the Bible, such as shepherd, king, Alpha and Omega, or light of the world. Each lesson had an activity, craft, or lesson associated with it, most of which I’ve forgotten now … except for the object lesson I used for “Light of the World.” To begin this lesson, we would look at Bible verses together such as John 9:5, where Jesus says, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” It was very clear to even a young child that Jesus understood his role in the world as a light to shine in the darkness. I then proposed that we go into the darkest room in the house, a small bathroom with no windows. Always eager to get up and move, and intrigued by continuing the lesson in the bathroom (of all places!), each child would eagerly comply. A lesson to remember Once in the bathroom, I would flip on the light, close the door, and we’d notice together the 120 watts of brightness—brightness that lit up every nook and cranny of the small space. We noticed how the bright light illuminated everything, including the shiny faucets, the pretty shower curtain, the dust on the shelves, and the dark corners of the cabinet. We talked about how Jesus’ light brightens our lives and helps us see, but also exposes things we might rather not see. We expressed our gratitude that we had such a bright light to make this room cozy, familiar, and easy to use any time of day or night. And then, I gave them the news that I was going to turn out the light. Each child, without exception, looked at me with a bit of fear and asked, “Turn out the light? And leave the door closed?” “Yes, that’s what I mean,” I responded. “It’s going to get very dark in here. But I won’t leave, and I promise I’ll keep talking to you. Are you ready?” Now, every child is different, but even my bravest offspring were a little hesitant to be in the pitch-black darkness even though they knew I was with them. Then I flipped the switch, and we were in the dark. After a few seconds I heard: “Mommy? How long will we be in the dark? Can we turn on the light soon?” It was then that I told them I had brought a little match with me. It was nothing like the bright light bulbs we were used to, but still … maybe it would make a small difference?...

The Light of the World2022-05-04T23:48:42+00:00

Why Study the Old Testament?

My seminary professor posed a question in his lecture the other day: Should we decorate our nurseries with Noah’s Ark themes? Um, well…I did. My oldest, who’s now off at college, had a yellow and green Noah’s Ark themed nursery when she was a baby. What’s the problem, Prof.? But then I studied the story. It’s not that I hadn’t learned about Noah before, but most of my understanding of the passage, along with many other Old Testament stories, comes from childhood books filled with primary colors and cartoon-like figures. But the story of Noah is actually incredibly heavy and exceedingly violent.   Many Old Testament stories carry this kind of weight. While studying 1 Samuel with our women’s Bible study, we came across this verse: “The hand of the Lord was heavy against the people of Ashdod, and he terrified and afflicted them with tumors…” (5:16). This probably isn’t a Scripture passage hung up on the fridge for that good ole’ morning encouragement. As we digested what was going on in the context, one friend lamented that passages like this are why she stays away from the Old Testament. I get it. I had similar feelings when digging into the story of Noah. It’s hard sometimes to understand how these Old Testament stories apply to us today; it’s equally difficult to grasp the importance of reading them when many are harsh and even some, grotesque. But the Old Testament is significantly beautiful. It is vital to our understanding of the great and glorious God we serve and digging into these books sheds light on the incredible beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are many other reasons to give time and attention to Old Testament books, but here are three to consider:   The Old Testament is Significant because it Reveals the Purposes of God   As a literature teacher, I delight in seeing a student’s face light up when they begin to understand how the plot details of a piece of literature fit together to create one unifying and often very meaningful story. Our understanding of Scripture must be seen in a similar light. The Bible is one beautiful and grand story – the grandest story! It cannot merely be understood as individual, disconnected books made up of individual, disconnected stories. When we study the Bible, we often do so by jumping around to different books and chapters, which is certainly fine and can be beneficial. But the challenge is that we not losing sight of the big picture – the grand story – that connects all the details from Genesis to Revelation...

Why Study the Old Testament?2022-05-04T23:49:33+00:00

When You Feel Like Pitching Christmas

When I was a little girl, my mother told me the story of a long ago relative, Amelia Ruth.  As a child, she was a notorious spoiled brat.  Her parents warned her that Santa rewarded bad behavior with “ashes and switches.” Amelia Ruth didn’t listen. On Christmas morning she ran to her Christmas stocking only to find it full of soot.  In predictable behavior she took that stocking, (my mom may have embellished this part) swung it round above her head, and pitched it across the room.  A CRACK interrupted her tantrum, for buried in the toe of this stocking was the hand painted china doll she’d asked for, broken. I feel like throwing a tantrum myself. As COVID fatigue sets in and my usual holiday plans could be turning to ashes and soot, am I acting like Amelia Ruth this Christmas? Sure, we experience spilt milk moments, and we try not to cry or pitch a fit.  As frustrating as piles of laundry or work deadlines can be, we are used to pushing through.  But now that Bing Crosby is on the radio and the familiar smells of the season take us back to Christmas last year, we may feel a panic.  What if I spend Christmas alone?  What if I can’t take the children to their grandparents’ house?  What if I can’t afford to celebrate in the usual ways? So much has been lost in this time of COVID, and I don’t want to lose my usual Christmas, too.  This is not the December I want, and I feel like swinging this holiday season along with the rest of 2020 over my head and pitching it across the room. Mary and Joseph would understand how you and I feel. After all, their simple, obedient Jewish lives were hijacked when the angel delivered to them his unexpected birth announcements.  When this teenage mom and her new husband stepped into parenting the Promised One, I doubt they imagined what would follow.  As we see in the events of Matthew and Luke, the first Christmas could be summed up in the word, unusual. First of all, a barn?  Really?  If I had been Mary, I would have stomped my foot in Amelia Ruth style and said, I knew I was giving birth to the Messiah, but it didn’t occur to me I’d have to do it in a barn! I doubt any of us would have expected to have donkeys and cows munching on hay and looking on while we panted and pushed, birthing the special baby. Far from the comfort of home and family, was Mary undone as she felt the contractions come? And, what about Joseph? Did he break out into a sweat as he struck out door to door, trying to find shelter for them in Bethlehem?  How was he supposed to take care of the Messiah if he couldn’t even secure a hotel room?  Life was outside his control, even while obeying God.  And after Jesus was finally born, when Joseph gazed at the Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, were his own dreams of being a dad for the first time subjugated to the reality in front of him, being an earthly father to the Son of God? But the surprises did not stop there. This unusual barnyard scene was interrupted by an unexpected group of visitors, a scruffy band of excited shepherds barging in with tales of singing angels, shining light, and tidings of comfort and joy.  In the middle of this first (and very unusual) Christmas day, what did Mary do? In the midst of what seemed to be ashes and switches, did she complain, pitch a fit, get mad at God or the circumstances He put them in?  Did she ever stomp her foot and say, I don’t like this! Luke tells us what Mary did in Luke 2:19. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Our traditional holiday celebrations are mere shadows of what Mary saw in these unusual days of the first Christmas – things she pondered.  Every year I’ve untangled yards of Christmas lights, yet God decked the first Christmas sky with “the glory of the Lord” shining on the shepherds (Luke 2:9).  I remember my daddy stretching off the top of a ladder to stick the star on our gigantic Christmas tree.  But, during Mary’s Christmas, God Himself hung a star over His Baby’s house to guide the Magi (Matthew 2:9).  I’ve worked hard on buying just-right gifts for all on my list, yet God used the Wise Men (not our mere Amazon delivery) to hand deliver treasures of gold, frankincense, and myrrh—perfectly-timed provisions for Mary’s needy family of three (Matthew 2:11). She saw the unusual and pondered what God was doing. Maybe I should take my Christmas cues from Mary, not Amelia Ruth.  Instead of pitching Christmas 2020 with all its disappointments and unusual situations, could I ponder it instead?  As I am tempted to wind up my frustration and toss it across the room, could I pause and unwrap what God is giving me to hold this Christmas? If I don’t, could I miss the china doll He’s hidden in the ashes and switches of a pandemic (Isaiah 30:15)? What is God giving me to ponder?...

When You Feel Like Pitching Christmas2022-05-04T23:50:22+00:00
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