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Two Questions Women Shouldn’t Ask

During a leisurely lunch with three dear friends some time ago, horror stories and scars surfaced around two familiar topics.

Among the four of us, two are married with children, one has never been married or had children, and one is divorced with no children. We range in age from 35-51 and are committed Christ followers.

First, I need you to know something. This post took significant time to write and pray through because it’s rather blunt about sensitive topics.

This post isn’t a vent — it’s a plea borne out of loving others. That being said… 

Throughout our adult lives, my three friends and I have been asked two questions so many times that we’ve lost count. To this day, we remain flabbergasted that some women haven’t caught on. There are two questions that plainly shouldn’t be posed to another woman — unless she’s your BFF or a close second.

Question #1: Why aren’t you married?

Stated like that, this question isn’t really a question. It’s a judgment. 

Since I didn’t get married until I was 29, I fielded that question a LOT of times. We met when I was 23, dated for two years and were engaged for four years while he finished post-graduate college. During those six years, if we would have collected $1 from each woman who asked me why I wasn’t married yet, we could’ve easily paid for the wedding and honeymoon four times over.

As our conversation continued, my three friends and I realized that more often than not this question was posed by married women. That’s tantamount to a millionaire asking an unemployed person why they aren’t buying a mansion.

Even if asked in a caring or flattering way (perhaps she thinks highly of you), it still stings. Believe it or not, some women ask it to intentionally inflict emotional or social harm. And trust me, those on the receiving end can tell the difference.

I’ve also been asked innumerable times since my divorce nearly ten years ago why I have not remarried, along with who, when and whether or not I am dating. Frankly, the answer is entirely too personal to discuss nonchalantly with casual acquaintances. So I never bother. 

Last month, a Christian friend whom I hadn’t communicated with in a while asked about my dating status. When I responded that I was not seeking to be in a relationship, she typed a stunning one-word response: “Disobedient” — immediately followed by, “You’re not a nun.”

Wow. Currently, I am more content in Christ, peaceful and purpose-filled than at any other time in my adult life. But she didn’t ask about those things. She simply judged one aspect as the whole story and moved on.

If you are single, divorced or widowed, perhaps you need to hear this today: God gave marriage as a blessing, not an entitlement or commandment. He did not create us as half a person seeking another half to “complete” us. We are whole and complete in Christ alone. The rest is all grace.

I loved serving God as a married woman. I love serving God as a single woman. Simply put, God calls some women to serve through their marriage and others through undistracted singleness. The key is a passion to love and serve God no matter your marital status.   

And the second question… 

Question #2: Don’t you want children? 

Again, stated like that, this isn’t a question. It’s a judgment.

This question has caused more scars in my life (and my three friends) than any other. It presupposes so many things that it’s hard to know where to begin addressing it.

Asking a single woman that question is cruel — whether intentional or not. Perhaps having children has been a lifelong, unfulfilled dream that has cost her many sleepless nights and a river of tears. What if she believes marriage should come first? Should she rush out to the nearest bar and hook up with the first man she sees? Should she rush to the sperm donor bank and sign up? 

Asking a married woman that question presupposes that she is physically able to bear children. Perhaps she and her husband have tried to conceive children for years only to face financial hardships due to unsuccessful fertility treatments. No woman should ever be expected to share her private struggles or physical condition to justify why her home isn’t overflowing with children.   

My ex-husband and I were married for thirteen years, but didn’t have children. We trusted God’s plan that if He wanted us to have children, He would provide. I believe we would have been wonderful parents. But now looking back on divorce, I believe God knew best. 

Some people have pulled out the Christianity card. “God designed women to have children, so you’re disobeying if you don’t have them.” Yes, people have actually had the audacity to say such an unkind thing to me and my three friends in the past. And when such a statement comes from someone we hold dear, the wound plunges deep. 

Some people have played the adoption card. “So many children need good homes, why aren’t you willing to adopt?” Stated like this, that question is also a judgment. Perhaps she is, in fact, willing to adopt, but is still thinking and praying through the many considerations of such a monumental commitment.  

Simply put, no woman owes another an explanation to these two extremely personal questions. Over time, I’ve learned to smile and deflect the tension. However, the pain inflicted still takes significant prayer, extending relentless forgiveness, and time for God to heal.

The bottom line? Those two questions negate God’s sovereignty. They infer that we need to follow cultural norms or our own plans instead of submitting to His. If no one has ever asked you either question, you are among the blessed minority. 

If you are unmarried or do not have children, please hear this truth loud and clear:

Despite your marital or parenting status,
   God loves you right now
   Just as you are. 
   Precisely where you are.
You can joyfully, successfully serve him today.

Following God isn’t about conforming to some cultural mold of how others believe our lives should look. Remember the Apostle Paul? The Apostle Peter? One was married, one was not; one had children, one did not — but they made a powerful difference for God’s kingdom from their individual, God-designed circumstances.

God can use any person at any time in any place for His holy purposes.

No tangible thing on this earth makes us more or less of a Christian. Following Christ never hinges on whether or not we’re married or have children. It’s about being in relationship with Him. It’s about our desire to know Him and be fully known by Him. To rely on Him for our every need. To receive His immeasurable love and amazing grace into the deepest recesses of our soul with overwhelming gratitude.

So to my fellow women who have been on the receiving end of these two questions: I love you. I know what it feels like and I’m so sorry for your pain.   

And to those women who believe it’s okay to keep asking another woman either of those questions, STOP.

PLEASE STOP. 

They damage — and even kill — friendships.

*These wonderful friends are not members of my home church. They read this post when I originally wrote it and gave permission to share the generalities of our discussion in the hope of shedding much needed light on this sensitive topic.*

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Donna’s brand new individual and small group Bible study: “Perseverance: Praying Through Life’s Challenges” (based on the book of Nehemiah) is now available through Concordia Publishing House and Amazon.

Pastor Pyle

After nearly eighteen hours of travel, our group of 35 pilgrims arrived safely in the Holy Land. We were tired but exhilerated! Our Imagine Tours guide met us at the airport holding this greeting sign that provided us all a hearty chuckle to start our adventure.

I’m uncomfortable. 🙂

After climbing aboard our bus, we headed straight toward Jaffa – the modern name for the biblical city Joppa. The Hebrew word Joppa means beauty, which was evident by its breathtaking location overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.

Our first order of business was to try out the local fare for lunch that included falafels and shawarma (meat cut into thin slices, stacked in a cone-like shape, and roasted on a slowly-turning vertical rotisserie).

Our first meal in the Holy Land!

We walked through Joppa seeing the seaport that Solomon used to import cedar logs from Lebanon which were used to build the original Temple of God in Jerusalem. It was from here that Jonah attempted to flee God’s calling to preach to the rebellious people in Nineveh.

Little Luther waving from Jaffa

We wound our way through narrow stone streets and walkways to spend some quiet time in the Church of St. Peter, which is believed to have been built over the site of Simon the Tanner’s home where Peter received the missionary vision from God in Acts 9-10.

St. Peter’s Church in Jaffa, Israel

Wayne gathered us for a time of prayer overlooking the city to pause our busy feet and minds to ask God to bless our time for this great spiritual adventure.

Wayne gathering us for prayer overlooking Jaffa, Israel

We concluded our day with a delicious meal of local fare of grilled fish, a plethora of fresh vegetables, and mini lamb burgers at our hotel in Netanya, Israel. Even though we were in the middle of a bustling city that is home to nearly a quarter million people, the sea breeze and beautiful shorelines of the Mediterranean Sea beckoned within walking distance.

Thank you, God, for getting us here safely an starting off our adventure in such stunning surroundings!

When Summer Beckons of Gardens and Harvest Fields

The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” Luke 10:2-3

As a little girl, Grandma’s garden was a magical place. Rising early, I would open the low picket gate, hands trembling with anticipation. After all, high adventure awaited.

I loved pretending that beautiful oasis was my kingdom. I ruled over butterflies, bumble bees and fat red earthworms. My scepter was a fragrant stalk of mint and my princess glitter was the fresh morning dew.

Grandma puttered around in her floppy hat, earth-encrusted gloves and apron patiently weeding, pruning and keeping the kingdom delightful. She taught by example how loving care encourages gardens to produce a rich harvest.

By the end of our lazy, garden mornings together , her small basket overflowed with tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and other fresh delights we would enjoy later in the day.

Flowers were my crown, a little summer dress was my ball gown, and life couldn’t get any better all the way around.

Although picturesque, when Jesus said that the harvest is plentiful, He meant something entirely different than my childhood kingdom.

Jesus spoke of souls, not of garden knolls. Instead of butterflies, bees and worms, He spoke of laborers bringing in His harvest.

That’s you. And that’s me. Every Christian who calls themselves a disciple is His laborer.

Harvest denotes a time of urgency, not lazy summer days. It offers a precious short window of opportunity to pluck what the Lord of the harvest has already prepared: souls for His kingdom.

As His laborers, do we adopt the same sense of urgency? With over seven billion people on the planet, the harvest field is massive. When Jesus spoke these words about the harvest field, He looked upon a generation open and ready to receive the Gospel.

You and I live in a generation ready for harvest.

Look around, what do you see? I see thousands coming together at youth gatherings and Christian conferences. People say the church is declining. I say we’ve lost focus on the harvest.

Instead, what if:

…we focused on reaching the lost instead of counting heads in the pew?

…we focused on ministry initiatives instead of placating the comfortably saved?

…we focused on mobilizing God’s laborers into the harvest field instead of moving someone out of the White House?

Being His laborer means I need to stop acting hypocritical and start loving people like Jesus did. It means being willing to risk it all and get my hands dirty to bring in His harvest.

It’s HIS harvest. You and I just have the privilege of being His gardeners, our wages fully paid by His sacrificial blood at Calvary.

It’s a great big world. We have a great big job. And we have a great big God who has equipped us to bring in His holy harvest.

So we believe.

We pray to the Lord of the harvest and step out in faith, trusting Him to bring in an overflowing abundance.

We can even wear a floppy hat.

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Donna’s brand new Bible study: “Perseverance: Praying Through Life’s Challenges” (based on the book of Nehemiah) is now available through Concordia Publishing House and Amazon.

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Dear Single Christian Woman

During two events where I was invited to speak earlier this year, I was given the opportunity to talk with young, single women (late teens, early 20s) about specific challenges that single Christian women face in today’s fast-paced, social media era.

These young ladies wanted helpful tools to apply as they live out their daily faith walk as single Christian women. Since I have lived “single again” for nearly ten years now, I am intimately aware of the myriad of issues.

To be clear, I wasn’t a Christian the first time I was single. Having now experienced singleness as both a non-Christian and Christian, I can tell you that it makes ALL the difference. As Christ followers, we are held to a higher, holy standard.

Having said that, over the past decade God has taught me to some very practical ways to live a God-honoring life as a single Christian woman. It all comes down to one thing:

I need to act like I’m already married.

Let me explain.

As an unmarried woman I am careful not to spend significant time alone with men. This is partly to guard against misconceptions (especially if they are married), but also to guard against temptation. Having watched infidelity play out in my own marriage (and others’ marriages), I’m under no illusions that hearts are bullet-proof to physical attraction.

As an unmarried woman I guard my speech around men. This is hard for me because I love to use humor to put people at ease. Teasing or sarcasm so often communicate flirtation, and innuendo opens sketchy doors. Social media and texting etiquette add additional complexities, as well.

As an unmarried woman I think twice about what I wear around men. I strive to look my best each day, taking care with my hygiene and appearance. Looking nice is not a sin. Dressing to intentionally attract a man’s attention to certain body parts is another story. We might as well dangle an apple from our breast. When I know that I will be in mixed company, I dress so that men will look me in the eye, not from neck to naval. I don’t wear a tent, but I don’t wear skirts slit up to my pelvis, either.

As an unmarried woman I think twice about my body language toward men. This one is particularly hard for me because I’m a Southern woman who loves to hug the stuffing out of people. However, I ensure there is daylight between me and the man sitting next to me. I still hug, but never prolonged to avoid implied intimacy. It’s a “hug and release” policy (yes, I love to fish so this fishing analogy made me smile).

As an unmarried woman I guard my thoughts about men. If I find myself idealizing the appearance of a man that leads to fantasizing about “what if” or “if only” scenarios, I confess those thoughts to God and set them aside. I have learned to “bounce my eyes” so that I am not disrespecting men with a neck to naval assessment which may invade my dreams later.

I fully realize that this list may seem fastidious, but it reflects the high regard in which I hold men, their marriages, and their personal boundaries.

My question for you, dear single Christian woman, is this: What will you give to this man who is not your husband? Don’t cheapen yourself with the legal gymnastics of, “How far is too far?” Ask instead, “What is my motivation for the thoughts, words, and actions I am choosing as I interact with this man?”

Don’t fish with your body. Fishing never works out well for the bait.

This post isn’t about who or how to date. Those are entirely separate lists. There is much fun and joy to be had during dating. This is about how to act as a single Christian woman, whether or not marriage is part of God’s plan for your life.

Scripture describes the Church as a bride awaiting a husband who is to come. That bride is admonished to keep herself pure, to live as though she is already the wife of her bridegroom. That is a powerful image of what being a single Christian woman looks like.

Whether an earthly husband is ever in your future, a heavenly Husband already is, so honor Him now in eager expectation of meeting Him one day.

And may I point out a crucial truth? You are not half a person seeking an earthly person to “complete” you. You are whole and complete in Christ.

Remember, the apostle Peter (in his married state) and the apostle Paul (in his single state) linked arms and made a difference for the kingdom. Our ultimate goal as Christ followers to is follow Christ. The other blessings in this life are pure grace.

Whether or not you ever become a married woman, thinking like one guards your heart from sin and opens it to embrace God’s incredible plan for your life – whatever that may be.

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Donna’s brand new Bible study, “Perseverance: Praying Through Life’s Challenges” (based on the book of Nehemiah) is now available through Concordia Publishing House and Amazon.

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Dear Pastor’s Wife: Please Forgive Us

Last week, I wrote a post dedicated to pastors. The response was beautiful.

Beyond the comments left on social media and the blog, what moved my heart the most were the many private messages I received expressing gratitude from those who love our pastors most: their wives.

It reminded me of the challenging road that our pastors’ wives walk — not only my pastors’ wives but the plethora of these amazing women whom I have been privileged to befriend all across the U.S.

So to my pastors’ wives and each of you dear, courageous women married to pastors:

You gracefully stand silently in the shadows while people clamor for your husband’s attention and heap praises on him while we don’t even acknowledge your presence.

Please forgive us.

You live in a glass house where we notice every fingerprint, yet you faithfully keep those windows clean by extending forgiveness that we often don’t deserve.

Please forgive us.

We ruthlessly police your fashion, hairstyle, hair color, size, and words like it’s our sole duty on this planet.

Please forgive us.

You listen dutifully while your husband uses your family as a sermon illustration again and graciously smile while we laugh at you.

Please forgive us.

When we unjustly criticize your husband or how he runs the church — even when it’s so nasty that there should be a smackdown right there in the narthex — you smile graciously and assure us gently that you’ll pass along our concerns.

Please forgive us.

You strive to faithfully walk as Christ’s disciple faced with the same struggles and hurts that we experience, yet you shoulder the burden in solitary silence.

Please forgive us.

You are often volunteered for tasks in the church that no one else wants to tackle — often areas you are not gifted for — yet you trudge faithfully ahead while we slander your efforts.

Please forgive us.

And then there’s this:

Some days you worry that the stress may kill your husband. Literally. You desperately want to be in the will of God but are afraid of what that requires from you, your marriage and your children.

You long to help the multitudes alongside your husband and willingly lay down your very life for the beautiful body of Christ. And some days that makes you very, very tired.

Perhaps you wonder when your husband retires if you will ever walk into a church again. Sometimes sheep bite.

But I want you to know, dear Pastor’s Wife:

Your calling is hard and it can get lonely, but you are standing on the Rock.

You may not have anticipated this calling to be a pastor’s wife, but God has equipped you for this noble work.

God will faithfully provide helpers to you who love you unconditionally, find joy praying for you, and commit to walk alongside you — whether inside or outside your church.

Take heart: Jesus can heal your wounded soul, renew your exhausted mind, reconcile broken relationships, work beautiful forgiveness, mend your broken heart, and meet your every need.

I pray for God to keep faith and hope alive in you because we NEED you.

We often neglect to tell you, but please know this:

You are LOVED.
You are BEAUTIFUL.
You are VALUABLE.
You shine God’s light RADIANTLY.

THANK YOU for your extraordinary sacrifice of praise to Christ our Savior as you serve us. Sisters, I love you dearly and esteem you greatly.

Church, when was the last time you prayed for your pastor’s wife?

Dear Pastor: Will You Forgive Us?

Pastors have answered a high and difficult calling. There are few things that boil my blood faster or put my feet on a soap box quicker than when I hear God’s people hurling mean-spirited or spiteful comments at God-loving, servant-hearted pastors.

It gets ugly when sheep turn on their shepherds. And Satan, along with the world, watches. Smiling.

I love to intentionally encourage my pastors. When I see them at some mid-week church function, I am fully aware that they may have faced strenuous spiritual warfare. The enemy has likely lobbed a stream of fiery darts at them, whether it’s tough counseling sessions, disheartening church politics, or the death of a member.

It’s critical to convey to our pastors and pastor friends just how vital they are to God’s work and His church — to let these grace-filled men of faith know how much they, their families, and their ministries mean to so many.

So…to my pastors, all my pastor friends, and your beautiful families:

You embrace the calling to be crucified with Christ, yet sometimes we are the ones pounding in the nails.

Please forgive us.

You take up the cross of Christ without hesitation because it is not merely your day job–it’s your very calling, passion and purpose. Yet sometimes we watch from comfortable pews without lifting a finger as you stumble under that staggering weight alone.

Please forgive us.

You love us enough to sacrifice family time, shorten vacations and make yourself available 24-7-365. Yet when you need to unplug and allow God to recharge you, we haughtily demand your instantaneous appearance.

Please forgive us.

When life blindsides us with loss, relationship difficulties, health scares or financial burdens, you are the first to offer prayer and call in the posse to help. Yet when you need us, we wear busyness as a badge to dodge.

Please forgive us.

You willingly live in a glass house with our noses pressed against it, gracefully shouldering our smart aleck remarks and quick judgments. Yet when you lovingly ask us accountability questions, our self-righteous indignation could choke God Almighty.

Please forgive us.

But I want you to hear loud and clear: You are not expendable.

You are VITAL.
You are VALUABLE.
You are LOVED.

As you stand at the vanguard of deadly spiritual warfare, it’s an amazing privilege to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you on God’s battlefield. To heartily encourage you when you are weary. To follow where God calls you to lead.

THANK YOU for your integrity and tireless commitment.

Church, when was the last time you prayed for your pastor?

One Night Lit the World (Advent, Week 3)

Have you ever been in a situation where you were too terrified to speak? Shocked into frozen immobility?

Imagine for a moment the night of Jesus’ birth from the shepherd’s point of view. Suddenly their peaceful, starry night sky lit up with the glory of the Lord! And if that wasn’t enough, then an angel of the Lord dropped in with a heavenly message.

Can you even imagine? No wonder the angel’s first words were, “Do not be afraid.”

That shekinah glory of the Lord that Luke records here refers to the splendor and brilliance that radiates from God’s very presence. Scripture tell us that the shekinah glory manifested in the pillars of cloud and fire that led the Israelites out of Egypt. It shone from the burning bush for Moses. It appeared in the brightness of the cloud at Jesus’s Transfiguration.

The glory of the Lord was quite an attention-grabbing, heart-stopping manifestation, indeed. It was a sign of both God’s nearness and His remoteness.

And the Levitical shepherds of Bethlehem were completely surrounded by it. After 400 years of God’s silence where His glory never visibly shone over His people, God made His mighty presence unmistakably known.

Though the shepherds were likely terrified, the angel’s announcement did not foreshadow gloom and destruction. He trumped the Good News that the Savior promised by God had finally arrived!

And the angel’s Good News was not limited to the shepherds, but intended for all people. Not just those who are good for goodness sake. It was the Good News of the Gospel that Jesus Christ had arrived into this world to save all who believe from eternal separation from Him.

God’s plan of salvation promised in the Garden of Eden had finally been put in motion that night. That one, extraordinary, life-giving night. And God tasked those shepherds to get the word out.

It was an announcement of great joy that we are privileged today to share with others — especially during this beautiful Advent season. It is God’s message of love, reflected in the innocent eyes of a Baby.

The shepherds didn’t realize that they would be hearing the heavenly announcement that night which would change the course of eternity. That it was a night like any other in all of history before or since.

Those stunned shepherds were privileged to be part of one extraordinary night that changed the history of the world and become bearers of a story full of wonder.

So, like the shepherds, the angel reminds us, “Do not be afraid.”
Don’t be afraid to receive the Good News.
Don’t be afraid to believe that it is for you.
Don’t be afraid to celebrate with great joy that your eternal address has changed from lost to found, because of the sheer grace and vast love of God almighty.

Joy to the world, the Lord has come!
Let earth receive her king.
Let every heart prepare Him room,
Let heaven and nature sing! 

 


We would be honored for you to join us on this life-changing tour.

 

The Lamb Wrapped in Swaddling Clothes (Advent, Week 2)

And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. {Luke 2:6-7}

Knee deep grass covering the hills gently waved in the desert breeze as the sun rose over Bethlehem. My eyes strained to see Jerusalem, but it was too far away.

As our group made its way toward the Church of the Nativity (built over the place believed to be Jesus’ birthplace), we walked through a small, beautiful garden just beyond the courtyard colonnades. As we approached the church, I took a picture of this plaque hanging on the wall near the entrance.

Those words of John 1:14 brought tears to my eyes. Not simply because of the city in which I stood, but because of the meaning behind what I was reading: the Word became flesh.

A Child is Born

In the Hebrew culture of Mary’s day, a new mother usually remained secluded for forty days following the birth of a son. Then she would enter the tabernacle or temple to offer a sacrifice of purification (Leviticus 12:1-8; Luke 2:22).

Forty is a significant number throughout Scripture that usually symbolizes a period of testing or trial before bringing forth something new.

For instance, God caused rain to flood the earth for 40 days and nights before bringing forth Noah from the ark to a new beginning on dry land. Moses spent 40 days and nights on Mount Sinai before bringing forth God’s law to the people. The Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years before God brought forth His people into the promised land. Jesus spent 40 days in the desert being tempted by the devil before bringing forth His earthly ministry.

What a blessing forty days of secluded peace must have been for a new mother to gaze uninterrupted on the gift of life. Feelings of wonder, awe and excitement often accompany a birth. Yet the process can be painful.

There is a letting go before embracing the new.

In God’s strength we let go of our imperfect dreams to embrace God’s perfect plan. Let go of past ambitions to welcome future blessings. Let go of life as it was to discover life as it unfolds. This letting go may take 40 days, 40 years, or a lifetime.

Yet birth evokes hope.

At Christmas we celebrate when God temporarily let go of His Son to birth His plan of redemption for all mankind. Mary’s natural birth was an emblem of new birth. That virgin birth brought forth the Light of hope into a dark world.

Love and hope birthed in a manger. 

Manger and Swaddling Clothes

That day in Bethlehem profoundly affected my spiritual journey. Gazing across the soft hillsides where such wonders occurred so long ago stirred my soul. I cannot wait to return there next year.

Yet perhaps that historic church does not mark the actual spot of Jesus’ birth.

Known as the “Tower of the Flock,” Migdal Eder was located just outside the city of Bethlehem (in Bethlehem’s suburbs, if you will). Migdal Eder was the tower from which Levitical shepherds carefully watched over the lambs on the hills around Bethlehem. The shepherds’ sole purpose was to raise unblemished (paschal) lambs that would be offered as sacrifices in the Jerusalem temple a few miles away.

Migdal Eder is first mentioned in Genesis 35:21 in the account of Rachel’s death after giving birth to Benjamin (Jacob’s youngest son). Then the prophet Micah also referred to Migdal Eder: “And you, O tower of the flock, … to you it shall come…the kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem.

Scripture tells us that Jesus was born in a manger, but it does not necessarily denote a dark and dirty cave near an overbooked inn. The definition of a manger (Luke 13:15, Proverbs 14:4) often means a stall or crib where animals are kept. Like that of Migdal Eder.

It was a settled question that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. In fact, according to Jewish tradition, the first revelation of the Messiah would come from Migdal Eder, in the vicinity of Bethlehem.

Why is that significant to the Christmas story?

As the sacrificial lambs were born, those Levitical shepherds in the Tower of the Flock would wrap them in birthing cloths to protect their unblemished state. So when the amazed shepherds (recorded in Luke 2) hurried to see the great wonder that the heavenly host proclaimed, they arrived to gaze upon a baby born in the place where Passover lambs were born, swaddled like a Passover lamb.

The spiritual significance would not have been lost on those Levitical shepherds: Jesus’ birth pointed to Jesus as the Messiah, the paschal lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

God did not make the message of redemption complicated or intimidating. He invited everyone to behold the sacrificial miracle of Christmas in the perfect face of His Son, the Lamb of God, wrapped in swaddling clothes.

As our group prepared to depart Bethlehem, dozens more groups arrived to view the church and experience the wonder. As I surveyed the blur of faces, I thought about the massive crowds that would have gathered to register in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago following Caesar Augustus’ decree.

As I recall the streets of Bethlehem filling with people, I ponder the significance and location of Migdal Eder, the Tower of the Flock.

The Lamb swaddled.

The Son sleeping.

Perhaps, just perhaps, God never intended there to be room in the inn.

 


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Can Anything Good Come Out Of Nazareth? (Advent, Week 1)

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.” (Luke 2:4-5)

Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

That’s what Nathanael asked Philip in John 1:46 when Philip announced that they had found the One about whom Moses and the prophets wrote.

Rather than take offense at Nathanael’s skeptical question, Philip simply invited Nathanael, “Come and see.” Moments before, Jesus had invited Philip to follow Him. Now Philip invited Nathanael to see Jesus with his own eyes.

It comes down to inviting.

In the heart of today’s bustling City of Nazareth, the Church of Annunciation sits over the site believed to be Mary’s house. Originally built in the mid-4th century by Constantine, the church invites visitors to see the place where the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that God had chosen her to be the mother of the Messiah.

In Nazareth, Mary received a holy invitation to be a key player in an epic story that re-wrote history.

Christmas and invitations go hand in hand. God invites us to receive by faith the most priceless Gift ever given. You and I invite others to see the hope of the world reflected in the holy eyes of a Baby.

And then there was Bethlehem.

The word “Bethlehem” likely brings to mind nocturnal shepherds watching over their flocks. However, its meaning extends far beyond a pin on a map.

The word Bethlehem comes from two Hebrew words: (1) beth and (2) laham. Beth, roughly translated, means house. It does not necessarily denote a specific kind of building, but rather its function. Laham is a masculine noun which means bread (Genesis 18:5; Numbers 21:5). In fact, Leviticus 21:6 refers to laham as sacrificial bread.

So what is the significance? Bethlehem means House of Bread. What is a house of bread? A bakery. How did Jesus self-identify in John 6:35? “I am the bread of life.

Some may scoff and dismiss it as a cutesy coincidence that God introduced the Bread of Life to the world from a bakery. But wait. What is a bakery’s function? To provide food. Time and again Jesus fed the multitudes, both physically and spiritually. And the Word made flesh continues to feed us through Word and Sacrament today.

Advent is a time for us to praise God for the gift of the Bread of Life, who taught, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

Then there was Mary.

Mary’s betrothal time should have been filled with happy preparation for her new life as Joseph’s wife. Instead she grappled with the staggering news that she was pregnant. Not because their passion raged out of control, but pregnant like no other woman before or since ─ by the Holy Spirit.

A virgin conception? Incredulous at best, blasphemous at worst.

Yet Mary believed God’s angelic messenger. She trusted by faith and set the holy standard for surrender and submission: “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

Even though people could legally stone her to death? Let it be.

Even though Joseph could divorce her? Let it be.

By God’s amazing grace, Mary’s womb carried the One who conquered our tomb. Let it be!

And finally there was Joseph.

Chosen by God among all men on earth to be the guardian of our Lord. In steadfast faith, Joseph believed God’s message in a dream. Unwavering, he stood by Mary when culture dictated that he shun her.

With relentless perseverance, Joseph traversed miles on foot to become a midwife on the fly. He followed Caesar Augustus’ census decree and registered with the lineage of David — from which would birth the Divine.

Joseph adopted the Father’s Son and safeguarded the Light of the world.

Mary and Joseph were handpicked by God to nurture the Cherished of God. They didn’t ask for it. They likely faced persecution over it. They could have given in to fear and trembling, yet God strengthens those who turn to Him in faith.

Even though God’s plan turned their quiet life chaotic, Mary bowed low to lift His praise high: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

So, can anything good come out of Nazareth?

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)

 


Coming in 2019:

New 8-week DVD Bible study series based on the book of Nehemiah
(Published through Concordia Publishing House)

O Night Divine! Advent Devotions

This Sunday, December 2nd, begins our Advent season. The most wonderful time of the year!

Advent, from the Latin word for coming, initiates the church year. Even though you and I tend to think that Advent and Christmas wrap up the year, Advent celebrates the year Jesus’ earthly life began.

Advent focuses on Christ’s coming — past, present, and future. The past contained Old Testament prophecies that pointed to His birth at Bethlehem. The present focuses on His presence among us today through Word and Sacrament. And the future focuses on Christ’s second coming at the end of time.

Perhaps 2018 has been a banner year for you. Perhaps you are waving the surrender flag. Some years are filled with unforgettable memories; others are inundated with memories you’d rather forget.

Either way, Advent celebrates a beginning. 

As you begin Advent on Sunday, what is your prayer?

As we walk through these four weeks of Advent together focusing on Luke 2, my prayer is for you to see Christ and the significance of His birth with fresh eyes.

Beginner’s eyes, if you will.

I pray that you experience the wonder of Advent as we celebrate the coming of our Savior. And before 2019 rings in, I pray that you, like Mary, will treasure up all these things and ponder them in your heart (Luke 2:19).