Stinkin’ Feet

Traffic zipped behind my friend, as we slurped down our icy, Sonic slushies.  I tossed a golden tater tot in my mouth, as she explained, “Yesterday, after work, I did something I thought I’d never do.”   

I grabbed another warm tot, dipped it in ketchup, as I politely countered, “And what was that?”

“I washed Lisa’s feet.”

“What?  Why?”  Stunned, I stumbled over my words, as she continued to share her heart’s desire to humble herself and serve our boss at work.  Well, there are two people I would never wash the feet of.  The second I thought it, my gut ached from the punch.  Oh crap.  Do I have to, Lord?

The temperature hovered in the 90’s, as I led our summer program for the school where I taught.  A large, metal bowl of cool water and a small, white towel were hidden in an empty classroom close to the entrance door. Nervously, I waited for the first person whom I had so quickly and easily judged as un-washable to come to pick up her child.  An extremely large woman, in Goodwill hand me downs, overbearing and irritating, a single mom living on food stamps day to day, this was the woman I awaited.  She swung the door wide open.  For a second, with thoughts of retreat, I stepped back, but then pushed forward and extended my hand.

“I need you to come with me please.”  Her normally chattering lips pressed tight, as her eye brows arched into an inquiry.  “It’s OK.  Nothing’s wrong.  I just need you to step in here for a few minutes, before getting your daughter.”  I slowly opened the door, and invited her into the empty classroom.

“What’s this about?”  She stuttered as her eyes widened at the sight of the single chair, bowl, and towel.

“I need to show you how much the Father loves you,” I simply stated.  As she removed her worn sneakers and sweaty socks, I gently caressed each foot separately, pouring the refreshing water over her red, swollen ankle, and then patted each foot dry.

“God loves you, my friend.  He loves your daughter.  He sees what you are going through.  He cares about you.”  Over and over my words poured over her blessing, healing.  She wept.   Her tears and snot ran together as I handed her a tissue.

After I finished, she hugged me.  “Thank you.  No one has ever done anything like that for me before.”

My task was not yet complete that day.  I knew my co-worker would arrive any minute to pick up her paycheck, so I quickly cleaned up things, put out a fresh towel, and refilled the bowl.  I dreaded the next encounter more than the first, for inwardly I detested this woman’s attitude.

Multiple times the past school year, she had burst into the sanctuary of my classroom after hours to complain about how I treated her son.  She manipulated.  She controlled.  She threatened.  She made my life miserable that year.  I hate confrontation, yet she pushed me into it often.

I’ll be with you.  The small voice whispered inside.

But Lord, she may use this against me.  I countered.

Trust me.  Just trust me.  I took a deep breath as she bulldozed through the glass entry in a flurry of rush.  Reluctantly, I again offered my hand, and a gesture towards the classroom door.

“I need to do something.”  As I said the words, she began to protest, but curiosity won over.  She entered the room and sat down.  Bewilderment crept over her face.  “God asked me to wash your feet.  Please let me do this.”

“Oh, my little foot washer.”  she teased, as I cringed.  But then, she relented.

“You don’t feel like anyone here values you, but you are extremely valuable.  You think no one sees your pain and loss over your husband, all the time and energy you have put into caring for him and your children, but God sees.  He loves you and He cares.”  Again, I poured the water over her feet, and gently washed each one.

She just sat there, motionless, staring at me.  Quickly, she hugged me as we parted, simply whispering, “Thank you.”

That next year, she was honored “Teacher of the Year” and became a friend.  No one else ever knew about the foot washing that so cleansed me of my judgmental crud.    

I’ve heard it said recently, “Obedience has to look like something.” Yes. Yes.  It does. Obedience must look a lot like love. A lot like Jesus. It’s a lot like laying down your right to be right.  It’s a lot like picking up your cross and following Him. It’s a lot like losing your life to find life in Him. It’s a lot like 1 Corinthians 13, “the Love Chapter.”

If obedience doesn’t look like love, then we may be obeying the wrong spirit.  1 John 4 (TPT) explains this perfectly.  You test the spirits by this, 1 John 4:7-8 :“Those who are loved by God, let His love continually pour from you to one another, because God is love.  Everyone who loves is fathered by God and experiences an intimate knowledge of Him.  The one who doesn’t love has yet to know God, for God is love…v.10-11: This is love: He loved us long before we loved Him. It was His love, not ours. He proved it by sending His Son to be the pleasing sacrificial offering to take away our sins. Delightfully loved ones, if He loved us with such tremendous love, then “loving one another” should be our way of life.”   

In verse 20, it goes on to say that “Anyone can say, ‘I love God,’ yet have hatred toward another believer.  This makes him a phony, because if you don’t love your brother or sister, whom you can see, how can you truly love God, whom you can’t see?  For He has given us this command: whoever loves God must also demonstrate love to others.”

My dear friends, if our obedience doesn’t start and end with what Jesus said was the greatest commandment, “Love the Lord your God, with all your heart, soul, and mind.  And the second is this, Love your neighbor as yourself,” then we need to question our heart.  Who are we obeying after all?

It’s time to pick up our towels and wash some stinkin’ feet.

A Masterpiece

Some might call me an artist, though I’ve had no formal training. One healing, happy place for me is when I dip my brush into all these vibrantly, different colors. With the fresh paint on the tip, I push the brush to the canvas creating lines, patterns, and shades, until a form emerges, and the picture begins to make sense.

One of my favorite Greenville artists is the late, Guy Stevens. During an art festival, I poked my head into various studios in a downtown strip of shops next to the Reedy River. People sauntered in and out of the artists’ havens at leisure. The last shop in the row was the one I looked forward to the most. As I peered in, the bright, colorful, busy landscapes that I loved met me. Mr. Stevenson sat on his stool, brush in hand, smiling as he joyfully laid in his next stroke. Leaving the grasp of his mother’s hand, a child shoved his way in behind me. A hint of pleasure shimmered in Mr. Stevens’ eyes.

“Young man,” he said. “Would you like to come paint with me?” he paused. “If it’s alright with your parents of course?”

The child eagerly glanced up at his mom, whose nod was all he needed. He quickly grabbed the stool next the Mr. Stevens and began his additions to the masterpiece. Beaming with pleasure, Mr. Stevens sat beside him offering suggestions and praise.

As a crowd continued to gather around filling his tight studio space, Mr. Stevens explained. “All my artwork has the art of children worked into every piece. There are no mistakes in creating art. Everything works together to create a beautifully crafted piece of art. It’s what gives it character and makes it fun.”

Unity is not conformity. But I think many times, that’s what it is demanded. We say we want diversity, but when it comes down to it, I often see people wanting “yes men”, someone who will just agree with them, and not challenge them. Many seem to define unity in this way.

What does unity look like? Well, to me it looks like one of those beautifully painted pictures. There is lots of love, gentleness, kindness, patience, working with each other, encouraging one another, forgiving faults, graciousness, and humility. All these things woven together create an intricate masterpiece of unity.

In marriage, the times I feel most unified with my husband are when he is compassionate towards me, when he takes the low road and asks forgiveness first, when we are having to fight a common enemy, but we do it together in serving one another, loving each other well. Vulnerability and humility plays a key role in this. When we begin to demand that one of us is right and the other wrong, we are headed for some heartache. Neither of us are the big shots, demanding the other do what we say or “Hit the road, Jack,”

Unity is created by trust, vulnerability, and mutual respect, which is earned. It’s a by-product of those things. To throw someone under the bus because they offer a different color, stroke, perspective, or even correction, like “I think it might look better if we paint the tree like this,” is the act of immaturity in my opinion. Yet we do it to one another all the time, and say “Well, they weren’t a team player, so they just needed to be off the team.”

From my perspective, not only do you create another line of rejected, wounded people, but you also shoot yourself in the foot, because you miss out on the treasure in that person waiting to be released through compassion and encouragement.

If we are no longer orphans in the house of God, why do so many houses put the children out in the street again, because there is disagreement?

Sure. I understand that at some point, sin issues may need to be dealt with and in rare cases separation must happen, but that should be rare.

Instead, I believe we have revolving door churches, because we don’t know how to love each other well. We carry our agendas, and if you don’t support that, then move to a different house. That’s not a family. This is not what unity is built on. That is what worldly systems might look like, but not the body of Christ.

Jesus is coming back for one unified, glorious bride. But unity looks like something. It looks like Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All different functions, yet working together perfectly. Perfect uniqueness. Perfect submission. Perfect love. Perfect unity.

Come, pick up your brush, choose your color, and let’s create a masterpiece together.

A New Name

Recently, a woman approached me in our church lobby in a secretive manner. “Psst. I know you write under the name Charismata. I’m sure you do that to give the glory to God and not yourself.” Chuckling to myself I thought, “I wish it were for such a holy reason.”I looked this woman in the eyes, smiled, and just shook my head. “Um. Not exactly. It’s an act of obedience. God told me to write under that name, because it’s a name He gave me. It’s more about identity, than me being so holy as to do that.”

Years ago at a women’s event, the speaker challenged us to go home and ask God what His name for us was. Reluctantly, I tried the experiment and heard, “I call you Charismata.”

My initial reaction was actually fear, intimidation, distress. I actually hated the name, and I wrestled with Him over it for weeks.

“Why?” you may ask? Well, I was terrified at the thought of power, because I was very afraid that if I was powerful, then I would hurt someone.

I looked up the meaning of the word. It had everything to do with having power and influence over people. Later, I found another meaning, that said the power of grace. That made me feel somewhat better.

So, why so afraid of power? Well, quite honestly, I grew up powerless, around those who would dominate me, in attempts to control and manipulate, and I saw what “powerful” people could do. Having power meant that I could destroy myself or other people’s lives. It was safer to remain powerless; better that, than become like those around me. My life revolved around playing it safe, erecting walls of protection, not just to protect myself from others, but to protect others from what I could potentially envision myself becoming: the Dr. Jeckle/ Mr. Hide.

So, when Abba called me “Charismata”, it was loaded with rounds of love ammo aimed at all those lies deeply embedded in my heart.

When He asked me to write under that name, He was saying, “ Sweetie, it’s OK to be powerful in me, in my grace. You are my daughter, and you will use power to help people.”

Power should be used to help others, not hurt them, to lift others up, not tear them down, to give others a voice, not silence them. Empowerment is to empower others. It is to stand for the widows and children, for the survivors, for the broken hearted, those who can’t stand for themselves.

When leadership or persons in power strip you of your voice, making you feel like you should just remain silent, condemning or devaluing you, you are standing in the face of the demonic, for that is a work of the enemy. I am not saying the person is a demon, but there is an agreement with darkness.

I recently read that if we are standing on the edge of the cliff of the world, then if we stumble we may indeed fall off the cliff. But if we are standing in Jesus far away from the edge, then if we stumble, we fall into Him. In other words, you don’t just wake up one morning, and abuse your kids. It’s a series of steps towards the edge of a cliff that if you continue, will lead you over the edge. I choose to stand on and in Jesus Christ. He is my keeper.

Through the years, Charismata has become a term of endearment to me, a name that, when He calls me by, I smile.

I still deal with the lies from time to time of “What if you lose it?” or thought-flashes of becoming an abuser. But I know that’s not who I am. He loves me, and He calls me by a new name, an intimate name, a name that brings joy when I hear Him say it over me.

What’s He calling you my dear friend? It may surprise you.

Proof of Love

“How do you hear God so well?” or some version of that, is a question I often hear people ask me.  My usual answer is something like, “Well, God and I have walked together through hell and back, so I learned out of desperation to hear His voice.”

I remember one such time with Jesus. In a type of prayer ministry I have received, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I was taken back to a horrific memory, and was desperately trying to visualize Jesus in that place with me. At first, the man I thought was Jesus, when he approached me, was vile with evil lurking in his eyes.

Quickly, I asked for the true Lord Jesus to come. He did. The precious lover of my soul walked into my hell, and bent down in front of a little, terrified girl, who was me. Holding out His scarred hands where I could see, He said, “Daughter, see my scars. This is always proof of my love for you. Always look for the scars, and that way you’ll always know it’s really me, for my love never takes from you. It always gives. It doesn’t rape you. It protects you. It always sacrifices for you. It doesn’t demand a sacrifice of you.” I remember the love that flowed from His heart to mine. I will never forget that moment.

Love is to be experienced, and that experience of receiving the truth of who He really is began to unravel a web of lies that had held me deeply captive.

So, my intimacy with God, who I now can call my Papa, my Father, developed by Him loving me back to life, by the many times He has spoken what He thinks of me over and over again, by my experiences with Him. He is love. But His love is also jealous.

In worship, recently, the Holy Spirit jolted me. I felt like He said, “My children choose masturbation over the real thing.” Well, honestly, that shocked me, but I have learned to lean into the voice and ask for understanding, rather than dismiss it.

In a marriage, obviously, the most intimate time is sexual intercourse. Many times though, lovers chose an imitation to the real thing like masturbation and/or pornography, because it’s something they can control and manipulate, satisfying the flesh without exposing their heart.
In the intimacy of the marriage bed, flesh to flesh, heart to heart, we can’t hide. Our imperfections are exposed. We are also vulnerable, which should be a beautiful thing; skin to skin.

God awakens us to His love. Jealous for our affection, for our naked heart, He will not settle for an imitation, instead of the real thing.

He is done with His bride running to everyone else for what they should be getting from Him. He is drawing His bride into His intimate love. He’s jealous for us. Nothing can substitute for the real thing.

Sometimes we want a facebook kind of love or relationship, instead of a face to face, heart to heart friendship with God. What I mean by that is we tend to only put our best foot forward. We only show people what we think they want to see. We don’t show who we really are. It’s a psuedo friendship. Could you imagine only relating to your spouse through social media? For many of us, that’s our comfort level with God.

I’ve been really talented at running and hiding, because I thought in the exposing of my heart, I would be disappointed, or expose something ugly in me that I didn’t want to face.

I’ve walked through at lot of hurt, a lot of broken promises. People disappoint all the time. In fact, I almost cringe when someone says I’ll always be there for you, or we are forever family. I know the intentions are good, but honestly, I’ve found that’s usually the point the commitment to friendship is tested and many have walked away from relationship.
I think many do the same thing with God. As long as He is able to be controlled, and we can have Him on our terms, then we are good, but if He asks us to obey Him in the hard time, well, some walk away.

I can hear Jesus asking His disciples, “Will you leave me was well?” after all the crowd left offended and only the twelve were still there.

If your love is infatuation, it’s not really love. 1 Cor. 13 talks about what real love is. Love is patient. Love is kind. It doesn’t envy. It doesn’t boast. It’s not proud or rude. It’s not self seeking. It’s not easily angered and keeps no record of wrong. It always trusts, always hopes, never gives up. It never fails.”

So, intimacy and my ability to hear Him are all tied up together in a loving relationship with Him. Because I have experienced His true love and grace, even in the worst places, it has opened my heart to want to respond to Him, to want to obey Him. It’s not based on performance, but on relationship. I love Him, because He first loved me! I hear His voice, because we are face to face, breath to breath.

Do I still struggle with fear? Yes. Do I still get tripped up with lies? Yes. But I run to Him, not away from Him, because I know that He will respond to me out of perfect love.

In perfect love, there is no fear of punishment. God is love. His love is jealous for us, for our devotion to Him. He is relentless in His loving pursuit of our hearts. And He won’t take a fake, shallow love for the real thing.

Hangry!

“Don’t drive hangry!” “Please forgive me for the things I said when I was hangry.” “Maybe I’m hangry or maybe everyone really is this irritating!”

H-anger is real! As proof of this statement, yesterday morning I found “H-anger” in the Bible!  No really.

I was in Isaiah…ISAIAH of all places…and found this gem: Look to God’s instructions and teachings! People who contradict his word are completely in the dark. They will go from one place to another, weary and hungry. And because they are hungry, they will rage and curse their king and their God. They will look up to heaven and down at the earth, but wherever they look, there will be trouble and anguish and dark despair. They will be thrown out into the darkness. (Isaiah 8:20-22 NLT)

See! I told you! “And because they are hungry they will rage and curse their king and their God…wherever they look, there will be trouble and anguish and dark despair.” SEE! Like many recent scientific discoveries, this one too is already a known truth in the Bible and spoken about by God. H-anger is real and the world is in a tizzy because they are starving for God’s Word!

So where da food at!?

That is where our Royal Priesthood comes in. Us, believers, the Body of Christ. We are the caterers for this party. We are the problem solvers. We are the honey that refreshes!

Check out  Malachi 2:5-7 (NLT) “The purpose of my covenant with the Levites was to bring life and peace, and that is what I gave them. This required reverence from them, and they greatly revered me and stood in awe of my name. They passed on to the people the truth of the instructions they received from me. They did not lie or cheat; they walked with me, living good and righteous lives, and they turned many from lives of sin. The words of a priest’s lips should preserve knowledge of God, and people should go to him for instruction, for the priest is the messenger of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.” (emphasis mine)

As I said, the hangry world is in a tizzy, they have “trouble, anguish and despair.” As priests, we, have “life and peace.”

The hangry world “rages and curses their King and God”;  as priests, we demonstrate reverence and awe of His name. (Aside, if you’re not sure He will take them back after this rebellion, check out Psalm 107).

The hangry are “weary and hungry.” We priests have truth, good instruction and intimate knowledge of God; sweet and soothing food with which to satisfy the hunger of the people.

im hungry.jpg

They are hungry to be filled with the truth; that God sees them as beloved sons and daughters. They are starving to know that He has already taken care of the sin problem that separated them from Him and He is holding His arms out to them to receive them in an everlasting hug!

We priests are to deliver the Bread of Life to the people, the sustaining truth that He will fulfill their every need. He won’t leave them, but He will help them to grow up, stand up as mature sons and daughters who are warriors who battle from victory.

They should hear from our lips that He sees them as royal sons and daughters who are co-heirs with their brother Jesus, who are to rule and reign on the earth in the authority He has purchased for them. This is the pleasant duty set before us priests by the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

Did you notice that last bit? Our pleasant duty of bringing the truth and the intimate knowledge of God to His people is mandated to us, not by El Shaddai, (God Almighty) nor by Immanuel, (God With Us) nor by any other name, but instead our mandate comes from the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

Our role as priests who bring life and peace, truth and intimacy, reverence and awe of God, is a military role. We are a demonstration of the art of spiritual warfare.  Our warfare is not of this world, but powerful! (2 Cor 10:4)

Did you know all those complicated old testament duties that the priests performed were always about ridding God’s people of guilt and shame and the curses that came with sin?

As new covenant priests, we bring life and peace by assuring people that Jesus has done it all for them already and they need only turn from their own way and receive from Him.

We are privileged as priests to be with God in the intimacy of the Holy of Holies, which, by the way, is now wherever we are because His Spirit dwells within us.

From that place of intimacy we bring this abiding Presence to the hangry people and the fruit of His Spirit spills out of us satisfying their hunger with life, peace, joy, rest from their weariness, perfect love, patience, gentleness… all the nourishment that they are STARVING to receive.

You know when you are hungry, the slightest whiff of food catches your attention. Well, we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved…(2 Cor 2:15 NIV)  So just be. If you have spent time receiving from Jesus, just be and His aroma will draw them.

We are table hosts leading the hangry to the feast.  We invite them saying, “Come to the table!  Every satisfying thing your heart desires is in Him, there is peace to fulfill every appetite. The mouth-watering Bread of Life is there in abundance. It belongs to you. Nothing will be held back from you. No need to go hungry. No need to be hangry. The royal table is set before you and you are welcome. Let’s feast together.”

The Upside Down Kingdom Pt. 2

Snuggling up in a fuzzy, fleece blanket on a cold, wintry day in front of a crackling fire is one of my happy places. Give me some instrumental worship and a cup of hot tea, and I’m off into heavenly realms somewhere. As a woman, I love the concept of someone covering me with love and protection like that blanket. Sometimes though, I struggle to feel protected even when the blanket is offered by one I know loves me, and occasionally, I may still think the one bringing the blanket is coming to smother me with it.

In my last blog, “The Upside Down Kingdom, Part One”, my goal was to show you that the Kingdom of God is perhaps set up a little differently than what most think of. Position does not equal spiritual authority, as it does in a worldly system. We established that an attitude of honor is always appropriate, and honor by definition is to be highly valued. It was also established that spiritual authority is given to those who humble themselves the most, and serve others well in love.

There is a belief system that has been a part of the religious system for a very long time. Honestly, I think it’s been present since the fall in the garden; the temptation for us to look to other things or people to take the place of the true God.

The basic belief system is this: “I need someone else to be my go between with God. I need a human’s protection. I need a human’s covering. I need someone to represent me to God.” In many cases, what we are really saying is this, “God, you’re not good enough. Give me someone to rule over me.”

When God called Israel out of Egypt, to the mountain to worship Him, He wanted a family. He wanted a priesthood. He wanted to be married to each one of them. He wanted a friendship with each one of them like He had with Moses. As they stood at the foot of the mountain and saw the awesomeness of God, they said, “Nope, we are good! We will listen to whatever you tell Moses, but please don’t make us come to you ourselves. We want a go-between.” I believe it broke God’s heart to be rejected, but He allowed Moses to be that man.

Afterwards, when the people decided they didn’t care for Moses’s leadership so much, they rebelliously came against God’s friend. It wasn’t just because of the position that Moses held as to why God punished those who came against him. Moses humbly walked with God as His best friend. They had been invited to have the same relationship with God, but refused it, and then came against God’s best friend with rebellion and pride in their hearts. I believe this is primarily why they were punished.

 

Later, in the time of the judges ruling Israel, the people came to a place where they wanted a king to rule over them as the other countries had. Samuel, the prophet, told them God wanted to be their one and only King, but again, the people wanted a man to represent them to God. Samuel warned them of the consequences, but they begged for a human king anyway. They wanted protection, covering, leadership. Instead of looking to the one and only King of Kings and Lord of Lords, they decided He wasn’t good enough for them. They wanted flesh and blood they could see, hear, and touch. This was repeated over and over again through out the Bible.

Even when Jesus came on the scene, the Messiah they were looking for was one who would overthrow the Roman government and be supreme ruler. When they realized that Jesus wasn’t making His move to the human throne, they went from one day hailing Him as king, to three days later hurling curses of “Crucify Him!”

 

If you look at the teachings of Jesus, I don’t ever see where the kingdom He described had a man as go-between. In fact, the religious leadership of his day who had positions of authority over the people, the Pharisees and Sadducees, were the only “groups” Jesus really ever went after. His words against them were well, let’s just say some strong medicine, for He called them, “white-washed tombs”, “Sons of Satan”, etc… He saw what was in their hearts, and He called them out on it. If it were wrong for Him to say something against a religious leader, then He would have been sinning against Himself. Can you envision Jesus going up to many “church leadership” today? What would He see in their hearts?

In addition, in the Hebrew culture, the “Rabbi” who was the teacher in the synagogue, would read from the Torah, and then begin a discussion on the passage by asking questions that were answered by the people. The exchanges back and forth were highly relational, highly engaging. It was not what we think of today in modern churches of “the man of God” up on the stage giving his message.  The Rabbis were teachers there to discuss, engage, and exchange their knowledge of Torah back and forth with their pupils.

Jesus most certainly honored the governmental leadership of His day. In fact, it made the Jews furious with Him, because He told them if someone slaps you on the cheek, offer the other cheek. If they take your cloak, give him your shirt. It was the Roman soldiers of his day, that would demand such things. So, he most likely was implying that if a Roman soldier takes your cloak, give him your shirt. Even so, He wasn’t saying look to the Romans to protect you, to cover you. He was saying love those who don’t deserve it. Give to those who don’t deserve it. This is true love.

The disciples many times thought through the worldly lens of leadership, because they fought over who would be the greatest in His kingdom. Two of them, even sent their mom, to ask Jesus if they could sit next to Him on thrones. Jesus, however, taught His disciples to lead a different way. If they wanted to be great in the kingdom they must become like a little child, humble themselves, and serve others.

Jesus’s very purpose in giving His life was so that Papa could get His kids back. When He died the temple curtain tore in two, to show that we all have access into the Holy of Holies, as priest. We are now His family, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. He wants an intimate, bridal relationship with all His kids.

In the Jewish marriage ceremony, the bride was invited to meet her groom under the “chuppa” or a canopy.  It was here under this beautiful covering of the groom’s love that they exchanged their vows with one another.  This “chuppa” represents how we come under His canopy of protection, love, intimacy, and provision in a bridal relationship, because He is the only “Bridegroom”. We are His bride.  Can you imagine a bride demanding another’s covering other than her groom’s?  That would be adulterous.

 

In the early church, they lived by this model. The power of the Holy Spirit was poured out on them all, as they were in unity. It wasn’t just poured on the “spiritual leader of the group”. The power and authority were poured out on all of them. The more they walked in friendship with God, in humility and servanthood, the more power and authority followed them.

 

Yes, there were elders, and yes, there was a council, but it was only to serve the needs of the body and to keep the gospel message pure. The council of Nicaea, where we get the church’s Nicaean Creed, was one such group. When the Holy Roman Catholic Church came into play, the church became modeled after a governmental structure, like Rome. At that point, you had a Caesar or a King, and you had the Pope. There were many fights over which position was more powerful throughout the ages, Pope or the King.  I believe this is where the idea of the pastor being the Head of Church came from. In Colossians 1:18 and Ephesians 4:15, the Bible says Jesus is the only Head of the Church.

It was this same tendency that led to the idea that the common people needed a leader to represent them to God. That’s why the church leadership didn’t want the common people to be able to read the Bible. When the printing press became accessible, and the first Bible was printed, it changed the world, being the forerunner to the Great Reformation. Now, the common people could read the Bible for themselves, and were given the opportunity to have their own relationship with God outside of the walls of their parish.

This mindset is really tricky, because it comes in sneaky forms and keeps resurfacing in different terminology. When I was a kid, in a traditional Protestant church, questioning authority meant you were being rebellious and the devil would get you. The rules lists was long. Pick your list of rules from denomination to denomination.

Growing up, dancing, going to movies, and speaking in tongues would gain you a place in hell. After my mom remarried, we began going to a Pentecostal church where now if you didn’t speak in tongues, you were less than. At the Pentecostal College I attended, the rules changed by the year. One year, it was if our ankles weren’t covered, we were leading our brothers in Christ into sexual temptation. Another year, it was you are damned if you go to the movies, but they put cable in all the dorm rooms. What????

This doesn’t even take into account that as a child, I experienced the worst of the religious system has to offer in the form of extreme abuse. In that world, my father, who was a pastor, taught that if I didn’t fully submit to what the “authority” was telling me, I would suffer immense physical, mental, and emotional torture. A fear gospel deeply embedded in my heart. Some may think that’s the exception, but it is a story I’ve heard retold from many others.

Back in the 80’s, when I was new to Pentecostal churches, it looked like the “Shepherding movement”. Many pastors felt it was there duty to shepherd their flock, which in and of itself is a good thing, but it led to this same deception that the sheep where not able to be lead properly without their wise leadership. Many became obsessed with their “flock”, and became the sole answer for their “sheep”. If their sheep saw something in the shepherd’s leadership that was a flaw and tried to bring that to the light, or if they wanted to leave to go to another “flock”, then it went very badly for the “sheep”, usually ending in excommunication.

It continues to pop up today in the name of “spiritual covering”. The idea is that if I don’t have a local church’s “covering” or “my pastor’s blessing”, I am now out from under cover, in rebellion, and I’ll have a large ringed target with bull’s eye in the middle on my back for the enemy to shoot me down. In my opinion, this is a manipulative fear tactic, which has nothing to do with the fear of the Lord.

In addition to submitting my life to my husband, I have several mothers and fathers in the faith who I go to for spiritual counsel. All of these walk in a high level of love and submission to others, but not all of them have a traditional, local church leadership that they are “covered by”. I’ve watched their lives of service, and have seen them operating in great spiritual authority and power from the Lord. Why? Because they serve, love, and submit themselves mutually to the other believers. They aren’t rebellious, because Papa has led them to do “church” outside of the traditional church walls.

I’m not saying that I don’t submit myself to my leadership, whether in government, business, or church. But submitting, looks like honor. Honor means I listen and value what you have to say. Some examples would be obeying the laws of the land or not stealing from my employer, because I do my work as unto the Lord, not to a man.

In the body of Christ though, submission is always two ways. Honor is both ways. There is no where in scripture where I see a separation between the leadership and the congregation in the body of Christ. We mutually should pray for one another and cover each other in love, for love covers a multitude of sins. It’s a family, with our arms locked walking in unity together. There is leadership, of course, but the leadership is to bring direction.

In a sense, my husband should represent the covering of Jesus, because the husband in the relationship of family is supposed to represent how Jesus loves, covers, and cares for the bride. In fact, I love it when my husband represents Jesus well, and I love to submitting to his leadership. There are times that he makes mistakes, and is human. That doesn’t negate me honoring him, but I may have to share some truth in love. We are in covenant with each other. He doesn’t kick me out if I mess up, and I don’t up leave when he is less than Jesus. We work this thing out together, mutually, in a covenant relationship. Many times in the church, sadly, it’s not that way.

I love the pastors at our church, but they, like us all, are fallible humans. They can’t be my go-between between me and God. If they are, they become my mini-god. I love them. I honor them. I love it when they love and honor me. I love it when they care for me. But they were not meant to be my covering, or my protection. God alone is that. We were meant to be a family. When I put the leadership in that position in my heart, I believe, that it is idolatry.

In Psalms 91, the psalmist is talking about running to the covering and protection of the God of the universe alone, and it is God who covers us with His feathers, under His wings. He is my High Tower. I run to Him! The promise is if I dwell in His shelter, in the secret place of the most High, that I’ll be under His care, and His protection. It’s is from abiding in Him, where we receive that promise.

The body of Jesus Christ is a bride, a family, and a priesthood. We mutually cover one another in love. We serve each other, giving our lives for the sake of another’s well-being. The ones who align themselves with the heart of the Father, loving and giving their lives like Jesus did, will operate in the highest authority and power.

I think Romans 12 says it best, because it speaks to how we should live as the body of Christ. If we will do this chapter well, everything else will follow.

Romans 12 NAB

Sacrifice of Body and Mind. 1 I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. 2Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.

Many Parts in One Body. 3 For by the grace given to me I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than one ought to think, but to think soberly, each according to the measure of faith that God has apportioned. 4 For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, 5so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another. 6 Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them: if prophecy, in proportion to the faith; 7if ministry, in ministering; if one is a teacher, in teaching; 8if one exhorts, in exhortation; if one contributes, in generosity; if one is over others, with diligence; if one does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

Mutual Love. 9Let love be sincere; hate what is evil, hold on to what is good; 10love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor. 11Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the holy ones, exercise hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute [you], bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Have the same regard for one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly; do not be wise in your own estimation. 17Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all. 18If possible, on your part, live at peace with all.19Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”20Rather, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” 21Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.

The Upside Down Kingdom -Pt 1

The kings and men of authority in this world rule oppressively over their subjects, claiming that they do it for the good of the people. They are obsessed with how others see them. But this is not your calling. You will lead by a different model. The greatest among you will live as one called to serve others without honor. The greatest honor and authority is reserved for the one who has a servant heart. The leaders who are served are the most important in your eyes, but in the kingdom, it is the servants who lead. Am I not here with you as one who serves you? Luke 22:25-27 TPT

Sleepily, I rubbed my eyes and with blurry vision glanced over at the clock. 3:00 AM again. I sighed. In my mind, I heard the faint whisper, “Luke 22:25”. Reluctantly, I fumble for my phone, tap the screen, and begin scrolling through my apps to find my Bible icon to search for the reference I’ve just heard, while trying not to wake my sleeping husband.

Born into a pastor’s home, I have grown up in church my whole life. Sometimes that’s been a positive thing, and sometimes not. Through the years, I’ve seen many leadership models, programs, and church structures come and go. Friends have questioned me again and again as to why I’ve stayed in the organized, corporate church for I’ve had every reason to walk away. In truth, I have, but “Papa” loves people. He loves His body, and He compels me to stay. I used to be afraid of being outside a local body, because I was raised in a fear-gospel that was far from being good news, but now I don’t stay out of fear. I stay, because I love Him, and I love people. It is family to me.

My paradigms about “organized church” have been shifting though. His kingdom is an upside down one. My three o’clock revelation was one such moment.

Cultural systems typically fall into a pyramid-like structure. Many people at the bottom that support the few or the one at the top. The top is commonly somehow “elite”, “set apart”, and in many cases “untouchable”. Think “Pharoah”.

People also tend to want to put leaders on pedestals. Throughout all of history, this is the model that government, business, and even most of the time, “church”, has fallen under. Many times we look to the “man of God” to solve our problems, to be our “priest” between God and us. It’s more comfortable to send someone else to go on our behalf to the mountain of God than to go ourselves, because it doesn’t require much of us. Unfortunately, this fosters a welfare mentality, even in the church.

Every structure will have some resemblance to the pyramid model. We function best in a social environments with leaders. Cultural systems through out all history have some form of leadership. Even when the system was nomadic, there would be a clan or family head. The family unit is God’s idea, with the father at the head, then the mother beside him, and the children around them. Even God’s kingdom, is just that, it is a kingdom. He is the “King of Kings”. It’s not a democracy. It’s not a republic. It’s a monarchy.

There are aspects of the Kingdom of God though, that I think we should try looking at a little differently. Perhaps flipping that pyramid upside down would help us to have a better understanding.

The Jews in Jesus’s day were under the thumb of Caesar, a self proclaimed “god”. Generations before, the Jews had sought “a King” to rule over them, instead of choosing into the God of the universe being a King and them being “royal priests unto Him”. When Messiah appeared on the scene, they were looking for a dictatorship. They wanted a King, like King David, to come and rescue them from all their enemies. When Jesus came as a servant, they just had no way of wrap their minds around that concept. A servant King made no sense to them.

On a weekend excursion, my family found ourselves peering up at the most amazing tree I’ve think I’ve ever seen, the Angel Oak, the icon of Charleston. As I pondered it’s massive trunk, and hundreds of branches that reached out mangling in all directions, pushing outward, and upward like octopus arms weaving in and out, up and down grasping for sunlight, the Holy Spirit spoke to me. “This is like a family structure.”

I pondered what I felt He was saying. The trunk of the tree is at the bottom, supporting the branches with life giving flow. It serves the rest of the tree, by supporting it with it’s deep, deep root system, sucking life from the soil and stabilizing the massive body of the tree that rises above it. It’s the lowest to the ground, the most massive part of the tree, but not more important than the rest, though it is vital to the tree’s survival. It holds up the rest of the tree, so that the tree can flourish.

Jesus came to serve, to lay down His life for His children, so that He could win us back. The leadership model He leaves us with is very different than what we would expect. According to the verse from Luke holding a title in the church doesn’t equal authority in the kingdom of God.

We are to honor those whom God places in authority, absolutely. In fact, the word tells us to honor each other, to and love each other regardless of title, especially in the family of God. Honestly, we don’t really have a good grid for honor in our culture. Honor means I put extreme value on a person or thing. I treat it as precious.

There are times though that I’ve seen more spiritual authority operating in an unnoticed mama of babies who tirelessly serves her family or a forgotten elderly man who has spent countless hours on his knees in prayer, than in some church leadership. Why?

God doesn’t look at things the same way man does. He looks at the heart of the person, the way that person served others, laying down their lives for those around them. He gives authority to those who walk in humility, honor, love, who serve well, and forgive well. Authority doesn’t always look like a title or a position.

The offices of pastor, teacher, evangelist, prophet, and apostle were meant to serve the body until we all become mature enough to step into a priestly role in unity. And their calling is to nurture and prepare all the holy believers to do their works of ministry, and as they do this they will enlarge and build up the body of Christ. These grace ministries will function until we all attain oneness into the faith, until we all experience the fullness of what it means to know the Son of God, and finally we become one into a perfect man with the full dimensions of spiritual maturity and fully developed into the abundance of Christ. Ephesians 4:12–13 TPT

Have you ever read what a true apostle looked like? These are Paul’s word describing the office of apostle:  It seems to me that God has appointed us apostle to be at the end of the line. We are like those on display at the end of the procession, as doomed gladiators soon to be killed. We have become theatrical spectacle to all creation, both to people and to angels. We are fools for Christ, but you are wise in Christ! We are frail; you are powerful. You are celebrated; we are humiliated. If you could see us now, you’d find that we are hungry and thirsty, poorly clothed, brutally treated, and with no roof over our heads. We work hard, toiling with our own hands. When people abuse and insult us, we respond with a blessing, and when severally persecuted, we endure it with patience. When we are slandered incessantly, we always answer gently, ready to reconcile. Even now, in the world’s opinion, we are nothing but filth and the lowest scum. 1 Corinthians 4: 9-13 TPT In other words, I don’t think most of us would run for the office of “apostle”, if that’s what we thought it would be like.

Even the prophet, Samuel, when examining the sons of Jesse, thought surely he’d hit the jack pot with this fine line of robust young men, but God said no to them all. They summoned the ruddy, runt of the pack, the simple shepherd boy in from the field, and God said, “Yes. That’s my man.” He also proceeded to tell Samuel that He doesn’t look at man’s outward appearance like we do, but He looks at the heart. Most of the time, the girls of the family were the shepherds in Jewish culture, so David actually worked a lowly position in the eyes of his family. Some believe he was given the job, because he was a half-brother. Whatever the reason, he was not the favored son of his father by any means. But he was God’s favorite.

So, elders in the early church, what was their function? Well, initially, they were called to distribute money, food, etc. to help the poor, the elderly, the widows and children. Jesus said that undefiled religion is this, that you care for the orphans and the widows. Their function was to care for the body.

In 1 Corinthians 12 TPT, Paul talks about the parts of the body of Christ. He says, In fact, the weaker our parts, the more vital and essential they are. The parts we think are less honorable, we treat with greater respect. And the body parts that need to be covered in public we treat with propriety and clothe them… God has mingled the body parts together, giving greater honor to the ‘lesser’ members who lacked it. There is no hierarchy here. No line between the church leadership and the congregation.

He continues to talk about the spiritual gifts and offices, but at the end says that He will now show us a more excellent way.  In 1 Corinthians 13, he talks about that way. It’s the way of love. For all our prophecy, words of knowledge, titles, spiritual giftings, and positions will amount to nothing if we don’t have love. Agape love. In fact, many will stand before the King and have done many “good works”, but the “Righteous Judge” will say, “Depart from me. I never knew you.”

Leadership is valuable and needed, but maybe our view of the body needs to shift a bit. Spiritual authority is given to those who serve others the best with the right heart. If we will be like our blessed Savior, walking in the kind of love He did, we will be great in His kingdom. That matters to me far more than any title or position. We will be like the tree planted by the streams of living water, stable, full of life and vitality with deep roots and supporting many branches, helping others receive from the life giving Son, and bearing much fruit for the kingdom!

Heaven’s Heartbeat

Blessed Christmas to you and yours!

In the video below,  Heaven’s Heartbeat, Mercedes Lambey of Kabod International has summed up the gospel from the perspective of Christmas. Mercedes has graciously allowed me to share with you.

I am blessed to have entwined my heart with the mother/daughter team, Lisa Gotz & Mercedez Lambey of Kabod International. These precious women and their families have been missionaries to the nation of Belize for 14 years and see the gospel changing many lives, including their own, everyday.  Take a listen to Heaven’s Heartbeat:

In a nation deemed, “The Fatherless Nation”, Kabod is introducing many of the Father’s precious children to His loving embrace. Click to GIVE to the ministry of Kabod International; restoring a nation to the heart of their true Father.

Follow Kabod International on Instagram too.

Many blessings to you and yours in 2019!  Thank you for following http://www.WholeHeartedWomen.org!

 

One Quiet Night…

Caked in bloody fluid, innocent flesh wiggled it’s way out of the constricting canal. Calloused, leathery fingers gently, but firmly grasped the matted, black hair and twisted the head back and forth to aid his arrival. With lungs bursting full of fluid, the newborn fearfully gasped to fill his chest with his first breath. Fear. For the first time, fear had overwhelmed the tiny form, a completely foreign feeling.

Wails of a baby’s first cry filled the square, adobe-like walls, as anxious bystanders peered over the worn mother’s limp shoulders to a get a glimpse at the newborn now being held high in his father’s burly hands. “My first born, son!” cried the father, but “the knowing” convicted his heart as he declared the words.

“He looks like his mother.” whispered an aunt to her daughter peeking through the narrow doorway that lead to the rooms upstairs, where the relatives crammed into the one guest room of the family abode. Overcrowded conditions had forced the young couple into the quarters were the animals were kept.

“How can you be sure who the father is?” jabbed a cousin from behind a pulled, tattered curtain. The new mother’s cheeks burned red. A lamb bleated for milk dripping from the nearby nipple of the ewe. The infant’s eyes blinked open at his mother’s sigh of embarrassment, but all he could see was blurry shadows. A land filled with shadows. He had known no shadows before now.

The father placed the screaming baby in the gentle arms of his mother. Blood smeared across her cheek, as she kissed his forehead. Born in blood. Skin to skin.

The warmth calmed the baby’s cries, as the father grabbed his freshly sharpened dagger tucked tightly in the worn leather belt that hung from his hip. He quickly grabbed the umbilical in his hand and sliced the life flowing connection between mother and son. Though not painful, the boy knew He was now separated from everything He had known before.

A new, gnawing sensation overcame him. Hunger. Again, a foreign feeling. Tears filled his clear, brown eyes, as he began to whimper and then nuzzle, his perfect lips sucking her skin searching for nourishment. The mother quickly pulled him to her engorged breast, as the tingling sensation of milk flowing surged. Quickly, the suckling soothed his tummy’s growl with the life–sustaining gold, as richness dripped from the corners of his mouth. Contentment spread over his tiny frame, while a sense of wonder filled his mother.

A warm, wet cloth enveloped the baby’s limbs one by one, leaving a clean coolness on his skin. Then strips of muslin were wound around and around with his arms and legs tucked up against his body, constricting and confining his movements. “How can the one who created the universe be confined in flesh?” thought the mother.

“What’s his name?” came the gruff voice of an uncle from across the room.

“Jesus. His name is Jesus.” Joseph simply stated.

The uncle shook his head in disgust. “Couldn’t even give him a family name? Maybe the rumors are true. But why didn’t he just put her away quietly?” he thought to himself.

The baby knowing the condemning thoughts, glanced in the direction of the Uncle. Sadness rose. “What is this feeling, Abba? Abba? Am I all alone now? Do you hear me?” he thought.

A still voice from within whispered, “I’m right here, my son. Yes, you will now know sadness. You will be known as a man of grief. You will feel this often.” Again, a tear appeared in the corner of his eye, while two rams with manure caked bellies butted each other in the corner.

Cradled against the smooth skin of his mother, he drew a deep breath of air mingled with the musty scent of dirt, hay, lanolin, dung, and a pot of stew brewing upstairs. His eye lids grew heavy. He blinked to stay awake, but finally he gave in to sleep. While rocking and singing a soothing Hebrew lullaby sung throughout generations, his body went limp in his mother’s embrace. His breathing slowed and deepened.

Her voice trailed off, “numi numi k’tanati, numi numi nim!”(sleep, sleep, my little one, sleep, sleep) The aunt shushed those remaining in the room sending them upstairs and off to bed.

The mother and father stared at the child resting in her arms. “How can this be?” she thought. “The Holy, I Am, asleep in my arms?” She turned her face towards her young, betrothed husband. “How can this be?”

A gentle knock came to the door. “Who could it be this late in the evening?” said Joseph. The thought of a cruel Roman soldier demanding a loaf of bread flew through his mind. Seething, his heart beat quickened and sweat beaded across his tanned forehead. He moved quickly to avert the intruders, before they woke the baby.

Reluctantly, the beaming face of a young shepherdess appeared in the darkened doorway. Light shone from her eyes as fire from within danced. Several other shepherdess crowded in behind her, pushing to see in.

“We’ve come to see the baby.” the leader of the small band breathlessly declared.

“The baby? How did you know?” Joseph stood motionless for a moment. “Well. Come in. Come in. Of course, you can see the baby.”

A tale of a host of angels appearing in the sky announcing the birth of Messiah tumbled from their trembling lips all at once. “We left our sheep in the field, and ran to where the new star showed us.”

“The new star?” questioned Joseph. He ran outside to see for himself this miracle. With his head cocked backward, a glorious light shone above the Bethlehem home streaming beams of light like a beacon down to earth.

As the young girl cautiously approached Mary, the baby stirred. “Come. Come and see Messiah.”

Jesus awoke staring into the face of a child not many years older than he. The young girl smiled, touching his cheek softly. “A baby. Messiah comes as a baby.” She turned to Mary. “The angel said, ‘Fear not. For I bring you tidings of great joy.’” She turned back to look into the gentle eyes. “Messiah.” With a hand on her heart, she stepped back for the others to see.

Great joy and compassion filled the heart of the baby, as he watched each shepherdess stare in wonder. “For these, Abba? I’ve come for these?”

“Yes, my son, for the least of these. They are ready to receive you.” came the whisper inside again.

“Abba, will all receive me as these precious ones?”

“No, my son, many will reject you. You will rejected by many in Israel. But not all.”

The door closed behind the young girls as they rushed into the night to tell others of the wonders they had just witnessed. As the story was retold to many unexpecting bystanders, the story of angels appearing to lowly shepherds many wondered what could this miracle mean.

“Joseph, we need a place for Jesus to sleep.” Mary meekly reminded her husband.

“Of course, my dove. Of course.” He quickly looked around the room to see what he could use. The only thing suitable was a feed trough for the animals. He sighed. “Why couldn’t Messiah have been born in a palace or to rich people? He is the King.” Joseph shook his head in dismay.

“I am not fit to be the father of Messiah.” This time Joseph spoke to the ceiling.

“What is this feeling, Abba?” thought Jesus.

“That is the feeling of guilt and condemnation. Our enemy’s finest weapons. Many will use that against you. One day you will bear all their guilt, my son.”

Jesus let out a small whimper at the thought. Mary checked his cloths. “Time to change him. I’ll take care of Jesus, my husband. You prepare his bed.”

The leg of the feed trough was loose, so Joseph being a good carpenter always carried a nail and hammer in his cloak pocket. Resourcefully, he pulled out his tools and hammered the nail into the wooden plank holding up the trough. Bang! His hammer missed the mark smashing his thumb.

“Ouch!” He flung his injured finger back, then thrust it in his mouth sucking on it. Silently, he whispered curses under his breath. I can not even get the manger fixed right!”

The sound of the hammer hitting the nail and thrusting through the wood alarmed Jesus. As his father cursed in pain, a sharp sensation jabbed through the baby’s own wrist. An image of the nail being thrust through his tender flesh flashed across his mind. He wailed, as his mama patted dry his behind and wrapped him tightly in clean cloths again.

“Abba, is it true? Is that what I’ve come to do?”

“Son, you’ve come to lay down your life, so that they can be free. I love them, my son, it is the only way.”

A lamb bleated, Jesus turned to look to see where the noise had come from. “Like a little, innocent lamb, Abba?”

“Like a little, innocent lamb, my son. You will become the sacrifice that takes away the sins of all mankind.”

Joseph finished his work, lay fresh hay in the trough, gently took Jesus from Mary, laid him in the manger. The baby drifted off to sleep again, as the sheep settled around him. Joseph wrapped his arms around his exhausted wife. As she leaned back into his embrace, she too found sleep, while Joseph watchfully guarded the precious treasure that was entrusted to his care. 

For He (the servant of God) grew up before Him like a tender shoot (plant), and like a root out of dry ground; He has no stately form or majestic splendor that we should look at Him, nor (handsome) appearance that would be attracted to Him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrow and pain and acquainted with grief; And like One from whom men hide their faces, He was despised, and we did not appreciate His worth or esteem Him. But (in fact) He has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows and pains; Yet we ignorantly assumed that He was stricken, Struck down by God and degraded and humiliated by Him. But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our wickedness (our sin, our injustice, our wrongdoing); The punishment (required) for our well-being fell on Him, And by His stripes (wounds) we are healed.” Is. 53:2-5

One Quiet Night

Caked in bloody fluid, innocent flesh wiggled it’s way out of the constricting canal. Calloused, leathery fingers gently, but firmly grasped the matted, black hair and twisted the head back and forth to aid his arrival. With lungs bursting full of fluid, the newborn fearfully gasped to fill his chest with his first breath. Fear. For the first time, fear had overwhelmed the tiny form, a completely foreign feeling.

Wails of a baby’s first cry filled the square, adobe-like walls, as anxious bystanders peered over the worn mother’s limp shoulders to a get a glimpse at the newborn now being held high in his father’s burly hands. “My first born, son!” cried the father, but “the knowing” convicted his heart as he declared the words.

“He looks like his mother.” whispered an aunt to her daughter peeking through the narrow doorway that lead to the rooms upstairs, where the relatives crammed into the one guest room of the family abode. Overcrowded conditions had forced the young couple into the quarters were the animals were kept.

“How can you be sure who the father is?” jabbed a cousin from behind a pulled, tattered curtain. The new mother’s cheeks burned red. A lamb bleated for milk dripping from the nearby nipple of the ewe. The infant’s eyes blinked open at his mother’s sigh of embarrassment, but all he could see was blurry shadows. A land filled with shadows. He had known no shadows before now.

The father placed the screaming baby in the gentle arms of his mother. Blood smeared across her cheek, as she kissed his forehead. Born in blood. Skin to skin.

The warmth calmed the baby’s cries, as the father grabbed his freshly sharpened dagger tucked tightly in the worn leather belt that hung from his hip. He quickly grabbed the umbilical in his hand and sliced the life flowing connection between mother and son. Though not painful, the boy knew He was now separated from everything He had known before.

A new, gnawing sensation overcame him. Hunger. Again, a foreign feeling. Tears filled his clear, brown eyes, as he began to whimper and then nuzzle, his perfect lips sucking her skin searching for nourishment. The mother quickly pulled him to her engorged breast, as the tingling sensation of milk flowing surged. Quickly, the suckling soothed his tummy’s growl with the life–sustaining gold, as richness dripped from the corners of his mouth. Contentment spread over his tiny frame, while a sense of wonder filled his mother.

A warm, wet cloth enveloped the baby’s limbs one by one, leaving a clean coolness on his skin. Then strips of muslin were wound around and around with his arms and legs tucked up against his body, constricting and confining his movements. “How can the one who created the universe be confined in flesh?” thought the mother.

“What’s his name?” came the gruff voice of an uncle from across the room.  “Jesus. His name is Jesus.” Joseph simply stated.

The uncle shook his head in disgust. “Couldn’t even give him a family name? Maybe the rumors are true. But why didn’t he just put her away quietly?” he thought to himself.

The baby knowing the condemning thoughts, glanced in the direction of the Uncle. Sadness rose. “What is this feeling, Abba? Abba? Am I all alone now? Do you hear me?” he thought.

A still voice from within whispered, “I’m right here, my son. Yes, you will now know sadness. You will be known as a man of grief. You will feel this often.” Again, a tear appeared in the corner of his eye, while two rams with manure caked bellies butted each other in the corner.

Cradled against the smooth skin of his mother, he drew a deep breath of air mingled with the musty scent of dirt, hay, lanolin, dung, and a pot of stew brewing upstairs. His eye lids grew heavy. He blinked to stay awake, but finally he gave in to sleep. While rocking and singing a soothing Hebrew lullaby sung throughout generations, his body went limp in his mother’s embrace. His breathing slowed and deepened.

Her voice trailed off, “numi numi k’tanati, numi numi nim!” (sleep, sleep, my little one, sleep, sleep, sleep!). The aunt shushed those remaining in the room sending upstairs and off to bed.

The mother and father stared at the child resting in her arms. “How can this be?” she thought. “The Holy, Great I Am, asleep in my arms?” She turned her face towards her young, betrothed husband. “How can this be?she thought. “The Holy, Great I Am, asleep in my arms?” She turned her face towards her young, betrothed husband. “How can this be?” she whispered.

A gentle knock came to the door. “Who could it be this late in the evening?” said Joseph.  The thought of a cruel Roman soldier demanding a loaf of bread flew through his mind. Seething, his heart beat quickened and sweat beaded across his tanned forehead. He moved quickly to avert the intruders, before they woke the baby.

Reluctantly, the beaming face of a young shepherdess appeared in the darkened doorway. Light shone from her eyes as fire from within danced. Several other shepherdess crowded in behind her, pushing to see in.

“We’ve come to see the baby.” the leader of the small band breathless declared.

“The baby? How did you know/?” Joseph stood motionless for a moment. “Well. Come in. Come in. Of course, you can see the baby.”

A tale of a host of angels appearing in the sky announcing the birth of Messiah tumbled from their trembling lips all at once. “We left our sheep in the field, and ran to where the new star showed us.”

“The new star?” questioned Joseph. He ran outside to see for himself this miracle. With his head cocked backward, a glorious light shone above the Bethlehem home streaming beams of light like a beacon down to earth.

As the young girl cautiously approached Mary, the baby stirred. “Come. Come and see Messiah.”

He awoke staring into the face of a child not many years older than he. The young girl smiled, touching his cheek softly. “A baby. Messiah comes as a baby.” She turned to Mary. “The angel said, ‘Fear not. For I bring you tidings of great joy.’” She turned back to look into the gentle eyes. “Messiah.”  With a hand on her heart, she stepped back for the others to see.

Great joy and compassion filled the heart of the baby, as he watched each shepherdess stare in wonder. “For these, Abba? I’ve come for these?”

“Yes, my son, for the least of these. They are ready to receive you.” came the whisper inside again.

“Abba, will all receive me as these precious ones?”

“No, my son, many will reject you. You will rejected by many in Israel. But not all.”

The door closed behind the young girls as they rushed into the night to tell others of the wonders they had just witnessed. As the story was retold to many unexpecting bystanders, the story of angels appearing to lowly shepherds, many wondered what could this miracle mean.

“Joseph, we need a place for Jesus to sleep.” Mary meekly reminded her husband.

“Of course, my dove. Of course.” He quickly looked around the room to see what he could use. The only thing suitable was a feeding trough for the animals. He sighed. “Why couldn’t Messiah have been born in a palace or to rich people? He is the King.” Joseph shook his head in dismay.

I am not fit to be the father of Messiah.” This time Joseph spoke to the ceiling.

“What is this feeling, Abba?” thought Jesus.

That is the feeling of guilt and condemnation. Our enemy’s finest weapons. Many will use that against you. One day you will bear all their guilt, my son.”

Jesus let out a small whimper at the thought. Mary checked his cloths. “Time to change him. I’ll take care of Jesus, my husband. You prepare his bed.”

The leg of the feeding trough was loose, so Joseph being a good carpenter always carried a nail and hammer in his cloak pocket. Resourcefully, he pulled out his tools and hammered the nail into the wooden plank holding up the trough. Bang! His hammer missed the mark smashing his thumb.

“Ouch!” He flung his injured finger back, then thrust it in his mouth sucking on it. Silently, he whispered curses under his breath. “I can not even get the manger fixed right!”

The sound of the hammer hitting the nail and thrusting through the splintered wood alarmed Jesus. As his father cursed in pain, a sharp sensation jabbed through the baby’s own wrist. An image of the nail being thrust through his tender flesh flashed across his mind. He wailed, as his mama patted dry his behind and wrapped him tightly in clean cloths again.

“Abba, is it true? Is that what I’ve come to do?”

Son, you’ve come to lay down your life, so that they can be free. I love them, my son, it is the only way.”

A lamb bleated beside him.. Jesus turned to look to see where the noise had come from. “Like a little, innocent lamb, Abba?”

“Like a little, innocent lamb, my son. You will become the sacrifice that takes away the sins of all mankind.”

Joseph finished his work, lay fresh hay in the trough, gently took Jesus from Mary, and laid him in the manger.  The baby drifted off to sleep again, as the sheep settled around him. Joseph wrapped his arms around his exhausted wife.  As she leaned back into his embrace, she too found sleep, while Joseph watchfully guarded the precious treasure that was entrusted to his care.

“For He (the servant of God) grew up before Him like a tender shoot (plant), and like a root out of dry ground; He has no stately form or majestic splendor that we should look at Him, nor (handsome) appearance that would be attracted to Him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrow and pain and acquainted with grief; And like One from whom men hide their faces, He was despised, and we did not appreciate His worth or esteem Him. But (in fact) He has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows and pains; Yet we ignorantly assumed that He was stricken, Struck down by God and degraded and humiliated by Him. But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our wickedness (our sin, our injustice, our wrongdoing); The punishment (required) for our well-being fell on Him, And by His stripes (wounds) we are healed.” Is. 53:2-5