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I Will

So her husband, Joseph, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her publicly, decided to divorce her secretly. Matthew 1:19

We left off our study of new beginnings with a cliff hanger of sorts.  There sat Jonah on a hill wishing he were dead.  And God reminding Jonah that He cares for all people of the earth, especially the ones “who cannot tell their right hand from their left.”  Thank goodness for that because there are many days I feel and act like one of those foolish people!  If left to being helped out of my fiery pit by unloving, sleepy Christians, I would surely find myself in the depths of hell.  But for God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  And those that submit themselves not only to their will but do so out of love.

So, we leave the Old Testament with many more stories of new beginnings than I have shared.  And with hope that Jonah finally grasped God’s message of works without love is empty and useless.  But here’s the thing about our guidebook for life, the Bible, God’s holy Word, there’s 1000s of connections back and forth between the ancient stories in the Old Testament and the newer history of the New Testament.  Which leads us to the first new beginning we encounter in the book of Matthew.  Another Noah.  Another servant of God who is the way maker for the world’s new beginning.  The connector from the old ways to the new.  A man who, like Noah, was considered “righteous” and faithful to God.  But first, let me share with you a modern story of another righteous man who helped shepherd in a new beginning for one small child.

Epworth’s Children’s Home received this first-hand account from a foster parent in 2017 about his experience in becoming a foster father:

“Our family has been fostering a boy since October 2017. Yesterday our foster child had a court hearing to determine what step to take as far as his custody goes. I haven’t shared a lot about the whole foster experience because I have been afraid, to be completely honest. Afraid because fostering has been a lot harder for me than I thought it would be. Not because the child is difficult – it has been hard because of my heart. Ever since he came into our home, I have been terrified of becoming too attached and having my heart broken when he would eventually leave our home. I have been terrified of giving him all of my love, my energy, my grace and my compassion. I was sitting in the courtroom listening to the different parties discussing and debating the best course of action for the child’s future, when I started shaking. I began to realize this is the moment! The moment I decide to completely expose my heart to the potential of pain, or keep my walls up. It was absolutely terrifying! I started hearing a small voice inside that I could no longer ignore, and it was telling me to fight for this child. I realized I was willing to do anything for him.

“My walls started to crumble around me. Then I heard the judge call my name. He wanted to know if I wanted to adopt this child. I wanted to scream “Yes! He is my son!”, but I think I said something a little less dramatic like, “Yes sir, we are working on becoming licensed for adoption for this child.” I then heard the judge say that he is ordering termination of parental rights and opening this case for adoption. The weight of this decision is not lost on me, but it was one of the most powerful experiences that I have ever had.”

But after he had considered these things, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. Matthew 1:20

Joseph was our Lord’s foster father.  As a devout follower of the Mosaic Law, he had every right to not only publicly shame Mary for her “adultery” but also to have her stoned to death!  Before the angel even spoke to him, however, love, kindness, compassion took over and he decided to quietly divorce her.  Think of how Jonah would’ve responded.  Surely God would’ve had to intervene to save Mary’s life from Jonah’s anger.

After Joseph obeyed God’s urging to complete his marriage vows to Mary, his troubles surely were not over. Like Noah, he would’ve faced public humiliation.  The knowledge of Mary’s pregnancy in the small village of Nazareth would have spread like a wildfire.  And yet he stayed the course.  He stayed faithful not only to Mary but to God.  He didn’t, by all accounts do it begrudgingly like Jonah.  He took up the mantle of “foster father” and protected his family, raised his son as his own.  His new beginning was as father to someone else’s son.  An earthly role model.  A shepherd, like Noah, for what was to be all of humanity’s new beginning.

Joseph and the unnamed servant girl who helped Naaman (2 Kings 5:3) also have a lot in common.  They were faithful.  They had a heart for God.  They stepped up to help when they could’ve taken a different path.  Their small steps were a gift to many.  And they both are but a few lines in our history.  Joseph’s last mention of him doesn’t even use his name.  Jesus is 12 years old, immersed in the teachings at the temple and his parents are frantically looking for him.  His mother chastises him and says, “Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you!” (Luke 2:48)  After that, Joseph fades away.  Most likely, he passes before Jesus begins his adult ministry.

And yet we remember him each Christmas for his shepherding, protecting, and faith.  We should all add a bit of thanks to Joseph each day we pray in Jesus’ name.  Because like so many faithful servants of Christ, He obeyed out of love.  He didn’t ask or require that “thanks.”  He didn’t harbor ill will for having to endure hardship.  He put his head down, his hands out and his heart lifted and said to God, “I will.”

I want to share with you the rest of the letter written to Epworth Children’s Home by the foster father:

“I will end with this. This is especially for you guys and fathers. If you feel God tugging at your heart to become a foster parent, listen! There will always be a reason to not become a foster parent, but if your main reason is that you are scared your heart will be broken, then you especially need to do it. Foster children need someone who will be heartbroken over them. They need someone who is going to stick by them when things get hard. They haven’t experienced that. They need someone to love them and be gentle with them when they come over and hit you in the face with a maraca and break your glasses (not that I have ever had that happen, that is completely hypothetical, of course!). They need someone who is going to be faithful to them and strong for them in their weakest moments. I am by no means perfect in any of those, but I am strong in my faith, and it provides me the love, strength and grace that I need. Fostering has made me more dependent on God, in everything, and that is good. Ultimately, I am a foster child who was adopted into His family, and I am fully loved.”

Amen.

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The Big Picture

Lesson #2: Commit to the big picture of Christ through the details of His love

So when I come, I will call 
attention to what he (Diotrephes) 
is doing, spreading malicious 
nonsense about us.
3 John 10

My current Bible study, Everyday Theology, has been a great strengthening and clarification of my Christian beliefs.  Starting with what scripture is intended for and delving into the trinity and our role as believers in this big world, the lessons have given my BSGs (Bible study girls) a number of  “ah ha” moments.  We currently are on the section about “church.”  What it is, who is the head of it and what our responsibilities as part of the body entail.  The first question asked was for us to define what we call “church.”  

When I hear media-types chastise the “church” or “Christians” for not condemning some action or stance it makes me wonder what church spokesperson they think will step up to a microphone.  Of course, for Catholics that would be the Pope or a regional bishop.  But in the non-Catholic world we are so dispersed, with varying types of faith, traditions, even morals and values.

In John’s letter to the church elder, Gaius, he juxtaposes the elder’s immense love for his brothers and sisters in Christ with another church leader, Diotrephes.  These brothers and sisters are strangers to Gaius but he welcomes them readily into his home.  These travelers are doing the good work of Jesus – spreading the salvation message.  And then there’s Diotrephes.  John describes this leader as one “who loves to be first.”  He doesn’t welcome strangers but even worse, he refused to welcome John.

Imagine that, a church elder who wouldn’t welcome Jesus’ apostle!  You’d have to think about the reasoning behind this.  This elder even kicks out other believers who welcome new people.  And why? Because, as what Warren Wiersbe calls a “church dictator,” he lost his focus on Jesus’ Big Picture of love and instead became focused on the details of man-made doctrine.

“All true Christians can agree on the fundamental doctrines of the faith and, in love, give latitude for disagreement on other matters.”

Warren Wiersbe

I’ve read there are about 34,000 different Christian denominations in the world.  The Wikipedia page on Christian denominations (Catholic and non) is an almost endless list.  Sub groups within sub groups.  People who have followed a pastor’s or priest’s particular issue with “the way things are done” and split off from their home church.  And as active members of church we have all seen the after effects of a change in leadership – numbers dwindle and people divide.  Some churches survive and even thrive while others fade away.

But avoid foolish controversies 
and genealogies and arguments and 
quarrels about the Law, because 
these are unprofitable and useless.
Titus 3:9

The Greek word zelos means something very fervent as with Spirit-fueled zeal to serve the Lord. Zelos is used both negatively (“jealousy”) and positively (“zeal”) in the Bible.  

For where you have envy and 
selfish ambition (zelos), there 
you find disorder and every 
evil practice.
James 3:16

Because when we put our ideas about “the way thing should be done” above the big picture of Jesus and His commandment to love one another as He loved us, we will fail every time.  And what is showing that love? To live in obedience to His will.  

As I’ve worked through studying the Bible, I keep coming back to my knowledge of how churches work and how they don’t.  I’m mystified by the lack actual Biblical based decision making.  And how so many people forget the message of 1 Corinthians 13 — the people in our church or faith family are all gifted by God but the use of those gifts must be in love.

If I speak in the tongues of men 
or of angels, but do not have love, 
I am only a resounding gong or a 
clanging cymbal.
1 Cor 13:1 

I once sat on a church marketing committee that included a wide variety of talented people — many of whom had been members of the church for eons. The pastor welcomed us and gave us our charge. I asked a few questions seeking clarification. Within seconds of him leaving, so we could move on with more planning, an older woman who sat across from me immediately pointed a finger at me and said, “Who do you think you are? And what makes you think you know anything about what needs to be done?” Fortunately I was comfortable enough about my background (I have worked in public relations and marketing) that I almost laughed. You see, because I wasn’t part of her “known” circle I was a nobody to “her church.”

We are so often led by the flesh – what sounds good, what feels good.  That’s how someone like Diotrephes was allowed to be a dictator at his church.  He said enough of the right things to convince enough people to support him.  Had they backed up in their thinking and measured his actions against Jesus, the Truth would’ve been revealed.

Notice this Life Lesson isn’t just about the Big Picture.  It says, “through the details of His love.”  As Christians we must be students of the Word.  If not, we are easily led by apostates and dictators and anyone else in our church who appears to be in charge.  Jesus didn’t come to erase the Law.  He reminds us of the simplicity of the Mosaic Law, without all the human-made rules and regulations placed on it.  He constantly chastised the Pharisees for behavior that we find today throughout our Christian churches.

Woe to you experts in the law, 
because you have taken away the 
key to knowledge. You yourselves 
have not entered, and you have 
hindered those who were entering.
Luke 52:1

Remember that question in my study about theology?  What is the church?  It’s you and it’s me.  It’s not just a pastor or priest or committee of leaders or even the clique of volunteers.  We need to take ownership of our membership in the church body.  When we see one of our body leading people astray we are to remind them of Jesus’ Big Picture.  And we are to be knowledgeable enough about His Word to help set the church body back on track.  A dictator or false teacher is only successful with willing followers!

Read the verse again in 3 John 10: “So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us.”

Notice John will confront Diotrephes face to face.  He feels the responsibility of keeping the ship on the right course.  He steps in out of love of the Truth.  He doesn’t say, “I’m coming to fire him” or “I’m getting everyone together to run him out of town.”  John also doesn’t tell Gaius to just go start his own church.  It’s an intervention of sorts.  That sounds a lot like Jesus.

Imagine a Christian world where the more than 3 billion of us were one body.  Where our focus was on obeying Jesus’ teachings and His Big Picture of Love.  Imagine the impact we would have on this broken world.  Imagine if we could just get our own heart and our own local church soundly on that Big Picture path.