Who doesn’t love weddings?
On September 16th 2011 my middle daughter, Caren, was married. What an awesome day it was. Words can't describe the joy that radiated from her countenance as she walked up the aisle in her bridal gown. It was enough to make a mother cry. Caren has endured more than her share of scars, yet she freely shares her testimony with those who desire to hear. It is one of tragedy and triumph; battles fought, wars won, casualties and victories...
So, it was that on her special day, she took a break in the war to celebrate, not the beginning of perfect bliss, but the foretaste of something yet to come. And I couldn't help but compare the glory of her wedding to the glory of another or the beauty of this bride to the splendor of the Bride to be.
As this New Year begins, I lift my glass to all the brides who are anticipating a new beginning as they join their hearts in matrimony; two becoming one. But especially, on this day, I honor His Bride.
Christ’s Beloved Church.
You… believer and intimate friend of God.
As you continue to prepare yourself for that great and glorious day, I proclaim this jubilant declaration over the year to come, "L'Chayyim... to Life!"
Bodies dot the landscape
Like mounds of broken clay
Plumes of smoke rise gracefully
Masking death's decay
Soldiers weak and weary
Search for shelter from the fight
But the woman rises slowly
And surveys the ravaged sight
Her gaze is racked with pain
Though hesitantly she stands
Her garments torn and bloodied
Are stained by wars demands
Parched lips part in a whisper
A silent, desperate cry
As she looks to the horizon
For the Son is in her eyes
Faltering, stumbling, climbing
She winds her way among the dead
Her footprints bathed in tears
She is strengthened with each tread
Advancing, pressing forward
Nothing slows her steady stride
Her wedding day is dawning
For the Son is in her eyes
Nothing turns her attention
Not the failures of the past
Not the scent of other lovers
Or death's impending blast
Face fixed on her Beloved
She moves boldly to His side
Held captive by His beauty
For the Son is in her eyes
There they stand in perfect union
Father, Spirit, Son and Bride
As her blemished gown transforms
Into purest, snowy white
And all of time and space explode
“To Life!” as they arise
To celebrate this glorious dawn
For the Son is in her eyes
It was the occasion of my 40th birthday and there was no money and few friends to celebrate. Until… Two friends became the unwitting messengers of the greatest birthday gift I have ever received. Each Christmas since, I look for an opportunity to share the letter I wrote my friends shortly after receiving their blessing.
Truly, it was the gift of a lifetime!
You touched my heart so deeply when you said, “Happy Birthday! I'm so glad you were born!” Such a simple thought and yet, I cannot shake the sweet sound of your voice or the lingering echo of those life-affirming words.
You couldn't have known that on that very same day another friend would send a similar message. Her card read, “The day you were born the angels somersaulted in the sky!” I can be slow at times, but even as the words reverberated through the air, I recognized the voice of my Father. He speaks through friends a lot, you know.
Clearly, on this occasion, He orchestrated your gifts. He synchronized your thoughts in such a way that there could be no mistaking His message. Just when I needed it most… On one of my darkest days, amidst one of the hardest years of my life, those words became the best birthday present I have ever received!
The truth is that I can't get your words out of my mind and from the moment you spoke them, God and I have been having quite a conversation. He has added to your generous blessing and the wonder is so much more than I can contain.
A few days after you shared those words of affirmation and celebration, I stood in church enjoying this wonderful Christmas season with my family. The rafters were ringing with sounds of awe as we celebrated the occasion of Christ's birth.
It was then, in the middle of our exultation, that He interrupted my song with a whisper, “Did you know that Christmas isn’t really your celebration of My birth?”
Stunned, I quietly contemplated the idea. And then, as if He couldn't stand the suspense a second longer, He laughed and answered His own question.
“Christmas is MY celebration of YOUR birth!”
In that moment, as long, fluid beams of sunlight wavered in intermittent streams across the joyful choir and settled on the tiny, unremarkable manger in the corner of the platform, I saw the true message of Christmas.
And for the very first time, I understood your gift.
I realized that Christmas wasn’t a special day for festive lights and colorful presents. It wasn’t a day to celebrate the angels singing, wandering shepherds, or wise men with expensive gifts. To my astonishment, I saw that Christmas wasn’t even a day to honor the tiny baby who was born in a smelly stable.
Christmas… was God’s way of telling every man, woman, boy and girl, “Happy Birthday! I’m so glad you were born!”
There it was! The truth about our favorite holiday. Hidden within the deep, resonating hush of your gift was the real message of Christmas.
Christmas was God's Birthday Present to the world.
God sent His birthday present, wrapped in clothes of flesh and lying in a manger. This Gift had cost Him everything, but the tag read, “Worth the price.”
In fact, His immortal and beloved Son had stepped down from regal throne, put on human form, and lay amidst the hay. For the first time in all eternity, the sound of weeping echoed through heaven’s halls, but God said, “I’m so glad you were born. I don’t want you to be separated from Me anymore.” And He came to where I was.
This was a Gift that kept on giving. Though the cost was beyond price, Love met the charge at every challenge. For me, the determined bargain hunter, who never pays full price for anything, I marveled that anyone would pay so much more than the object was worth. “Because,” He said, “I’m so glad you were born! You’re worth every expense to Me.”
As I waited in that moment of ethereal serenity, I realized that the very first Christmas was so much more than I had ever imagined. For the baby that lay in that rough, wooden feeding trough, amidst the smell of cow dung and donkey’s sweat, had given the Gift of Himself.
He had come as both Giver and Gift and brought presents too many to count!
“Salvation!” read one of His gifts and the cost was a cruel death on a rugged tree. “Here,” He said, “It’s for you.” He smiled as He held out the package. “I’m so glad you were born! I don’t want you to be lost anymore.”
Another was labeled, “Resurrection!” He laughed at death and told me it would not frighten me, again. The cost of that gift was a long, dark night of the soul, a terrible gloom, and the silence of the grave. “I thought about you!” He replied joyfully, “And the darkness was light to Me. I’m so glad you were born!”
There was “Pentecost” and the “Holy Spirit” and He said, “I don’t want you to be powerless anymore.”
There was a gift that read, “Healing,” and my name was written on it. It was damaged and lacerated with deep, painful gashes but He smiled at me and said, “With every strike of the whip, you were on my mind. I am so glad you were born! I didn’t want you to be sick anymore.”
There was a gift that said, “Righteousness!” and a coat so extraordinary that my natural eyes could barely behold it. The Law tried to say I didn’t deserve it, but He said, “She is worth it all to me! She is my beloved.” When he took the garment from the box, I saw the price. The threads were made of blood. His blood. Each drop was woven into my masterpiece; the source of its exquisite quality and irreplaceable value. As He wrapped it around my shoulders, He whispered, “I don’t want you to be condemned anymore.”
Christmas is so much more than a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. What grace, this manger filled with priceless gifts and all with my name on them.
There was “Hope” so I wouldn't have to be hopeless anymore. There was “Mercy” to hide the shame of my naked condition. There was “Comfort” to dry my tears and “Provision” for all my needs. There was “Creativity” to give me purpose and “Perseverance” to fulfill my dreams.
There was “Love” for my enemies and “Wisdom” to face my future.
There was gift after gift and with each one He would say, “I’m so glad you were born!”
I guess I never realized how important my seemingly insignificant birth was until now.
But the real beauty of this gift is that it is only enjoyed when it is given away and so I give it back to you as you gave it to me...
“Merry Christmas dear Friend! And Happy Birthday!
The day you were born, the angels somersaulted in the sky!
I’m so glad you were born!!”
Morning meditations are never boring. Sometimes they are instructive and sometimes healing. Today, much to my surprise, the voice of scripture began to echo back and forth in a seamless theme of worship, contemplation, and conviction.
I had stumbled into a private performance; a duologue between Wisdom and Love. So surreal was the moment, that I decided to invite you into my imagination.
I entered the theatre.
At the front was a small, but ancient stage made of aged, wooden planks. The audience seats were empty, and I marveled that those who should have been present could not be deterred from their busy schedules.
I took my seat in the middle of the auditorium.
The heavy curtain opened to reveal Wisdom and Love standing center stage.
Wisdom spoke first.
“Listen to me, all you godly ones: Love the Lord with passion! The Lord protects and preserves all those who are loyal to him. But he pays back in full all those who reject him in their pride,” Psalm 31:23.
His tone was commanding. Parental. There was an urgency about him. I considered the unprecedented times we are living in.
A time when pride is exalted. Godliness mocked. Maybe that explained the empty seats.
Love spoke next, though few would have recognized that the words came from him.
In our time, he has been reduced to a mere caricature; an impotent personality. Like those who attempt to define him, he is often seen as passive and unable to cope with injustice.
“For God in heaven unveils his holy anger breaking forth against every form of sin, both toward ungodliness that lives in hearts and evil actions. For the wickedness of humanity deliberately smothers the truth and keeps people from acknowledging the truth about God,” Romans 1:18.
The wickedness of humanity had been on my mind of late. I wondered whether truth would ever have its day, again?
Wisdom smiled, as if knowing my thoughts.
“How happy and fulfilled are those whose rebellion has been forgiven, those whose sins are covered by blood. How blessed and relieved are those who have confessed their corruption to God! For he wipes their slates clean and removes hypocrisy from their hearts,” Psalm 32:1&2.
I remembered the first-time I experienced repentance.
Pride in my religious circumstance was my hypocrisy of choice, but I was unaware. Until godly sorrow exposed my condition and washed me clean. That’s when I first realized how elusive pride can be.
We are stricken before we know it.
How desperately we need a revival of repentance, I thought.
How desperately we need to love truth, again.
Love had moved to the corner of the stage. He was staring into the darkness; away from where I sat at the center of the small room. There was sadness in his eyes and for a moment, it seemed I was lifted into his contemplations and transported back through history. The presence of sorrow was tangible. He still carried every painful moment of man’s long, laborious troubles in his bosom.
From the beginning of time until now, I saw Love reaching…
And he spoke.
“In reality, the truth of God is known instinctively, for God has embedded this knowledge inside every human heart. Opposition to truth cannot be excused on the basis of ignorance, because from the creation of the world, the invisible qualities of God’s nature have been made visible, such as his eternal power and transcendence. He has made his wonderful attributes easily perceived, for seeing the visible makes us understand the invisible. So then, this leaves everyone without excuse,” Romans 1:19&20.
Was that a note of futility in Love’s declaration? Wisdom must have heard it, too, because he spread his arms to the darkened auditorium where I sat as the lone spectator. Gently stating his case, he moved to his colleague.
“One word of correction breaks open a teachable heart, but a fool can be corrected a hundred times and still not know what hit him,” Proverbs 17:10.
The words stung as I pondered which side of that equation I fell on.
I considered my reactions to occasions of correction.
Together, they’ve witnessed man’s beginnings, I mused, and they will be here through his end. Yet, still their warnings fall on empty seats and hardened hearts.
Happy to see Love’s response, Wisdom continued, “Fools mock the need for repentance, while the favor of God rests upon all his lovers,” Proverbs 14:9.
Obviously, something in his words had warmed Love’s heart.
Like the emotion that erupts when I hear the spoken name of my children. The tenderness that surges beneath my breast even as softness breaches my eyes. Joy escaping through tiny crinkles that fill their corners and tug at the edges of my lips until they tilt upward.
I wondered, was he was thinking of me?
My attention turned to Wisdom as it became obvious that he was now in travail. David was the author, but Wisdom spoke as though he had penned each phrase.
These two felt things on a level I would never comprehend. Like an unplumbed deep or a mysterious spring, I could observe but never capture their passion.
“Before I confessed my sins, I kept it all inside; my dishonesty devastated my inner life, causing my life to be filled with frustration, irrepressible anguish, and misery. The pain never let up, for your hand of conviction was heavy on my heart. My strength was sapped, my inner life dried up like a spiritual drought within my soul,” Psalm 32:3&4.
I remembered how pride had thrown me, like some poor slave, into the clutches of sin. I longed to do what was right but kept returning to the thing my conscience hated.
Guilt weighed heavily on my shoulders and blame filled my gut with ache. I was always pretending; always hiding the thoughts that kept me from freedom.
The more I tried to conquer my sin, the louder my tormentors shouted. Condemnation mocked every attempt to defend myself and self-reproach marched up and down the halls of my mind.
Wherever I went, they followed. These accusers.
My conscience. My enemy.
The same depravity that tempted me; taunted me.
“Throughout human history,” Love moved downstage as he spoke, “the fingerprints of God were upon them, yet they refused to honor him as God or even be thankful for his kindness. Instead, they entertained corrupt and foolish thoughts about what God was like…” Romans 1:21.
Wisdom was animated again, though sadness still marred his visage. He turned to follow Love, interjecting as he walked, “We are all in love with our own opinions, convinced they’re correct. But the Lord is in the midst of us, testing and probing our every motive,” Proverbs 16:2.
Love nodded and stopped downstage. Center. “This left them with nothing but misguided hearts, steeped in moral darkness. Although claiming to be super-intelligent, they were in fact shallow fools,” Romans 1:21&22.
Wisdom halted as well, standing just to Love’s side; unwilling to upstage him.
I dared not breathe lest I disrupt their reflections.
In my own meditations, I noted that the footnote suggested the Aramaic could be translated, “They became insane.” And again, I wondered, where is the audience?
Truly, we are living in unprecedented times.
A time when pride marches in the streets and insanity is admired.
His heaviness was palpable as Love continued sadly. Softly. Yet, I noted a tinge of incredulity.
“For only a fool would trade the unfading splendor of the immortal God to worship the fading image of other humans, idols made to look like people, animals, birds, and even creeping reptiles!” Romans 1:22.
Love paused to wipe a tear from his cheek. When he spoke again, his voice was hoarse and cracked as if every fiber of his being was engaged.
As if each syllable was being forced across a chasm of pain…
“This is why God lifted off his restraining hand and let them have full expression of their sinful and shameful desires. They were given over to moral depravity, dishonoring their bodies by sexual perversion among themselves—all because they traded the truth of God for a lie. They worshiped and served the things God made rather than the God who made all things—"
With a deep sigh, he declared, “…Glory and praises to him for eternity of eternities!”
And they both echoed, “Amen!” Romans 1:24&25.
They turned to walk backstage, and I thought, Surely, this isn’t the end?
I know that we are a generation of unprecedented sin living in unprecedented times.
We exalt pride, love greed, and pursue vanity. Self-loving Self-interests consume our energy from sunrise to sunset. We worship our opinions; mock what we don’t understand. We make up laws to defend our entitlements. We call evil good and good evil.
I looked to see how Love’s chapter ended: “And because they thought it was worthless to embrace the true knowledge of God, God gave them over to a worthless mind-set, to break all rules of proper conduct. Their sinful lives became full of every kind of evil, wicked schemes, greed, and cruelty. Their hearts overflowed with jealous cravings and with conflict and strife, which drove them into hateful arguments and murder. They are deceitful liars full of hostility. They are gossips who love to spread malicious slander…” Romans 1:28-30.
For the first time, I forgot about the audience that wasn’t here. The climax had become clear. The scriptures read like a mirror to my soul.
My own hypocrisy was staring back at me.
The sin I commit in God’s name.
There, I stood, in fig leaves of Self-deception; the appearance of goodness I wore like a banner of rightness. Pride had imprisoned me, yet again.
The room was quiet. Still.
A pin could have broken the silence.
When I found the courage to look up, I realized they had not left the platform, after all. Love and Wisdom stood center stage...
Love stepped forward, his gaze never leaving my own. In a gentle, but firm tone, he spoke.
“Although they are fully aware of God’s laws and proper order and knowing that those who do all of these things deserve to die, yet they still go headlong into darkness, encouraging others to do the same and applauding them when they do!” Romans 1:32.
Uncomfortable now, tears stinging my eyes, I stammered, I didn’t know this was about me. They seemed to be such small things. Surely, you didn’t notice…
The complaints I voiced against others. The anger I defended; judgments I pronounced.
The seed of offense I watered. The tree of hatred that grew and the bitterness that sprouted betrayal where love once bloomed.
The jealousy that drove me to madness and schemes of cruelty. The truth I twisted as false testimony fell from my lips like rain… watering thirsty ground.
The slander I incubated and the accusations I spread like seed. My words… spears flung in the darkness; piercing the heart of once beloved friends.
The positions I abused. The least of these I oppressed; stepping stones in my rise to promotion. The status I exploited to manipulate those I scorned and the years I wasted trying to control the fears I refused to bring to you.
Their gaze was intense, both Wisdom and Love, like a spotlight beaming directly on my soul. I was no longer the audience, but the focus.
I am yours. Your church. Your bride, but you knew…
That I am the unprecedented one.
I am the pride that keeps my generation from knowing you.
Love stepped off the stage, moving slowly up the aisle and toward me as he spoke, “Do the riches of his extraordinary kindness make you take him for granted and despise him? Haven’t you experienced how kind and understanding he has been to you? Don’t mistake his tolerance for acceptance. Do you realize that all the wealth of his extravagant kindness is meant to melt your heart and lead you into repentance? Romans 2:4.
Tears streamed down my face. I couldn’t stop them if I wanted to. I saw how my fears had deceived me and hidden the pride that exulted in my religious position.
I thought my days of being deceived by that state of mind were finished, but here it was…
How did it keep growing? Like a weed in my garden; why did I respond like a puppet whose strings had never been cut?
Betrayed by my own vanity. Trapped by Self-interest and the judgments I made, too easily, of others.
Here I am, trying to measure up and falling short, again.
And like before, Love only wanted to cover me with the genuineness of repentance.
He waited, just outside of reach. It was clear that Love would not do for me what I must do for myself.
Wisdom, still on the stage, spoke quietly.
“Then I finally admitted to you all my sins, refusing to hide them any longer. I said, ‘My life-giving God, I will openly acknowledge my evil actions...’” Psalm 32:5.
The room was soundless, except for my sobs. I stood from my seat and moved toward him, but before I could touch him, his arms encircled me.
I was surrounded by Love.
In the distance, I could still hear Wisdom’s voice.
“And you forgave me! All at once the guilt of my sin washed away and all my pain disappeared!” Psalm 32:5.
Wisdom danced across the stage as he laughed. His arms wide open; his feet spinning. I could feel Love’s chest bouncing enthusiastically as he laughed with him and I laughed as joy spread through me.
When the celebrating grew silent, I asked if I could finish the play. In unison, they nodded, and so I mounted the steps.
By now, I realized that it had all been for me. I was the denouement of the drama; the moment the plot had been leading to all along.
I saw the summation of the storyline and all became clear. It was Wisdom’s words in Psalm 32:6, “This is what I’ve learned through it all: All believers should confess their sins to God; do it every time God has uncovered you in the time of exposing. For if you do this, when sudden storms of life overwhelm, you’ll be kept safe.”
So, as I leave this stage of morning meditations and observations of unprecedented times of pride, wickedness, and self-deception, I caution you to remember that sin, every sin, is unprecedented and evil, but repentance always restores the soul.
If, like me, you find yourself stuck in a pit of struggle, wrestling with emotional issues of guilt, self-importance, offense, and tormenting condemnation, consider this:
“Many are the sorrows and frustrations of those who don’t come clean with God. But when you trust in the Lord for forgiveness his wrap-around Love will surround you,” Psalm 32:10.
*All scriptures are taken from The Passion Translation