Category Archives: Encouragement

the childless woman and the miracle child

by: anonymous – guest post

I am very thankful for this guest post by a brilliant woman, a Mother in Israel, who wishes to remain anonymous.

And it happened, as He spoke these things, that a certain woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!”

But He said, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

— Luke 11:27,28

Those tedious bits of the Old Testament, the genealogies, make a final incursion in Matthew and Luke before they disappear from the Bible (Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38). All the difficult-to-say names, often of obscure children born to obscurer parents, culminate here. They are bewildering, breaking up the narratives — but each name represents two hands gripping a promise. A promise to Eve, and later to Abraham, of a child (Genesis 3 & 15). Miraculous births, beginning with the birth of Isaac, whispered of this miraculous baby to come (Galatians 3:16); but I think Israel’s hope in the coming child is especially poignant in the book of Ruth.

Ruth begins in a time of famine — a woman loses her home and country, then her husband and sons, until finally, past childbearing years, she straggles back to Bethlehem. She has no future — no heir, no one to redeem the land heritage that used to belong to her. She has only a bereaved and childless daughter-in-law, for whom she cannot provide. When women from her hometown come out to greet Naomi, she tells them not to call her by her name, but by a name that means “bitter”: “Mara” — “I went out full, and the Lord has brought me home again empty… the Lord has testified against me” (Ruth 1:21).

But somehow a tale that begins with flat tones of famine and a parched life ends in the rhythms of harvest — and in greetings of blessing from the same women to whom Naomi spoke of the Lord’s curse (4:14). What has taken place between the beginning and the end, that transforms the story? The same thing that took place unobtrusively in the first chapter, in the land of Judah, transforming it into a land of plenty: the Lord has “visited his people” (1:6). The form of the Lord’s visitation (as the tale winds up with a genealogy) is a child.

I can almost trace Naomi’s features through the genealogy in Matthew. The people in that list successively sinned away their blessings until they scattered in exile. They lost the Davidic monarchy, and had no one to redeem their heritage. But the lineage straggles back to Bethlehem, and culminates in a miraculous birth.

Matthew and Luke write the last biblical genealogies because the last name they record is the name of the promised child. The Lord “has visited and redeemed his people” (Luke 1:68 ).

The dilemma of the barren or childless woman disappears with the genealogies. It is associated throughout the Old Testament with the theme of the miraculous birth. Surely there were many childless women in Israel in Jesus’ day, but the gospels contain no record of anyone coming to him to lament their childlessness — though he was the place where God tabernacled with men, the place Hannah went to lament her childlessness. Perhaps women did come to him with this trouble: what else should we do with troubles? And God has a special care for the heartache of being childless (Psalm 113:9). But it has no further episode in the Bible, after Jesus comes.

Because the longing for a child in those Old Testament stories is all mixed up with the longing for this child. The joy of the miracle birth is all mixed up with this joy. Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) is like a voice carrying back through time in a hall of echoes (1 Samuel 2:1-10, Psalm 113).

When Jesus comes, we read about him interacting with women without even being told if many of them have children: we presume the singleness of several. Their lack in this area never arises between him and them. It is not something they are recorded as being disturbed with in his presence. It is a point made as unobtrusively as the visitation of the Lord which changes everything, in the opening verses of Ruth.

Jesus never took a wife, nor did he father children. Not in the Old Testament sense. But the creation mandate takes on new aspects in the second Adam, when Jesus speaks of fruitfulness for those who abide in him. This is not the fruitfulness of natural fertility, per se. Motherhood is the image of fruitfulness in that which is female (the church) to Christ; and one of the forms fruitfulness takes in individual women (1 Timothy 5:10). But the fruit of the Spirit is “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22,23).

This may and often does take the arduous and devoted form of bearing and rearing children; and it may and often does take the form of bearing eternal children. So Ann Judson had only two little ones, both of whom died very young; but she helped to share the gospel with unreached people.

Yet the fruitfulness of abiding in Jesus does not necessitate being able to bear children, or traveling to distant lands. It is more immediate and spiritual, more immanently eternal: it is Jesus’ image formed in us. His miraculous life born in us even though we were dead in sins, already erupted into our bodies with a quality of resurrection. The Lord has visited his people.

Childlessness was a reproach because it was a dead end. It was the bitterness of Naomi, cut off from her inheritance in the land; her children buried without issue, without hope of any further part in the promised one. These shadows are swallowed in substance when a child is born to us (Isaiah 9:6), and we inherit God (Psalm 16:5,6).

So even David in the Old Testament can say that the greater blessing than children is to awake in God’s likeness (Psalm 17:14,15). And the reproach in the New Testament is not for the widow who has never given birth, but for the widow who is “dead” while she “lives” — living only for what makes her feel alive in this world (1 Timothy 5:4-6). The true “dead end” is spiritual unfruitfulness: every branch that does not bear fruit is removed (John 15:2).

I have been married a couple decades now, and am unable to have children. It is doubtful if I can adopt, and I won’t credit myself as the agent of anyone’s salvation. Over the years, I have been told in general and even in particular that my childlessness is a reproach in God’s ongoing economy. I’m grateful for my church family: unless I bring it up — my childlessness never arises between them and me. That is one way my brothers and sisters are like Jesus.

After wrestling through some hard years, I have nothing but delight in other women’s joy or in their children that race around me. We all have our fair share of sorrow (it is poignant to think of the sorrow that came to Rachel, Rebekah, to Samson’s mother, to Elisabeth & Mary even after they had children). But the above truths have comforted me. And there is a further wonder, which I would have liked to share with those who told me the childless woman still stands in the church as a symbol of reproach. We no longer overhear her prayers or her praises, but the childless woman doesn’t exactly vanish from the New Testament. She is transfigured. In one of those bewildering reverses of grace, the Old Testament shadow shifts, and she becomes the symbol of a miraculous hope. It is she whose inheritance Jesus redeems. This is the woman Jesus marries (Isaiah 54:5).

—Maybe that’s the thing you stand for in your community, if you are a reader who wonders why God works in other women’s bodies but not in yours; why God hears other women’s prayers, but not yours; why you should stand there year after year overlooked, and whether you will have to die childless (& for many, husbandless). Maybe you are standing there in the midst like a symbol of more staggering hope.

The new creation mandate that Jesus gives to his bride is to go and make disciples of all the nations: it turns out that all along, the childless woman has been Eve, come again. Eve, the mother of all living. The barren one has become the mother of us all (Galatians 4:26,27). She is the church. And all her children are miracle children — born when their mother was desolate, carried to her on the shoulders of kings and queens (Isaiah 49:20-23).

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Why did Lazarus die?

Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.
  2 It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.
  3 Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.”
  4 When Jesus heard that, He said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
  5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.
  6 So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was. (Jn. 11:1-6)

As I was reading this over my coffee this morning, it struck me. (Funny how that works – I’ve read this countless times, and I didn’t exactly miss it before, but it didn’t strike me like it did today).

Because Jesus loved Lazarus and Mary and Martha;

And because he heard that Lazarus was sick…he waited two more days.

Think about that. Lazarus is dying. Jesus can heal him. But instead, Jesus delays. Lazarus dies. And he loved them.

This is astounding. Imagine what Mary and Martha were going through. For days and days they wait for Jesus to show up. Jesus delays. He dawdles. He stays two more days. Lazarus gets sicker.

Finally Lazarus dies. Mary’s heart breaks. Martha’s heart breaks. Where was Jesus? Why didn’t he come? Does he not care?

(If you have never asked those questions, have you really lived on this earth? How often do we wonder the same thing. How much more? How much longer? Why won’t he stop this? Why won’t he heal?)

But at the beginning of it all, Jesus tells them why. “That the Son of God might be glorified through it.”

There is something about Jesus that hadn’t been revealed yet. He hadn’t been “glorified”, that is, he hadn’t been seen for who he truly was – the Resurrection and the Life.

They all thought that not even Jesus could do anything about death. Lazarus is dead. It’s over.

And then Jesus says, “Lazarus, come forth!”

When God allows the pain to take hold; when God allows yet another thing to strike a blow; when God allows the devil to ravish and devour; when God allows us to go as low as we think we can – and then he takes us even lower –

It isn’t because he hates us. It isn’t because he hasn’t forgotten us. It isn’t because he is negligent or evil.

It is because we close our eyes and think we can solve all of our own problems. We can fix this, if we do just one more thing.

But when death occurs, when we reach that point where there is NO fixing it, NO coming back, NO solution – THAT is when we begin to see Jesus for who he is.

Not even death can stop the power of the Son of God.

Not great sin, not great despair, not great pain or great illness – not even death.

We have a hard time seeing it until we do. And that is worth everything.

If the Son of God can be revealed in our suffering and weakness, our pain and sorrow, then it is worth it all. No one falls through the cracks. He never fails.

The day will come when he will call you out of this tomb as well. And there will be no more tears and no more curse.

When we’ve seen the tears and the curse and know what it is to suffer great loss, then we are the first to shout for joy when victory comes.

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Whispers

There is much that we could get worked up about.

It doesn’t take special insight to know that this world is twisted, broken, oftentimes ugly.

But briefly there are glimpses of justice. Not much, but enough to remind us of perfect justice to come.

Briefly, there are glimpses of beauty. Never enough to quench our thirst, but enough to remind us of beauty beyond our imagining.

Briefly, you might glimpse like a shifting shadow out of the corner of the eye – an echo of Eden. A reminder that God has not cast us off.

An ethereal tune that you can’t quite catch, but it causes deep sighs of longing.

A touch of a lover that reminds you that you are desired

A shimmer of a cool breeze with the hint of jasmine that reminds you of spring

The hint of another country never traveled

The whisper of citrus and plum and berry on the nose of the wine…

The grandkids are laughing.

When you look at the glimpses from one angle, you might be tempted to think that they are God, rather than gifts of his bounty.

You miss the good because you are always searching for the better.

But from another angle, you might miss those glimpses because you are too angry that the world isn’t what it is supposed to be.

So the jasmine goes by unnoticed.

The music goes unheard because you don’t like her politics.

The wine isn’t French or Napa so you miss its bouquet…

You’re too afraid of lust to notice that her hair is shimmering in the sunlight.

You’re too afraid of catching sin to smile and be kind.

You miss the joy of the kids because you demanded idols to justify your wisdom and strength, and instead you got kids with their own minds who mystify you.

Don’t miss the joy. Don’t miss the beauty.

It isn’t God. But it is from God.

It points to God.

Jesus will come again and when the marriage supper of the lamb is served it will be perfect.

Justice will be perfect. Beauty will be perfect. Contentment will be perfect.

Fellowship will be perfect.

So smile. Listen to that beautiful music. Sit and smell the jasmine. It fades quickly.

The whispers go away quickly. We fade and die. But He remembers our frailty…

So teach us to number our days.

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Filed under Encouragement, Goodness, Light

What a day might bring…

Today you might not accomplish what you want to accomplish.

Today, you might be anxious and fearful.

Today, you might hurt and just want the pain to stop.

Today, you might be consumed with past failures that whirl around your head like a favorite blankie in a clothes-dryer.

Today, you might be consumed with fears of a future that you can do nothing about.

Today, you might be rushing off to somewhere so fast that you forget to breathe.

Or-

Today might be a good day

Today you might accomplish a long-time dream

Today, you might remember to breathe

Today, you might remember to smile.

Whatever a day may bring, Jesus still rose from the dead.

Whatever a day may bring, He remembers that we are dust.

Whatever a day may bring, He still raises the dead.

Whatever a day may bring, He still raises kings and deposes kings.

Whatever a day may bring, you can’t hurry enough to outrun his mercy and goodness.

So slow down. Breathe. Look at the mist drifting through the trees. Taste the coffee.

Brew a cup of tea properly. That can’t be rushed.

And no matter what you do or do not accomplish, you cannot add or subtract anything from the infinite love of Christ for you, and you personally. He knows you by name. He loves you and gave his life that you might have grace and peace forever.

So slow down. Breathe. Rest.

When Sunday rolls around, go into his presence, wherever you are. Join with the congregation of the Lord Jesus, whether online, or outdoors, or wherever they meet together.

In his house is peace forevermore.

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