A Christmas Thought

23 12 2017

From Luke 1:26-45

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

No doubt that these are familiar verses, and this is a familiar story.  I don’t have any unique perspective, or a new discovery that I’m sharing here.  I’m just sharing a thought that I had in reviewing the story of Jesus.


Ministers have often talked about how scared Mary must have been to be pregnant out of wedlock.  I’ve heard every Christmas season, something about how Mary had a lot to lose by proclaiming the Birth of Jesus Christ, which was in her.  I’ve sat there in the pew and listened to someone preach about how practical Mary is in her response to the news that she’s pregnant.  They love to talk about her around Christmas, because hers is a Christmas message.  And it is a Christmas message.  It’s the Christmas message!  But I see some proclamations here that I would love to share with you, proclamations that I believe have both significance for Mary, but significance for each of us as well.

  1.  The Proclamation to Mary
    1. “You are Highly Favored!”
      I was thinking about it earlier this week, and I was wondering what qualified Mary?  Like what was special about her?  I don’t have much about her life prior to Jesus, so I looked at other times where she was mentioned.  The popular Christmas carol, “Mary Did You Know?” repeatedly asks if she knew the details of Jesus’ life and Jesus’ fate.  (Which, according to scripture, yes, she knew that Jesus was going to be the savior of the world, but that’s another subject for another day.)  Anywho, as we read the story of Jesus, it’s the story of his mother as well.  They say that children are a reflection of their parents and their influence in their lives.  If this is true of Jesus, then Mary raised Jesus to be an upstanding person.  Yes, he was God, but I’m also sure that Mary had to teach him things as well.  And in the final days of Jesus, I know that Mary was filled with dread, because she understood his warnings, because the angel told her that he would be the savior of the world.  I think that when Jesus was just conceived, when she heard the words “you are highly favored” I think that she tried to remember everything that was happening, so she’d never forget.  No doubt that she had been viewed by God to be someone who was trying their best to follow his commandments.  This means that she was growing in her relationship with God.  She was in the temple, worshiping.  She was obedient to the call of God, and God could see fruit in her life.  She didn’t become spiritual just because she was Mary, the mother of Jesus.  She was spiritual because she was Mary, the child of God.
    2. We are Highly Favored
      Just as Mary was highly favored by God, if we are doing the things that we need to do, if we are growing in our walk with God and if we are producing the spiritual fruits that we need to produce because God is moving through us, then we are also highly favored!  God used Mary to produce the son of God and to support his ministry.  And God can use us to produce fruits and live a life of ministry.
  2. The Proclamation of Mary
    1. “I am the Lord’s servant”
      Her first response was a practical response, of how she could be pregnant but never have gotten it on?  Her second was her acceptance of God’s will for her life….and she knew that her life was not her own.  She knew that the purpose of her life was to serve God.  She accepted God’s plan as her plan, and didn’t fight it.  There was really nothing to fight, she was already preggers and she couldn’t do anything about that!  She accepted this, without protest, without responding like a four year old.  She just accepted what God said on faith, and let him figure out the rest of the details.  No doubt, she had worries that she could have said and shared, worries of Joseph and her relationship to him.  Worries of social graces and being cast out of her society.  Worries of where she would go and live, what would happen.  Worries of how she would deal with her baby boy being crucified.  But she accepted them all, and knew that God would take care of her in his own way.
    2. We are the Lord’s servant
      I could stand to learn a few things from Mary.  I could take from her story, the importance of staying faithful to God, no matter what his plan is.  I could also learn my place as well.  I could learn that my life is not my own, and I must accept the plan of God for my life, regardless of what I think or feel about it.  Hopefully I will learn a few things from Mary.  Because ultimately, she immediately accepted the plan that God had for her baby to be the savior of the world, and she obeyed throughout the years.  She was there at each event, she was there when he died.  And she was there when he was resurrected.  When I think about how she could have gone through all of that, I arrive at Mary’s unwavering faith in God.  I arrive at her faithfulness.  When others look at my life, and they wonder how I did it all, I hope that people think of God, and see the power of God in my life.  I hope that they see how God was faithful and how He used me.  I hope that they see God is in me and lives through me.  I hope they see love.

As you go into the Christmas season, may you ponder the words and meaning of Christmas, and may you and yours find lots of love to share!

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Fundamental Lies: Abstinence

5 12 2017

Abstinence was a term I heard in church long before I even knew what sex was.  I mean, I heard the term and I knew I wasn’t supposed to participate in such an event, but in my ignorance, I thought it was some sort of thing that people did at parties.  Bad people.  Boy, was I wrong!  Then, I found out what it really was, and after my horrible embarrassment, I was reminded that I should remain abstinent until marriage.

From many different directions, I heard about abstinence.  I heard about all of the diseases you could catch from school.  They showed me the terrible pictures, and they still do show the pictures to 8th graders each year.  In church, I was told that marriage is the only context in which God approves sexual activity.  According to what I valued, I took more of what my spiritual leaders said to heart, rather than questioned it.  And I took the evidence of STDs as God’s signal to his people that sexual activity before marriage was wrong.  Without question, I followed my spiritual leaders, and it never occurred to me that they would lead me astray, after all, they were following God.  It never dawned on me that they couldn’t be trusted to tell me the truth.  I expected them to guide me and never lead me wrongly.

It just so happened that all of the churches in the area gathered together and they decided to have an event that is called “True Love Waits.”  If you don’t know what it is, it’s an abstinence-advocating program.  Their main purpose is to press upon students in middle and high school that they are instructed by God to remain sexually pure until marriage.  They passed on their belief that the only person that I was to have relations with, was the person that I would marry.  I was taught that this was God’s will for my life.  They combined this event with studies that led up to this event, all about being pure and having right intentions and of course, abstinence itself.  So weeks and weeks went by and we “studied” a particular passage that my particular spiritual leaders found and decided to use.

What I was Told:
They decided to use the story of Tamar and Amnon as their chosen source text.  We studied this story in several sessions.  In the sessions, we talked about Amnon wanted Tamar, and they told me it was a consensual relationship and they chose to sleep together before they got married.  After it was over, there was a hatred that was given by God to show God’s disapproval of sex before marriage.  I accepted this version of the story without question as gospel, because that was what I felt like I was supposed to do.  Even after I left this leadership and transitioned to a new period of my life, I hung on to that belief concerning sex.

Deconstruction:  So, what DOES the Bible Say?
Part of deconstruction is thinking about what people have told you all of your life, and figuring out what you think.  It has grown very important to me in the recent years, that I know what I believe and why I believe that.  I grew older and started needing to examine the belief system that other spiritual leaders had put in my life, and I compared that to what I thought and felt was truth.  One of the ways that I have done that is in companion to studying the word of God.  I have remained studious about studying what the Bible says.  If you want your belief system challenged, then start reading the Bible and use your personal relationship with God to determine if those beliefs are correct.  It’s an evolving process, one that I am still doing to this day.  Sometimes, what the Bible says and teaches really disturbs my soul, and it is very different from what I’ve been taught.

So I was reading the other night because I am journeying through the Second Book of Samuel in my personal time and as I started reading, I was excited to read a familiar story.  Except, it was very different.

2 Samuel 13 1-22 (NIV)
In the course of time, Amnon son of David fell in love with Tamar,the beautiful sister of Absalom son of David. Amnon became so obsessed with his sister Tamar that he made himself ill. She was a virgin, and it seemed impossible for him to do anything to her.  Now Amnon had an adviser named Jonadab son of Shimeah, David’s brother. Jonadab was a very shrewd man. He asked Amnon, “Why do you, the king’s son, look so haggard morning after morning? Won’t you tell me?” Amnon said to him, “I’m in love with Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister.” “Go to bed and pretend to be ill,” Jonadab said. “When your father comes to see you, say to him, ‘I would like my sister Tamar to come and give me something to eat. Let her prepare the food in my sight so I may watch her and then eat it from her hand.’”  So Amnon lay down and pretended to be ill. When the king came to see him, Amnon said to him, “I would like my sister Tamar to come and make some special bread in my sight, so I may eat from her hand.” David sent word to Tamar at the palace: “Go to the house of your brother Amnon and prepare some food for him.” So Tamar went to the house of her brother Amnon, who was lying down. She took some dough, kneaded it, made the bread in his sight and baked it. Then she took the pan and served him the bread, but he refused to eat. “Send everyone out of here,” Amnon said. So everyone left him. Then Amnon said to Tamar, “Bring the food here into my bedroom so I may eat from your hand.” And Tamar took the bread she had prepared and brought it to her brother Amnon in his bedroom.  But when she took it to him to eat, he grabbed her and said, “Come to bed with me, my sister.”  “No, my brother!” she said to him. “Don’t force me! Such a thing should not be done in Israel! Don’t do this wicked thing. What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace? And what about you? You would be like one of the wicked fools in Israel. Please speak to the king; he will not keep me from being married to you.” But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her.  Then Amnon hated her with intense hatred. In fact, he hated her more than he had loved her. Amnon said to her, “Get up and get out!”  “No!” she said to him. “Sending me away would be a greater wrong than what you have already done to me.”  But he refused to listen to her.  He called his personal servant and said, “Get this woman out of my sight and bolt the door after her.”  So his servant put her out and bolted the door after her. She was wearing an ornate robe, for this was the kind of garment the virgin daughters of the king wore. Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the ornate robe she was wearing. She put her hands on her head and went away, weeping aloud as she went.  Her brother Absalom said to her, “Has that Amnon, your brother, been with you? Be quiet for now, my sister; he is your brother. Don’t take this thing to heart.” And Tamar lived in her brother Absalom’s house, a desolate woman.  When King David heard all this, he was furious. And Absalom never said a word to Amnon, either good or bad; he hated Amnon because he had disgraced his sister Tamar.

The Differences, Do they really matter?
Between what I was told and what is really there, I notice several differences.  The first of which is that Tamar and Amnon are brother and sister.  The way it is written leads me to think that they are not biological brother and sister, but at least half-brother and half-sister.  They share the same father, David, and have different mothers.  It doesn’t give us much insight into their background other than that.  In Hebrew law, it is forbidden for siblings to have relations.  But don’t take my word for it, you study and figure it out for yourself.  The error that my spiritual leaders made, is that they did not mention this familial relationship that these two had.  In choosing to ignore this fact, they taught instead that this was an appropriate relationship.  Does this matter?  Yes!  Absolutely!  You’re not dealing with a relationship among adults that could one day marry, you’re dealing with step-incest.  By not including this fact, they completely ignored the violation of this Hebrew law.

The second truth that I see here that is different from what I was told is that this was a rape, not consensual.  Here, Amnon fell in love with her, and my leaders were correct in that he loved her.  However, my spiritual leaders failed to mention that she did not return his affections.  She protested.  The only reason that they had sex was because he forced himself on her.  It is evident in the scriptures that otherwise, they would not have had relations.  Does this difference matter?  Yes!  This text clearly says that it is wrong to rape other people, and it is absurd that we have to have a law (in my opinion) in the Hebrew Bible that tells us that it is wrong to rape someone.  We see here a Biblical principal being violated, and the belief that someone’s purity is worth keeping sacred and special.

The third difference that I see here between what my spiritual leaders taught me and the truth of the Bible is that Amnon didn’t hate her because they had sex, he hated her because he hated himself.  Earlier, I told you that I was given the impression that this relationship was consensual.  And after they had done the deed, so to speak, Amnon was filled with hatred.  My leaders said this was because God disapproved of sexual relations before marriage.  Instead, I’d like to think that he hated her because he hated what he had done to her.  He realized that he had done something that could not be undone.   She said to him that what he had done was awful, and to send her away and try to ignore what he had done would be worse.  I had to stop, and look at my Bible and see what she meant by that.  In one commentary, it explains that her robe was a robe similar to what Joseph and other dream interpreters would wear.  She was a virgin dream interpreter, probably respected not only as the King’s daughter, but also because she interpreted dreams and lived a life of purity, and life that was marked in its specialness.  A life that was concerned with being holy and being that example for other people to follow and to look up to.  He had stolen that from her.  I think he hated her because he hated himself, and he realized what he had stolen from her, and the consequences for her.

The final difference I see here is that he was following a crooked example.  Amnon was David’s eldest son and his heir.  David had just had an affair with Bathsheba, and Amnon saw how his dad had tried to cover it up and he didn’t have any consequences to his actions.  Amnon was following a corrupt example.  He probably thought that because he was the king’s son and heir, he would not have any of the moral repercussions of his actions that he had.  But he did.  He immediately realized he did wrong, and he couldn’t make it right by marrying her.  He sent her away, and she went mourning, but he had to deal with the emotional consequences.


This passage doesn’t really deal with sex as a consensual experience, shared by two people in love, but rape.  Rape causes this hatred, guilt causes this hatred.  The hate was not caused by the fact that they had sex out of marriage, but because he ratped her.  My leaders really had it wrong.  I would hope that they wouldn’t intentionally try to lead me astray.  But the fact is, they had a wrong approach to teaching abstinence.


So, I’ve marinated on it, and I’ve arrived at several conclusions in this process:

  1. If you are a spiritual leader, make sure that what you are teaching is indeed Biblical and it is the whole truth.  You will play an important role in someone’s life by being in their life as a spiritual leader.  Take it seriously.  You might be responsible for their blossoming spiritual life or their destruction of their spiritual life.
  2. If you are a spiritual leader, don’t use the Bible and twist it for a cause.  Twist the cause to meet the truth.  You owe it to God, who is using you, to paint an accurate picture of love.  So make sure you do that.
  3. If you are being led by a spiritual leader, don’t make the same mistake that I did and believe them without question.  Test and make sure that they are teaching truth.  Read your Bible, look at their references.  It takes a little more work, but it is so worth it, to make sure you are getting truth.
  4. Don’t follow spiritual leaders as a substitute for your own spiritual growth.  Invest time in prayer, invest in study.  Spend time thinking and trying to figure out the meaning of the scriptures.  Sometimes it’s hard to understand, but discipleship is worth it.
  5. Hold everyone accountable.  Hold yourself accountable if you’re teaching.  Hold yourself accountable for what you’ve been taught.  If someone tells you wrong, then tell them the truth.  Don’t substitute half-truths for whole truth.  Don’t let an agenda be your doctrine.

Conclusions:
Don’t take my word on all of this.  You study this passage.  See what you think.