Thursday, February 14, 2013

Love Story

Today is Valentine's Day. It is a day that represents love. The day when flower shops and candy companies rejoice! I am thankful that the Lord has blessed me with a loving husband. However, as I was contemplating this day, I am very aware that there are a lot of lonely isolated people in our world. Some have been through divorce, some have never been married or found the "right one" and others have lost their loved one to death. In many cases for these folks, Valentine's Day can be a painful reminder of what they are not, that is loved. As I was meditating on this reality, I was drawn to Genesis 29:16-30. This is the story of Jacob and his marriage to the two sisters, Leah and Rachel. If you remember the story, Leah was the older of the two sisters and was described as having "weak"eyes. On the other hand, her younger sister Rachel was "lovely in form and beautiful."(Genesis 29:17) Jacob was "head over heals" in love with Rachel, so much so that he was willing to work seven years for Laban, their father, to marry her. However, after seven years of service, Laban did the old "switch and bait" tactic and gave Jacob, Leah instead. Laban justified his move by telling Jacob that it was not customary to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. Laban then made an offer that Jacob could not refuse, he could marry Rachel for another seven years of work. Jacob did not hesitate to accept and we are told  that, "Jacob lay with Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah." (Genesis 29:30) Imagine how Leah must have felt to be "second best?" I have always been touched by this story because I know how Leah felt as maybe some of you have had similar experiences of feeling not good enough. The wonderful truth I discovered in this story is how greatly God loves those society brands as "unlovable." In fact, Leah has the last laugh because from her womb were born the sons who would greatly impact the coming of the Messiah. Her son, Levi, represented the Aaronic line of priests. Moreover, her son, Judah, represented the lineage through which Jesus Christ would be born. Upon further reflection, I realized Leah had a lot in common with our Savior. She was "despised and rejected" by Jacob which is how Isaiah 53:3 describes the way the Lord was treated by others. Jesus was also a "man of sorrows and familiar with suffering." (Isaiah 53:3b) How familiar was Leah with the suffering and sorrow of being reminded on a daily basis that she was not wanted? Furthermore, Isaiah describes Jesus' physical appearance as not anything special, "He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in appearance that we should desire Him." (Isaiah 53:2) Unfortunately, Leah would not live to see Messiah come and realize her significant role in the lineage of Jesus. But while Jacob was fixated on outer beauty, our Lord is focused on the inner beauty. God does not operate according to the standards of the world. The beautiful and rich don't always get the prize at the end of the day. God works in and through the unexpected. Remember the Jews were looking for a kingly Messiah to free them from the Romans but Jesus was born in a stable and was a carpenter from Nazareth. Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the start of the Lenten season which will culminate in the celebration of Easter. Do you want to know what the best love story of all time is? You won't find it in a box of candy or bouquet of flowers but on a hill at Calvary. The shape of love is not a heart but a cross. So for all you "Leahs" out there, remember in God's eyes, you are worth the greatest love that heaven could offer, the gift of His Son. "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8) And this my friends is real love.
In His Love,
Pastor Sheree

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Power and Weakness

I recently had a client comment on how he wished God would take away his deep hurt and heal him completely of his mental illness. This individual did not like the feeling of powerlessness which left him in a constant state of hopelessness and depression. Many of us find ourselves at times identifying with this client. We by nature as human beings recoil from any situations or circumstances that lead us towards feelings of discomfort. We like to be in control of our lives. We like the idea of being "captain of our ship, masters of our fate." However, those who truly claim Jesus as Lord and Savior come to understand that God needs to be in control. This is a life long lesson that we continue to learn over and over again. It may not feel comfortable to yield ourselves to a Being that we cannot see or touch but the results of doing so are remarkable! The Scriptures give many examples of what seems like a paradox in which power flows from weakness. Many of us are familiar with Paul's request from the Lord to be delivered from his"thorn in the flesh." Scholars have debated about what that "thorn" could be but needless to say it was so unpleasant that Paul pleaded three times for relief. The word "plead" in the Greek carries the idea of summoning someone to come along side and to help. In fact, Paul states that he was "tormented" by this condition. One would think that Paul's dramatic conversion and tremendous ministry to the Gentiles would earn him special privileges of grace. However, the Lord's response to him was, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:8a) Paul went on to declare that he would therefore boast in his weaknesses and concluded by stating,"For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinthians 2:10) It is not typical for us to join weakness and power in the same sentence but God does His greatest work when we allow Him to call the shots. For those of us who grew up during the Civil Rights Movement, we saw a real life example of power flowing from perceived weakness. Martin Luther King, Jr. was able through non violence (perceived weakness) to initiate a powerful change for black people as well as many poor and oppressed. Mahatma Ghandi through a hunger strike (perceived weakness) was able to bring about a powerful change in India. The greatest example was Jesus Christ whose love and compassion (perceived weakness) for the so-called "sinners" in His day gave those same oppressed people the power to believe in the Living God who cared about their needs. Furthermore Jesus' death (perceived weakness) unleashed the power of God through the resurrection so that humanity could be saved from sin and death. I am learning in this current season of my life that God does not always change circumstances from without but I can experience a peace within when I see the power of God break through obstacles that others seek to place in my path. As a woman in pastoral ministry, many doors have been closed to fully using the gifts that God gave me. However, instead of pushing back, I can rest in knowing that what others perceive as weakness, God will make perfect by the power of His Holy Spirit. I cannot heal my client's wounds but I can point Him to the One who is able to give him sufficient grace so that God's power may be made perfect in this client's weakness. Don't let the world's definition of weakness distract you from the power you possess in Christ. "You dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world." (1 John 4:4)
Pastor Sheree