Sunday, December 23, 2018

A Rototiller of God's Grace

Both of my parents love to work outside in the yard.  They always have.  Although we moved into the first house I remember when it was brand new on a muddy, messy plot of recently constructed ground, as far back as I can picture my parents’ yard has always been bursting with botanicals, vegetables, stepping stones and rock borders. They’re so good at it, and they both love it.  We only lived on a third of an acre in Suburbia, VA, but my dad had stored under our gazebo the prized possession of a bright orange rototiller.  Saturday mornings he was invariably outside shoveling, pick axing, hauling or on his favorite days, plowing our little plot of land for some new horticultural venture. 
            I still remember so clearly the look of solemn satisfaction the day he rented a bobcat rototiller for a bigger job in the back yard (this resembles a small bulldozer, but the front has a long roller of spikes that churn the soil ahead of it). If you know my dad, you can picture his face – not quite a smile, but there’s a depth of delight in his eyes. He was going to break up some serious ground today!
I’ve spent the last few weeks digging in to the book of Malachi, and now that it’s two days until Christmas I’m directing my attention to the familiar Christmas story, trying to see what connections there are to what I’ve been studying. I’ve been thinking a lot about John the Baptist. Malachi speaks of the coming of a messenger before the Messiah appears, and the question was posed “How did Elijah [later we know this is John] prepare the way for Messiah, and why was his ministry essential (see Malachi 3:1-2)?
I just kept thinking of that one word: Prepare.
How was he supposed to prepare the way? Why did he need to prepare the way?
I looked back at one of the more common passages that foretold about this messenger sent to "prepare the way". Isaiah 40:3-5
A voice of one calling: In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low.  The rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it together.  For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.
And it dawned on me: John was the rototiller. His entire purpose was to break up the hardened ground before the seed, the Word of God, was scattered.
            I looked up “why it’s important to till/plow”. Here are some farming tidbits:
            - it increases decomposition
            - you can easily add nutrients from organic material into the soil (manure is rich in nitrogen)
            - it helps control weeds
            - it breaks up crusted soil
            - it loosens the area for planting
            - it creates air pockets which facilitates air and water penetration
            See, my parents understood that they could plant whatever they wanted wherever they wanted.  They could throw flower seeds over the grass, they could plant bulbs every 6”, they could even strap a seedling to a stick in the ground, but if that ground was hard, there would be no fruit.  Since my parents wanted to see their gardens grow, they prepared the ground.
            God didn’t send Jesus simply to condemn the hardened people of Israel.  He wanted to see them receive Christ and be fruitful.  It was always God’s plan to send Jesus, but in His mercy, He sent one ahead of Christ to prepare the hardened ground of Israel to receive him. John’s name actually means “God is gracious.”
            “Repent!” John cried out! “Repent.” Digging, churning, preparing the way for the one who would soon come and say “No one comes to the Father except through me.” After 400 years of not hearing from God, the ground of Israel’s hearts had certainly hardened. But in God’s grace and mercy, He sent a rototiller to break through, that there might be fruitful growth.
            I’m praising God for John in a new way today.  Praising God for His mercy in sending one to prepare the way.  I’m praising God for Jesus’ rototiller cousin.

Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Christ.”
They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”
He said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
He answered, “No.”
Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”
Now some Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”
“I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”
This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”
Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him.  I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”

~John 1:19-34

            So “How did Elijah (John) prepare the way for Messiah, and why was his ministry essential?” Because God is a merciful, gracious God, and he sent a rototiller before the seed so that the hardened, anemic ground might bear fruit. Praise God for John. God is, indeed, gracious.

Monday, November 12, 2018

When you called her Hope

Six years ago I walked alongside some of my dearest friends (and providentially nearest neighbors) as they navigated the unique path of delivering their baby only to bury her.  When my friend went in for her 20 week sonogram to find out their baby's gender she heard the surprising and painful words "incompatible with life." As they grieved the imminent loss of their daughter, and for my friend what felt like the loss of her future family, we were doing our best to encourage them, comfort them, speak truth in love to them, and yet give them space to hurt.  We knew we couldn’t understand their pain. To feel the beautiful torture of butterflies, kicks, hiccups, knowing they were fleeting... 

I still don’t ever know what to say.

It has been six years, but every year at this time I fumble through my options. Send a card? Text “Thinking of you today”? Maybe you just don’t want me to say anything. What if you just want everyone to leave you alone?

But the truth is I am thinking of you.  I’m thinking of her.  Every November 13 I pray extra that God will comfort your family and multiply your joy.

I remember seeing your name come up on my text, and I ignored it because I was having coffee with a friend.  As soon as she left I checked to see what witty way you'd reveal the gender. But my heart stopped.  My hands were cold. Why did I ignore this text? How long have you been over there in your apartment crying by yourself? That was one of the saddest hugs I’ve ever given a friend.  I remember weeping to my husband that night and, for the first time in my life, sincerely pleading for Jesus to come back.  It hurt to know how, just down the hall, your world was so shaken— so broken.

But I also remember the day you both walked into our apartment and told us you had settled on a name. “We’re naming her Hope.”

Leave it to you two to take this utterly hopeless situation (the sonographer and doctor made that painfully clear) and to label it “Hope.” But it wasn’t denial.  It wasn’t wishful thinking.  It wasn’t just a pretty name.  It was a declaration – in this utterly hopeless situation there is Hope.

And here I am, six years later, thinking through how to say I still care and still love you and still wish I could be her “Aunt Abby” and fumbling back through my options…and it hits me.  What I really want to tell you is thank you.  Thank you for naming her Hope. Thank you for staring down the darkest, loneliest, most terrifying path that was laid before you and walking into it under the light of hope. I’m in awe that you looked at that seemingly hopeless situation and said “I know this is redeemable. If not now, then in eternity.” But that’s what you saw.  You saw beyond the pain of the now.  You saw that beauty and reality of the future that is promised to us. That one day all of this – all of us – will be made new. 

1 Corinthians 15:19 says “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” I’ll bet some people heard your story and then heard her name and thought it didn’t make sense. Or maybe that you were a Christian nut praying for a miracle. Or possibly even that you knew one day she’d be one of you guardian angels.  “Sweet, but pitiful.”

But we knew what you were saying – that you believe what has been promised. You were clinging to the assurance that “the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” It was your testimony that even death had lost its sting because of what Christ had done.  In no way am I saying that losing Hope wasn’t or shouldn’t have been one of the most painful experiences a person can go through. But when a Christian hopes, it’s because we believe that the deepest, heaviest, most painful burdens we carry in life will seem like “light and momentary troubles” when we cross to eternity. We are sure of what we hope for, certain of what we do not see, and confident that God is making all things new.   And by naming her Hope, you handed that to the world.  With tear-stained faces and an enormous belly, you called her Hope.

And friends, this world needs that hope. 

Honestly, I needed that hope. The next six years laid a number of painfully dark, lonely, terrifying paths in front of me.  And as I stared into the blackness ahead of me, your family stood at the far end of the tunnel holding up your light of Hope, encouraging me forward. On my darkest days, in my loneliest moments, I repeated often “Even if this lasts until the day I die, this won’t last forever.” I clung to it. Why? Because of hope.  Because I know there’s more coming.  There’s purpose, there’s redemption, and this broken beaten world and my broken beaten self are going to be made new.

I’m so thankful for the testimony of your family.  I’m blessed to witness her short and precious life that has reminded me of deep truths on dark days. It is such a privilege to walk the road with the broken faithful, and to call you our friends.   

I love you guys.  I’m thinking of you.  Thank you for sharing your life and your Hope with me.

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.  For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.  According to the Lord's word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.  Therefore encourage one another with these words.
                                                                                            ~1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

"He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."
                                                                                            ~Revelation 21:4-5

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

50¢ Worth of Gold

This is 50

– pennies, in this case.  I took them from my kids’ piggy banks.  I had to, because I no longer have pennies in my life.  Somewhere around college they became heavy and cumbersome, something to be dealt with rather than valued.  But to a child, every penny is a treasure.  You put 50 of them in a pile, and whoa, it’s like the Cave of Wonders in Aladdin.

This is 50

Image may contain: 2 people, including Beverly Bethay Wauer, people smiling, people standing and outdoor
 – years, in this case. These two amazing people have been married for 50 years. They’ve had multiple homes, multiple children, multiple careers… as well as innumerable sorrows, immeasurable fears, unrelenting stressors. Together they have found faith,  held sick children, and grieved the loss of parents. They have coached and educated, taught Bible lessons and refereed (on the court and in the living room).  They have held their own sick adult children. They have loved, wept, danced, prayed, and boy have they laughed together throughout their years.

Just like the pennies, some of their years were bright and shiny.  Some were dark.  Some old ones still stand out (maybe even more so because of their age), and some are dull and don’t really elicit a second glance. Some years were hard-earned, and I’m guessing there were a few that were so hard it didn’t feel like the “one cent” reward was worth the effort.  But some came with ease and giggles of delight.

Mom and Dad, I know that 50 years has been a long journey, and at the same time has flown by.   That’s how life is.  I’m sure you look at the pictures of your wedding and one side of your brain sighs and says, “it feels just like yesterday” while the other side says, “were we ever really that young?” Year after year, penny after penny, you kept adding to your pile.  Maybe you didn’t even know that’s what you were doing, but every September 28, you added a new one – shiny or dark, worn or fresh, dirty or clean, hard-earned or gifted, you kept faithfully adding to your pile.

Since I’ve put these pennies on the counter they have been oohed and aahed over, counted, sorted by years, recounted, inspected, carried, recounted… There’s something magnetic about a pile of pennies – something that beckons their admiration and awe. It’s just too much richness for grubby fingers to pass by.

Can I tell you something? Having this pile of 50 years sitting in front of me is like standing in the Cave of Wonders.  I’m overwhelmed by the treasure in front of me.

To a child, every penny is a treasure.  To your child, every year is like gold.  What a treasure your marriage is to me.

Image may contain: 26 people, including Nate Hoff, Abby 'Wauer' Hoff, Beverly Bethay Wauer, Sarah St André and Benjamin Wauer, people smiling, people standing, wedding, tree, outdoor and nature

Other people might not recognize it.  Actually, you might not even see it, but when this group of people sees your 50 years in front of us...yeah, all we see is a heaping pile of gold. Kids know a treasure when they see it.

Friday, December 22, 2017

A Thrill of Hope, Part 2

Back in high school a friend pondered a question aloud that had never occurred to me: Why do Christians celebrate Christmas so big? Her premise was not so much a negative reaction to Christmas, but that as believers, she reasoned, shouldn't our focus be primarily on Easter?  "When I have a family I'm going to send Easter cards and Easter presents."  As Christians who have been saved only by the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ and His resurrection from the dead, shouldn't our attention be on celebrating that?

I absolutely agree, Easter should be made much of - much more of than it often is, if you ask me - but something gnawed on me about the question.  "Why do Christians celebrate Christmas so big?" For 20 years I've been mulling it over, and for 20 years the Holy Spirit has been leading me to an understanding: it's all about redemption. The climax of the story is the cross, but the story of redemption started long before that. 


A Thrill of Hope, Part 1


A Thrill of Hope, Part 2

God promised: He is coming. God promised: He is coming. God promised: He is coming.  And they waited, and they waited, and they waited.  And if you have ever waited for something that was promised to you, you know that in the waiting comes excitement, anticipation, hope, desire… But as time goes on and the waiting continues new feelings creep in: fear, doubt, wonder, confusion, anger, worry, frustration, discouragement...

What if I misunderstood? What if He couldn't do what He thought He could do? What if God just lied?

And they knew they needed it.  Adam and Eve knew from the very moment they chose sin that they had no hope without this promise. And as the generations came and went they knew more and more that without this One that God promised He would send to redeem them, they were hopeless.  And they longed for that promise to be fulfilled.  They were desperate to know that what they were believing was true - that they did have a hope because God did actually have a plan to redeem them.

And they waited, and they waited.

And then God was silent.  For 400 years He did not remind them of His promise.  For 400 years there was no encouragement of "He is coming." And for 400 years they wondered if He would still send the One He had promised in the beginning to redeem, renew, and revive what they broke.  It was their only hope.

And they waited, and they waited.

It is in that quiet, lonely longing that we find some shepherds in a field. The night is quiet. The night is normal. The night is dark in every way.  And we've heard this story so many times, too many times, because I think we're able to read it without being astonished at what happens.  So let's slow it down and try to soak in what these shepherds heard and saw, keeping in mind that they have waited and waited and waited for God to keep His promise.  Try to push out of your mind Linus' voice, and any Christmas pageant you were in as a child, and forget the phrase "sore afraid".  Try to hear it as one who has been waiting your entire life for these exact words.  And remember, these shepherds have never read Luke chapters 1 and 2.  They don't know about Mary and Joseph, about the angel's visits or that the census has brought this expectant couple just down the street.  They have maybe heard about Zechariah's vision (because finally someone had heard from God!).

Read this as a weary shepherd in a deeply longing world.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  And the angel said to them, “Don't be afraid, for I bring you good news.  News of great joy that will be for all people.  For unto you… is born this day in the city of David a Savior, and he is the Promised One.

He is here. He. is. HERE.

If you have ever been on the receiving end of a promise fulfilled you know how that news affects you.   You know what it stirs inside of you.  I think back to my engagement, how with each word Nate said my face got a little more flush, my heart pounded harder, and I couldn't even hear the words any more because my ears were muffled and people's faces got blurry.  Why? It wasn't because of the restaurant he chose, or the ring he bought, or the words he said (because I didn't hear any of them).  It was because I knew what it all meant.  I knew what was happening, and I knew what was coming after that. I was THRILLED.  He was giving me what I longed for.

Did you see how many promises were fulfilled in that one statement from the angel?
"I bring you good news that will bring joy to all people" as God promised Abraham.
"I bring you good news that a child has been born to you" as God promised Isaiah.
"I bring you good news that He is in Bethlehem, the city of David" exactly as God promised He would be.
There was no more "He is coming, he is coming, he is coming."  He is here. God promised and He did it!

They were hearing exactly what they had longed to hear - exactly what their parents had longed to hear.  And their grandparents.  And their great great great great grandparents. And every generation all the way back to Adam and Eve.  "He has come. He is near. Go and see!" And they did.  They left immediately to find him and see if it was all true.  And when they saw everything exactly as they had been told they would they knew what it all meant.  They knew what was happening, and what was coming.  They were THRILLED.  God was giving them what they longed for. And they spread the news and sang and rejoiced and praised God because He promised, and He did it.

So back to the question of why Christians celebrate Christmas so big when our salvation hinges on the death and resurrection of Jesus.  It is true Jesus' death on the cross paid the penalty that we could not pay to give us a righteousness that we could not earn, but redemption did not begin there.  And it is true that the resurrection of Jesus defeated death and made a way for us to live forever with the God of creation, but redemption did not begin there.  Redemption began when the virgin conceived and gave birth to Emmanuel.

God made a lot of promises about the One he would send to redeem this broken world - about how he would be born, how he would live, how he would die, what would happen after that -  and every one of those promises He kept in the person of Jesus.  If even one of those prophecies had been unfulfilled or even just a little bit inaccurate His death on the cross would have been insufficient because either Jesus was not the One God had promised or God was a liar about who the Messiah would be. But because Jesus accomplished everything God promised that the Messiah would accomplish, we can be sure that God is true and that what Christ has done is fully sufficient for us. God proved that every promise He makes He keeps.  He faithfully did what He said He would do in the past and He can be trusted to do what He has promised for the future.  He is completely trustworthy and completely sufficient.

And it all started when the virgin gave birth in Bethlehem to the hope of all mankind, the son of David, the son of Abraham, the son of Adam and Eve, and the son of God.  We celebrate Christmas so big because that is when redemption began.

That was their thrill of hope.  Jesus Christ came to redeem what was broken. God promised, and He did it.

And friends, that really should still thrill us, too.

O holy night,
the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear savior's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
'Til he appeared, and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Fall on your knees.
O hear the angel voices
O night divine
O night when Christ was born.