Our family is beyond excited about the latest movie version of Les Miserables. We already have our tickets to see it on Christmas Day, and in the meantime we can’t get enough clips and trailers on YouTube.
(Anne Hathaway’s rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream”? I mean! My lands.)
Andy and I have seen the Les Miserables musical twice—once here in Los Angeles, and once in Cincinnati, when we were newly married. Andy suggested that I read the book in the weeks before that show, and what a challenge it was for me! Not just because it’s one of the longest novels ever written, but because of its conflict between law and grace. I’m all justice and little mercy, I’m afraid—black and white, right and wrong, more Inspector Javert than the redeemed Valjean.
When Javert sings, “Honest work, just reward—that is how to please the Lord,” I nod in agreement. In fact, the whole idea of grace is hard for me. I often withhold grace from others, and I refuse to accept it for myself. I don’t want to need grace, really. I’d rather just be perfect, and have my best be good enough.
Which also means, unfortunately, that I prefer most everyone around me be perfect, too.
Being Javert is hard work! And exhausting. And—brace yourself for this surprise—I’m not perfect. No matter how hard I try, I desperately need grace for my wicked thoughts and ugly heart. Here’s the question that haunts me lately: with such an aversion to grace, can I really know Jesus at all? If I’m still earning and striving, judging and snubbing, what have I in common with Christ? After all, the entire Christmas story is this: the Son of God took on flesh and embodied both grace and truth. He fulfilled every bit of the black and white, right and wrong law, but he was also every bit grace, and “from the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another” (John 1:14-18).
One blessing after another! Lord, that sounds a whole lot better than the exhaustion of perfection. Enough striving like Javert, who lived in bondage even though he wasn’t a prisoner. Let me be like Valjean, who knew his lack, and lived in the fullness of grace. Oh, thank You for grace, God! Let me fall on it, and trust in it, and hope in it. And thank You for Jesus, who came to bring the fullness of grace to Javerts and Valjeans alike. Amen.
Got this in my inbox the other night. It may be my favorite email ever. (Click on it to make it a little larger.)
What’s better than reading something so powerful that it makes your breath catch, and you have to put your hand over your heart and pray?
Watching your son have the same experience.
What’s better than teaching him your faith, day after day for 13 years?
Watching that faith become his.
I love you, Nathan, and that’s my favorite part of the book, too. I’m so proud of you, son. Always love Jesus. He is everything.
“It is a terrible injustice,” asserts my beloved Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables, “to be falsely accused.” Oh, Anne, I agree! To be accused of a mistake that I didn’t make? Or of a character flaw that I don’t possess? Well. That, as Anne would say, is just about “the most tragical thing that has ever happened to me.”
I absolutely hate unfairness.
Especially when it comes to me.
Maybe that’s why it bothered me so much a few days ago when Andy apologized for something he didn’t do. Someone corrected Andy, and Andy even showed me an email proving that he was in the right, but he didn’t fight back. He just took it.
“It’s not a big deal,” Andy said. I disagreed, perhaps a little too strongly. I “encouraged” him to think it over and defend himself. Andy thought it over…and remained silent.
This terrible injustice has bugged me for two days. Finally, this morning, I told God on Andy. After all, if my husband wouldn’t listen to my advice, perhaps the Holy Spirit could intervene.
“God, make him bold enough to defend himself,” I prayed, but the words didn’t feel right coming out. They weren’t exactly the problem, somehow.
“Oh, no,” I said aloud, realizing God’s Spirit was about to nudge me instead of Andy.
“Why is this bugging me so much?” I asked the Lord. Instantly, He brought to mind Philippians 2:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:3-11
“It’s bugging you,” God impressed on me, “because it’s pride.” The selfish ambition in me didn’t want Andy to let himself be treated unfairly. But Andy had the same attitude as Christ—the attitude that says, “It’s not about fair. It’s about others.” In humility, Christ laid aside His rightness. He emptied himself of His deity, and endured the terrible injustice of being falsely accused, and suffered the most tragical thing that has ever happened…all because He loved me. He did it because what I needed was more important to Him than what He deserved. The message of the cross—the message we’ll celebrate on Sunday—is this: God is terribly unfair.
God, thank You for Your terrible injustice on my behalf. I’m saved because of it! Will you cleanse me of my pride? Wash away every last trace of selfish ambition, and let me have the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus—the attitude of a humble servant. Thank You for considering me ahead of Yourself. Thank You—thank You!—for the life that is mine in the Name above every name, the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Need I say more?
I could go on. I could write about his tension between being big but not quite big enough. I could tell what a mix Nathan is of confident and afraid, grown-up and childish, intelligent and ridiculous, mature and yet…not very. Hygienic but also at times, so very not.
I could tell you all these things, but really, all I need to say is just this: my son is 12.
We all understand.
And we all understand Mary’s confusion, then, at her 12-year-old Jesus. He left the family caravan and decided to stay a little longer to teach the teachers.
“Son, why have you treated us like this?” Mary asked when she finally found him three days later. Why, Mary? Because your son is 12.
Jesus explained that he had to be in his Father’s house. He seemed surprised that Mary didn’t read his thoughts. I know the look on his face, because I’ve seen it on Nathan: astonished at her astonishment. Mothers and 12-year-olds often view one another with mutually astonished faces. Luke explained, “But they did not understand what he was saying to them.”
Oh, Mary, don’t try to understand. Your son is 12!
Luke then recorded that Jesus returned home, obeyed Joseph and Mary, and grew in wisdom, stature, and favor. (He didn’t stay 12! A word of hope.) Of Mary, Luke wrote, “…his mother treasured all these things in her heart.” No need to explain more there, either. We mothers get that. Mary treasured Jesus’ teaching that day in the Temple, just as she’d treasured his birth in the stable (Luke 2:19). No doubt she’d treasured up a million other memories, too, from the Christ’s first smile, to his first tottering steps, to the prophecies Simeon and Anna had pronounced over him.—Mary “marveled” at those words (Luke 2:33).
We moms treasure every bit of it, and the parts that seem the least treasure-worthy at the time, well, perhaps someday those will turn out to be the most precious.
Mary had a treasuring heart, and like mother, like Son. Years later, Jesus spoke of a treasuring heart this way: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)
Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Mary’s heart treasured her son, the Christ of God. She treasured, not just her memories of motherhood, but also the God who had chosen her. Mary’s heart overflowed with treasure.
Lord, let me treasure You, as Mary did. Let my hope not be here, in the temporary, in security, or even in people. Let me hope in You, and build my treasure on You. And the things I store up now that seem the least treasure-worthy, well, perhaps someday they will prove most precious. Give me a heart like Mary’s, Lord, because You are my greatest treasure! Amen.
- Like Mother, Like Son – part 1: A Willing Spirit
- Like Mother, Like Son – part 2: A Believing Mind
- Like Mother, Like Son – part 3: A Worshiping Soul
I will not be sad to see 2011 go, because frankly, for me, it has been a year of war. Not the wars overseas, and not war in my home, but an all out war in my head. In virtually every aspect of my life—ministry, marriage, motherhood, and even in some areas that don’t begin with M—God’s truth has been fighting Amy’s doubt, on the battlefield of my mind. Some weeks, I’ve called it spiritual attack. Other days, I’ve honestly wondered if I needed a little room with padded walls.
My struggle ultimately comes down to one word: unbelief. Do I believe God is bigger than my fear? Greater than every unknown? The doubts and uncertainties scream loudly, but all the while, He whispers, “Stop doubting and believe.” (John 20:27)
In Luke 1, Mary visited Elizabeth—and an excited, pre-born John the Baptist. Elizabeth praised Mary with this:
“Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.” (Luke 1:45)
Blessed—happy, fortunate, well off—is the woman who has believed—had faith in, committed herself to, put her trust in—God. Mary believed God. She believed that the crazy things Gabriel foretold would come true. And because she believed, she was blessed.
Like mother, like Son. Years later, after His resurrection, Jesus echoed his Aunt Elizabeth’s words when he spoke to his doubtful friend, Thomas. “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)
Oh, to believe like Mary! To have a mind washed with His word and built firmly on His truth. To, as a friend encouraged me recently, “finally give in” in faith, and believe even when I can’t see.
A prayer from an unbeliever: “Lord, I believe! Help me in my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) You’ve given me “divine power to demolish every stronghold,” so help me to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5) Give me a believing mind. Make me like Mary, and like her Son, because “blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” (Luke 1:45) Amen.
Eleven Christmas seasons ago, I was pregnant with Anne Elizabeth. Born on December 14, little Anne even got to be Baby Jesus in our church’s Christmas performance. Jesus, it turned out, was very hungry that night, and cried “his” little lungs out through the entire show.
Something about being pregnant in December made me feel extra motherly, and Luke’s gospel telling of Christ’s birth jumped off the pages of Scripture to me that year. I was especially taken with Mary herself, as though she and I were somehow connected by our round bellies and swollen ankles. I saw four attributes in Mary to emulate in my own life, and the first is this: Mary had a willing spirit.
As a young, engaged virgin, Mary’s angelic encounter must have been overwhelming at best. Terrifying, too, and even absurd. “Mary, I know you’re a virgin and all, but you’re about to be pregnant. And also, your baby will be God.” Crazy! But “nothing is impossible with God,” Gabriel concluded, and Mary replied, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:26-38)
May it be to me as you have said. It doesn’t get much more willing than that. I can’t think of the last time I uttered anything close to Mary’s response, at least not without months of arguing and wrestling and trying to figure things out first. Mary did none of that. Just simply, “May it be to me as you have said. I’ll do whatever you say, Lord, and I’ll take whatever you give. I’m your servant.”
And, like mother, like Son. More than three decades later, Jesus himself would speak very similar words to his Father, on an agonizing night in a garden. “Everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36)
Nothing is impossible…everything is possible.
May it be to me…not my will but yours.
Oh, what God can do with a willing spirit! With Mary’s willingness, God brought the Messiah into the world. With Christ’s willingness, He brought salvation on the cross. I wonder…if I had the willingness of Mary and Jesus Christ, what impossible feat would God accomplish through me?
Maybe He’d restore a relationship.
“Amy, I want you to forgive her. Let her off the hook.”
“Okay, Lord, I will. I’ll do whatever You ask.”
Maybe God would quiet an anxiety.
“Quit telling me this is impossible, child. Trust Me.”
“I believe You, Father! May it be to me as You have said.”
Maybe, if I were willing, God would use my life to bear much fruit for His glory.
“Just remain in me, and let my words remain in you. I’ll do more than you can more than you can even imagine.” (John 15:7-8; Ephesians 3:20-21)
“Oh, use me. I’m your servant.”
Lord God, You accomplish the crazy. Nothing is impossible with You! Grant me a more willing spirit, Father. Make me more like Mary and more like the Christ. What can you do—through me—with a willing spirit? Whatever it is, God, may it be to me as you have said. I’m your servant. Amen.
Most dogs get nervous if you look them in the eye. When I was a little girl, my spitz, Snowball, jumped around in a fit if I stared at him too long. I remember learning at school to never look a stray dog in the eye, or it might attack you. I read that once in a Weekly Reader article, because I was the kind of kid who actually read Weekly Reader articles, and from then on I walked home from the school bus stop with my head down, so as to avoid all eye contact, stray dogs, and attacks.
Most dogs get nervous…but not basset hounds. Droopy-eyed bassets could win a staring contest, hands down.
I first experienced this when Belle was a few weeks old, and we picked her out from her litter. We sat on the patio in the breeder’s backyard while Belle and her siblings climbed all over us. Then, Belle’s very tired mother wandered over to me. She stepped into my lap, just as her puppies had done, pointed her nose directly at mine, and stared me down. She would not look away. She wouldn’t even blink.
Now that Belle is older, I’m used to this stare-down. But that day with her mother, I was as nervous as Snowball the spitz. Why was she checking me out? Did she know I was going to take away her daughter? And why did I suddenly feel like confessing my sins to this dog who was reading me like a book? I began to feel guilty for things I hadn’t even done.
Look away! Nothing to see here! Eye contact makes me uncomfortable.
But God’s Word says eye contact is a good thing.
“My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare.” (Psalm 25:15)
“But my eyes are fixed on you, O Sovereign Lord; in you I take refuge.” (Psalm 141:8)
“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)
Belle the basset hound fixes her eyes on me, and I must fix my eyes on the Lord. Focus on Him brings a long-term hope to my immediate circumstances. Financial hardships, illnesses, relationship struggles and more all gain an eternal perspective when I stare, not at the problem, but at the Christ.
Fixing my eyes on Jesus also brings conviction of sin. I can’t look long into His holiness without coming face to face with my lack of it. When I look at the Lord, I see my pride, my unbelief, my disobedience. Look away, please, Lord. There is nothing to see here. And yet, thankfully, somehow, focus on Him also brings a fresh vision of His mercy and forgiveness.
A prayer from an eye-contact-avoider: Lord, fix my gaze. “Be Thou my vision,” and let me see Your love, Your holiness, Your grace. Don’t let me look away, uncomfortable with what You reveal. Let me “look intently into the perfect law that gives freedom,” and come away changed. (James 1:25) “My eyes are fixed on you, O Sovereign Lord.” Amen.
Previous Lessons from a Basset Hound:
- Lesson 1: Obedience
- Lesson 2: Perseverance
- Lesson 3: Love
- Lesson 4: Hope
- Lesson 5: Smelling Like Poo
- Lesson 6: Tweet!
- Lesson 7: Reward
- Lesson 8: Wisdom
- Lesson 9: New
- Lesson 10: Friendship
- Lesson 11: Being Stung
- Lesson 12: Acceptance
- Lesson 13: Rest
- Lesson 14: Joy
- Lesson 15: Compassion
- Lesson 16: Sabbath
I asked the kids to draw pictures for Ronald, a Ugandan child we support through Compassion.
“All nations will be blessed through him, and they will call him blessed.” Psalm 72:17
“But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” John 12:32
“He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” 1 John 2:2
This week, a friend took me to a community Passover Seder, hosted by a local temple. What an incredible evening! I loved every minute. I loved the parents’ blessing from Numbers 6:24-26, and I loved repeating, “His love endures forever” in my very best Hebrew as the rabbi read Psalm 136.
My heart dropped when the rabbi said hopefully, “Maybe this year, redemption will come!” I wanted to tell him that redemption indeed came, on this week so many years ago, after Jesus ate this very meal. I was saddened that “a veil covers their hearts”, but still, I loved celebrating the Lord’s freedom together. (2 Corinthians 3:12-18)
My favorite part of the evening was a song of thanks—the Dayenu. In Hebrew, dayenu means, “It would’ve been enough. It would have sufficed.” The song thanks God for all He did for Israel, saying, in essence, “It would’ve been enough if You would’ve just led us out of Egypt. It would’ve been enough if You would’ve just given us manna. It would’ve been enough if You would’ve just brought us to freedom.” On and on it goes, until concluding with, “But God, You did ALL those things!” Dayenu says, in other words, “Thank You, God, for overdoing it.”
What a great song of gratitude to a God who does “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine”. (Ephesians 3:20-21) A dayenu of my own:
It would’ve been enough, Lord,
if You had just given me Your Word.
It would’ve been enough
if You had just provided for my daily needs—my manna.
It would’ve been enough, God,
if You had only cleansed me from sin…if You had only redeemed me.
God, it would’ve been enough
if you had just set me free to live a rich, full life.
But Lord, You did all these things! In Jesus Christ, You’ve over-blessed me. Thank You. It’s too much.
My friend wrote a book! Michael DeFazio, one of the pastors at Real Life (and husband to my sweet friend, Beth, and daddy to the cuh-yoo-test baby girl, Miss Claire) recently released Jesus in 3D. Michael wrote Jesus in 3D “to take a close look at Jesus as a real person—the real person you read about in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.” Throughout, he answers seven questions:
- What story does Jesus fulfill?
- What did people want from Jesus?
- What did Jesus come here to do?
- What made Jesus angry?
- What did Jesus teach?
- Why did Jesus die?
- What difference does Jesus’ resurrection make?
A few of my favorite quotes from the book:
“Jesus isn’t auditioning for minor roles in the stories we’re already writing. He wants to re-story our lives as a whole.”
(On Ku Klux Klan leader Sam Bowers) “Not all who claim the name of Jesus look like Jesus. Sometimes, in fact, quite the opposite is tragically true. Now obviously this is an extreme example but it illustrates a sin we all commit in one way or another: thinking Jesus taught whatever we think is important and right and good.”
“I have a wife named Beth and a daughter named Claire. If you don’t love them, you don’t love me. Simple enough? In the same way, if we fail to love one another, we don’t love God.”
“We are resurrection people. We are not mere human beings for we are those on whom the culmination of the ages has come. We are new creation. We are, to reuse a metaphor, firstfruits of what the world one day will be.”
If you have a flat, two-dimensional Jesus…if you’re hungry for the whole picture…then let Michael DeFazio reveal Jesus in 3D.
Oh, sweetheart! I can’t stand it.I’m hoping for more great books from Michael. And also, more cute babies.