Dog Town

I grew up in Dog Town, a euphemism for a less than highly respected part of our town.  I don’t have any clue why it was called that but I was clear that it wasn’t a compliment. It turns out that Nazareth, the hometown of Mary and Joseph didn’t have such a great reputation as a community either.  I wonder if the symbolism of a poor teenage unwed mother engaged to a well-meaning young man without many resources rings the chimes of your heart as it does mine? Isn’t that a beautiful picture and so typical of how we have seen God work over the course of the biblical narrative?


It means something to me, a gal who grew up in Dog Town, who was encouraged NOT to attend college because of the cost and the prevailing attitude that “A girl doesn’t need a college degree if she marries well.” In the mid-70’s my experience taught me that females were not particularly valued.  Loved? Absolutely, at least in my case that is true.  But our culture didn’t value females and it was easy for families to love but not know how to value their girl children.


Which is why I do not find it hard to understand why women wait 40 years to report sexual abuse.  As much as we can critique our current time of life, I promise.  We have made progress.  Not enough to get all uppity about it.  But some progress has been made and enough safety is being established in a few places that some people are able to speak about what it was like to experience devaluation – whether it was because of gender, religious or racial bias.


Aware of this in my own life, I have an especially tender heart for Mary and Joseph, their trials and travails as well as their blessings.  I am also inspired by their courage, obedience, and fortitude.  They could have resisted this call like Gideon or Moses.  They could have believed the cultural bias against two young punks from the wrong side of the tracks.  Instead, they trusted God and listened when his angels came calling.


In my life at crucial moments various “angels” have shown up to encourage me in my own walk.  I think that this may be a frequent occurrence – encouragers placed in our path at just the right time and place.  But we must be willing to listen.  I challenge us today.  Expect heavenly encounters.  Look for validation that we may come from Dog Town and we no doubt have various limitations (self or other imposed) but that’s not all we have.  We have a God who knows us and often chooses extremely unlikely people to do his good will. Today, may we all participate in the doing of his good will.

Mary Finds Favor With God

I am continually struck by the verse in scriptures where Gabriel recounts God’s opinion of Mary.  “Greetings, you who are highly favored!  The Lord is with you.” (For details, read Luke 1:26-38)


Sit with that.  Mary has found favor with God; He KNOWS her; he can pick her out of a crowd.  By her community’s standards Mary was nothing special.  Ordinary really.  Engaged to a carpenter from a community of hardworking families of humble means.


More unusual than the message is Mary’s response.  “Cool!” (My translation.)


This is downright unheard of.  Moses and Gideon, to name just two, protested God’s call.  Isaiah and Jeremiah certainly didn’t fist pump with delight at their calling.  Saul broke under the pressure; David’s performance was a mixed bag.  And who can forget Solomon?  The guy who asks only for wisdom and discernment finds early “success” only to end up with a killer sexual addiction.


Mary responded with humble gratitude.  She was willing to be part of God’s plan for dispensing justice and mercy as she walked with God.  


It wasn’t all good news.  Mary’s virgin birth must have caused quite a stir in her village; poor Joseph was in an extremely awkward position.  Mary and Joseph had to live as refugees for a while and, as Simeon so accurately predicted, this news would eventually be like a sword piercing the very soul of Mary.  


Read Luke 1:46-55 for a detailed rendering of Mary’s heart song.


What do we make of this favored one of God who receives the honor of birthing Jesus but often lives in fear and consternation as a result of her calling?  We call her experience human.  Dramatic to be sure, but I think most people who follow God find the path difficult – a message that doesn’t fit our modern day Jesus marketing materials.  I guess that’s why I struggle with sermons that tell us if we just love Jesus, every day will be sweeter than the day before.  I prefer Mary’s model – she followed God’s call because she knew she could trust God not because it was going to provide her a great salary package and an awesome retirement plan.  As we evaluate our spirituality, I’d encourage us to not get too discouraged if we find ourselves in challenging circumstances because of our inspired way of seeing and efforts to love God, others and self.  That sounds about right.

Woe and Hope

People throughout time have encountered God.  Abraham and Sarah had a nightly visitor who made them laugh in disbelief.  Don’t forget the burning bush incident – that was weird.  Jacob wrestled with God at night and ended up with both blessing and a chronic injury.  Adam and Eve walked with him in the Garden and then were banished from the garden.  Moses got handed a set of stone tablets but never saw the Promised Land.  Elizabeth and Mary heard from the angels more than modern ultrasounds ever tell us and managed to each experience a miraculous birth.  There were so many, many more times when God entered the lives of his people.


I hear the stories today too.  A friend of mine was once diagnosed with cancer and a bunch of his friends prayed over him and his next visit the doctor couldn’t find the cancer - a modern day miracle.  My own brother in 1986 heard the voice of God and he wasn’t even interested in God but that didn’t bother God.  As my brother recounted later, “God said, ‘Gary, this is your chance.  Your last chance.  Call for help or tonight is your last.’ ”  He called.  A few days later he experienced a remarkable and miraculous healing and baptism.  The thing that was also odd about this experience is prior to hearing God’s voice he had WANTED to die.


We love these stories, don’t we?  It gives us hope that in our hour of need perhaps God will come for us and save us!  But some of these God encounters are more disturbing than delightful.


Isaiah comes to my mind.  Or Jeremiah.  Both had “Woe is me!” moments in the midst of loving God and serving Him.  I suspect many of us have had those moments too.  Both men were sent by God to deliver truth, hard truth, to a people who had grown forgetful of God, his promises and his sovereignty. 


What amazes me is how God continues to show up with the exact message folks need to hear.  Some get healing; others rebuke; all his love.  My prayer for us all is that we continue to listen, listen for the voice of God.  Whether it shows up in the wind and rain or sunshine, may He continue to lead us, his beloved children. May we follow his lead today!

The First Passover

In Exodus 12, we learn of Moses.  He was an Israelite baby who was spared the judgment of the Pharaoh who had issued a decree to kill male Israelite babies.  He was basically trying to reduce the Israelite population.  Cruel?  You bet.  Hard to fathom?  Oh yeah.  I wish I could say that this cruelty had been eliminated in the world today.  But I’d be lying. 


Moses was spared.  He eventually commits murderer in a fit of rage and if you read carefully the accounts of Moses, I think you might agree with me that he was a bit of a whiner too.  He was good and bad during the entirety of his life, ultimately not making it into the Promised Land himself.  He was called to set his people free and successful in doing so to a point. Before, during and after he was weak and strong, trusting and distrusting.  The freedom journey was long and arduous and eventually it worked but a lot of people got slaughtered along the way. God had a plan which the Israelites executed and were saved by that allowed their freedom journey to BEGIN.  But it was all long and hard, glorious and gut-wrenching.


We could make a big old long list of the events within the past 12 months that reflect a tone deafness and lack of awareness of how we have continued to marginalize, dehumanize and allow or willingly pursue the winnowing out of one race, religion, gender or another. 


But that’s not the point of this devotional.  Here’s my point:  God is always up to something.  Prepare yourself not by perfecting a sparkly crown of good behavior but by figuring out a way to remember that there is a God and he is crazy about you.  Just try.  Someday we all may look back on our lives and see how we were part of the starry sky, a constellation of God’s people who in small but significant ways provided a pin prick of light in an otherwise dark landscape.