A Simple Life

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I’m a Baby Boomer. I raised three Millennials. Not one person in our house is a Gen Xer, although my husband and my son-in-law both missed it by merely a year on either side.

We do not know what it’s like to be the overlooked middle child.

Both of our generations have been marketed to, catered to, had all our whims analyzed and fulfilled, as a giant generation would. Other than the job market after college for both, we’ve had it pretty good.

Poor Gen X

Gen X, on the other hand, gets ignored. I guess that can be OK. As the youngest child of seven, I found getting ignored pretty useful when I wished to fly under the radar. Still do.

The generation between let’s-begin-God’s-people-patriarch Abraham and had-way-too-many-kids-and-wives Jacob feels a lot like the Gen X of Genesis.

Isaac and Rebekah don’t get much press.

You’ll find the story in Genesis 24. Abraham wants his son to marry in his family and to a woman who worships his God, not one nearby. So his servant saddles up the camels and travels 500 miles to find Isaac a wife.

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To be clear, this is the camel. Not the wife. Photo by Andre Iv on Unsplash

Enter Rebekah. TL;DR version: he meets her and her family, tells them she’s the one to marry Isaac, they all agree it seems right, and then he tosses a curveball—they all must decide this NOW because he’s leaving tomorrow.

Her mother objects. What mother wouldn’t? She knows she will never see her child again. How can she say a forever good-bye with less than 24-hours notice? Then they do something remarkable for the time—they ask Rebekah.

“We’ll call Rebekah and ask her what she thinks.” So they called Rebekah. “Are you willing to go with this man?” they asked her. And she replied, “Yes, I will go.”

Wife Material

Clearly, this is an adventurous, curious, faith-filled, daring young woman who has a streak of independence. Maybe they knew they would have to ask her or she wouldn’t have it. Maybe she’s been waiting for a chance like this. The text seems to indicate that perhaps she has stayed single for longer than usual, and since she’s beautiful and her family has money, this was surely her choice.

I already like Rebekah.

She gives up so much—her entire family—to travel a great distance to a strange place and a strange man. Is Isaac old? Ugly? Missing teeth and oozing something? Does he already have four wives? Does he (shudder) write “your” when he means “you’re”? She has no clue. The servant’s kind nature and honest, earnest appearance are all she has to go on.

Yet without hesitation, she answers. God is in it. Yes, I will go.

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Photo by Jack Anstey on Unsplash

Short story—she goes. They marry. They love til death do them part. They have two sons, who create their whole ‘nother drama. But for the most part, Rebekah, after her giant leap unto the unknown (yes, you may sing a Frozen song here), lives a quiet, ordinary, unremarkable life.

  • She isn’t sold into slavery in Egypt.
  • She doesn’t bear a child at 90.
  • She doesn’t mother the entire nation of Israel.
  • She doesn’t build an ark.
  • She doesn’t lead an army or slay a giant or save her nation from a despot king and his henchman.

She never even goes far from home (again).

She raises two kids and teaches one to cook.

They are the original Gen X.

Wasn’t this all anti-climatic?
Wasn’t Rebekah disappointed?

Did the giant leap fall flat?

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Photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash

Where was the grand adventure?

I think Rebekah would say—it was in obedience.

The leap of faith never promised great fame. It didn’t assure her sword fights and dizzying escapades. She wasn’t asked to do something amazing. She was asked to obey. So she did.

The adventure was not having a clue what was ahead and saying “yes” anyway. That takes more guts than a sword fight any day.

One of my favorite fictional characters is Eowyn, the maiden of Rohan who is certain she was born for adventure and renown (and she was) but who desperately fears she will never be allowed to reach her destiny because she is a woman. Women don’t gain valor. (Well, she has a point.)

Eowyn learns, by the end, what the hobbits always knew—it is no bad thing to celebrate an ordinary life. Sometimes, the most ordinary of people do the most extraordinary things—even if they’re living their normal lives.

Rebekah seems to know this. She faithfully lives out her days, knowing her obedience brought her exactly where she was meant to be.

I could learn a few things from Rebekah.

  • Maybe the life we’re living is our adventure.
  • Maybe where we are right now is our calling.
  • Maybe obedience is the greatest thing no matter where it leads us.
  • Maybe we need to find gratitude and joy in ordinary life.
  • Maybe it’s the next generation who will matter more than I, and that seemed OK to Rebekah.

Ordinary is its own definition—normal. Most of us are by definition.

Ordinary lives are the backbone of most of the world. The ark-builders and giant-slayers wouldn’t survive without the ordinary ones.

And here’s what I want to remember from Rebekah—

God celebrates ordinary lives of extraordinary obedience. (1)

God celebrates ordinary lives of extraordinary obedience.

Seems right. Average people are what he made the most of. He must truly delight in it.

Learning from Cain we talked about competition and how unholy and unhelpful it can get. If we take a page from Rebekah, we see something else. Competing makes zero sense when God delights in our obedience, period. There’s no competition to obey. In fact, I’d say the field is pretty open. So a heart and mind concentrating on obeying hasn’t much space to look around at how others are doing and ramp up the resume.

I know. I’m lousy at this, too.

Some folks do make it a reason to sit out their life and allow their fear of failure to keep them out of their calling. That’s not what I’m suggesting. Radical obedience, though, will always lead us toward our calling. It simply might not be what we expected.

Rebekah is OK with that. Are we?

The Good Stuff

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My husband has worms in the basement. (He also has bees in the backyard and frogs in the dining room. He’s a odd duck, but he’s my odd duck.)

We faithfully save our table scraps and those items in the crisper drawers that have been there ever so slightly too long. (As in, I really can’t identify that green slime, but I believe it was once related to lettuce. Or parsley. It’s a tough call.)

We toss them in the compost bucket by the sink, and he feeds it to the worms. Worms do what worms do, which is basically absorb and poop, and lo and behold, we have beautiful, fine soil to add to our garden beds in the spring.

It’s a strange process, but it works.

Jesus’ story of the soils. We’ve covered the hard soil that refuses to be vulnerable and so never allows others to affect their lives.

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We need to soften our hearts with vulnerability to tell a good story.

We’ve covered the rocky soil that refuses to commit and so stays shallow, never allowing Jesus to get in and make changes.

We need to deepen our hearts with involvement to tell a good story.

We’ve covered the weedy soil that refuses to prioritize and cut out some of the clutter.

We need to declutter our hearts with focus to tell a good story.

Now, the good stuff. The fertile soil.

“Other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!”

Someone had worked to clear that soil! The weeds were cut down and their roots pulled. The rocks were thrown to the side. The soil was tilled and turned and dug deep just waiting for the seed.

That heart was ready for God to get to work.

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Fertile soil is rich and deep. It’s filled with nutrients. It’s been carefully worked so that it’s not too sandy, not too much clay. In our yard, fertile soil doesn’t just happen. We’ve got solid Midwestern clay. Hence, the worms.

It takes buckets of compost, faithfully saved. A watering system that maintains a careful balance in our seasons of drought and regular gullywashers. (If you don’t live in the Midwest, perhaps you don’t know what a gullywasher is. But it is a rainstorm to behold, let me tell you.) It takes weeding and prepping and care—but when it’s ready?

You should see the crops of beans and peppers.

“The seed that fell on good soil represents those who truly hear and understand God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” (Matthew 13)

A heart that is ready for God to work is a heart filled with life. Is that who we are?

Fertile soil just aches to grow things. It’s its only reason for being. Fertile soil has no interest in hanging out with nothing to show. Fertile hearts have heard and paid attention to Jesus’ story. They respond. They know you have to make growing good things a priority for it to happen. They’ve done the hard work of softening their hearts in vulnerability, deepening their hearts with commitment, and decluttering their hearts for focus. They’re ready for that seed.

But How Much Fruit?

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A funny thing happens at this point in the story. The seed sown on good soil yielded different amounts. That’s the way it works when we open our hearts to God. He knows the maximum we are created to produce, and he asks only that we grow to our own best. It’s pretty great that God isn’t standing there in the field saying, “Hey, you grew way more than that other guy. But you—you are such a failure. You only returned ten times what I gave you. Loser.”

Nope. He doesn’t do that. He rejoices over everyone’s return, no matter how much. He knows what we are designed to do, and his only desire is that we bear the fruit we were made for and make it good. We don’t need to worry about how much. We just need to make that fruit so good people will want to taste it.

In fact, when we start to compare our fruit to the person next to us who had a hundred times return on the seed, you know what happens? Those weeds start coming into our plot of land. The rocks end up back under the soil. All the worries we weeded out come right back in, because we took our focus off of producing good fruit and started to compare how much other people were doing to what we were managing.

God is overjoyed at our return. Not the size of it—the fact of it. He celebrates the people who returned ten times as much exactly the same as he celebrates the ones who returned 100 times. He says the same thing to both—the same thing he says to the servants in another of Jesus’ stories.

“Well done good and faithful servant. Come celebrate with me!” (Matthew 25.23)

The hard soil doesn’t get to celebrate. The rocky soil doesn’t get to celebrate. The weedy soil doesn’t get to celebrate.

The fertile soil celebrates like crazy—all together, all celebrating one another’s return. Because that’s how it works in God’s crazy kingdom. He loves when we rejoice over one another’s wins. He rejoices, too.

So here’s the question, after all this.

Will we take the risk to cultivate our soil, digging deep and plowing up? Will we make the sacrifice to change priorities and seek the kingdom first of all? Will we make the commitment to put those roots deep, coming to God in the every day rather than saving him for emotional highs and lows? Will we rejoice over others’ successes?

Will we love him with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind? Will we tell a good story with our life?

Then we’ll bear fruit worth getting excited about.

Good stories change us for the better.

People who are changed tell good stories.

How do we tell a good story?

We need to soften our hearts with vulnerability to tell a good story.

We need to deepen our hearts with involvement to tell a good story.

We need to declutter our hearts with focus to tell a good story.

We need to fill our hearts with life to tell a good story.

Are you ready, in this season of the greatest story of all? We’re celebrating the most epic sacrifice ever, God’s willingness—no, his utmost joy— to put our needs first and come to earth. He’s already told the story. What part in it are we going to play?

The First Christmas Parade

 
 
If I had the funds and the electrical ingenuity, mine would be one of those houses that can be seen from outer space at Christmastime. I love the lights the most. The bigger and crazier the display, the more I want to drive by it. Light displays are my guilty Christmas pleasure.
 
But maybe it shouldn’t be so guilty. God doesn’t seem to find unsparing celebration problematic at all, when the celebration is about Him.
 
 
In 2 Samuel, David celebrates the return of the ark of the covenant. He celebrates jubilantly, making sacrifices and dancing in the streets before God’s ark. It’s a vibrant parade, and David is the grand marshall. His wife doesn’t appreciate the dance, and the Bible says she despises him in her heart for his undignified display. It’s a drama-filled story, but what does it have to do with Christmas? (Here is the story, if you would like to read it.)
 
The ark represented God’s presence with His people. It held His covenant to be their God and guide them. When Exodus says a mercy seat covers the ark, it literally means “atonement seat.” Here, God met his people to broker reconciliation. For the Israelites, being without the ark meant being without an approachable God. Now, they felt they were bringing God’s presence back. David had reason to celebrate.
 
Christmas celebrates the place where God met with His people to reconcile finally, completely, with full atonement. 
 
In His birth, Jesus provided a new and eternal mercy seat—Himself. Instead of an ark, a stable cradled a new covenant.

We have good reason to celebrate, and to celebrate wildly. David’s rapturous dance before the Ark poured from his adoration of God. It sprung out of his gratitude that God allowed his presence to be with His people.
 
Certainly our Christmas celebrations should be equally full of crazy, abundant gratitude. Our celebrations should “Make your faithfulness known through all generations” and “declare that your love stands firm forever” (Psalm 891-2). Letting something be known, making a declaration, dancing in the streets—these are all unabashed actions. It’s OK—it’s good—to make a big deal out of the fact that Jesus declared his presence among people with a cry in a manger.
 
There is no room in the season for a Michal who shakes her head at the joy and mutters, “Why so much?”
 
So how do we know when the big deal is about us and when is it about Jesus? We know the same way David did. When we are decorating trees or baking cookies out of the gratitude in our hearts that God is with us—we are celebrating like David. When we do it because we’re supposed to or we want to impress someone, we’re just having a holiday.
 
When we’re staring at the twinkling lights and reminding God (and ourselves) that we want to be all in in this new covenant, we’re celebrating like David. When we’re thinking instead about all the blacked-out spaces on our calendar, we’re enduring a season.
 
When we’re giving gladly to those we love, and to strangers who need it most, we’re celebrating like David. When we spend money we don’t have on people who don’t need it, we’re following customs rather than Jesus.
 
And when we’re judging other peoples’ celebrations— we’re being Michal. We’re pretending to enjoy the holiday, but we’re not celebrating Emmanuel. God with us.
 

 

Bright lights aren’t the point of Christmas; they’re a nice byproduct. When I can watch their colors arc across the darkness of a December night, I think of the Light of the World who arced across our darkness to bring His presence and mercy. I may even dance a little.