Recently, I have done some guest writing on a friend’s Instagram page – “Pilgrims’ Pages”. Her theme for journal prompts this month has been ‘Broken into new’. So I thought I’d share my contribution!
This month has been all about breaking in order for new life to emerge. Its been mirrored in my life too – dying to self and particularly identities I have been holding tightly to… putting my worth in.
When we meet people for the first time we often share our jobs as a defining feature – part of our identity. We can do the same with family status or our involvement in church too. We can put our worth in these gifts.
For me, Jesus is stripping these things away. It’s painful, to be totally honest! The label of ‘missionary’ was first to go, no more getting my value from the portrayal of a servant heart. Next, was the familiar of a good reputation within a church- part of the ‘faithful few’.
Currently, He’s got a double whammy going on…! The primary school teacher identity and worship leader identity. He’s working on both in different ways. The places I put my worth in. Yes, it is a painful process.
However, in the dying – to finding my worth in what I have done and can bring to the table- things are changing. I am getting closer to my Jesus and realising afresh that my true worth is only ever found in Him.
What identity do you most tightly hold on to?
What would happen if you laid it down to receive your identity in Jesus?
The first thing we do when we meet someone new Is share our jobs Persuade our value We might also share some of our family tree Perhaps not if we’re single but if we’re married? Our service may be next on a list of defining features Something we contribute – A gift to build up God’s creatures And none of this is wrong, of course! It’s just not what we are worth. Falling, breaking, dying, rising Is this month’s theme Something new coming out of death True of me and my many identities – ‘Missionary’ ‘Teacher’ ‘Worship leader’ Even a reputation Places that I have learned to put my worth in… YET, the thing that truly defines me Is not a label that I earn It’s given freely – grace Undeserved yet shows my worth To Him. The cross says – I am His.
I thoroughly recommend the devotional by N. T. Anderson called ” Who I am in Christ”. If you are a Christian, these statements can be claimed as your own. If you don’t know Jesus yet, it’s still a great book to see the God given promises for those who trust Him.
In my study on grace and favour, I have come to one of my favourite stories – that of Ruth.
There are so many hidden gems in this story, so much grace!
Little recap –
Naomi, an Israelite, travels with her husband and two sons to Moab to escape famine in Bethlehem. Naomi’s husband dies. Her sons marry Moabite women – Orpah and Ruth. Tragically, after 10 years, Naomi’s sons die too. She then decides to return to Bethlehem, as the situation there has improved. Naomi urges her daughters-in- law to stay in Moab. Orpah returns to her family but Ruth commits to staying with Naomi. The two journey back to Bethlehem just in time for barley harvest.
Ruth continues to show character and heads out to find work to sustain her and her mother-in-law. In her quest, she finds herself working in a field owned by Boaz, who comes back from business to find an additional worker in his field.
He enquires after her.
Then he welcomes her personally.
As a woman and as a ‘foreigner’, culture at the time (and sadly in many places still today) said that Ruth could be taken advantage of. So Boaz is very counter-cultural in his treatment of Ruth. Not only is he protective but he is kind. And it is not wasted on her. She calls it what it is – grace and favour.
She knew that as an ‘foreigner’, she technically didn’t have any right to harvest the crop, accessing any inheritance or abundance from the land. (Bear with me!)
But when God had brought His people out of slavery in Egypt, He gave them detailed instructions on how to treat poor people and outsiders. He commanded margin in harvest and generosity towards those who were in need.
It is clear from Boaz’s response to Ruth that he took these commands seriously. In fact, he went over and above this- he asked his foreman to instruct the men to leave stalkson purpose for Ruth. (2v15)
And there is a reason for this. Not only because it was God who said it but because the very family he came from was a testimony of this same favour from God.
This is where genealogy comes in!
It’s likely that you have heard or read the first few chapters of Matthew during Christmas Carol services or in your own Bible readings. However, we often skip the first 17 verses of chapter 1: Jesus’ family tree.
But It’s a whole list of names, Emily! Can’t we just skim those?! Well, you could but you would miss a whole lot of gems in the process! Like this next one: Matthew 1 v 5.
*Spoiler alert!* In this verse we see that, yes Boaz is related to Jesus, but we also see that Boaz’s mum was Rahab… a prostitute from Jericho who was saved and welcomed by the family of God – by grace, through faith. (Read story in Joshua 2)
I believe that Boaz showed great grace and favour in welcoming Ruth in because of the grace and favour that was extended to his mother and consequently to him.
Ruth is not the only one who has been a ‘foreigner’, yet welcomed in…
Every one of us is an outsider YET being welcomed into God’s family by JESUS. By grace, He invites. Through faith, we accept (which is also grace- a gift from God).
I appreciate that this blog is timely. Recently, the reality of the refugee crisis is a little closer to home, perhaps.
It is in no way my intention to speak into the complexities of this situation, especially not politically. However, God has certainly shown me an abundance of grace by welcoming me in and so it is my heart to extend welcome to all, perhaps especially to the ‘outsider’ or ‘foreigner’.
And so my invitation is ‘simple’ – let’s both ask the God of grace to show us how we can extend His welcome to others, especially those considered the outsider or ‘foreigner’, this Christmas season. Ask Him what that looks like for the both and. For both people near us and farther away and let’s see what He does through us!
“It’s the barley harvest! What perfect timing!
I can search out work and finding
A man who shows me favour
I will be able to put food on the table.”
So off Ruth went, with Naomi’s blessing-
Little did they know of God’s grace and plan
For she happened upon the field of a man
Related to Naomi-
A man of standing and repute,
Who honoured God and in finding Ruth
In his field, enquired of his foreman to whom she belonged-
“She is Ruth, the Moabite, who came the long way back with Naomi to start a new life here. She asked to glean and she’s been working steadily with only one short break that I have seen.”
So Boaz came to this ‘outsider’
and invited her to stay the harvest through
In his field she’d be protected
And given more than enough food.
Ruth, in awe of this gracious exchange, bowed down,
Face to the ground and exclaimed,
“Why have I found grace such as this- that you notice
Me – a foreigner?”
“I know your story, your kindness and love
To Naomi, your loyalty since your husband died –
You’ve left it all-
Family and familiar-
To embrace the unknown.
May the God of Israel reward the love you have shown-
The God under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”
Humble Ruth thanked him for his comforting words and grace,
A place at his table.
“If only she knew my own story,” Boaz reflected.
“My mother too could’ve been rejected- a foreigner-
This is a ‘contradiction’ Weakness is strength It’s unmeasured and full of hope Strange as it sounds Might and power- our ability to cope Simply isn’t enough With all the world throws at us Our faces covered in the messy reality- That we are fragile. We were made To be… Not broken but open and vulnerable with each other To recognise our place of lack and that of our brother And sister And muster up the courage to STOP And hear the whisper The still small voice That is so faint sometimes we often miss it We miss Him say – Not by might or power but by my Spirit…
Recently, I have been thinking a lot about success and failure. It comes in personal terms but also on the global scale too. The words are thought about carefully in regards war – the ever more devastating war in Ukraine and in other places around the world. Who will be successful? I think it is clear to so many that the fight and bravery of Ukrainians can only be considered in terms of success.
Yet, I am not ‘just’ talking about war. When I look up the word success, the images that appear are a particular kind of portrait… people wearing suits in offices celebrating a successful, professional, high earning career…. the Oscars…. celebrities…
While I have absolutely nothing against this type of success, I have been considering a more comprehensive picture… a truer picture.
I have come to realise that I so often try to find my value and identity in my work. I have taught primary school children for a very long time. On the most part this has been temporary work. It has been rewarding but also difficult. The hardest part of being a supply teacher is not being rooted in one place. In Northern Ireland, permanent teaching jobs are like gold dust and like many spheres, people make judgements about you based on the type of work you have.
Permanent job = successful
I brought my concerns and conclusions to God.
If having a permanent job means you are successful, does that mean that temporary staff are failures??!!
But God spoke quickly and clearly –
They labelled me a failure too, Emily.
And I pictured the cross and Jesus dying, ‘unable’ to save himself (or so they thought) – the biggest ‘failure’ of all… the man who made the blind see, the lame walk and even the dead rise …
died on a piece of wood for all to see.
And, of course, if the story ended there it would be a story of failure.
But Jesus didn’t stay dead. He allowed what looked like defeat in order to defeat death itself.
He tasted death for us in order to be the One who gives lasting hope – beyond the grave.
He did it out of loving obedience to the heart of the Father. He did God’s will – even when it looked like failure to everyone else (even his disciples!)
So while I look on at the success stories of others and the stories of failure too, I will keep in mind that true success doesn’t always look like a suit in an office or VIP’s on a red carpet.
It’s being brave in horrendous circumstances: protecting your family or your country sacrificially. It’s continuing to get up in the morning, even when you are suffering or struggling in deep ways.
Plus one thousand other ways…
But it is always found in loving obedience to the Father’s will for you, no matter what it looks like to others.
Yet, the amazing truth of Easter is that our worth can never be in what we do or our faithfulness but rather in what Jesus has already done FOR US… His success story!
A Success Story
It’s engrained in us into us from an early age, they say- “Success is best and it looks a certain way” It’s getting full marks … … pleasant remarks … … getting the job … the house, the cash, the car… And none of these things are wrong of course! But I am forced to wonder- is that all it is? And where does my worth come from, if not from this?
Success has another kind of portrait. It doesn’t always look the same I think of a face, a name- JESUS at first, a celebrity of sorts, quickly turned into an epic ‘fail’ Hands and feet nailed People laughed at him, dying Seen as the ‘loser’ of this contest Yet their ‘success’ was not best. If he had listened, jumped down off the cross we would have missed it – His love. Our worth. And the most amazing success story – success over death!
So I have been slow to upload anything this last while… partly having Covid, partly world events and partly truly seeking God about next steps. While working on a graphic for one of my poems, I realised I had missed this special day in the calendar!!
HAPPY WORLD POETRY DAY/ WEEK!
Whether you are a seasoned writer or just starting out or if you’ve never tried and would like to have a go – take this impromptu/ belated celebration as an opportunity to write something!
He didn’t really elaborate. I tried to say, “But what about nice things in February, like Valentine’s Day?”
He screwed his face up. He just didn’t like February and maybe this famous day had something to do with it! Maybe you are struggling with it too. Maybe you find it hard to open up.
Sometimes, we need to be in the position to receive. I have been thinking a little bit about that recently. The term ‘heart posture’ has been used a lot over the years and while most of us know what it is to have bad posture, due to slouching at desks or bending over tiny chairs and sinks (!), the heart is more of a mystery.
This week’s poem is based on this idea of posturing your heart. I had the famous Bible story of Mary and Martha in mind as I wrote. Two sisters with two very different heart postures. They both loved Jesus deeply. They both welcomed Him into their home. But one chose the better thing, that could not be taken from her ( story found in Luke 10 v 38 – 42).
With this year starting off with Revelation and Epiphany as the themes, I believe that God is drawing me deeper into understanding and receiving the revelation of his Love for me in Jesus. I’m looking forward to walking in this truth and ultimately victory!
One of my favourite passages of Scripture are found in Zechariah 3. They paint the picture of the divine exchange – dirty to clean… distant to brought near…
“Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him.
The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you!
Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?”
Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel.
The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.”
Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.” Zechariah 3 v 1 – 4
Several years ago I wrote a poem based on this passage …