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Sundae Theology

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Paperwork. Applications. Fees. Months of waiting. More paperwork. More fees. More waiting. Medical exams. Immunizations. X-rays. More money. Long drives. Interviews. More money.

After two years of waiting, our family is finally coming to the final stages of the immigration process from Cape Town, South Africa, to the United States. Upon hearing that one of my kids had to have five injections at one time as part of his application, I thought to myself, “Man, if we ever get to America, that Captain Sundae is going to taste so much sweeter because of all that we’ve had to do to get there!”

But as soon as the thought crossed my mind, another one lapped it — the thought that a sweeter-tasting Captain Sundae reeks of works-based theology.

Think about it — I was basically reasoning that because of all that we have done, the outcome is going to feel richer, more gratifying, more rewarding.

Biblical? I think not.

Even my own experience confirms the fallacy — for He has given me numerous trips to Captain Sundae in my hometown as a result of the generosity of others — at no cost to myself. Through the grace and sacrifice of others on my behalf, I had opportunities to cross the Atlantic to visit my family more times than I ever thought possible.

Were those visits not sweet?

They were more precious than words can describe.

So how can I still venture to reason that hard work is going to make me more grateful to be there if and when we finally arrive?

No, I was wrong.

Nothing compares to grace.

It’s the same with salvation — are we grateful for the hope of heaven because we’ve had to go through so much hardship in this life? Or do we cherish the sweetness of the Lord’s presence because we know we did absolutely nothing to deserve it?

How have you been tempted to neglect the grace of God and think that your own accomplishments made the resulting rewards seem even sweeter?

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Kate Motaung grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan before spending ten years in Cape Town, South Africa. She is married to a South African and together they have three children. Kate is the author of the e-book, Letters to Grief, hosts the Five Minute Friday blog link-up, and has contributed to several other online publications. She blogs at Heading Home and can be found on Twitter @k8motaung.

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The Daily Sip

Elizabeth: Faith for the Barren Years

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She had kept the letter of the law. And not only in the outward sense, but she was righteous before God. For years she’d lived a life that was blameless before the Lord. She was not perfect, of course, but Scripture records not one word of reproach about her life.

Still, she was barren. And like the women before her — Sarah, Hannah — she viewed it as a disgrace. And so would have everyone else.

She was of the line of Aaron. She was married to a priest. Why would God not bless her with a child? What had she done? Why were her prayers not answered? And now she, like Sarah, was old.

Yet Elizabeth was faithful. Her life saturated with a very vital and personal love for God.

Can you imagine the wonder she would have felt when Zechariah returned home — mute no less — from serving the Lord in the temple and wrote on a tablet that an angel had visited him and they would have a son? How I wish her response was recorded for us!

Interestingly, Elizabeth chose to hide herself away for five months after she conceived. This was not cultural. It seems she may have kept the news of her pregnancy secret for a while. Perhaps her joy was so profound she wanted to savor it. She wanted to prepare herself for a new work the Lord was going to have her do as she raised a special son. One thing is certain. She worshiped the Lord:

Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”

Perhaps it was during this special time of confinement that Mary came to visit with her with her own special news. Elizabeth acknowledges with faith the Lord’s work in both their lives and the two women rejoice together in the Lord. What talks they must have had!

At last, the long-awaited son is placed in Elizabeth’s arms. Tiny and wrinkled, swaddled in a blanket, Elizabeth holds her miracle. A miracle not just meant for her, but the nation of Israel. God had had it all planned from the beginning.

Eight days after her baby’s birth, Elizabeth’s strong faith is once again revealed. Those around her try to name her son after his father, Zechariah, as was the custom.

“No; he shall be called John,” Elizabeth responded simply and resolutely. That was the name Zechariah had communicated to her that the angel had said to give him.

Those gathered didn’t take her word for it and appealed to her husband for the baby’s name. Zechariah responds by agreeing with Elizabeth. Immediately, his speech returns!

All the visiting neighbors are overcome with a holy fear. Something is going on. The news spreads all through the hill country of Judea. Everyone was talking, and this time it is not to ponder or judge Elizabeth’s barrenness, but to exclaim over the mysterious circumstances of the birth of her son. Something special and strange was happening and everyone took notice.

And what of Elizabeth? I think we can assume she raised her child as faithfully as she’s lived out her barren years. That she taught him to live righteous and blameless before the Lord.

Did she live to see him full-grown, a locus-eating prophet living and teaching in the wilderness? Did she know he baptized his cousin, Jesus? Did she hear of his imprisonment and beheading?

We don’t know. But however long her life, I think she continued on in faith. She’d been faithful through the long barren years, how could she not continue faithfully after all she’d seen and personally experienced?

Barrenness may take many forms in life. We all have barren places that lie, seemingly in waste. We may even view them as judgment or punishment from God and wonder why He would inflict us with such pain. Yet, we see God’s sovereign plan is always at work, and in Elizabeth’s case, He had something special in mind. So the question becomes, will I continue in faithfulness, despite the lack I see? Elisabeth Elliot encourages us in her book, Secure in the Everlasting Arms:

In the barren places of my life I can be assured that God is there as He is when life is fruitful, and that the time is coming (give me patience, Lord, to wait!) when He will fulfill His word: “I will put in the desert the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive. I will set pines in the wasteland, the fir and the cypress together, so that people may see and know, may consider and understand, that the hand of the Lord has done this” (Isaiah 41:19-20).

Barrenness can take many forms. Would you be willing to share a form of “barrenness” in your life?

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The Daily Sip

Doubtless Love

Just like the woman in my neighborhood, I doubt love. I take convincing. But what if I didn’t?

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One day as she rode her scooter through our neighborhood, Molly overheard a couple inside a house. Their windows were open, she told me later, and as she went by, she heard a woman cry, and a man say in exasperation, “I do love you, honey.”

Molly’s story prompted two thoughts: first, I should close my windows, because who knows what people hear when they ride their scooters by our place! Secondly, I wondered, “What is it in us that makes us doubt love?”

My heart hurt for the neighbor I didn’t know. Whether or not the man truly loves her — and I hope he’s a devoted, faithful husband! — the fact is, her Father loves her, deeply. Completely. Unconditionally. But something in her still isn’t sure she’s loved, so the man still tries to convince her.

And if she’s like me, she isn’t easily convinced. The truth is, I doubt love, too. Every day, Andy gives me dozens of reasons to know he loves me, and so do my family and friends. But too often, I still wonder. “Do you love me?”

Scripture talks about something else overheard. It’s one of my very favorite verses:

The Lord your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)

A love song, overheard overhead, sung by God Himself! Steven Curtis Chapman talks about it in a song I added to my “run” playlist last week. I added it, not just because its upbeat tempo makes me run faster, but because I need to hear its convincing chorus, over and over again:

There’s a song being sung over you
by the One who breathes life into you:
You are being loved,
right now, at this very moment

Just like the woman in my neighborhood, I doubt love. I take convincing. But what if I didn’t? What if I listened, and finally overheard what’s overhead?

“I do love you, child.”

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The Daily Sip

The Slow Wean

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When my daughter Savannah turned two in 2010, we entered the dreaded season of pacifier weaning. It was hard. Very hard. She was not happy to lose her precious “Night Night,” as she called it.

The thing is, I understood all too well. You see, it had only been two months since I’d experienced a miscarriage. I knew how difficult it was to face an unexpected change; to lose something dear. And while obviously saying “goodbye” to a pacifier isn’t the same as the death of child, I sympathized with Savannah. I saw my pain in hers.

As she sat on the couch, screaming, “Night Night!” at me, tears flowing from her eyes, I remained there beside her. I offered comfort, but didn’t fix her pain by returning the longed for possession. Instead, I allowed her to grieve, helping her through the process with my presence and empathy. And, because of the relationship we’ve built, she felt the freedom to run to my arms and cry and scream within my embrace.

While at one point, I did say, “You’re a big girl now,” I didn’t attempt to explain to her all the reasons I took her pacifier away. Rather, I knew from personal experience what Joni Eareckson Tada speaks of in her book, When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty:

When your heart is being wrung out like a sponge, an orderly list of “sixteen good biblical reasons as to why this is happening” can sting like salt in a wound. You don’t stop bleeding that way. A checklist may be okay when you’re looking at your suffering in a rearview mirror, but when you’re hurting in present tense, “Let me explain why this is happening” isn’t always livable….

Besides, answers are for the head. They don’t always reach the problem where it hurts — in the gut and in the heart. When a person is sorely suffering … people are like hurting children looking into the faces of their parents, crying and asking, “Daddy, why?” Those children don’t want explanations, answers, or “reasons why”; they want their daddy to pick them up, pat them on the backs, and reassure them everything is going to be okay.

As I’ve walked through grief and loss, God has done for me what I sought to do for Savannah. He doesn’t remove my sorrow. Most of the time, He doesn’t return what I’ve lost. But He does remain beside me. He allows me to grieve, helping me through the process with His presence and empathy. And, because of the relationship we’ve built, I feel the freedom to run to His arms and cry and scream within His embrace. Joni writes:

God, like a father, doesn’t just give advice. He gives himself. He becomes the husband to the grieving widow (Isaiah 54:5). He becomes the comforter to the barren woman (Isaiah 54:1). He becomes the bridegroom to the single person (Psalm 10:14). He is the healer to the sick (Exodus 15:26). He is the wonderful counselor to the confused and depressed (Isaiah 9:6).

This is what you do when someone you love is in anguish; you respond to the plea of their heart by giving them your heart. If you are the One at the center of the universe, holding it together, if everything moves, breathes, and has it’s being in you, you can do no more than give yourself (Acts 17:28).

And perhaps — just perhaps — He doesn’t offer me specific “reasons why” because that doesn’t, as Joni writes, “reach the problem where it hurts.”

Pacifier weaning was difficult for Savannah — but, just as God is always there for me in my pain, I was there for her during the slow wean of 2010.

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Sundae Theology

by Kate Motaung time to read: 1 min
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