Skeletons in the Closet

 

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All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong with our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. It is God’s way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do. – 2 Timothy 3:16–17 (NLT)

 Are you guilty of skipping the “begats”?

The “begats” to which I refer are found in the first chapter of Matthew—you know, the long list of Jesus’ ancestors. I don’t know about you, but when I read, I like action. History never stuck with me, especially long lists of names I can’t even pronounce, let alone see why they’re important.

I, too, am guilty of passing over the begats. But one time I forced myself to read through them—only because I was following a read-through-the-Bible-in-one-year program and putting a check mark in the “Matthew 1” box without actually reading it was cheating, lying, and being deceitful. I knew it would prey on my conscience, so I plowed through.

And discovered something interesting: Jesus’ ancestors were not a saintly bunch. Up until then, I’d assumed that Jesus, who was sinless and pure, would have had a bloodline that reflected his holiness. Yet “holy” hardly describes some of the characters mentioned. I’d also assumed that his bloodline would be pure as well—all His ancestors would have been Jewish. I was wrong on that account, too.

Jesus’ ancestry includes people who lied, cheated, deceived, stole, and committed adultery and murder. Abraham lied on at least two occasions to save his own skin. Jacob, whose name means “deceitful,” lived up to his name. Judah thought nothing of sleeping with a woman he thought was a prostitute. Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, committed adultery with King David, who had her husband murdered when he discovered she was pregnant with his child.

Rahab was a prostitute from Jericho and not an Israelite. Neither was Ruth, King David’s great-grandmother. She hailed from Moab—Israel’s one-time enemy, a nation birthed in incest, whose bloodline traced back to Lot, who slept with his own daughters. Then there was the shrewd and perseverant Tamar, whose twins were begotten in deceit.

Talk about skeletons in your closet! Jesus sure had plenty in His ancestry.

Another interesting note in the genealogy Matthew recorded is that he included women. It was unusual for women to be listed in Jewish genealogies. Matthew, however, lists five: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and Mary. Only two were Jewish. Three bore moral blots.

Everything in God’s Word has a purpose, even the accounts of unsavory characters whom God chose to fill a slot in the ancestry of His own Son.

God doesn’t choose only men to fulfill His purposes. That He allows far-from-perfect men—and women—a part in His plan to save sinners is still more evidence of His amazing grace. Nobody’s perfect, but surely there were people with better moral records than these. God makes good on His promises, even one made 4,000 years before it was fulfilled.

For me, seeing the names of some pretty unsavory characters whose treachery and deceit are chronicled in the archives of man, gave me a sense of relief and freedom.

Relief that I don’t have to be perfect—God can use me, warts and all. And freedom from guilt that my past indiscretions will cause me to miss out on God’s purpose for me.

For God, you see, “has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done, but because of his own purpose and grace” (2 Timothy 1:9 NIV).

Skeletons in your closet? Don’t fret about them. It isn’t what’s in your closet that God’s concerned about—it’s what’s in your heart.

Thank you, God, for the lesson of the begats. Amen.

Read and meditate on Matthew 1

Piece of Mind or Peace of Mind?

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“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” – Luke 2:14 (NKJV)

I almost blew it. I almost made a bad situation worse, a complicated situation more complicated. The temptation was strong. My words and actions would’ve been justified—so I thought at that moment.

While I can’t give the details of what happened, I can say this: I was ready to give someone whose behavior was offensive—and had long been offensive—a piece of my mind. I’d kept my mouth shut far too long, I reasoned. Enough was enough.

Before I picked up the phone, though, I took a prayer timeout. I slipped into my bedroom, shut the door, dropped to my knees, and poured out my anger, frustration, and pain to my heavenly Father. The battle between what I wanted to do and what I knew I should do—what God would want me to do—was intense.

The needle gauge on my faith tank was pointing to Empty. Faith that God would answer my prayers for change, for healing for the persons involved, for a transformation of heart, mind, and spirit—something only God can do.

I left my prayer room still shaken, still trembling with emotion, clinging to something called self-control for all I was worth.

Over the past week, I’ve had time to reflect on what happened, and I’ve realized several things:

I can’t control another person’s words or actions, however hurtful they are, or their impact and consequences. I can only control, with God’s help, my own actions and reactions, which should reflect the growing fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Acting in the heat of the moment, succumbing to pressure, saying words that can’t be unsaid, doing something than can’t be undone, is never the right choice. Taking the situation, in all its ugliness, your emotional turmoil, your jumbled thoughts to God, is. It’s never right to give a person, however offensive they are, a piece of your mind. It is right to set firm boundaries and let them know, in a loving way, where those boundaries are.

Convincing another person they’re wrong is not my job. I need to remind myself often, “It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge, and my job to love.” (Billy Graham) Even when loving is hard. Even when there’s no love left in your heart for that person. Even when you don’t even want to allow God to love that person through you.

I can’t always be the peacemaker, no matter how hard I try. But I can pray for God’s peace to prevail—in the situation and in my own heart, mind, and spirit. I can pray that my negative emotions shrivel and die, crowded out by the love, joy, and peace that come from God.

Sometimes we have to live with the thorn in the flesh, but God’s grace is all we need to endure and triumph over it (2 Corinthians 12:7–10).

And finally, God reminded me of another impossible situation, many years ago, that I thought would never change—another person who was a thorn in my flesh for a long time despite my prayers. In His time and in His way, God worked a miracle, and that person was transformed.

Today is the Second Sunday of Advent, when we light the candle of Peace. While we have little control over external peace—or the lack of it—we do have control over our own inner peace. It’s simply a matter of submitting to the Prince of Peace.

As I light the second Advent candle, Lord, may Your peace prevail in my heart, mind, and spirit—and be a beacon of light in a hurting world that so needs Your peace. Amen.

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Read and meditate on the following PEACE verses:

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. – Romans 12:18 (NIV)

“Blessed are the peacemakers.” – Jesus, as quoted in Matthew 5:9 (NIV)

Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. – Romans 14:19 (NKJV)

For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. – 1 Corinthians 14:33 (NIV)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6­–7 (NIV)

 Make every effort to live in peace with everyone. – Hebrews 12:14 (NIV)

. . . be at peace with each other. – Mark 9:50 (NIV)

Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. – Psalm 34:14 (NIV)

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. – Isaiah 9:6 (NIV)

You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You. – Isaiah 26:3 (NKJV)

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” – Jesus, as quoted in John 14:27 (NIV)