Stacy Voss

See life differently. Live courageously.

The Gift of Favor

Have you ever received a gift that you loved, but despite its positive attributes, it also had some negative ones? For any of you that were gifted a Fitbit, your answer should be yes. Activity trackers are great because they provide that extra motivation to move a little more and to hit your daily fitness goals. But here’s the thing: it requires that we move a little more. Get a little sweaty. Go out for a walk, even when we don’t feel like it, which can be categorized as being not so great on certain days.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at gifts that were given during that first Christmas that have both positive and negative attributes. We’ll explore how those gifts continue to be delivered today and how they can impact our living. Today, we’re looking at the Gift of Favor.

Mary will serve as our example for both the positive and negative attributes that resulted from this gift. Let’s start with the good side first.

“God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth . . . to a virgin pledged to be married. . . The virgin’s name was Mary.

The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Luke 1:26-28, emphasis mine

This is the same angel who said to Zechariah, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news” (Luke 1:19)

We tend to skip over Mary, fearing we’ll give her too much credit and authority as others tend to do, but sometimes we go too far and don’t listen to her story close enough. Put yourself in her young shoes as an angel sent from God told her she was highly favored. How would you feel? What would you think?

That awareness did something to Mary, for how could it not? Listen in to the first portion of Mary’s song:

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.”

Luke 1:46-48a, emphasis mine

So often, we play the childhood game of “he loves me, he loves me not,” even (dare I say especially?) when it comes to God’s love. After Gabriel told Mary she was favored by God, how could she continue plucking the leaves off the flower of love-doubt?

Yet with that gift came the other side of the coin, for her favor cost her too. She nearly lost the relationship to the man she was engaged to. After all, how many guys would believe a story about becoming pregnant without having sex? In fact, it wasn’t just Joseph that discounted her story (at least until an angel told him otherwise). Add “reputation” to the list of Mary’s losses. She went and hid out with Elizabeth, probably in part to avoid the murmuring about her she knew would be inevitable about her.

She lost her home. Mary and Joseph left Nazareth to be counted in the census, but then God warned them in a dream to not return home and instead they escaped to Egypt. I have lived as an ex-pat in another country. It definitely has its joys, yet there were times I just missed home. Other days I wanted to be around people who understood my customs and on the nights when I was too tired to speak a foreign language, I longed for the easy flow of conversation in my mother tongue.

The list could go on and on, but you get the point. But the real question is how does this gift of favor continue to this day?

Too often, we use our circumstances as a way to determine if we’ve merited God’s favor or if we’re on the outs. When things are good, we rejoice that we’re “in.” But just as quickly, when things turn bad, we wonder what we did to make God upset or go back to believing that we never deserved His mercy in the first place. Ironically, we never did deserve His grace, but that shouldn’t ever be part of the equation, for that is precisely why it’s considered a gift and not a payment of something we earned.

For some, December is a time of rich blessings. For others, the days are filled with heartache and grief, and many of us bounce between those two ends of the spectrum. Wherever we’re at on any particular day, can you commit with me to not use that moment’s circumstances as a gauge to determine if God loves us or not? Instead, let’s dress ourselves in this powerful truth:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

Colossians 3:12, emphasis mine

Join me in embracing both sides of the gift of favor.

Stacy Voss

P.S. This is part of a Gifts of Christmas talk I’ll be giving at a cookie exchange/tea at Christ Community Church on December 16th at 9:30. They have graciously allowed me to invite you, my dear readers, to come join us that morning. I would love to see you there if you can make it! Please just shoot an email to cccdenver8085@gmail.com to let them know if you want to attend so they can make sure they have plenty of food for this free event.

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The Birth of Thankful Suffering: A Holiday Mash-Up

I’ve been busy editing my Easter devotional, Reflecting Easter: Living and Understanding the Resurrection while marketing my Christmas devotional, Savoring Christmas.  (I bet if someone leaves a comment asking me to, I’d be willing to post a picture of the cover of Reflecting Easter). It should come as no surprise that working on both has once again led to my holidays being a little confused.

Bear with me as I mix them up even a bit more by adding Thanksgiving to the mix.  Hard to believe it was just a week ago, isn’t it? It seems like we get ready for the day, buying the turkey and fixings but also spending as much time getting our hearts ready. Many post something they’re thankful for every day in November up until Thanksgiving.

And then here we are, in that land between when we really start celebrating Christmas and when Thanksgiving becomes a long-lost memory as we chuck whatever leftovers remain from the feast.

I think there are many of us who don’t want to carry that grateful attitude into advent because we’re entering a season that is deemed joyful, yet carries bitter scars for many. Some watch the sappy Christmas movies and mourn being single (okay really, just how did Hallmark come to decide that Christmas is about romance and love? Apparently I’m not the only one confusing holidays!). Others know that all the cousins or in-laws will be descending upon the house and grateful just isn’t the word that comes to mind. There are countless other reasons convincing us to celebrate Christmas throughout the month of December while giving Thanksgiving a few tryptophan-ingesting hours.

But let me mix it up a little with this holiday mash-up. You see, as I’m focusing on Easter right now, I’m reminded yet again that the one who’s birth we celebrate is the same one that said he had to suffer (Luke 16:21). Did you catch that? His suffering wasn’t optional. Funny how we’ve come to assume that ours should be, though, and when the suffering comes, the thanksgiving normally ends. But check out when 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says to give thanks:

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

All, as in even with when the in-laws are staying with you for much too long. I’m not saying it’s easy. In fact, I may or may not have texted one of you last week saying that a perk of being single is that I don’t have to deal with in-laws anymore. Sorry to rub it in, but that piece of thanksgiving comes readily for me, but I’ll have other ones that won’t feel as comical.

So here’s our challenge: even when things get chaotic in the next few weeks as we bake too many cookies, scramble to find great deals or scratch our heads trying to figure out what to buy for that impossible person, let’s commit to mashing up the holidays by giving thanks to the One who was born to suffer.

Stacy Voss

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Waiting in the Theater: A Surgery Based on Prayer and Guidance

I had dinner with a surgeon a few weeks ago. No, I’m not dropping names. Instead, I’m dropping one of the stories he shared and hope you will pick up the same thing as I did that evening: greater amounts of faith.

My parents invited me over to dinner to meet Grace and Dr. Moses while they were here visiting from Uganda. Grace is the Director of Christ Aid and her husband runs the clinic they recently opened.

I can guess at what you’re thinking because it probably parallels my first misconception as I envisioned a make-shift clinic in the middle of nowhere with a poorly trained staff. Let’s put that idea on a shelf for a while as reality unfolds in its place.

You see, Dr. Moses once was a surgeon in Kampala, Uganda, a booming metropolis that is home to over a million people. It wasn’t until Grace and Moses decided to join the ChristAid staff that they returned to a village. But although Moses left the big city, his reputation and name continued to float through the packed streets of Kampala.

Speaking of packed streets, that’s exactly the reason for one man’s injuries. He was riding a motorcycle of sorts in those crowded streets and had a horrible accident. He was taken to the largest and most expensive hospital in Kampala. Doctors attempted to figure out how to help him, but they were unsure what the best treatment would be. Frustrated and concerned that he wouldn’t survive, his family transported him to the second best hospital in the area.

The medical care at that hospital also has a good reputation, but the man’s injuries were so severe that the doctors there weren’t confident on how to proceed.

“I know exactly who can help him,” a doctor told his family. “There is a Dr. Moses who has a small clinic. He is a skilled surgeon. He’ll know what to do.”

Although it sounds counterintuitive, his family moved him once again, this time leaving the big city and its sophistication.

“He had so much cerebral-spinal fluid draining out of his ears,” Dr. Moses said, “that I didn’t know if he was going to make it, or if he did, if he’d ever walk again.”

I’m not going to try telling you exactly what Dr. Moses said because I promise I’ll mess up the details, but here are the parts I remember with certainty:

Dr. Moses got the man stabilized and managed to get the fluids to stop draining. Then, he prayed.

No, not one of those, “dear God, what do I do?” prayers lasting a couple milliseconds. We’re talking days.

Remember the frustrated family? Well, they weren’t too pleased with the wait on God mentality, at least not if God wasn’t delivering answers in minutes or hours.

“But God hadn’t shown me what to do yet, so we kept praying,” Dr. Moses said quietly. “It wasn’t until we fasted three days later that God showed me what to do.” With the exact steps firmly in his mind, the good doc raced to the clinic, leaving at 2 am while Grace continued praying, as is her tradition whenever he performs an operation.

In the theater.

“I raced to the clinic and prepped him and took him into the theater.”

“I was in the theater all day.”

“Um, when you say ‘theater,’ are you referring to an operating room?” my brother-in-law asked.

“Yes, yes of course,” Dr. Moses replied, a small grin spreading across his face.

As a young man, Moses decided to become a doctor to help save lives. As he excelled in his studies and practice, he went on to become a surgeon–or more accurately, he embraced God’s call to neurosurgery.

It makes absolute sense that the place where he most lives out his call is referred to as the theater. I’d assume the man’s family was there and I guarantee they wanted him to make it through the surgery, as did Dr. Moses. But his focus wasn’t on them and not even on him. Instead, it was on the One who had shown him so clearly what to do and on letting Him continue to guide and direct.

And in that operating room of a theater, Dr. Moses once again did a performance of sorts–a performance that reminds that our God is real. Personal. And oh, so able.

Dr. Moses has a camera in his theater and records all of the surgeries he performs, including that one that began in the wee hours of the morning and ended late in the afternoon. If he hasn’t yet, I’m sure the man who was operated on will watch that video, for he is expected to make a full recovery (which if you ask me is Emmy-award winning theater stuff).

So, I ask you the two questions I haven’t been able to stop asking myself:

  1. Are you willing to wait? No, I mean really, really wait. To dive in deep in prayer and petition to let God’s truth ring out, even when it isn’t the proper or politically correct thing to do.
  2. Where is your theater? What are you doing there to use the gifts God has given you?

If you’d like more information on ChristAid, check out their website. The clinic is so new that it isn’t on the website yet, but you’ll find ways to sponsor a child, a grandma, or make donations to help buy medical supplies for Dr. Moses’ clinic.

Stacy Voss

 

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