Stacy Voss

See life differently. Live courageously.

Earning the Right to be Narrow

“I feel like we stopped midway through our last conversation,” my neighbor said as we took an afternoon walk together. “I mentioned that I thought the Bible was offensive, but later realized that might have offended you.”

I inwardly let out a sigh of relief. She had told me on our last walk about going to a church that sometimes preached Jesus’ words, and other weeks talked about Buddha or Gandhi. I never really responded to that at the time as the conversation turned quickly, but I sensed this opening to comment now. Problem was, I didn’t have a clue what to say. Just days before a homework question in Bible study prodded about what to say to someone who believes all paths lead to eternal life. Let’s just say I didn’t give that response the attention it deserved, yet here I was with another opportunity to respond.

God, help. You know these prayers, these unspoken pleadings. Intervene now, please. Don’t forget that prayer as you read on, for what I said next never would have otherwise come out of my mouth.

“I absolutely agree,” I told her. “I, too, think the Bible is offensive.”

“Really?” she asked, her sigh audible. “How so?”

“Well, it says that Jesus is the only way. Most people don’t want to hear that because we want to think that if we’re good, then we’ll have a favorable outcome later, but the Bible doesn’t say that.”

“So that’s what offends you?”

“Actually, no, but I know it turns others off.”

She told me how she views Jesus as a good man who loved well but didn’t have a purpose beyond that.

“Funny, because we’re both saying nearly the same thing, but yet what we both believe varies just enough that it has a completely different meaning for both of us.” I went on to explain that I, too, believe Jesus is the ultimate model of love, but said the place where we view it differently is that Christ’s love has an eternal purpose. I explained that when Jesus died on the cross, God turned his back since all of our gunk was too much. Simply, sin and God don’t mix and all of our sin piled upon Jesus in that moment left God with no choice but to temporarily turn his back.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

“No one before or since has ever demonstrated that level of love for us. Jesus came to this earth knowing exactly what he would endure, yet he still decided to do it all because of his deep love for us. That kind of sacrifice earns Jesus the right to say that he is the only path to God.”

Jesus' sacrifice earns him the right to say he is the only path to God. Click To Tweet

Friend, in a world where we’re supposed to be PC–even at the risk of forfeiting what we believe–let’s be sure to never undermine this ultimate sacrifice by pretending it is just one of many paths.

Stacy Voss

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The Gospel of Cookie Exchanges

I love cookie exchanges. In fact, I’m quite certain they were created just for me. You see, I get to bring my cookies in, you know, the ones that can never be determined if made them or my kids did. They’re a little burnt (okay, maybe more than a little), are crumbling and are decorated in a way that would shame a two-year old.

I’m sorry, people. I don’t try to make ugly cookies (anyone want to trade the ugly sweater tradition and begin ugly cookies with me? I’m all over that one!), but despite my best efforts, that’s exactly what they are.

Which is precisely why I love cookie exchanges.

I bring in a plate of ahem–cookies–and get to trade my messy slop for an exquisite assortment of tasty goods in every shape and size. I may or may not have pretended in years past that said slop never originated from my house. Case in point:

“What are those?” someone in line in front of me asks, “and why would they bring them here?”

“I have absolutely no idea,” I respond. Sorry, but I reserve every right to fib when it comes to claiming what food I have prepared.

I finish walking through the line, gathering some of everyone else’s cookies while everybody must take a few of mine (again, I’m sorry. Truly I am) and walk out with a plate of goodies worthy to distribute to the neighbors.

I have no idea how cookie exchanges came to be part of the many Christmas traditions, but I for one am beyond grateful for two very important reasons. The first I already shared: you all save me. Thank you!

But the second is the one I really love. Cookie exchanges tell the gospel, at least when you put yourself behind my apron.

I don’t mean to bring the ugliest cookies imaginable. It just happens that way. Similarly, I don’t mean to do the things that cover me in ugly stains, those selfish ambitions that run deep, the mean-spirited words that slip when I’m much too tired, and so, so much more. And just like I want to pretend like those less-than cookies aren’t mine, I’d much prefer to present the “good” me to Christ.

But alas, my best efforts fail me. I can squirm and hide as much as I want, but the bottom line remains: those cookies are my cookies and this sin is my sin. It’s kinda like this year’s cookie exchange, the very one that I was asked to speak at and I shared this story. Oh, and the same one where each participant had to write their name on a tag next to their plate of goodies. Thank you very much. I’ll just say that I came home with twice as many cookies as I went with because no one dared take any of mine (note: you all are wise and I hold no hard feelings whatsoever).

With my name beside the cookies, there was no hiding the fact that I was the bearer of the ugly. Revelation 20:12b says, “And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.” Notice that it isn’t referring to the Book of Life, the one in which names are recorded of those who profess their faith in Christ. The books talked about in this verse list out the very things we’ve done in our lives.

Yes, that’s so much worse than placing my name tag by my cookies, but here is the most beautiful gift of all:

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

We know the story, the great, unthinkable truth as Christ took our burnt-up, bitter “cookies” and exchanged them for the perfect, unblemished kind that could only be offered by a perfect, unblemished Messiah.

Oh, sweet mercy.

Today, let’s celebrate the birth of the ultimate exchanger, the One who makes these cookie exchanges offer so much more than a temporary delight, for His birth–and then His crucifixion and resurrection–are the only things capable of giving us a gift that lasts for eternity.

Merry Christmas, my friend.

Stacy Voss

The Gift of Communication: Embracing Boldness and Confidence

Today we’re looking at a second gift that was given on that first Christmas that continues to this day. (Be sure to check out the first post if you missed it). Like the first, it is a gift that many would claim is positive, but it also has negative implications. December can be a rough month for some, so let’s start with the good parts of this gift.

Mary

There is so much we can say here, but we talked about Mary a lot last week, so for now let’s just think about one key fact: the angel Gabriel talked to her. Talked as in spoke to her as clearly as a friend sitting across the table at Starbucks. Talked as in told her very specific things that were going to happen, such as her having a child who “will reign over the house of Jacob forever” (Luke 1:33a).

Joseph

An angel made an appearance to Joseph, too, after he had decided to divorce Mary quietly.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in he is from the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 1:20

Zechariah

Let’s get a quick background on Zechariah before we look at his Christmas gift of communication–or lack thereof. Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, prayed for a child for years and years, a prayer that had since ceased as a result of being “well along in years” (Luke 1:18b). Although he stopped using that gift of communication, he quickly discovered those prayers had indeed been heard.

Zechariah was a priest and he was chosen by lot to “go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense” (Luke 1:9). Listen to what happened next:

The angel said to him: ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John.” Luke 1:13

The angel went on to speak of John’s life and the things God would do through him, but let’s skip over those details much like Zechariah did and go straight to his response:

Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” Luke 1:18

Are you ready for the angel’s response? Brace yourself!

The angel answered, ‘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. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.” Luke 1:19-20, emphasis mine

Let’s do a quick recap: we have three instances of people talking to an angel. Talk about a gift of communication! Mary, Joseph and Zechariah had angels of the Lord come and speak to them directly! I don’t know about you, but if I’ve ever spoken to an angel, I have absolutely no awareness of it.

But let’s look at the flip side of this gift: the inability to communicate. We see hints of it in Zechariah’s life prior to entering the temple as he stopped asking for the thing they desperately wanted, but then it comes barreling to fullness after he dared question the one who stood in the presence of God. “And now you will be silent.”

You may be wondering how this gift of communication continues to this day. Matthew 1:23 says, “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God with us.'” Having God with us opened the lines of communication as people could talk to Jesus as freely as they could say hi to their next door neighbor. But of course, this gift no longer walks the earth like He did way back when, so how does it continue?

Ephesians 3:12 says, “In him (Jesus) and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” This is a painfully weak analogy, but bear with me for a second. There was some news that I really wanted to share with a friend, but it was too early in the morning to call them. I toyed with texting, but knew it violated my unwritten code of hours that are appropriate to do so. Then I remembered this person specifically telling me I could text them any time of day or night, so I shared my news. They weren’t upset about the time. To the contrary, they rejoiced with me and celebrated with me.

In the same way, Jesus tells us to approach the throne of God. We aren’t to wonder if we deserve it (for we don’t!) or if we’ll be condemned for entering His presence. We’re encouraged to approach boldly with freedom and confidence, but like Zechariah, we can squelch this gift.

Did you notice what Gabriel said was grounds for revoking Zechariah’s gift of communication?

Because you did not believe.”

All too often, we “gift” ourselves with this negative portion of communication for the same reason. We don’t believe God loves us, so we don’t talk to Him, or we don’t believe He cares about the things in our lives enough for us to bother Him.

As we know, communication can’t just be one sided. Our lack of belief can cause us to stop listening, too, doubting that God is personal enough to lead and guide us or to whisper to the marrow during the moments we need it the most.

Like any present you’ll receive this year, you have a choice as to what you’ll do with the gift of communication. Will you let it sit on a shelf with Aunt Freda’s fruitcake, or will you embrace it–undeserving as we are–and relish in the freedom and confidence to approach the throne of grace?

I vote we embrace it. I hope you do, too.

Stacy Voss

 

 

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