Saturday, November 1, 2008

A Great Cloud

Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

                        Hebrews 12.1


Hebrews 11 assembles a dazzling gallery of Old Testament witnesses whom, it says, were commended for their faith. By faith, Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain’s. Enoch escaped death. Noah obeyed God’s warning of and saved his family. Abraham’s epic faith was a legacy passed down through Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. The roll-call goes on until the Hebrews writer finally offers, “What can I say? There’s not enough time to list all the titans of faith and their exploits.”

Christian history teems with similarly courageous, unshakable heroes who set aside personal security and private doubts to live by faith. Many have been officially canonized as “saints,” having met rigorous criteria to raise them above the general Christian population. Yet I assert any believer guided by faith qualifies as a saint. We’re all saints, witnesses of faith’s power and potential. And on this All Saints Day let’s celebrate one another along with heroes past.

Learning by Example

The crux of Hebrews 11’s group portrait becomes clear in 12’s first statement. With such a great cloud of witnesses, it says, there’s much gain in learning by example. We discard the notion that the Bible is a collection of fantastic stories. As well as we know them, they continue providing new insights about our faith as we revisit them at different stages in our lives. With that, the Hebrews writer—the Bible’s top literary critic—magnificently breaks down three traits common to all heroes of faith. 1) They lose anything bogging them down. 2) They don’t get tangled up by sin. 3) They run a steady race, refusing to give up and staying on course. “Since they prove it works,” Hebrews says, “this is what we do.”

Look to Jesus

Then the writer turns to another Witness not yet mentioned in the pantheon. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12.2-3)

When moments of crisis unfold, we look to Christ. It’s not what would Jesus do, but what did He do? This removes all speculation and error. Christ focused on “the joy set before Him.” In spite of all He endured—agonizing shame and opposition—His faith rested entirely on God’s final acceptance. Saints, this is the example to follow, the one followed by all saints through the ages. If we stick to it, we won’t grow weary or lose heart. We’ll become heroes.

Hebrews compares living by faith to a race, encouraging us to follow examples set before us, chief of which is Jesus.

(Tomorrow: Come Together)

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Believer's Costume

Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.

                        Ephesians 6.11

All Hallows Eve All the Time

Halloween is an unofficial GLBT national holiday when we can be ourselves by dressing up like somebody else and goof on trends and personages meaning our community no good. (This year, expect Sarah Palins by the boatload, as well as all sorts of imaginative takes on the marriage controversy.) Halloween is also an unofficial holiday in many Christian traditions—the eve of All Hallows (or All Saints) Day, when according to legend, Satan and his minions go on a spree to stir up evil ahead the next day’s celebration of paragons of holiness.

The Halloween costume originated to thwart the Devil’s schemes. In medieval times, Christians thought if they took to the streets in scary outfits, they could frighten off wicked spirits sneaking into their villages. It sounds naïve to modern ears, yet Ephesians 6 provides Scriptural basis for their plan. The departure came in literally executing this strategy once a year rather than metaphorically applying it year-‘round. With no slight to All Saints Day as a high point on the Christian calendar, we should celebrate—and emulate—saintly examples every day. And if every day is All Saints Day, it’s All Hallows Eve all the time.

Our Costume of Choice

Believers should always be in costume, staying sure they’ve chosen the proper outfit to ward off the Adversary’s ploys. The full armor of God—head-to-toe protective battle gear—is the believer’s costume of choice according to Paul. He says, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6.12) Pretending we’re ghosts, goblins, skeletons, zombies, and witches, as our medieval ancestors did, just won’t get it. So, while you’re putting the finishing touches on your Palin drag or your Iron Man suit or any other marvelously clever costume you’ve concocted, it’s good to be doubly sure you’ve also got your believer’s “war clothes” on. Here’s a quick rundown of everything Paul advises us to wear.

Truth Belt

Start with this, because truth holds everything else together. Without it tightly fixed at our middle, whatever we wear hangs too loosely. We risk getting snagged on stray objects, entangled in pointless debates, and dragged down by the rest of our outfit. “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” Jesus assures us. (John 8.32) Truth keeps us nimble, unencumbered, and free.

Righteousness Breastplate

Righteousness protects our hearts and other vital organs from injury. When putting on righteousness, however, it’s essential to choose the right kind. Self-righteousness is useless; Isaiah 64.6 describes it as “filthy rags.” Paul writes that he places no confidence in “having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but which is through faith in Christ.” (Philippians 3.9) Before suiting up, it’s wise to double-check what kind of righteousness we’re wearing.

Peace Boots

We don’t wear combat boots. We wear peace boots—we keep our “feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” (Ephesians 6.15) These boots are made for walking, ready at every turn to disarm our opponents’ aggression with kindness and love so wherever we go, peace is sure to follow.

Faith Shield

We wear faith on our sleeve so we can quickly mobilize it to “extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” (Ephesians 6.16) Employing this gear requires dexterity, reminding us that “practicing faith” is more than a polite euphemism for following Christ. It’s a daily drill preparing us to use it effectively and protectively when attacked by doubt and derision.

Salvation Helmet

It’s vital to safeguard what we know: salvation is God’s gift to all and we’ve accepted it. The Enemy tries to get inside our heads with malignant doctrine intended for our shame. But with our helmet of salvation secure, we join Paul in saying, “I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him.” (2 Timothy 1.22)

Sword of the Spirit

The final piece of the believers’ costume is the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. In Hebrews 4.12, we read, “The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” God’s Word is flawlessly accurate. It cuts through the confusion and chaos of battle. It separates what matters from foolishness. It's the only weapon we have.

Don’t Leave Home Without It

The believers’ costume is specifically, brilliantly designed for our safety and success. The Scripture says, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5.8) Trouble is on the loose. Every day is Halloween. We have to stay in costume. We don’t leave home without it.

Now this handsome bloke's got the right idea--he's dressing up as a believer for Halloween! (But his truth belt looks a little loose and he's forgot his faith shield. That's a problem...)

(Tomorrow: A Great Cloud)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Out on a Limb

He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd.

                        Luke 19.3

The Need to See

The story of Zacchaeus, the diminutive tax collector, never grows old for me. It delighted me as a Sunday school tyke (mostly because we sang a clever little nursery rhyme based on it) and it still does. As an adult, though, I’ve got a much greater appreciation of what it’s about and why Luke included it in his Gospel. When you boil it down to its essence, Zacchaeus’s story mirrors that of anyone looking for Christ.

It takes place in Jericho, where Zacchaeus has earned a lot of money—and much hostility from the locals—as a tax collector. One day Jesus passes through town. As always, news of His arrival travels quickly and generates a crowd. Zacchaeus wants to get a look at the Man behind the commotion, but everyone else is taller than he. The need to see inspires a Plan B. He dashes ahead of them to scamper up a tree, high enough to see Jesus as He walks by. When the Lord gets there, He stops and calls him by name. “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” The people aren’t happy about this. After Jesus enters Zacchaeus’s house, they mutter, “He’s gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’” But what occurs inside the house is what’s important. Zacchaeus tells Jesus he intends to give half of all he has to the poor and repay anyone he may have cheated four-fold. Hearing this, Christ declares, “Today salvation has come to this house.”

Take the Initiative

It’s the same now as it was then. There’s always a tall crowd buzzing around Jesus, making it impossible for anyone reduced by hostility and rejection to get a good look at Him. If that’s the case for us, we’ve got two options. Either we hover around the edges, preening and peering through the masses for a tiny glimpse or, like Zacchaeus, we take the initiative, pull away from the crowd, and go out on a limb where we can fully see Him.

When Zacchaeus did that, no doubt he felt silly. Short and despised though he was, surely he thought to himself, “This is beneath me. I’m a rich, important man. If people see me hanging in a tree, I’ll be the town laughingstock.” But when he considered the alternative—never seeing Jesus—up he went, leaving all concerns about personal pride and professional reputation below. In that moment, Zacchaeus made the decision of his life, because his efforts to see Jesus resulted in Jesus seeing him.

Christ in Our House

We don’t find Jesus. He finds us. And when He does, He invites Himself into our house. He comes unattended, gently closing the door behind Him to visit with us one-on-one, far from the milling, muttering crowd that thinks we’re not good enough for the Lord. Christ in our house changes our views about everything. His presence diminishes the value of all we gained prior to this and the compromises we made to get it. Our attention moves from what we want to what others need. We commit to putting what’s best for them above our interests, knowing by faith that Christ in our lives ensures full provision of whatever we lack.

After proclaiming salvation for Zacchaeus’s house, Jesus added something else—something essential for us to understand: “This man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” Zacchaeus’s successful career as a taxman isolated him from his people. To their thinking, it was impossible to work for Caesar and serve God at the same time; anyone who did had no right to call himself a Jew, one of God’s chosen. Jesus thought differently, however. “Zacchaeus is one of us,” He said. “I came looking for him. I’m here by choice.” Luke ends the story there. He doesn’t tell us if the Jericho crowd revised its low regard for Zacchaeus or if his encounter with Christ made him look any taller. Anyone else’s opinion wasn’t important to Jesus or Zacchaeus. It’s not important to us, either. When Jesus chooses us, what others think about that makes no difference whatsoever.


Going out on a limb to see Jesus allows us to be seen.

(Tomorrow: The Believer’s Costume)

Postscript: Two New Friends

Briefly, I want to introduce two new Straight-Friendly friends, both of whom you’ll be glad to know.

Leonardo Ricardo is an American ex-pat painter who’s lived mostly in Latin America for the past 20 years. Even from that distance, he remains tightly connected to the political and faith fronts here in the States and the world at large. His blog, Eruptions at the Foot of the Volcano, is a must-read for anyone concerned about social injustice, homophobia, and religious discrimination.

Jason Del Giudice is a Web designer with something I think a lot of you bloggers will like. He’s developed code and graphics that display a random Scripture each time a new page is loaded. It’s totally free and customizable. If this appeals to you, find out more on his Sacred Mint site.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Crying Rocks

“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

                        Luke 19.40

Will to Praise

“Praise the LORD, O my soul,” David sang. “All my inmost being, praise his holy name.” (Psalm 103.1) All believers, like David, have received a will to praise. Praise is in us, housed at the core of our beings. It springs out of our souls. Its purity washes over our hearts. Its inspiration flows through our minds. David keeps going: “Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” He’s so caught up in praise he can’t help running down a list of God’s blessings. He forgives, heals, and saves us. He lavishes love and compassion on us. He gives us good things. He renews us. While we must thank Him always for all of this, we can’t mistake thanksgiving for praise. Thanksgiving responds to what God does. Praise extols His ability to do it. It’s constant and unconditional—an act of faith. Should He never do anything for us, our confidence He can and will makes Him worthy of praise. If our minds can’t comprehend this, our souls get it completely and swell with insuppressible praise.

Praise Will Happen

It’s often said God created us for His glory, as instruments of praise. That’s certainly true, yet it’s not exclusively ours to own. Everything He made is designed to glorify Him. In another rapture of praise, David called on the entirety of creation to rejoice: “Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and all that move in them.” (Psalm 69.34) And in Luke 19.40, we hear if we’re constrained from glorifying God, the rocks will cry out in praise.

Jesus says this in the middle of His triumphal entry into Jerusalem for Passover. He’s mounted on a colt and as He moves along, people cover the road with garments, hailing Him as “the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” This is Christianity's first instance of what we Pentecostals call a “praise break”—a spontaneous outbreak of loud rejoicing that halts everything. For those unaccustomed to this brand of unplanned, exuberant worship, it can be unsettling, which is the case here. The Pharisees rush Jesus and urge Him to get His people under control. He replies, “If they keep quiet, the stones will erupt.” Praise will happen. God desires it. He expects it. Nothing in the world can stop it.

When Praise Happens

According to David, our praise is God’s throne (Psalm 22.3). When praise happens, God shows up—and, as an old friend says, when God shows up, He shows out. Things come together in surprising, beneficial ways by putting thoughts and emotions regarding our human inadequacies on hold. Praise focuses us on God’s infinite wisdom and love. It keeps us happy and healthy. It activates His power in our lives.

How typical that God asks us to offer Him something for our good. And how typical of us to think we give Him praise when, in reality, it’s His gift to us. We simply can’t allow other people to stifle our praise. It may make them uncomfortable. They may not like how we do it. They may believe God doesn’t accept it because they’ve developed criteria of who is and isn’t worthy to glorify Him. But God’s worthiness is the standard, not ours. If rocks can cry His praises, there’s no reason why we can’t and shouldn’t.

The first "praise break." When uptight religious leaders complained about it to Jesus, He told them nothing in the world could stop it.

(Tomorrow: Out on a Limb)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Heavy Equipment

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

                        2 Timothy 3.16-17

The User’s Manual

It’s pretty much impossible these days to buy anything with a wall plug and not get a fat little book with cryptic directions about its features and how they work. Your new iron does more than put a crease in your slacks. It’s also a makeup remover, a griddle, a wallpaper steamer—and if you press the control, memory, and auto buttons simultaneously, the thing will record how you press this particular shirt and do the work for you next time.

How many of us use all these features, though? Most of us, I bet, give the user’s manual a quick glance to find out how to turn the appliance on and toss it aside. Then, when we really could benefit from an added capability, we tear the house apart in search of the directions. Once we find them, we waste precious moments trying to figure out how it works. The first few attempts fall flat. If we do manage it or if we give up to do like we’ve always done, odds are we’ve defeated our purpose for looking it up to begin with.

Read the Directions

In 2 Timothy, Paul says God’s Word is our User’s Manual. It tells us how we work—or, more accurately, how God works in us. Those of us who want to get the most out of our lives are smart to read the directions, all of them, understand how they operate, everything God enables us to do, and, yes, what our limitations are and how to avoid hazardous mistakes. Of course, it’s entirely possible to scan the Bible’s pages for instructions about how to function at our most basic. But we severely cheat ourselves out of achieving our full potential in Christ by this. And when situations arise truly requiring our expanded ability, poor command of the Word leads to frustration and failure.

We want to be thoroughly equipped for every good work. Our Creator loaded us with extra features to seize every opportunity He sends us. He’s given us tools to handle every challenge. We don’t find out about them on our own, however. They’re in the Book. Unless we devote the time and concentration to fully master what it tells us about ourselves, we’ll invariably, habitually hit spots where the great things we could do fall outside our reach.

The Good Person and the True Believer

“Indeed, when the Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves,” Romans 2.14 says. Here, Paul is describing basic functionality. All humans, with very few exceptions, are endowed with an inherent moral mechanism they have to override to sin. This “law unto itself” is most commonly called “guilt.” We should thank God for imprinting this into all our hearts. Otherwise, our world would be a savage place to live. But it’s also essential that we distinguish between moral sensibility and obedience to God’s word.

Being a good person and living as a true believer are completely different pursuits. The first is self-regulating and the second requires faith. Good people judge themselves. Believers give account to God for all they think and do, because they trust He has a higher purpose for them. “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you,” David said. (Psalm 119.11) By faith, we know that God has given us extraordinary talents and abilities. He’s entrusted us with heavy equipment. To make the most of it, we can’t just turn it on and let it go. We have to become proficient in its use. The better we hide His user’s instructions in our hearts, the smoother and more productively our lives will run.


A slightly crude analogy, but effective in its own way: true believer is to harvester as good person is to tractor. One requires mastering all its functions and capabilities. The other is fairly intuitive and easy to use. Which should we be?

(Tomorrow: Crying Rocks)

Postscript: Angels Aware

I caught this on Missy’s Big Fish Stories and can’t neglect passing it on. Angel Food Ministries is a Georgia-based enterprise that has ingeniously turned bulk buying into a blessing. It’s built a network of distribution centers around the US (most of them housed in churches) to provide folks who’ve fallen on hard times with low-cost groceries.

These angels are all too aware that many of us are dealing with tough days. Their ministry reaches out to everyone—seniors, middle-class families, unemployed singles, and anyone else struggling to make ends meet. As I looked at their site, I couldn’t help but think of Jesus’s transforming a few loaves and fishes into a meal for thousands. That’s pretty much what they do.

Missy does such a wonderful job of describing the details of how it works (including a great video), that it’s quicker and better to link to her blog. I urge all of us to take a look. These days, I can’t imagine anyone who either doesn’t need Angel Food’s help or doesn’t know someone who does. And if you’re among the fortunate few who has a little extra to share, their Website also accepts financial contributions.

Click over to Missy’s blog and see what real Christianity in action looks like:

Angel Food

(If you've not yet spent time with Missy, spend a few extra minutes to get to know her. She's one terrific lady, a solid believer, a cool neighbor, and we're blessed to count her among us.)

Monday, October 27, 2008

This Is the Day

This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

                        Psalm 118.24

Marking Time

In the weeks leading to my partner’s birthday, I can count on him sinking into a mild funk. If you knew him, you’d know why. He’s forever young. Somehow, he’s kept the best of his youth in top condition and easily in reach. One minute he looks like the suave, swarthy middle-aged man he is. The next, something triggers a favorite memory—a “Flintstones” rerun, for instance—and suddenly he’s a kid perched on his parents’ sofa, wide-eyed, grinning ear-to-ear. It’s a magical, rare gift, which is why approaching birthdays throw him. What if it has an expiration date and this year is it? I indulge his glumness as long as I can (probably longer than I should) before I snap: “Quit whining about getting old and start thanking God you’re still alive. Lord knows you’ve dodged more than your share of bullets!” I’m not sure it consoles him, but it sure shuts him up.

Jeremiah, the Sad Prophet, said, “Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.” (Lamentations 3.22) It’s wise to remember this while marking time, whether day-to-day, season-to-season, or year-to-year. We’ve all dodged more bullets than our share. We’ve taken foolish risks, blindly walked into danger, ignored warning signs, and whimsically exposed ourselves to harmful people and influences. We look back at things we’ve done and can’t believe how lucky we are to live to tell about it. But good fortune played no role in our survival. Psalm 121.3 assures us, “He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber.” God’s mercy and grace protected and continues to protect us. And given our penchant for mischief, keeping us safe is a ‘round-the-clock job.

At the End of the Day

A lot of us may recognize Psalm 118.24 as the lyric of a buoyant praise-and-worship ditty that’s been around since the late Seventies. When we read it as part of its original song, however, it carries much more weight. The psalm comes from someone beset on every side by enemies. In anguish, he calls on God, Who makes His presence known. Emboldened, he says, “The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” His adversaries attack him, one after another. Yet each time he reports, “In the name of the LORD I cut them off.” At the end of the day, he experiences an epiphany: “I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done.” He takes a few moments to reflect on all he went through earlier—the fear he overcame and the victories he won—before sagely giving credit where credit is due. “The LORD has done this,” he explains, “and it is marvelous in our eyes.” Then he says, “This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Monday’s Song

It’s Monday, when most of us leave our comfortable cloisters for a world of competitive challenges and conflicts. Some of us will inadvertently, capriciously, or knowingly stumble into harm’s way. Some will look fear in the face. Others will find we’re encompassed by hostile circumstances that set at us one by one. We'll live the psalmist's story. But rather than think of Psalm 118.24 as a happy tune for a Sunday morning, let’s adopt it as Monday’s song.

This is the day the Lord has made. He has ordained everything it holds for our benefit and growth. His mercy will protect us. His eyes will never look away from our undertakings. He will make His presence known to us. We won’t be afraid—what can anyone do to us? As each problem arises, we will dispatch them in His name. We will not die, but live. We will tell of His goodness. As the day closes, we’ll rejoice in saying, “God made this day,” and we’ll be glad to have lived it.

God made this day. He ordained everything it holds. And at the end of it, we will rejoice and be glad.

(Tomorrow: Heavy Equipment)

Personal Playlist: To Start the Day

I’ve not put one of these together in a very long time, and I miss doing it. If you’ve started dropping in since the last one, the only thing you should know is that my musical tastes tend to run more toward black gospel (due to my Pentecostal roots) and pop than contemporary Christian. Here’s a list of personal favorites that I often rifle through as I prepare to start my day. By all means, feel free to offer your recommendations and, as you do, I’ll update the list.

1.    Morning Has Broken, Cat Stevens

2.    This is Another Day, Andrae Crouch & The Disciples

3.    Gonna Be a Lovely Day, Kirk Franklin & The Nu Nation Project

4.    Celebration Medley, West Angeles COGIC Mass Choir

5.    Beautiful Day, U2

6.    Still Say Yes, Byron Cage

7.    You’re All I Need to Get By, Kathy Troccoli

8.    Beautiful, Carole King

9.    Today, The Richard Smallwood Singers

10. Lord Keep Me Day by Day, Albertina Walker

11. Feelin’ Stronger Every Day, Chicago

12. Days, The Kinks

13. Oh Happy Day, The Edwin Hawkins Singers

14. Some Days You Gotta Dance, Keith Urban

15. Just Another Day, Sam Cooke

16. On a Day Like Today, Bryan Adams

17. I Just Want to Celebrate, Rare Earth

18. Jesus Be a Fence Around Me, Fred Hammond

19. Gotta Feelin’, O’Landa Draper’s Associates

20. The Best Is Yet to Come, Donald Lawrence

21. Thank You, Walter Hawkins & Love Center Choir

Your Additions:

22. Forward Motion, Relient K (Thanks, Missy!)

Sunday, October 26, 2008


Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.

                        Matthew 15.27

Demanding Attention

Everywhere Jesus went people besieged Him, demanding attention. They didn’t belong to crowds that came to hear His words. They weren’t part of His inner circle. They had no business with the lawyers and teachers who habitually turned up to criticize Him. They were mostly misfits pushed into society’s margins by disease, prejudice, or religious stigma. They had problems that urgently required Jesus’s help and when they found Him, they didn’t wait their turn or ask Him for a private audience after the sermon. They barreled past the multitudes. They created scenes. They disrupted the proceedings. Patience and good manners were luxuries they couldn’t afford. They needed Jesus to know about their trouble, and they needed Him to fix it right away.

Matthew 15 provides a vivid example of this. After another of Jesus’s grueling encounters with religious leaders, He and the disciples head into pagan territory to find rest from His critics. Almost immediately they meet a local woman demanding Jesus’s attention. A demon is tormenting her daughter and she wants Him to intervene. He ignores her initially, but she trails behind Him, crying loudly and constantly for His help. The disciples ask Jesus to send her away. What occurs next is first disconcerting, then amazing.

Great Faith

Jesus tells the woman as a Gentile, she shouldn’t expect Him to help her daughter. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel,” He says. Still, she doesn’t give up. She falls to her knees, pleading, “Lord, help me!” Jesus’s response to her desperation sounds brutally indifferent—totally contrary to everything He taught. “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs,” He says. “That’s true,” she answers, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” It seems unlikely that it was possible to catch Jesus off-guard, as His divinity endowed Him with all knowledge. But if ever a moment took Him by surprise, this is it. “Woman, you have great faith!” He exclaims. “Your request is granted.” The demon instantly leaves her daughter. 

Practical Challenges

This story has tremendous significance for anyone who’s been told they’re unfit to sit at the Master’s table and eat the children’s bread. Before exploring that, though, perhaps we should clear away the P.C. clouds looming overhead. Without observing the dynamic between Christ and the woman, His reaction to her does indeed seem indifferent, possibly even biased. Yet if we compare her case to other “outcast miracles”—the hemorrhaging woman who presses through the crowd to touch Jesus’s cloak, or the palsied man who reaches Him by being lowered through a roof—we notice a pattern. These miracles happen when faith triumphs over practical challenges. Clearly, Jesus could have taken care of the woman’s crisis right away. Instead, He tries her confidence that He will answer her request. Like the other outcast examples, this one finishes with Jesus extolling her faith. Faith drives her persistence. It compels her to humble herself, to compare herself to a dog snapping up morsels. It ends her daughter’s torment.

Until the church ends its indifference and prejudice toward GLBT people, many of us stubbornly refuse to practice our belief. But it’s exactly what pagan woman teaches us to do. We have urgent needs that only Christ can fill. Reaching Him poses many practical challenges, yet we commit to whatever it takes—crying out, falling to our knees, and humbling ourselves—to do it. The proving of our faith is the key to receiving what we need. At times, it feels like we’re begging for crumbs. But like the pagan woman, once we reach the Master’s table we discover no one settles for morsels. Everyone’s needs are fully met. 

Reaching Christ requires faith and effort. Yet, as the pagan woman learned, once we overcome our challenges, our belief and persistence are fully rewarded.

(Tomorrow: This Is the Day)