A Woman Caught

Beeeeeeeeeeep. I jumped in my seat and looked in the rearview mirror. A wide-eyed woman in a large SUV was gesturing energetically with obvious frustration. Her car held close to the rear of mine with unrelenting aggression. Yikes! I thought I had plenty of time to pull out, but I’d clearly made a mistake. Oops. What now? I stared straight ahead as the road widened and she pulled past me in the lane to my right. She was shouting at me. “Oh Lord, don’t let her hurt me!” I thought. She accelerated quickly and turned the other way. Wow. I felt terrible.

It’s the absolute worst when you do something wrong and get caught. I’ve been the object of someone’s hostility a number of times in my life, some deserved, some undeserved. I’ve experienced loud and straightforward accusation and the cold shoulder of quiet rejection. I’ve been reminded of failures and asked, “Why aren’t you doing more?” These days accusation often comes through the immature (but age-appropriate) voices of my children who are learning to navigate the small disappointments of life. “Why can’t we watch more television? You are so mean.” “Mom, why are you so slow to tie my shoes and buckle my seatbelt!” A woman’s got to have tough skin! Every accusation results in a self-examining question: Did I do something wrong here? Sometimes,with my children, the answer is obvious. No, they’re too immature to understand my limitations. Other times I really have to question my motives and wonder, is that accusation an accurate description of my heart?

When we started this blog, I felt like I was supposed to post about the women God chose to talk about in the Bible. This post is the first. In John chapter 8, we meet an unnamed woman who was not only accused of doing wrong but was undeniably guilty.

She was suddenly shamed, scorned for the decision she had made, alone with her accusers who had snatched her from her lover’s bed, the angry mob who made it their mission to exemplify “goodness.” They often found people whose failures were “worse” than their own in order to hold their position. These Pharisees wanted to be good but deep down they knew that they were not good, that there was darkness in their hearts. The people looked up to them, listened to them, which gave them a sense of power and security, enough to keep up the whole charade.  

But Jesus very presence was threatening all of that. When He was around they felt inferior, unworthy. He questioned them in front of the people. They brought their morality and knowledge to him but it was their hearts He was after. He wasn’t impressed by the religious establishment. Jesus didn’t use the rules to get power but always seemed to bend them to empower someone else, someone who didn’t deserve it.

Today it was this woman, a cheater, facing her accusers. While God indeed knows her name and her story, we’re left only to remember her as “the woman caught in adultery.” The ancient rules were clear, a woman who cheated on her husband or slept with a cheater, had to die. She made a choice to do something wrong and she got caught. And now everyone knew and everyone looked at her and said, “at least I’m not as bad as that.” She stood there, guilty, a tool to make them all feel better, superior, until Jesus reminded them of a greater truth.

“He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.”

And one by one they walked away. Immediately their conscious minds remembered the thoughts, the acts, the failure to be good. As much as they tried to deny it, get out of it, they were living in the darkness. Jesus stooped on the ground, writing with his finger in the dirt, like the ancient Lawgiver writing on the tablets. No one was left to execute the sentence because every person was guilty.

Except one.

Jesus is good, was good, perfectly good, and perfectly qualified to condemn and punish the woman. In fact, He knew about more than just that day’s offense, He saw in the darkness and knew all of the mistakes she’d ever made. But He doesn’t lift a stone. Instead, He asks her,

“Where are these accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, Master.” Three little words give voice to our condition. No human being can condemn us, punish us, judge us, because none are any better than we are. Only Jesus. And when we listen to His voice, He says, “neither do I condemn you. Go on your way. From now on, don’t sin.”

True goodness is more than morality. We can be moral and do wonderful things to look good in the eyes of others but it only provides temporary relief. Goodness is about holiness. Holiness is being like Him, for Him, with Him.  Holiness is what we are made for, what we long for deep inside. It’s belonging solely to God and living completely for Him.

I imagine that when this woman faced her accusers and encountered Jesus, it made her desperately aware of her failures. Being in the presence of perfection can do that to a person. Maybe you’ve felt that way about church and God in general and determined to clean up your act before you attempt a relationship with Him.

But you can’t. She can’t. I can’t. He doesn’t ask us to, He asks us instead to step into the light, to stand before Him. We’re like a houseplant in a dark corner, shriveled and dry. When we’re moved near a window and the light shines on us, we come to life, our leaves spread, our floppy stems stiffen and straighten. We grow and flourish. All of our ugliness and deadness is exposed but as we absorb the light, it becomes part of us and we become beautiful.

Jesus says at the conclusion of this story, “I am the world’s Light. No one who follows me stumbles around in the darkness. I provide plenty of light to live in.” 

The darkness is the lie, the terrible lie that came into the world at the beginning. It is the lie that says we can be good without God and leads us down a road to nowhere. But goodness comes when the light shines on us, in us, exposing the truth of who we really are. We weren’t born for darkness, our beings require the Light to live. When we experience Him and belong to Him, that light empowers us to live beautifully, generously, truly good.

What voices are accusing you today? What’s keeping you in the darkness, discouraging you from approaching Jesus and receiving His favor in your life? Maybe your spouse or parents always remind you of what you don’t do, maybe it’s a boss who’s just never satisfied with your work. Maybe your children, like mine, are young and immature and express demands much easier than appreciation. Maybe you are the one holding yourself to unbelievably unrealistic standards for your life. Maybe you’ve been told God can’t love you until you get it together.

Jesus says, “They don’t have the right to condemn you. I don’t condemn you either. Walk in my light and be my light. Stop living in the darkness.” He made a decision to step in our place and experience darkness on our behalf when He went to the cross. He silences the voices and calms our fears so that we can get back on the road, doing what we are made to do.

My friend, today I pray that you can walk confidently knowing that He is with you simply because He loves you, no matter what the other drivers think.

All scriptures are taken from the Message Paraphrase.

By Faith She

The book of Hebrews is one of my favorites in the Bible. It was written to the Jewish people by an unknown author, explaining how Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of centuries of God’s promises to His people. One of my Bible college professors was convinced that it could have been written by Priscilla, Aquila’s wife who was a prominent figure in the early church. Whether he was correct in his belief, we won’t know until we get to eternity, but it’s always fun to remember that there were women, active in the early church, telling their own beautiful stories about Jesus.

As I began to pray about about the idea for this Beautiful Stories blog, which I believe to be a “God idea,” I was reminded of Hebrews, chapter 11, the Great Faith Chapter. In verse 2 (MSG paraphrase), the author of Hebrews describes faith, “By faith, we see the world called into existence by God’s word, what we see created by what we don’t see.” Faith is what gives us a perspective of history, of this life and everything that it means beyond our physical senses. The author gives examples from Abel (Adam’s son) to King David (the author of the Psalms) of many “great faith” moments of the Old Testament. The incredible history lesson is summarized with these statements: 

“And what more shall I say? For the time would fail to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again…

Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised. God had a better plan for us: that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours. (Hebrews 1132-35a, 39-40 MSG Paraphrase):

Their stories and my story are inseparable. I am undone by the fact that God’s work in history includes millions of people around the world over thousands of years and yet is not complete without me. We are a part of something so much bigger than ourselves! When I see my life in light of this greater perspective, I am inspired to live bigger, with greater passion to do everything God asks me to do. The author tells us how:

Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls! (Heb. 12:1-2 MSG Paraphrase)

Wow! That does shoot adrenaline into my soul! It makes me want to get to work encouraging others and telling people how good He is! It makes me want to say, “yes,” when I feel prompted by the Holy Spirit to do something. Faith enables us to keep perspective of our story in the great context of His story, of His grace, of His love and His sacrifice for us. Our gaze is held steady on His face, knowing His gaze was steady on the joy of saving us even as He suffered a torturous crucifixion. We can walk confidently in the truth that this life is just a moment on the journey. We are indeed Heaven-bound, where every one of His promises will be perfectly fulfilled.

It is my desire that every post on this blog would be an extension of Hebrews chapter 11. I hope, as you read the stories here, you will believe that Jesus loved you so much that He died for you. I hope you will allow Him to transform you to become the person He created you to be. I hope that you will be reminded that you are not alone on your journey with Jesus, that you are surrounded by a great community of people who are being built together into a place where God lives. Paul describes it this way in Ephesians 2:19-22 (msg):

That’s plain enough, isn’t it? You’re no longer wandering exiles. This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.

So, welcome home! I can’t wait to hear your story.