It’s Not How Good You Are

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. ~Ephesians 2:4-9

“Have you been good this year?” “Are you on Santa’s nice list?” “What’s Santa going to bring you?” Words spoken with kindness but layered with threat and repercussion. The questions rang out with a fierceness, and my heart wanted to stop that moment and run. My little 4 year old turned to me, eyes wide open, searching my face, and I quickly covered the moment with assurances to all involved that presents would be under her tree.

We walked away from the exchange, and the moment we were quietly alone, I kneeled down and looked into her precious eyes and asked her, “What do you think about those questions? Are you good this year?” Her answer tore at my heart, exposed her doubts, and opened the door for the truth of the Gospel. She quietly replied, “Maybe. But I don’t really know.” And so for a little while, sitting in a parking lot, we talked about the truth of Christmas in a language that she can understand and that I pray planted seeds of truth to combat the wicked evil that seeps out of every part of those questions.

Caraline, I want you to understand something very important and foundational. It doesn’t matter What you have done; it matters Whose you are. You see, sweetie, we celebrate Christmas why? because Jesus came as a baby with one purpose in mind – to die on the cross for your sins and mine. He was our special present that day because He would make a way for you to have a relationship with God, have peace in your life, and have hope for when you die that you will live with Him forever. That is why we celebrate Christmas. But do you have to do anything for Jesus to be your Savior? Do you have to be good for Him? Ever? No, baby girl.

There is no performing needed, you get to mess up and sin. He will lead you to repentance and forgiveness every single time. So we may be sad that we have sinned, but we never have to be afraid or worry that God will not forgive us or take us off his list. Because you are His, and He loves you no matter what. It is by grace you have been saved.

So at Christmas, we celebrate this great gift of Jesus by learning about His birth, learning about his names, singing songs that celebrate Him. And we give gifts to one another. But you will have gifts under the Christmas tree whether you have been good or naughty. Even if you have had many days of getting in trouble, you will still have all your presents under the tree. Why? Because you are my child, and I love you no matter what. Your presents on Christmas Day are because you belong to our family and you will be richly blessed with gifts given in great grace.

As believers we cannot just sit by and let culture dictate and pervert one of our holy days. And we certainly cannot allow our young children to be taken captive by a belief system utterly in opposition to the true meaning of Christmas. Yet we do. We allow these questions of goodness, performance, behavior to be asked of our children as if they are benign questions when really they have the fire of hell steaming off of them. We welcome a performance mentality for our little ones who believe as if that may provide some relief and keep them in line in a time full of excitement and craziness.

There is no performance needed for the greatest gift ever given, the reason for Christmas.

Jesus Christ came while we were all completely lost, sinful, full of all wickedness, and He came to freely give salvation to all who believe.

So while in our household we may decorate with Santa Claus, he doesn’t wield any power. We love the Christmas movies about elves, Santa’s workshop, reindeer, and snowmen. But he is never exalted as the giver of our gifts. There are no lists made, no hopeful yearnings in letters to the north pole. He certainly is not omniscient or omnipresent. His elves do not live in our house to check on behavior because again behavior is simply a symptom of a heart that needs the truth of the Gospel applied. So we purpose to direct the hearts of our children to the One who can and does save and work change in their lives because He loves them unconditionally and calls them to Himself.

I will do battle on this point against an enemy that wants nothing less than to convince my children that their performance factors into the equation. Because if he can convince them of that condemning thought, then grace is lost and bondage results around a day that is full of God’s rich, redeeming grace. I want my children’s hearts to sing that God’s gift of Jesus is their greatest gift.

3 – Cornerstone

Therefore thus says the Lord God, “Behold I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone of a sure foundation: ‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’ ~Isaiah 28:16

The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the LORDS’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. ~Psalm 118:22

Jesus is our Cornerstone. All three of the synoptic gospels reference the time when Jesus is speaking in the temple, following the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The chief priests and elders have challenged his authority to teach, and Jesus proceeds to tell them two parables regarding the kingdom of God and who will be a part of it. In the second parable, the wealthy owner of a vineyard has cared for and leased his land to some tenants. When it was the harvest, he sent servants to retrieve the fruit. The tenants beat and killed them. Again he sent servants and again they were killed. Finally the owner sends his son, believing they will respect him. The tenants instead kill his son in the hopes of gaining his inheritance. Jesus is drawing a parallel between the chief priest and Pharisees and these tenants – through Israel’s history, prophets, servants of God, had been sent to lead the people to repentance and now before them was the Son. Yet instead of repentance, the leaders through the years had created more religion, tradition and rules.

Here now in front of them was the Christ, Messiah, their Savior who would rid them of all sin, sacrifice, and empty religion. For He had come to set the foundation for true relationship with God built on grace, forged through His sacrificial love and death, that we may be saved. He knew the path of the next few days, and He called for repentance but knew rejection.

A cornerstone, often called a setting stone or foundation stone, was the first stone set in masonry foundations. All other stones were set in reference to this stone, determining the entire structure. This stone kept the walls straight. The total weight of the building would rest on this stone, so if it were to be removed, the building would collapse.

Jesus is the foundation, the stable, immovable set point on which the redeemed are built, both corporately and singularly. This picture of Jesus is not just a prophecy that He fulfills; we see the continued teaching of this idea all through the New Testament. Peter referenced Jesus and Ps. 118 when he was brought before the Council following Pentecost in Acts 4:11. Then in 1 Peter 2:4-8 Peter explains that as we come to Christ, the living Stone rejected by men but chosen by God, we too are living stones being built up as a spiritual house to worship God though Jesus Christ. Paul also uses the same word picture in Ephesians 2:19-21. In Romans 9 Paul declares that righteousness comes through faith, but many will stumble over the stumbling stone as they seek to work their way to righteousness.

The beauty of salvation is that not only do we freely gain relationship with the One who is the cornerstone on whom our hope rests and our faith is built, but we also join Him in declaring to this lost world that true stability and peace are from Him. Peter reminds us that the world watches our walk. To the lost, the Cornerstone is an obstacle to trip over, even to the lost pious ones who desperately seek righteousness in works and law.  But to the found, He is the sure foundation, a tested stone who ensures our salvation, forges relationship, and ultimately returns to bring us home. He alone deserves the glory.

2 – Light of the World

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” ~John 8:12

Looking at different names for Jesus this advent season, Jesus Himself declared he was the Light of the world. He was speaking in a part of the Temple court during the Feast of Booths most scholars agree. In the temple court there were two huge lanterns burning as part of the Feast – these were symbolic of God’s presence as a fire by night, pillar of cloud by day that led the Israelites in the wilderness. Now during the feast, people would congregate around them to sing and dance, remembering God’s provision.

Jesus stands within this celebration and he points to what was and declares He is. The cloud and fire were the very presence of God – the Israelites knew that. Ex. 13:21 explains, “And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light.

Then in Exodus 40:34-38, we see the presence of God through a cloud covering the tabernacle the Israelites have erected. Moses was not allowed to enter initially because the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. The cloud by day and the fire in it at night, centered in the Holy of Holies, led the people throughout their journeys.

1 Kings 8:10-11 speaks of God’s presence in the temple that Solomon built, because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the LORD. 

Finally in Ezekiel 11 the glory of the LORD leaves the temple as the people of Judah fall to Babylon in judgment, leading to years in captivity and the destruction of the temple. When the Jews return to rebuild the Temple, God’s presence does not return in physical form to the ark of the covenant or Holy of Holies. The Shekinah (glory of the LORD) had departed in its physical form of cloud by day, fire by night.

And now Jesus declares, “I am the Light of the world.” The Glory of God had returned to Israel as Light as John details in John 1. And Jesus takes what was now merely symbolic and puts flesh on it. He openly declares that He is the Light that will guide all men out of the darkness of sin and death. We see Jesus teaching this truth to Nicodemus in John 3:16-21, in John 9:5 when he heals a blind man, & finally John 12:46 when he cries out, “I have come into the world as light so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.” 

The darkness of the soul that blankets the sin works of men can be dispelled by only Jesus. His presence however is no longer an external entity, waiting on sacrifice in a temple. He indwells the heart of the believer. Only He can rid your heart of the vestiges of sin that move and have power in darkness. For whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. 

1 – Man of sorrows

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. ~Isaiah 53:3

Sitting around the table for what we call “Morning Meeting” today, this phrase “Man of Sorrows” was brought up and wondered about by the boys as we were reading through different prophecies for the coming Christ. So we began to take this one title apart, looking to understand more fully what was meant by Isaiah in this prophecy.

In Hebrew, the phrase “Man of Sorrows” signifies sickness or pain, suffering, anguish. Jesus’ flesh was just as frail as mine or yours. He was easily injured just as we are, and his nerves weren’t stronger or less responsive. He opened Himself up to illness, pain, loss, and fatigue – all things that are part of the curse of sin.

He was a man so full of suffering, rejection, and pain that it becomes one of His titles. Why?  Christ’s life began in rejection and sorrow. Herod sought to kill him as a child. We see the lack of initial understanding of his parents at 12 in the temple, and then as he moved into ministry, the Pharisees actively led the Israelites in rejection of him and sought to trick him at every turn. His ministry moved among the lowly, afflicted, the lost. Christ saw the people without a shepherd, and it grieved him deeply in Mark 6. Most crowds, however, used Him for what He could do and then left. Christ spent years on earth seeing the depths of the hearts of men – their layers of sin that result in an outcome of death, despair, hopelessness. He sought to consistently speak to their need for salvation through Him, yet He fully knew the path and the cost of redemption for himself.

He grieved in the Garden afflicted with great sorrow so much so that He sweats blood. At the time of his greatest need, he asked for companionship from his disciples, a fellow banding together to walk with Him in final sorrows, but He was still rejected by those who claimed to love Him most.

On the way to the cross, man ceased to see Jesus as human, ceased to have a measure of compassion and instead meted out the highest level of punishment before the crucifixion. Then on the cross, Christ was afflicted with real spiritual suffering so tremendous and without bounds as the sins of the world are placed on Him. He experienced the fullness of God’s holy wrath; the full breaking of their glorious union – the tearing away of it to save you and me. He was broken in sin and death, wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. For we are healed by His stripes, brought to peace through his chastisement.

For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him, Isaiah 53:2. We live in a culture that openly values beauty, majesty, great form – those who possess these are given platforms, power, attention. Christ was none of these, therefore then as now He was despised and rejected. But despite his great sufferings He willingly walked to the cross out of love so that the free gift of grace would abound to many, leading to justification, righteousness, and life.


For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”  ~Romans 8:15

I have had a week like no other – the kind of week that you wished never happened. The kind of week where everything seems to be going wrong, and it is all tied to you. No, it hasn’t been full of devastating news or horrific circumstances. Just enough hardship in circumstances to become discouraging and overwhelming. Most of the issues have centered around glass and more specifically, it breaking. The first thing I broke was my entire back glass in my vehicle backing into my own garage door. Yeah, that was a good move. On my way to Bible study with my precious littles in the back seat, I just backed right into the bottom panel of the garage door, shattering the entire back glass, messing up the top portion of my car, and for good measure denting my garage door. God has a way of getting my attention! I then experienced the frustration of having a package inexplicably lost on its way to Texas for my son’s birthday. The shipping company had no idea where the package was and could not even trace it as they had made some error in their initial intake of it. They were very sorry but not very helpful. Plus according to them, I had also not insured the package to its value, so replacement wasn’t really an option either. I cried. I quietly cried in that package store. Not really because the package was lost, but because I knew the cost of my day, and I had caused most of it.

My week went on – I got estimates (they were huge!) on replacing car and window parts, the package finally showed up in another state and was rerouted. And I stabilized for a moment. But then over the weekend I asked Troy to take down a light fixture for me so that I could clean it. And I shattered it. It slipped out of my hands into the sink and shattered into countless pieces. And again I was faced with my actions costing greatly and once again having to confess failure. The next morning as I washed the morning dishes, (you’ve probably guessed by now) 2 different glasses drop into the sink and shatter. Now I’m not sure I have ever shattered one glass in my sink before but certainly not two back to back. By this point I just mutely shook my head and began my glass cleanup routine.

As I cleaned, the Lord and I had a great conversation. It began with me whining, but as it should, it ended with truth and beauty. I’m not interested in your glass, Bethany, not in your care of things or driving ability, I am solely interested in you. And I want you to see in the destruction and subsequent confessions and replacements the picture of my grace. I want you to have such security as my daughter that all your failures are simply places where my strength and my provision and my glory can shine. These are all earthly things, but when their destruction defines you, paints stories in your mind of your worthlessness, discourages you in other parts of life then they highlight the value you place on your abilities and actions. 

My identity is not defined by my actions. Not by my successes nor by my failures. It is not shaped by my hands at all. God and God alone shapes my identity as his daughter, wholly and dearly loved, one precious in His sight, fully accepted because of Jesus Christ’s work on my behalf. And God works on this area with me over and over again. Because like a dog returns to his vomit, I will return to this death sourced idea that somehow I shape my identity in God’s sight. That my actions and reactions are part of the equation for His pleasure in me. That the way I successfully navigate this life can somehow help Him in the work He has, and therefore my missteps can also mess His plan.

When in reality, the more I recognize my desperate need for His help every day, in planning and executing the mundane things in life as well as the exciting, when I am surrendered to His Spirit, the easier it is to walk through these difficult moments. Because my eyes aren’t on me. They are on Jesus, the Founder and Perfecter of my faith.(Heb. 12:2)  And He uses these glass shattering weeks to highlight my ever increasing need for Him.