Conceived in Love

Written by Rhonda Alstott

I was born into a family heritage of several persons serving in ministry. On my mother’s side, she was blessed to have a maternal uncle and three paternal cousins that answered a calling to be pastors. On my father’s side my uncle felt a calling to the priesthood until his calling to be a husband and father was greater and ended his seminary. He lived out his new calling with faithfulness to God and his family. I grew up in my early years on a pew in a holiness church surrounded by my great grandmother and grandmother, both of whom I dearly adored and loved. They loved me as well, but sadly, when I think of that time, I did not feel loved by God or the church and if I did, those moments were far and few between. The godly heritage of my family that should have been celebrated was always overshadowed by the fact I had unbelieving parents that did not attend church. I remember one morning when a well-intentioned Sunday school teacher told me that God uses bad things to bring people to Christ. More specifically, God could have something bad happen to me or my siblings to turn my parents toward God and they would come to church. If there was ever such a term as spiritual anxiety I had it after that lesson and would cry and plead with God to spare me and my siblings lives every night in bed. What a burden placed on me… the weight of my nine year old world was all contingent upon the faith of my parents, both of which I had zero control over. I did not want to die. I followed God out of fear and a resolution that He had to be better than the alternative, hell. If I were honest, I didn’t love Him, I only feared Him, like He was up in the clouds waiting to catch me being bad and ready to hand out punishment to me. I lived in fear that I would be the sacrifice to turn my parents to Jesus. What a heavy convoluted faith I had. The sign hanging above the door at the back of the sanctuary said “For the Wages of Sin is Death”. I read that sign three times a week as I exited the sanctuary.

 

At the invitation of a childhood friend, I left my family church, but thankfully never left my faith. I became a member of a United Methodist Church. My faith grew in my new church with the influence of loving and faithful saints to mentor me. My confirmation teacher bought me a study Bible. What a gift…I had always had a Bible, but one with a very small print that even my eagle eye could not read well.  I could read and take notes in my new Bible and it had a concordance. Wow! An entire new universe was at my hands. I remember my astonishment when I read Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The context of that plaque became more real to me.  Punishment for my sin was earned, but there was some good news. I had been given a gift through Jesus and that was eternal life. I didn’t even have to pay the wages of my unbelieving parent’s sin; Jesus took care of that too. I would not have to be a sacrificial child after all. Things were looking up. Spiritual abuse is a real thing and just like any other abuse, I had to have recovery and healing from it. Things began to click as I read more of my new Bible. God loved this world so much that He gave us Jesus so we could believe in Him and have eternal life (John 3:16). Love has always been God’s motivation, even when those entrusted with my childhood faith were only able to instill the fear of the Lord in me. Learning all about God’s love for me is where my love for Jesus gained traction and I was able to grow a relationship with Him that has carried me for 55 years now. In those early days I had to constantly fight for the truth that God really did love me and that He did not want to hurt me. That He not only loved me, but He also loved my parents that didn’t acknowledge Him. He wasn’t a God in the heavens ready to shoot the gun of “bad things” at me when I messed up. His love for me was unconditional. I did not need to be perfect for Him to love me. God cares for me (Psalm 139:16-17, Matthew 10:29-31). The song really is true, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so…”

 

Last week, Tony’s Christmas message included scripture from Luke where Mary the mother of Jesus has an encounter with the angel Gabriel telling her about her role in bringing the Messiah to humanity. Mary, a young teenager, responds with “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” She displays such spiritual maturity in her answer. She seems to understand that this is part of God’s plan to love humankind. There was so much at stake on a personal level here for Mary. My heart would immediately have turned to the realization that being an unwed mother could cost me my life at the most and my reputation at the least, but not Mary. She commits to God’s plan and seems to have an understanding that she is part of something great involving love. We see her present at the wedding in Cana in John chapter 2, where Jesus performs his first public miracle by turning the water into wine.  Mary tells the servants present to “Do whatever He tells you”…

 

Do whatever He tells you…we as His servants today can assuredly do this as well because we know He is going to tell us things to do, each and every one of those things conceived in love, because that is Christ’s nature. I can trust that whatever situation comes my way, He is with me and will show me His way of love. My mother passed away in 2016. She had a hard life and spent the last 20 years of it under my care. Tony was able to deliver her eulogy knowing that she was with Jesus. She had a personal relationship with Jesus that came many years after my childhood and her life was full of heartache and pain. I can look back now at those hard times as we cared for her through the years where God pushed me to love better, be more sacrificial and have compassion for others I did not understand. He not only did this for me, but for my five children as well.  Helping care for their grandmother has made them some of the most compassionate young adults I know. 

 

Jesus shared with us His way of love in the New Testament and even summed it up so we could easily understand. Love God and love others. In theory it sounds so simple, but in practice can be so hard, even elusive. Sometimes I let my experiences and expectations get the most of me and cloud what that is, but God has given me His Spirit and Words to guide me. The spiritual condition of my own heart is the greatest effector of my ability to love God and love others. What I’ve discovered through the years is that it has a lot more to do with how I treat people. I’ve also realized that as a mother and a teacher, I never want to leave a child or a student with a picture of an unloving and uncaring God. God is Love is a Biblical Truth we can build a foundation on (1John 4:8 I have listed this verse, but read 1 John 4 for some fantastic words about God, us and love). 

 

In Luke 2:10 the angel appears to the shepherds and says to them “I am bringing you Good News of great joy for all people.” My prayer for you this week is that as you gather to celebrate Christmas, you remember that the Good News is the best news and that all people includes you and all those around you…and that you can trust that God loves and cares for each of you, and because of that, you can have joy.


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